From the category archives:


Radical Teaching Success

by Dr Davis on October 16, 2013

Wired has an article on a radical change in education.

I’ve seen the TED talk that Sugata Mitra gave over his successful experiment in educating the poorest of the poor.

I’m interested in the ideas found here, but am unsure how to implement them in the higher education classroom.

The study found that when the subjects controlled their own observations, they exhibited more coordination between the hippocampus and other parts of the brain involved in learning and posted a 23 percent improvement in their ability to remember objects. “The bottom line is, if you’re not the one who’s controlling your learning, you’re not going to learn as well,” says lead researcher Joel Voss, now a neuroscientist at Northwestern University.

For my literature students, I have given them the opportunity to vote on what kinds of papers they would write over the semester. (All short analysis papers, longer papers, or a single long paper.) They chose the short, regular assignments and the 3 exams (instead of 2). We actually just revised the syllabus yesterday and have added a cumulative final as well.

My business writing students were able to choose the topic of their major project, the primary form that major project would take, and whether or not they had a final exam or a brochure and digital presentation during the final exam period. That is not quite as much control over the entire class as could be had, but I do feel like it allowed them input and means they will be more prepared for the research and production of their major project.


Learning Techniques: Distributed Practice

by Dr Davis on October 9, 2013

The term distributed- practice effect refers to the finding that distributing learning over time (either within a single study session or across ses- sions) typically benefits long-term retention more than does massing learning opportunities back-to-back or in relatively close succession. (35)

Spaced practice (1 day or 30 days) was superior to massed practice (0 days), and the benefit was greater following a longer lag (30 days) than a shorter lag (1 day). (36)

Cepeda et al. (2006) reviewed 254 studies involving more than 14,000 participants altogether; overall, students recalled more after spaced study (47%) than after massed study (37%). (36)

Cepeda et al. (2006) noted that most studies have used rela- tively short intervals (less than 1 day), whereas we would expect the typical interval between educational learning opportunities (e.g., lecture and studying) to be longer. Recall that the classic investigation by Bahrick (1979) showed a larger distributed-practice effect with 30-day lags between sessions than with 1-day lags (Fig. 10); Cepeda et al. (2006) noted that “every study examined here with a retention inter- val longer than 1 month demonstrated a benefit from distribution of learning across weeks or months” (p. 370; “retention interval” here refers to the time between the last study oppor- tunity and the final test). (37)

However, the answer is not as simple as “longer lags are better”—the answer depends on how long the learner wants to retain information. (37)

distributed-practice effects are large for free recall but are smaller (or even nonexistent) for tasks that are very complex, such as airplane control (Donovan & Rados- evich, 1999). (38)

Several obstacles may arise when implementing distributed practice in the classroom. (38)

how students naturally study. Michael (1991) used the term procrastination scallop to describe the typical study pattern—namely, that time spent studying increases as an exam approaches. (39)

students may need some training and some convincing that distributed practice is a good way to learn and retain information. Simply experiencing the distributed-practice effect may not always be sufficient, but a demonstration paired with instruction about the effect may be more convincing to students (e.g., Balch, 2006). (39)

we rate distributed practice as hav- ing high utility: It works across students of different ages, with a wide variety of materials, on the majority of standard labora- tory measures, and over long delays. (39)

Dunlosky, et al “Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 14.1 (2013): 4-58.


Learning Technique: Practice Testing

by Dr Davis on October 8, 2013

in contrast to literatures on other learning techniques, contemporary research on testing effects has actually used short retention intervals less often than longer retention intervals. (34)

Practice testing appears to be relatively reasonable with respect to time demands. (34)

Students can engage in recall-based self-testing in a relatively straightforward fashion. (34)

Although many studies have shown that testing alone outperforms restudy, some studies have failed to find this advantage (in most of these cases, accuracy on the practice test has been relatively low). In contrast, the advantage of practice testing with feedback over restudy is extremely robust. Practice testing with feedback also consistently outperforms practice testing alone. (35)

The feedback does not have to be immediate, however; in fact, it is better with delayed feedback.

Testing effects have been demonstrated across an impressive range of practice-test formats, kinds of material, learner ages, outcome measures, and retention intervals. Thus, practice testing has broad applicability. Practice testing is not particularly time intensive relative to other techniques, and it can be implemented with minimal training. Finally, several studies have provided evidence for the efficacy of practice testing in representative educational contexts. (35)


Dunlosky, et al “Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 14.1 (2013): 4-58.


Learning Technique: Highlighting and Underlining

by Dr Davis on October 8, 2013

When students themselves are asked about what they do when studying, they commonly report underlining, high- lighting, or otherwise marking material as they try to learn it (e.g., Cioffi, 1986; Gurung, Weidert, & Jeske, 2010). (18)

On the basis of the available evidence, we rate highlighting and underlining as having low utility. (21)

it may actually hurt performance on higher- level tasks that require inference making. (21)

Dunlosky, et al “Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 14.1 (2013): 4-58.


