Reflections from the first day of the ELI Annual Meeting

Wow! I’m not even sure where to begin. I’m on information overload but I really feel like I came away with a lot of new and valuable information today.

One of the poster presentations I visited was entitled “Extreme Makeover: Course Edition”. These creative individuals from San Francisco State University have created a professional development session for online faculty which looks fun and informative. It uses the best of instructional design and learning theory by combining social constructivist principles and opportunities for problem-based learning into the curriculum. Faculty are presented with a students’ perspective in the style of an “Extreme Makeover” video as motivation for changing their practices. Though a mixture of some direct instruction and opportunities to work together, faculty must create learning modules for instruction you would not usually expect to find online. These instructional modules are fun and light; how to do the Tango or how to make a rueben sandwich, but they require creativity and problem solving when presented online. I was very intrigued and am rethinking my own professional development models for my faculty.

I also attended a general session presented by John Medina, a developmental nuclear biologist involved in brain research. His presentaion regarding what brain research can tell us about education was mind-blowing. I knew, for example, that we could hold up to 7 pieces of information in short-term memory for up to 30 seconds and that repetion was necessary to move that information into working memory. I did not know, however, that if that information was not repeated again within 2 hours, that it was lost. The implications that Dr. Medina pointed out for education is that our current educational model is based on 60-90 minute periods, but if we learn new information for 60 minutes and then don’t work with it again, in two hours it’s gone, so by the time a student gets home to do homework, it isn’t practice, it’s new information again. He suggests that perhaps a better model for eductaion would be to break the day into smaller sections of 20 minutes a piece and work on layered learning, where we work on the the same three subjects several times in a row for 20 minutes each time.

But even more mind-boggling than this was the amount of time that learning took to go from working memory to full integration in long term memory, where recall was perfect and immediate each time. While the time varies from person to person and with different items being learned, the average time is 10 years for full integration. So something you learn in first grade is not fully integrated into long term memory until you are a sophomore in high school.

Medina also stated that the brain was “designed to solve problems related to surviving in an unstable outdoor environment and to do so in nearly constant motion.” In other words, our classrooms provide a polar opposite environment from the ideal environment in which our brain likes to work. 

He has also done some research related to excercise and learning. His research shows that regular aerobic exercise can significantly improve fluid memory capacity.

I also attended a session on active learning. The instructional technologist spoke about Richard Mayer’s three metaphor’s of learning: response strengthening, information acquisition, and knowledge construction. He showed how with response strengthening you assess learning by performance, and with information acquisition you assess learning through recall, but with knowledge transfer you assess learning by transfer. If a student can take the knowledge they’ve received and apply it to a new situation, that is transfer, and that is the best kind of learning according to Richard Mayer. This speaker went on to say that knowledge construction is a form of active learning but that there were two problems with this kind of learning. The first is the potential for misconceptions to occur. For his example he asked the audience to think about why we have four different seasons, and then cites this YouTube video as an example of a misconception in knowledge construction: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0wk4qG2mIg

The second problem with active learning and knowledge construction is the difficulty of generating ideas.

To aid students with correcting misconceptions the speacker suggested the use of social reading, which he equated to book clubs. He said that you could have students use a program like Adobe to highlight a document and then bring all their highlights together into one document. He stated that if you held a misconception and discussed it in front of your peers, a peer would be more than happy to straighten you out.

To resolve the second problem, the speaker suggested the use of graphic organizers. He had a long list of graphic organizers and suggested ways to use them.

I look forward to what I will learn tomorrow and how it might apply to what I am learning in school or what I am doing on my job.

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