How to learn more effectively

There’s been a lot of interest in recent neuro-scientific research, particularly research related to different aspects of learning and memory. As educators, we’re always trying to find better ways to help our students learn (and ourselves as well). While popular science articles have highlighted many of the significant changes in our understanding of how the brain works, reading some of the details of research and ongoing debates about our interpretation of fMRI data left me wanting to learn more.

A colleague of mine, Beth Cougler Blom, suggested I take part in a Coursera MOOC “Learning How to Learn” last year (she had just completed an earlier offering). She found the University of California (San Diego) course enlightening and mentioned several insights she’d gleaned. So I signed up and was introduced to Dr. Barbara Oakley, Professor of Engineering, Oakland University, and Dr. Terence Sejnowski, Francis Crick Professor at Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

So what “stood out for me” that might be useful to share with other educators?

  1.  Behaviorist theories of learning are still important and applicable, particularly when interpreted in light of neuro-science research and application in various studies grounded in higher education environments.
  2. We learn best (deeper, broader) and retain more when use the study / work techniques redefined through recent investigations. Surprisingly, practising recall without prompts was still one of the powerful tools we can apply to improve our learning. No more relying on my Google-brain when tackling new subjects. And recall trumped mind/concept-mapping for some types of learning (see references)
  3. We need to take care of our physical well-being to ensure that our brain functions well – aerobic activity is an increasingly important factor, along with getting sufficient sleep. Note:  I’ll never forget the mental image of my brain cells shrinking as I sleep so all the effluent can be drained away and my cells can be ready and clean for the next day. And, fMRI brain imaging showed multiple new synapses can form after learning and sleep.
  4. We can “rewire” our brains. Research has shown (and Dr. Oakley is a living example) that the brain retains it’s flexibility (neuro-plasticity) and we can continue to generate new brain cells and neural connections.

What could you do to improve your student’s learning right now?

You can jump right to Dr. Oakley’s 10 Rules of Good Studying (extracted from her 2014 book, A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel in Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra). The 10 rules are far easier to read than to apply – I’m still trying to integrate them in my reading and note-taking although I’ve noticed some improvement fairly quickly.

Some of the interesting ideas I learned from the Learning How to Learn MOOC:

  1.  Practicing something for 10,000 hours is not the best way to master your subject. Mixing up your techniques for practice, spacing your practices, and challenging yourself to recall without supports (or to try teaching what you’re learning to someone else) combine to form a more efficient way of learning.
  2. Eating your lima beans before your baked apple pie with ice cream – is still a good strategy.
  3. The power of linking learning to visual images or memories is powerful across cultures. I’ve worked with indigenous instructors who used metaphors and stories as is traditional in their cultures. Surprisingly, metaphoric zombies (invoked by Dr. Oakley) do stick in my brain to help me remember.
  4. Self management techniques like Cirillos’ “pomodoro Technique” can be very effective when they link goal setting, focused-rest-focused cycles of work, small rewards and setting up the best conditions for learning you can.
  5. Not really new but re-affirmed – passion and persistence underly most success in learning (and life?)

 

Example? Her recent, thought-provoking and clearly written article for Nautilus – a science magazine aimed at non-scientists – http://nautil.us/issue/17/big-bangs/how-i-rewired-my-brain-to-become-fluent-in-math

References:

Cirillo, Francesco, The Pomodoro Technique Retrieved from  http://cirillocompany.de/pages/pomodoro-technique

Karpicke, Jeffrey D. and Janell R. Blunt. (11 February 2011) Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping  Science New Series, Vol. 331, No. 6018, pp. 772-775  Published by: American Association for the Advancement of Science   

Hamilton, John. (October 17, 2013). “Brains Sweep Themselves Clean of Toxins During Sleep.” NPR All Things Considered.

