EFL Resources / 勉強資料
- Reasons are Important May 13, 2012
- Academic Literacy Resources May 6, 2012
- Academic Literacy in Higher Ed. May 6, 2012
- International Students in Higher Education May 3, 2012
- Education and the Importance of Connecting April 28, 2012
- Education as it Is and as it Should be April 25, 2012
- Be Careful What You Believe April 21, 2012
- Game-based learning April 17, 2012
- Learning Styles: Fact or Fiction? April 15, 2012
Category Archives: What’s New in Education & Learning
I was watching a talk by Simon Sinek the other day on YouTube entitled: “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” Much of the talk focused on the business marketing strategy of understanding and promoting ‘why’ you are in business as opposed to ‘what’ you do in your business, and much of it made sense. In business, customer loyalty largely arises from a company’s ability to express a clear and honest sense of why they exist and what they believe about the world than simply the quality of what they do or make. The clearer that belief, the more attractive the company is to those with similar beliefs. Watch commercials made by companies such as Apple and Harley Davidson- they don’t focus on specs because we don’t get inspired by facts and figures; but we do have an emotional reaction or a sense of connectedness when we are able to identify with a product or a message, and feelings and emotions can be strong and often irrational drivers of behaviour.
Why do so many people have such a strong commitment to certain leaders, political parties, religious groups, etc? It’s the feeling of connectedness and shared beliefs that drives this behaviour. I wrote a post a while back on the reasons why so many new teachers quit in their first few years, and while these reasons can be categorised under poor working conditions or avoidance of cognitive dissonance, at a basic level I believe it comes down to a lack of connectedness and a feeling that the schools and staff simply don’t believe what idealistic new teachers believe. Working for an organisation that does not share your idea of best practices, professionalism, integrity, vision or whatever it is you believe, can lead to a great deal of job dissatisfaction, and so organisational vision and culture is as important to employees as the projected image and message can be to customers.
The point here is that if an organisation is unable to articulate clear beliefs about its purpose and ‘why’ it does what it does, it is unlikely to be able to inspire workforce or customers. This has implications in education beyond whether or not teachers remain teachers. With changes in the education sector being driven by an increasingly competitive international market, innovations in technology, and greater understanding of learning theory, come great challenges, and more than ever before, in this age of information those higher education institutions which fail to add ‘why’ to their ‘how’ and ‘what’ are going to struggle.
I believe this is also linked in some way to the necessity for engagement in learning. There is a lot of focus on what is to be learned and attempts to inspire learning by talking about careers several years down the track, but we are generally not very good at being inspired by the prospect of delayed gratification. As such, in order to optimise learning outcomes the reasons for learning also need to be imbedded in the curriculum and learning activities themselves.
As education continues to change with the shift in emphasis away from teacher-centred approaches and toward greater understanding of and acceptance of the ideas that we learn through discovery, solving problems and by becoming engaged in what we do- not what our teachers do; and with the implications of advances in technology on old classroom models and access to information, the role of the educator must also necessarily change to that of the facilitator of learning. A critical part of the learning process is academic literacy.
Given the vast amounts of information pouring onto the internet and available on electronic databases, students need to be taught where to find, how to access, how to evaluate, and how to present that information, requiring skills in: research, critical thinking, creativity, written and oral communication, academic honesty, and of course independent learning (study). It helps also to understand certain concepts in psychology such as cognitive dissonance and learning theory, supported by findings in neuroscience. Without these skills, conclusions will be poorly thought out, lack sufficient logic and evidence, or simply be a regurgitation of others’ work and presented in a way which lacks coherence. While it’s true that many students may only be motivated to pass course requirements rather than a desire to gain a deep understanding of their subjects, the ability to build on previous knowledge, to make connections, and to form new ideas has to be an objective of higher education institutions, especially in a competitive market and in challenging economic conditions where institutions are rated on how well they are able to place their students into the workforce.
The development of academic literacy among students has become a major focus in higher education in an attempt to improve learning outcomes and retain students in an increasingly competitive international market (there clearly needs to be more attention on the development of these skills in secondary schooling). Providing accredited courses in academic literacy is not a practical solution at the tertiary level, and promotion of library services and generic academic literacy workshops, while necessary and useful, are insufficient on their own because those most in need are those who lack the motivation and perhaps discipline to make use of these resources, and also because many students are not able to transfer proficiency to different contexts.
The solution is to imbed academic literacy skills into curriculum, and as with other course objectives, ensure that the design of activities in the curriculum adequately engages students and develops the desired learning outcomes, and that assessments accurately measure these outcomes. The paper linked below gives a brief discussion on the rationale for embedding academic literacy skills into university courses.
