I recently had the opportunity to attend SXSWedu in Austin, Texas. What started as a “Texas-focused K-12 event” back in 2011 has grown into a mega-conference unto itself, boasting more than 300 sessions from 700+ presenters across 35+ countries. This conference brings together some of the most interesting and innovative faculty, designers, administrators, well-established ed tech providers, and ed start ups in the world.
By far, the most difficult thing to decide (aside from where to get the best BBQ) is which sessions you want to cram into your already fully-loaded schedule. At the University of Akron, there have been many conversations and initiatives regarding competency based learning, gamification, cognitive process, big data, etc… and thus, focusing on these themes seemed to be the best use of time.
One of the first sessions I attended was, “The Science of Learning”. This was a discussion that included: Mariette DiChristina, from Scientific American, Robert Lue, from Harvard University, Tim Stelzer, from the University of Illinois, and Susan Winslow, from Macmillan Education. The panel discussed:
- What works in education, using emerging technologies and new methods of data analysis
- Ways in which researchers and teachers can work together on collating and deriving new directions from such evidence-based analysis, for the benefit of students
- Insight into a range of new teaching and educational models, including international models such as those deployed with success within other countries, such as Finland.
A comment that Tim Stelzer made stood out to me:
What Professor Stelzer was referring to was that we need to think about how our students learn. If we look across the history of education, we see that one of the most successful ways to teach students is the apprentice model. Think about it. The apprentice would learn from the master every skill and nuance to solve a problem; and after a great deal of practice, they too would demonstrate proficiency. The issue however, is that this model doesn’t scale.
How do you provide experiential learning opportunities to a classroom full of students, let alone in an online course? There’s a lot to uncover here. Different modalities, classroom design, online offerings, “flipping” the delivery of content, etc… all play into this. Research shows that student performance increases when students are presented with multiple modes of information. If we know this, then why do we still deliver 55 minute lectures and read off the PowerPoint slides? (Which was the exact joke that was made about this conference presentation)
Here’s the challenge. Think about how YOU like to learn. Is it merely reading the assigned text for yourself? Or, is it approaching the material from multiple angles? Watching videos? Listening to the lecture? Analyzing a real-world case study? Discussing how the topic relates your life? It may be any one of these approaches, and certainly, providing these different options to learn the material couldn’t hurt, right?
I saw this posted in the hallway at SXSW:
A wall in the hallway at SXSWedu where attendees could indicate where they do their best thinking. Wait! We don’t all do our best thinking in public in groups?
Conference attendees self-identified where they like to do their best thinking. Mind you, many of these attendees are college professors, K-12 teachers, educators from across the spectrum. The point is, we KNOW this. We know that we don’t all operate the same way when it comes to learning. Yet, we still set up classrooms with the “Sage on the Stage” approach. I admit, I do this in my own teaching, especially when I think the topic is best served (and most efficient) by my sharing of the material from the front of the classroom. However, I know that there are better approaches, and conference sessions like this help me to think about what I can do differently.
Robert Lue brought up a great point. I’m paraphrasing:
“We hear about the 100,000 students who dropped a MOOC course. What we’re not asking is what was their intention? So, we asked them, and what they said was they never intended to complete. However, we can see that the number of students who actually clicked on things had a much higher completion rate. MOOC’s have one opening [one front door], when in reality, we need multiple doorways. It would be better to tailor things by cohort, and identify the 10,000 committed students.”
Looking at the data across 100,000 students shows you some very interesting insights. Who’s obviously committed, and who’s not? This prompts the question, “How do we influence the will of the student to become a committed learner or to learn more?” Here are some ideas:
- Do a full analysis of what you want your students to learn and adjust your assessments if they appear to stray from those objectives.
- Ask yourself, what do you want out of grades? Is it just an even distribution? Or, do you want students to demonstrate mastery? If it’s mastery, consider building multiple opportunities to practice with the content at various levels of difficulty. Remember, we learn from our failures, and providing various levels of difficulty can help build student confidence.
- Connect the dots. Show students how things relate to each other across the entire course. Students often miss the “big picture” of what their learning and how the various concepts fit together.
- Ramp up interaction. Reaching the introverts as well as extroverts in class is paramount to building student engagement. Multiple small group activities can help students get comfortable working with their peers, and lead to larger interactions.
- Promote student engagement. Send reminders encouraging students to get into the conversation. Remind them of how their discussion relates back to the content.
After the session, I was walking amongst the flurry of other conference attendees, scrambling to make it to the next room, and saw this on the wall:
Had to take a picture. Another wall at SXSWedu
This just made me smile. Learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom. It can happen anywhere, in any space. It’s all about application and connecting the dots.