Learning Technique: Self-Explanation

by Dr Davis on October 7, 2013

the core component of self-explana- tion involves having students explain some aspect of their pro- cessing during learning. (11)

self-explanation may enhance learning by support- ing the integration of new information with existing prior knowledge. (11)

the range of tasks and measures that have been used to explore self-explanation is quite large. (12) This is overall a plus, because it means that it applies to a wide variety of assignments.

studies involving text learning have also shown effects on measures of comprehension, including dia- gram-drawing tasks, application-based questions, and tasks in which learners must make inferences … (12)

most students appar- ently can profit from self-explanation with minimal training. (13)

self-paced administration usu- ally yielded nontrivial increases (30–100%) in the amount of time spent learning in the self-explanation condition relative to other conditions (14)

its effects have been shown across differ- ent content materials within task domains as well as across several different task domains (14)

Self-explana- tion effects have also been shown across an impressive range of learning outcomes, including various measures of memory, comprehension, and transfer. (14)

Dunlosky, et al “Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 14.1 (2013): 4-58.


Learning Technique: Elaborative Interrogation

by Dr Davis on October 2, 2013

Although most studies have involved individual learning, elaborative-interrogation effects have also been shown among students working in dyads or small groups (Kahl & Woloshyn, 1994; Woloshyn & Stockley, 1995). (8)

the key to elaborative interrogation involves prompting learners to generate an explanation for an explicitly stated fact. (8)

The prevailing theoretical account of elaborative-interroga- tion effects is that elaborative interrogation enhances learning by supporting the integration of new information with existing prior knowledge. During elaborative interrogation, learners presumably “activate schemata . . . These schemata, in turn, help to organize new information which facilitates retrieval” (Willoughby & Wood, 1994, p. 140). Although the integration of new facts with prior knowledge may facilitate the organiza- tion (Hunt, 2006) of that information, organization alone is not sufficient—students must also be able to discriminate among related facts… (8)

elaborative interrogation does appear to benefit learners across a relatively wide age range (8)

prior knowledge is an important moderator of elaborative-interroga- tion effects, such that effects generally increase as prior knowledge increases. (9)

elaborative-interrogation effects are relatively robust across factual material of different kinds and with different contents. (9)

In a classroom situation as the place of study:
Performance was better for the elaborative-interrogation group than for the control group (76% versus 69%), even after con- trolling for prior knowledge and verbal ability. (10)

Dunlosky, et al “Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 14.1 (2013): 4-58.


Knowledge and Memory

by Dr Davis on October 1, 2013

Research shows that “preexisting knowledge enhances memory by facilitating distinctive processing; e.g., Rawson and Van Overschelde, 2008” (Dunlosky, et al “Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 14.1 (2013): 4-58.)


What is Motivation?

by Dr Davis on September 9, 2013

According to Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, motivation comes from doing work that is complex, when you have autonomy, and there is a clear relationship between effort and reward (150).

How can I provide that in an English classroom?

If I adopted the five point rubric suggested in one of the articles I was reading recently, I might could do that. I need to consider it. Can I name the five without looking them up?

sentence structure

That’s not terrible, four of the five. I think identifying it as ideas, rather than content, which is what I do now, might be an improvement. I am far more likely to mark reasonable ideas as acceptable without thinking perhaps I should give it a superior. Content, on the other hand, is so general to me that I think if they put in only what applies and they did a decent job, perhaps it should receive more than acceptable.


The Manifesto Caught My Attention

by Dr Davis on May 30, 2013

A Manifesto for Community Colleges, Lifelong Learning, and Autodidacts

As some are raised a Catholic or an atheist or a vegetarian, I was raised an academic. …

Learners today are taking matters of education into their own hands. …

We have — we participate in — a system of education that works against the learner. The university is a place where students must abandon their passions and hopes…

I want to restore the high gloss image of the university as a vibrant campus of engaged learners. I want to free learning from the grip of education. …

Today’s learner is a doer and a maker of content….

Ultimately, what must happen is the development of a pedagogy, and an institution supporting that pedagogy, that is resilient in the face of the most rapidly-evolving learner in history. We must have pedagogies (and pedagogues) that are as responsive and flexible as our technologies. We must do more learning and teaching on the fly, collaborating with rather than corralling learners.

Interesting ideas.

male studying computerHow can we collaborate with our students? How can they collaborate with us?

I think it is more than “undergraduate research” as presently being implemented on many college campuses.

My colleague who brought one of her students into the reading of research as well as the creation of a new kind of class is an example of the kind of collaboration I think the author is calling for and that would be amazing. I don’t think many students are willing to do the kind of work that required, though. And this student decided not to become a teacher as a result. (Too much work and not that interesting to her.)


Students Teaching Themselves

by Dr Davis on May 29, 2013

It is a scary thought. If my students can teach themselves, what will I do for a living?

I doubt it will impact my job situation (since I won’t be teaching in 25 years and education is slow to change), but it might impact others.

But I also see it as a positive and hopeful sign for the world at large.

Listen to Sugata Mitra’s LIFT talk on the Hole in the Wall Project, found at TED. He won the 2013 TED Prize.