I have posted quite a lot lately on the revolution in learning which is leading to greater emphasis on student-centred approaches to education, and innovations in technology which are eliminating the need for traditional ‘local’ classrooms and reliance on textbooks for information. For higher education in particular there have been a number of implications. The international student market is becoming more competitive; online learning continues to grow in popularity; and there are initiatives to integrate academic literacy and language support into course curriculum, and more investment in various other student retention programs such as Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS).
There have been some interesting articles and research findings about the international higher education market in recent years, specifically the experiences of institutions in Australia, the UK and the US with international student enrolments, and the experiences of international students in these institutions.
Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate a 4% decline in international enrolments to March 2012 from the same period last year. The numbers across the board for all levels of education were considerably worse with an 8.5% drop (in contrast to average yearly growth of 6.5% since 2002, representing a decline of almost $4 billion from the peak in 2009). Recent declines in enrolments have been largely blamed on stricter student visa requirements and a strengthening dollar, and visa requirements have since been relaxed again.
This experience is not unique to Australia. The United States has also experienced a decline in international student enrolments (despite a weaker dollar) and has also recently relaxed student visa requirements. The UK has continued strong international student enrolments, however new rules for student visas only came into force in April of this year, and a new British Council report suggests that these changes could have a dramatic and negative impact. This same report also predicts that with relaxed visa barriers, Australia should continue to lead the way in international student recruitment over the coming ten years. I’m always a little sceptical about these hindsight explanations, so it will be interesting to see what happens in international enrolments in these countries over the next year or so as a result of changes to visa rules.
Attracting international students involves more than simply making changes to student visa policies, and retention of these students is also a growing focus within higher education institutions. A report published by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council in 2010: Addressing the ongoing English language growth of international students discusses the findings of The English Language Growth Project – a survey and analysis of around 800 international students over five Australian universities- and makes sixteen recommendations to higher education institutions based on the findings (summarised in the first ten pages).
It’s quite an interesting document, and while the study specifically refers to English language development of international students at universities, the recommendations broadly reflect the new approaches being taken to teaching and learning at the tertiary level, and also has relevance to teaching and learning generally.
I’ve written quite a few posts with sub-themes on the numerous benefits of teacher communication and collaboration in education, and as is often the case, the more you think about a topic, the more references and associations to that topic that seem to pop up everywhere you look. This is only natural given that the deeper we delve into an issue, the greater our understanding and the greater the number of connections with our previous knowledge and experiences we can make.
A few weeks back I wrote about the problem of teacher turnover in education systems around the world, and how the turnover among new teachers makes up a disproportionately large part of that total. Several national surveys in the United States suggest that lack of communication and collaboration among teaching staff; lack of opportunity for professional development; and lack of support from school administrations are the most common reasons given for this high turnover. Much of the media attention seems to focus on a lack of training and support for ‘new’ teachers as the reason for the problem, as though the new teachers themselves are not sufficiently prepared to teach within the edcuation system. I think this is a very unfortunate and backwards way of interpreting the issue, since solutions based on this thinking would have broken teachers adapting to systems and school cultures rather than broken systems and school cultures being fixed because they are posioning education.
In addition to teacher retention, an integrated professional culture within institutions improves learning outcomes for teachers and students alike. In the absence of formal professional development, communication and collaboration among teachers can lead to shared learning, and the identification and resolution of teaching and learning issues. The results of numerous surveys and case studies seem to support this conclusion, as does research which empirically tests and confirms the cause and effect relationship between improved teacher collaboration and improved student achievement. Given the benefits of collaboration for teachers and students alike, why do so many teachers in so many schools continue to work in isolation? Surveys in the US suggest the number is somewhere between 50 and 65% of teachers (although this is likely to be the result of broken school cultures rather simply a matter of teacher choice).
Why does communication and collaboration among teachers lead to improvements in student achievement? I mentioned in a previous post on March 25th that there are certain potential dangers involved in decision making in teams such as ‘group think’ and over-confidence in group-made decisions; however, if these can be avoided the substantial benefits involve improved creativity; job satisfaction; peer review of ideas and practices; combining of skills; delegation of work; learning opportunities; identification of problems; and shared responsibility for resolving issues and reinforcing student learning. The other day I came across an interesting little video on YouTube by Steven Johnson (linked below) entitled “Where Good Ides Come From“. The theme of the video is that ’chance favours the connected mind’, and while it relates to innovation rather than issues in education specifically, you get the idea. Worth a watch:
Over the past seven weeks I’ve talked quite a bit about the current ‘revolution in learning’ which seems to be gaining momentum, particularly in higher education, and is coming about as recognition grows that education systems are lagging well behind our understanding of how education should work.