Oakley, Barbara (October 2, 2014). How I Rewired My Brain to Become Fluent in Math, Nautilus, Issue 017, Retrieved from http://nautil.us/issue/17/big-bangs/how-i-rewired-my-brain-to-become-fluent-in-math

Pan, Steven C. “The Interleaving Effect: Mixing It Up Boosts Learning,” Scientific American, August 4, 2015.

Shift and Share in a CapU Design Sprint

focuswork2“Have you done a Boot Camp? Are you interested in doing a boot camp for instructors who have an assigned course in January 2017 – who may not have done any course development or real planning yet?”  The message came through in late November from a former colleague of mine, Laurie Prange-Martin – now working at Capilano University as the new Manager, Learning and Teaching Development.

We tossed ideas around, collected them in a shared Googledoc and finally arrived at a concept and rough layout that seemed like a good fit. In the melee, we discovered a shared interest in strategies to overcome procrastination (i.e., the Pomodoro technique) and the idea of a “design sprint” instead of a “boot camp”. I tossed in some ideas around studio-based learning, and brain-based education research (gleaned from a recent MOOC on Learning How to Learn from University of California, San Diego) and we were off!

What?

We explored our perceptions of the needs of our intended audience – “the learners” and then developed a pre-workshop “inquiry”. Based on advice from a CapU expert, Laurie adapted my original draft questions to include specific options for answers mixed with a few open-ended questions. Potential participants were encouraged to complete the survey, even if they couldn’t attend this delivery, to ensure that future offerings of the 2-day workshop would address faculty needs.

I investigated the “context” for course design at CapU and found various resources and people available to support faculty with educational technologies, Universal Design for Learning and the policies and procedures of the institution..

I developed a Moodle site to provide an online space that the instructors could continue to use after the 2-day Sprint AND that could be adapted by a new facilitator drawn from CapU faculty to deliver in the future.  The basic units were

  • “Launchpad”- a place to welcome participants, gather information to launch the workshop, and a place to return to to review and reflect materials we explored during the workshop;
  • “Making Meaning” – a place to develop participants’ understanding of Course-Lesson planning and development that began from short learning activities and information embedded in collaborative wikis; and
  • “Our Studio” – an open forum to share the results of various design-build efforts.

So, what?

I developed a draft Schedule with a mixture of active learning activities, Lightning Talks (10 min presentations) and focused design/production cycles (1.5 hours). Participants chose their production environment and tools and I provided some guidance to new instructors as they identified their specific objectives and focused on design/production.

My intention was to apply some of the brain-based techniques I’d learned during a recent MOOC by “shifting” participants from active learning of new ideas (or review of prior knowledge) to their own personal analysis and planning and then to structured cycles of focused thinking and production/design. I built in points for reflection and sharing of progress so they could share and explain their tasks to the group.

Like the “Shift and Share” structure (http://www.liberatingstructures.com/11-shift-share/) we took turns sharing different experiences and knowledge to scaffold design and development tasks each individual faced. My emergent outline also shifted constantly on the first day due to the realities of unexpected snowfall and the distances several of the participants had to commute to get to the campus.

Now what?

What was the outcome – from my perspective – from the participants’ perspectives? I’m still compiling “lessons learned” and mulling over recommendations for future development and delivery of this workshop. It seems to have “struck a chord” with the instructors who attended; hopefulling CapU will continue to develop this two day immersive workshop and begin to involve faculty and sessional instructors to encourage a continuing focus on quality education and course design.

It was a fun and challenging project. I’ll be extracting learning nuggets and sharing them as I apply what I’ve learned in future projects.

Any stories you might share about any course design/development events you’ve attended or facilitated?

Sylvia

 

Exploring feedback for FLO

What exactly do we mean by “constructive” feedback? Do we actually model the behaviours we ask students to demonstrate? Do we provide clear explanations of what we expect? Do we provide constructive feedback when the students’ feedback is weak, superficial, slapdash? Do we scaffold our learners so they can consciously build and flex their critical thinking and collaborative or team-work skills?

