Thursday, December 15, 2011

Overcoming the oldest problem in pedagogy

A short article by Lee Shulman does an excellent job capturing both the challenges and the goals of educating our students. Shulman, who has been at the forefront of the movement for a scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), focuses in on "the oldest problem of pedagogy":
What is the oldest problem of pedagogy? The appearance of learning, or illusory understanding, that is, the problem of people who appear to know something that they really don't know.
We often hear that we need to "engage" our students, and now we know why--so our students can overcome the problem of illusory understanding.
The only way we as teachers know whether our students understand something is by getting them to write or talk about it. As long as it remains inside their heads, we cannot teach, and in fact they don't know whether they understand it either. Deborah Meier (1995) once put it very well, in explaining why pedagogy was both straightforward and dauntingly difficult. She observed that, when properly understood, teaching is mainly listening, whereas learning is mainly talking.
So, students need plenty of opportunities to write and to talk, to make the "internal external, to render it what [Shulman has] called community property."

You can find resources at the CFD Web site to help you incorporate these opportunities into your courses. Specifically, click on the questions "What are my options for incorporating active learning into a course?" and "How do I incorporate collaborative, or peer to peer learning, in my course?" and you will be directed to additional resources. And if you know of online resources that are not referenced in the CFD Web site but should be, please let the staff know.

Citation: Shulman, Lee S. (2000). Teacher development: Roles of domain expertise and pedagogical knowledge. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 21(1): 129-135.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Learning is not a spectator sport."

"Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing pre-packaged assignments, and spitting out answers." This line comes from Chickering and Gamson's (1987) "Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education." It had been a while since I last read the short article, but the "learning is not a spectator sport" line came to mind recently as I listened to "Don't Lecture Me," a feature production of American Radio Works. The program makes a strong case for  active engagement of students in the classroom:
The fact that people learn better when they're actively engaged is one of the central findings from an explosion of cognitive research conducted over the last several decades. Another major finding is that short-term memory is very limited - your brain can only store so much at once. A lot of the information presented in a typical lecture comes at people too fast and is quickly forgotten. Eric Mazur says lecturing is a waste of time. It's not an effective way for students to learn information; reading the textbook is better. 
What I liked about the program is that it gave a real feel to what learning is like in the classroom when students are doing more than sitting like spectators.

The program aired locally on public radio a few months ago. I only now had the chance to listen to it with focused attention. I recommend it as what will surely be an interesting and thought-provoking diversion during the Winter break. You can access the audio file and the transcript here.