Friday, December 26, 2008

It is not I can't learn, I don't want to

So, I have been thinking...

Is it the fact that this time of year automatically brings a period of reflection?

Did turning 44 on Christmas Eve cause a re-thinking of where I have been and where I have headed? (the past two years have been tumultuous as those who read my deleted post last month can remember.)

I think though, some of us just reflect more than others. And many of us who do, share these reflections with others. I am sure everyone reflects, but how deeply is it when it is not written and reworked and looked at again?

A few blog posts about teaching and pedagogy have caught my eye as they are current items I am reflecting about.

Explorations in Learning reports on the National Survey of Student Engagement. The survey has a large sample size and makes comparisons between first and fourth year college students.

The two points that caught my attention:
  • Students taking most of their classes online report more deep approaches to learning in their classes, relative to classroom-based learners. Furthermore, a larger share of online learners reported very often participating in intellectually challenging course activities.
  • When courses provided extensive, intellectually challenging writing activities, students engaged in more deep learning activities such as analysis, synthesis, and integration of ideas from various sources, and they grappled more with course ideas both in and out of the classroom. These students also reported greater personal, social, practical, and academic learning and development.
Charles Nelson offers some insight into the first point:
The first finding is rather curious. I need to look at the report more closely, but it seems unlikely, at least to me, that online learning per se would create "deep" learning. Perhaps students who sign up for online courses are already the type who enage in "deep" learning. Perhaps online courses are taught by instructors who are not content with the status quo, but continually seek to improve their pedagogy, to improve student learning, to challenge students. And the students responded accordingly, as noted in the fifth finding.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
has some interesting thoughts on learning. This is not revolutionary and we already know this, but we just don't say it and the public at large will deny it.
It has turned out that mass education is more difficult to achieve than we had anticipated. To close the gap between the rather dismal reality and earlier expectations, researchers and practitioners have placed their faith in teaching methods modeled on computers and other rational means for conveying information - which in turn were modeled on industrial production techniques and on military human systems design. The implicit hope has been that if we discover more and more rational ways of selecting, organizing, and distributing knowledge, children will learn more effectively.

Yet it seems increasingly clear that the chief impediments to learning are not cognitive in nature. It is not that students cannot learn, it is that they do not wish to. Computers do not suffer from motivational problems, whereas human beings do. We have not found ways to program children so that they will learn the information we present to them as computers do. Unfortunately, cognitive science has not taken adequate notice of this fact, and hence the current cognitive emphasis on teaching is missing out on an essential component of what learning is about.

When one is motivated (either intrinsic or extrinsic), they are in flow. Students know what this is - they experience it when pursuing their interests. So, what do teachers do to motivate students:
  • We need to look at extrinsic motivators. The common statement "that you will need to know it for...(insert next course, college, life, etc.) is bogus. Better to not say it. We are hypocrites and the kids know it.
  • They need to see how fun it is to learn - we enjoy it, they need to experience it.
So what is flow? Wes Fryer offers this image that represents flow better than can be said:
If a student is not challenged but has much ability (A1 to A2), they are bored (not motivating.)
If a student is challenged but needs more knowledge to increase skills (A1 to A3), they are anxious. The balance between skills and challenges, leads to flow.

He goes on to state that writing is one activity that can push and stretch students into flow. Writing encourages analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating.

Still thinking. Flow is great and we have seen kids in flow. How do we address this:
It is not that students cannot learn, it is that they do not wish to.

We can make content exciting and find good reasons for learning, personal application, etc. When they "have" to take your course, what do you do to overcome the not wishing to learn?

Tags: Charles Nelson, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Wes Fryer, flow

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