My reflections on constructive feedback were inspired by a random Twitter post fimage 4 steps constructive commentsrom Howard Rheingold who shared a Diigo collection of links related to online facilitation. When I took a quick look a DS106 post on Constructive Comments caught my eye and, while scanning the article, I found an image tweet from @deedegs (Danielle Degelman 25 Nov 2014) Her visual list of the “3Cs and a Q” made me think about how I present, scaffold, model, promote constructive comments in my online facilitation.

As the Facilitating Learning Online workshop has evolved, I’ve had the pleasure of co-facilitating with several dedicated, passionate faciliators who strive to explain, demonstrate and facilitate the importance of constructive feedback or comments. When I began facilitating FLO, the workshop had built in weekly opportunities for peer-to-peer group feedback (i.e., each week a team of participants would facilitate a learning activities for the other members of the workshop). At the end of each weekly “mini-session” or “short learning activity”, the facilitators would encourage feedbackparticipants (to share constructive feedback on their experiences with the team of facilitators). We explored a number of different starter posts in a shared discussion forum to clarify what we were looking for in terms of “constructive”. The participant feedback, and any responses from the facilitation team members is open to the class.

During 2016, at the suggestion of FLO Facilitator, Beth Cougler Blom, we explored different ways of structuring the weekly learning activity team feedback. We asked the participants to share their feedback using these questions / prompts :

  1. _____________ (fill in the blank) really helped/supported my learning.
    My learning might have been better if ______________ (fill in the blank).
  2. I like….  (what you liked about the facilitation and why)
    I wish…  (something that you wish the facilitators would have done/encouraged)
    What if… (something that describes another alternative or option rather than what the facilitators did)
  3. What did the faciitators do that you really liked?
    What did the facilitators do that were challenging for you?
    What other kinds of facilitation strategies could the facilitators have tried, either as alternatives or add-ons?

And when I review our structures and approach in light of Danielle’s 4-step feedback, I think I might reframe it this way:

  1.  Appreciate  (identify something you valued or appreciated in the learning experience)
  2.  React (What did you think of the experience? What did you learn? Be specific but not judgemental – use “I” sentences.
  3. Suggest (What might you suggest be done differently – why? How would this change improve the experience from your perspective?)
  4. Connect (Can you relate something that was said or read or viewed with other discussions or activities? Have you any relevant personal/professional experiences that may be useful to share?)
  5. Questions (What questions do you still have – about the topic or about the strategies or choices the facilitation team made)

During the upcoming BCcampus FLO workshop that I’m co-facilitating with Leonne Beebe, I hope to explore different ways to emphasize the importance and critical thinking that is involved in providing truly “constructive” feedback – both through the use of different feedback structures, and by asking good questions to stimulate our participants to embed this approach in their learning and practice.

So, when you think about how you encourage your learners to provide “constructive” comments or feedback – what are the essential elements you emphasize?

Sylvia

Facilitating FLO at ABEABC conference – in two part harmony…

Harrison Hot Springs hotel

Location – ABEABC Conference

Location – ABEABC Conference[/caption]Last week really proved the value and benefits of co-facilitation! Sylvia Currie and I had been invited to share what FLO (Facilitating Learning Online) was all about with a group of adult basic education instructors at their annual conference in Harrison Hot Springs. Normally I would have hesitated to take on something like the conference session while I was in the middle (Week 3!) of a FLO workshop. But I was able to plan ahead with my co-facilitator Beth Cougler-Blom and she covered my absence during the 3 days I was in Harrison. And my previous co-facilitation of FLO with Sylvia Currie meant that our planning went smoothly and I knew we’d work well together during the conference session.