This ‘gap’ between where education is and where it should be is the application of modern learning theory supported by research in psychology and neuroscience; developments in technology which have given us low cost access to information at our fingertips, no matter where we are; innovations in technology and uses of technology which go beyond simple digitisation of traditional teaching materials to enhance learning; and of course the communication, collaboration and professional development between and among educators, supported by school administrations and policy makers, to ensure the gap gets filled. To see things a little more clearly, it helps to look at how education is, why it is that way, and why it shouldn’t be that way now.
The use of standardised textbooks and curriculum as a primary teaching instrument became popular in the 19th Century with the rise of mass education, because knowledge was scarce and it simply wasn’t practical to teach a class without a manual of instruction. Dedicated classrooms were also necessary because there was no other way to teach a large group of learners without fast, reliable, cheap and practical long distance communication; so education was necessarily local. The scientific study of learning also began in the 19th and early 20th centuries with attempts to find the best approaches to teaching (primarily focused on behaviourism vs. cognitivism), and given the scarcity of information and the size of classes, teacher-centred approaches prevailed.
Given the above limitations and what we knew about the brain (virtually nothing), the way education developed through the 19th and 20th centuries made sense. In the second decade of the 21st century, when none of these limitations still exist and we know a great deal more about how we learn, does it still make sense to have teachers standing at the front of classrooms, imparting knowledge to passive listeners using expensive textbooks? Knowing what we know about the benefits of communication, collaboration and positive working environments, and how quickly the world changes around us, does it make sense to have school cultures where teaching happens in virtual isolation and without professional development? Knowing what we know about the importance of aligning curriculum and assessment to desired learning outcomes does a focus on standardised testing make any sense?
What should the role of the educator now be? What should curriculum look like? How can technology now be used to enhance learning? How should learning now be assessed? How can we improve collaboration and professional development among educators?
None of these questions are new- there are blogs and articles written every day, all over the world about the changes that need to happen in education. I read stories every day about innovative teachers and progressive schools that are making positive changes, but it’s not widespread yet. Change is happening slowly, but it’s important to keep talking about it, spreading awareness, and encouraging educators to adopt and push for change, because it doesn’t happen on its own. Change doesn’t start at the top; it happens as a result of pressure from the bottom.
I’ve written a few posts in recent weeks on topics including cognitive dissonance, understanding the principles of double-blind studies, and the obligation for educators and institutions to teach academic literacy in schools, including critical evaluation of information and sources. These topics are related in important ways: in simple terms, our minds can play tricks on us and prevent us from seeing what is there to be seen (or make us see what isn’t actually there), and this has serious implications for research and the end users. If we tend to avoid challenges to our established beliefs; if we’re not aware of and fail to take precautions against subjective bias; and if we fail to understand that published and peer reviewed research can still get it wrong, we run the risk of producing, reproducing and disseminating bad information. A lack of intellectual rigour might in some fields only result in the propagation of ignorance, but in others such as biomedical research, errors can lead to serious injury or death.
Yet, it seems that every week I read about new studies which claim to overturn the conclusions reached by previous studies, and the fact that this happens so frequently is cause for some concern. Errors in research and analysis aren’t the only problems. It has been suggested that research in many fields is increasingly showing signs of the ‘file draw effect’ – allowing the results of studies which fail to support hypotheses to go unpublished. It’s not surprising that negative results might not be considered novel enough to be published by journals; that researchers might not want to flaunt results which do not support their hypotheses; or that vested interests in clinical trials of new medicines might want to hide inconvenient truths. Of course, discovering a new way that something doesn’t work isn’t really a failure from a scientific perspective, but unfortunately science isn’t really the issue here. As an interesting side note: I recently read about an MIT study from 2009 which suggested that brain processes in monkeys only improved after achieving success in a task (as opposed to failing), thus casting doubt on whether monkeys actually learn from mistakes. There’s probably a bit more to it, and I might make this the topic of my next post!
Another issue involves intellectual integrity, the effectiveness of editors and peer reviewers, and overreliance on so-called ‘reliable sources.’ Back in 1996, a physics professor by the name of Alan Sokal submitted an article to an academic journal, which was subsequently published on the basis of his credentials (and perhaps on ideological grounds as well), and later famously revealed by the author to be a hoax (known as the Sokal hoax- a good name for an episode of the Big Bang Theory, I think) as a test of the editing process. This particular journal adopted peer review soon afterwards; however, before and since there have been numerous scandals involving publication of research with fabricated data in highly regarded peer reviewed scientific journals.