The Adult Basic Education Association of BC (ABEABC) formed in 1979 and today, 37 years later, is run by an amazing group of committed, knowledgeable adult basic education and literacy instructors. The organizer of this year’s conference was Leonne Beebe, currently an ABE-Math instructor at University of Fraser Valley and an FLO-FDO facilitator (Facilitating Learning Online-Facilitator Development Online)

FLO LogoLeonne invited us to the conference as she knew that many of the topics that we deal with throughout the five week FLO workshop are relevant in adult basic education contexts. We selected three important topics to focus our 90 minute session on Thursday afternoon (April 21):

  • workload management,
  • assessment approaches, and
  • responsive facilitation.

We began with a brief explanation and illustration of FLO’s weekly themes and topics and tried to convey the sense of community that we try to develop and the emphasis on participation and reflective practice the workshop offers.

FLO ThemesSylvia and I tried a “string” of micro-structures drawn from Liberating Structures menu (http://www.liberatingstructures.com/ls) to engage the ABEABC audience members in sharing and analysis of elements of student success and instructor challenges in online ABE courses.

Impromptu NetworkingWhat, So what, Now what1-2-4-ALLMin Specs

 

 

 

We began the session with Impromptu Networking, asking participants to introduce themselves and share a statement of what they wanted to “get out of the session” with other participants. This structure can be done in different ways but we chose to divide the participants into two small circles; each person was given a minute to share, a minute to listen and then they were asked to move on to the next person. On the last cycle, we asked them to exchange cards and, explained that we would re-unite them at the end of the session so they could do a personal “check-in” to see if the other person achieved what they wanted at the beginning.  I think that the participants found this energizing and connecting but, as a facilitator, I think I need to find a way to capture the outcomes for my own satisfaction. Did our participants achieve what they wanted? Were they satisfied with what they learned?

We used the “What?-So what?-Now what?” structure to help participants identify important questions around the three main topics (Assessment, Workload Management, Responsive Facilitation). We used those questions to pre-load three stations around the room; participants were asked to move to the station that was of most interest to them and engage in a modified 1-2-4-ALL and Min Specs. They had had a chance to reflect on their questions (1) and we began their station discussions in pairs, then moved them to station groups (4) and then shared back their discoveries or questions to the large group. The Min Specs was used to draw out ideas for what could be done to address the question they decided to focus on at each station.

An interesting exercise and I think most of the participants left with some new insights and ideas into important areas of ABE practice in online environments. We had an opportunity to try another way to engage learners and discovered ways to refine and adjust our next use of micro-structures. And we learned a great deal about the challenges these educators face in trying to support learning and success for their diverse students!

 

Hopping thru LTTO MOOC

LTTO_MOOCUNSW's 2nd offering of their popular Learning to Teach Online MOOC began July 8th with more than 8,000 registered participants (notice I don't call them learners?) I signed up for a variety of reasons: to take a look at the MOOC design; to see what they would cover in terms of developing engaging online learning activities; to connect with colleagues around the world. Luckily, LTTO is designed to be flexible in the ways you can engage in learning; the instructors, Simon McIntyre and Professor Negin Mirriahi utilize resources from UNSW's award-winning collection of open-licensed videos and helpful documentation (aka Learning to Teach Online) combined with brief videos to support each module of the eight weeks.

I've been hopping around the MOOC structure, sampling some of the discussion forum topics / ideas, exploring the Class Resource Library (the 2014 collection is shared thru an open Gdoc), poking around the MOOC design elements (well thought out!). Although the course is designed to be flexible, I've found the survey questions somewhat irritating as they don't offer options to select more than one response (in questions that seem, to me, to require more than one answer). On the other hand, I've appreciated the straightforward, clear design, explanations and friendly, open tone set by the two instructors. The videos are generally well done although I sometimes feel like reaching out to hold their hands still and the information presented seems to provide a good foundation for completing the activities or learning from the linked resources. As they point out in the course design / getting started information, much of the learning takes place in the online discussion forums.

So, a general enthusiastic "thumbs up" to the instructors and, although they are beginning Week 3, I'm jumping ahead to Week 7 Engaging & Motivating Students.