The following article by Tom Bartlett in the Chronicle of Higher Education discusses the ‘Reproducibility Project’ which aims to replicate every study published in three selected journals in the field of psychology in 2008. The results should be interesting.
I talked a little about technology in education a couple of weeks ago, and the way in which it is being used. While technological innovation is shooting ahead faster than most of us realise, education tends to lag behind in many ways, including in the adoption and use of technology. We need to start using technology in new and innovative ways which will improve learning outcomes rather than simply copying or simulating the old ways of doing things- applying new technology to old pedagogy- and while the tools and the ideas exist to make the most of technology, we have yet to see the necessary widespread collaboration between the education industry and those who have the expertise to make technology truly educational.
So, how can technology be used to improve learning? In my post from April 7 I briefly mentioned game-based learning. I know that many people are uncomfortable with the idea of using computer games in education (it’s not like kids need more computer game time, and many see games as a part of the problem rather than a solution), but consider that to be effective, game environments must be structured around how we learn.
Neuroscientists believe that dopamine, a neurotransmitter which is released in the brain when we are challenged and produces a pleasure response, enhances our cognitive abilities (in the short term) and motivates us continue solving problems, to make progress and to achieve success. Computer games offer ongoing feedback through, for example, the accumulation of points, currency, or items as progress is recognised and success gradually and identifiably achieved by attaining levels and skills which then reinforces the behaviours or responses which were used to achieve that success.
Effective games are interesting and challenging; they force us to make, overcome through self-correction, and learn from mistakes; they keep us engaged; and they are also goal oriented. Players strive to understand the skills they need and what they have to do in order to progress in the game, and ultimately to win. Rarely do we play games passively, because we understand that to succeed and to overcome the challenges we need to actively try. Passive gaming only occurs when it is not challenging enough or when we have given up because it is too hard. Active engagement is a crucial part of the learning process, because our learning is determined by what we do, not by what teachers do, and effective gaming environments create an effective learning experience.
Many games, in particular online multiplayer games, encourage or require online communication, peer collaboration and contribution to multidisciplinary teams in order to be successful in the game. Each member of a team often needs to develop expertise or serve a function which differs from that of the other members so that the full range of necessary skills/knowledge/abilities exist within the team, while at the same time being aware of how these roles work together in order to achieve the team’s goals.
James Paul Gee, in the video presentation below, draws an interesting comparison between game manuals and text books, and how game manuals generally don’t make a great deal of sense and aren’t especially interesting until after we have experienced the game and made the connections. Schools are full of manuals without the games!
Wouldn’t it be great if we could get the resources committed to putting more subject specialists together with talented game designers and software houses in order to create truly engaging software which created real learning experiences?
There has been quite a lot written about ‘learning styles’ over the years, and while there is a little confusion as to what learning styles actually are, the basic idea is that students have different ways of learning, and that learning can be improved by tailoring instruction to their preferred learning modes. The different learning styles are commonly presented as being visual, auditory or kinaesthetic, although there are others suggestions including reasoning vs. insight, linear vs. holistic, etc. According to proponents then, ‘visual learners’ benefit from visual presentations of information more than, say, learners who prefer listening.
On the face of it this seems quite reasonable. The ‘learning styles’ view has become very influential in education because we recognise that people do have different interests, motivations and background knowledge, display different aptitudes for various kinds of thinking and the processing of different kinds of information, and our brain structures also vary according to our experiences and even gender. There are, however, those who claim that there is not only little in the way of evidence to justify implementing learning style assessments in education, but that there is evidence which suggests that differences in learning styles do not actually exist, and that our brains are all wired to learn in the same way.
The debate is particularly important and relevant today given the current shift in education, rapid innovation in technology and its uses, and increasing attention to the apparent characteristics of Generation Z. I personally am sceptical about the idea of learning styles (but then, I’m also sceptical about conclusions reached in controlled experiments on learning behaviour) and tend to believe that, preferences aside, our brains do work in essentially the same way in terms of how we process knowledge, make connections, and learn.
However, while different preferences, interests, motivations, goals, background knowledge, aptitudes, etc., may not amount to different ‘learning styles’, they certainly do amount to different ‘learner types.’ If it’s true that we do have different preferences for the way we learn, then certain types of instruction or different ways information is presented will probably engage our attention and interest more than others- the positive effects of engagement and paying attention on learning are strongly supported by research in neuroscience.
Additionally, understanding learner types is also important in terms of goals and motivations for learning and the way they affect how we study and how we approach our education in general. Do we study for the sake of learning? Do we study to pass our tests? Do we not study at all? While the third category of student can be difficult to deal with, the differences have important implications for educators and the way we constructively align desired learning outcomes, learning activities, and assessments (See my post from March 19: “Teaching Teaching and Understanding Understanding”).
The field of neuroscience is still quite under-developed, and while there is no shortage of articles and advice published on how to enhance cognitive function, according to the article below by Sharon Begley in Newsweek Magazine many of the conclusions reached come from observational studies, not from an understanding of mechanisms of cognition. The problem with studies of this type is that interpretations of data can lead to some very dubious claims.
In my post from March 30 I mentioned the example of an air traffic control service in the UK refusing to recruit trainees over the age of 35 due to cognitive decline in older workers. The FAA in the US is even stricter, requiring trainees to be no older than 30 with a mandatory retirement age of 56, because apparently the skills necessary for success as a controller diminish with age. The idea that cognitive skills diminish with age arises from observation of work performance and scores in psychometric testing. On the face of it this seems reasonable, but is the decline necessarily a consequence of biological aging? More on this later.
Neuroscience has made some progress in recent years and knowledge of the mechanisms of cognition has accumulated to the point where some reliable conclusions can be made about processes which contribute to improved cognitive function. One thing that can be said is that earlier studies which suggested various medicines, herbs, chemicals, diets, vitamins, antioxidants, etc, enhance cognitive function simply can’t be trusted. Although from more recent studies it seems that certain drugs can enhance short-term cognitive performance in some people in some ways (see the article below). In short, rising dopamine levels in the brain improves performance (whereas rising cortisol has the opposite effect).
However, findings in neuroplasticity (how the brain changes its structure and function in response to input- see also my post from March 14) indicates that paying attention to cognitively demanding activities physically alters the brain and enlarges functional circuits. If true, this has some pretty important implications for learning, such as the importance of paying attention! It also provides a possible explanation for cognitive decline in older workers: as we get older and perhaps progress in the same career, stop professional development, have less time for new hobbies, etc, we become comfortable in life, familiar with daily routines, and essentially stop learning new things.
According to this article, research suggests that we can train cognitive functions, such as memory, reasoning, and processing speed but that the exercise needs to be specific to those areas and does not transfer (just as training your biceps doesn’t do much for your calf muscles). There are however three activities which are believed to be effective generally: exercise, meditation, and…some video games! This last one has me excited not just because I’ve been a video gamer since roller disco was big on Friday nights, but also because game-based learning is starting to show its potential. More on this next time.
Recently I’ve been talking about outdated classroom models and teacher-centred approaches to instruction which fail to take account of current pedagogies in learning and teaching or take full advantage of available technology. It has to be said, though, that the so-called ‘Revolution in Learning’ is a description of real change which is happening in many institutions around the world, in particular higher education institutions, with growing collaboration between and among teaching staff, students, libraries, and advisors; and changes in curriculum design and teaching methodology in order to facilitate learning, improve academic literacy, and address student retention issues- advancing technology and continuing globalisation of education have made this critical for the survival of higher education institutions. This is not to say that education isn’t still lagging.
The post today ties together some of the issues in education addressed by previous posts over the past month and was also inspired by a video on YouTube- “A Vision of Students Today” produced in 2007 by Michael Wesch in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University (pretty impressive given the changes which have taken place over the past 5 years). It summarises some of the characteristics of students in the digital age- characteristics developed in response to the realities of the digital environment we exist in- and highlights several issues which are still relevant today.
As we know, learning depends not on what teachers do, but on what students do, hence the necessity for a focus on student-centred teaching and learning. If students learn what they ‘do’, what are they learning in lecture theatres or classrooms? Naturally that depends on what they’re doing in those classrooms, but if the answer is ‘listening passively with little engagement or interaction’, the chances are that many aren’t learning much at all.
The video also highlights the reality that access to information online today is easy and cheap, changing the roles of teachers and the form of course materials. If students have an aversion to large expensive textbooks, fail to see value in lectures, are busy talking or texting on smart phones, sending emails, reading web pages or Facebook profiles, playing computer games, watching TV, etc, it’s not the result of widespread genetic flaws in Generation Z (I don’t think), but a reflection of the reality of the world we’re living in today. The reality is that we’re overwhelmed by information, surrounded by technological gadgets, and heavily influenced by social media, and these growing distractions and demands on our time have created a generation of multitaskers (or at least one which tries to multitask). The point is, education needs to be relevant. Change isn’t necessary because it is desired by students- it’s necessary because educational institutions have to be able to keep up with the world, and if they can’t keep up, they become irrelevant.
Another worthwhile video with a similar perspective (I caution that the presentation may not be your cup of tea!) is “An Open Letter to Educators” by Dan Brown on YouTube. Check it out.