From the category archives:


Best Practices in Teaching

by Dr Davis on February 26, 2013

Variety in instructional methods produces more significant learning experiences (Fink, 2003). As one colleague on campus put it, “The worst teaching technique to use today is the one you used last class period.”

Peer-teaching, in which students work together to explore new concepts under the guidance of a faculty member, improves comprehension of complex ideas and produces substantial improvements in end-of-course competency testing (Crouch & Mazur, 2001).

Hybrid course models, when compared to face-to-face and fully online models, produce the best learning outcomes (Dowling, Godfrey, & Gyles, 2003; Meyer, 2012).

From a report on teaching at my university.


Flipped Classrooms

by Dr Davis on September 23, 2012

Now, first, let me say that I think that flipped classrooms are a great idea. I think that having the students do engaging work in the classroom, as discussed by a long-time blog read Casting Out Nines. One of my friends is presently flipping her classroom and I am excited about her work.

However, EdTech Magazine‘s “Colleges Go Proactive with Flipped Classrooms” begins with a statement that can easily be read the wrong way:

Professors are moving away from the straight lecture approach and running more hands-on learning and group activities in class — and they’re using more technology to get it done.

When I first read it, even though I know what a flipped classroom is, I thought the article was saying that lectures were disappearing while group activities were being done in class. The third paragraph clears up this misunderstanding by explaining that students watch the lectures outside of class and do group activities in class.

There’s a big difference between having no lectures and having lectures but not in class. (Yes, I know the first sentence can be read that way. It is not the most common way of reading it, however, even by someone who understands the flipped-classroom concept.)

I have heard people question flipped classrooms because “If the teacher gives the lecture online, why do the kids even have to come to class?” and “You just want to flip the classroom so you can stay in your pajamas all day.” (WHAT?) These are academics saying these things, by the way.

If students can come to class already having heard the introductory material and then while they are in class practice applying that material, I think everyone will be better off.

Let’s flip classes, not burgers!


Mastery and Performance

by Dr Davis on May 30, 2012

The Tempered Radical has a post entitled, “Master and Performance are NOT the Same Thing.”

This is a confluence of readings. Perhaps I am noticing them because I am already reading on the topic. But today I was reading Drive by Daniel H. Pink about mastery and have read several other books recently about it.

Tempered Radical’s article says:

My thinking started when Dean Shareski challenged me to make self-assessment a larger part of the work that I do in my classroom. It was pushed further by a candid confession from one of my students that her determination to “do well” distracts her from actually learning anything.

Wow. That does sound familiar. At Location 2059 of 3487, Pink is finishing up his discussion of self-assessment, which he frames as a monthly performance review.

Tempered Radical’s Bill Ferriter’s differentiation between mastery and performance reminds me of Pinks discussion at Location 1922 regarding purpose goals versus profit goals, and their impact on life. It also reminds me of something else I’ve been reading (or maybe Pink and I just can’t find it) about performance goals versus learning goals. Students with learning goals do better than students with performance goals. (So making an A is not as strong a goal as “learning all about Old English literature” in my Brit Lit I course.)


Goldilocks as Metaphor

by Dr Davis on May 29, 2012

I’ve run into two uses of Goldilocks as metaphor today. One was in this set of posts on the topic of first language acquisition that I am posting here so I can find them again to share them with my linguistics class next spring.

Image by Phillip Martin

Babies Pay Attention Like Goldilocks, from Scientific American.

Scientific American’s Cynthia Graber (author of the article linked above) got the metaphor from the open access article by
Celeste Kidd, Steven T. Piantadosi, and Richard N. Aslin, “The Goldilocks Effect: Human Infants Allocate Attention to Visual Sequences That Are Neither Too Simple Nor Too Complex”.

But she ended her article so perfectly for the metaphor:

Like Goldlocks’s porridge, it has to be just right.

Baby Attention Learning from Live Science is another news version of the open access article by
Celeste Kidd, Steven T. Piantadosi, and Richard N. Aslin, “The Goldilocks Effect: Human Infants Allocate Attention to Visual Sequences That Are Neither Too Simple Nor Too Complex”.

“You would think that the more complex something is, the more interesting it would be. That’s not the case with babies,” study researcher Richard Aslin of the University of Rochester said in a statement.

No, I don’t think that. I give up when something is too complicated. Why wouldn’t babies?

These articles (all three) reminded me of reading I’ve been doing–Daniel H. Pink’s Drive and Julie Dirksen’s Design for How People Learn, both of which use other research (such as Csikszentmihalyi’s on Flow) about adults’ need for not too easy, not too hard. I don’t think the Goldilocks’ attitude is limited to babies.

Pink, in his 2009 book Drive says:

First, they provide employees with what I call “Goldilocks tasks” –challenges that are not too hot and not too cold, neither overly difficult nor overly simple. (Kindle reading access 1574 of 3487)

By the way, neither Pink nor Csikszentmihalyi are referenced in the open access article. Perhaps someone forgot where they got the idea? Or maybe they came up with the same idea at the same time? The article was published in 2011. Or maybe they all borrowed it from someone else? Or maybe it is just such an obvious metaphor that lots of people use it?

How Babies Learn, in photos, from Live Science.


Get Focused

by Dr Davis on December 26, 2011

Do one thing at a time.
With so much coming at us so relentlessly – emails, texts, people, and information – we assume the only way to get to it all is to juggle multiple tasks at the same time. In fact, moving between tasks creates something called “switching time.” When you shift attention from one focus of attention to another, the average time it takes to finish the first task increases by at least 25%.

from 99%’s A Master Plan

Here are the rules: All work must be done in blocks of at least 30 minutes. If I start editing a paper, for example, I have to spend at least 30 minutes editing. If I need to complete a small task, like handing in a form, I have to spend at least 30 minutes doing small tasks. Crucially, checking email and looking up information online count as small tasks. If I need to check my inbox or grab a quick stat from the web, I have to spend at least 30 minutes dedicated to similarly small diversions.

On the flip side, the percentage of time spent in a flow state was as large as I’ve experienced in recent memory. I ended up spending 2.5 hours focused on my writing project and 3.5 hours focused on my research paper. That’s six hours, in one day, of focused work with zero interruptions; not even one quick glance at email.

At the same time, the careful pre-planning required to satisfy my batching rules increased the efficiency of my small task completion. Even though I dedicated 6 hours in one 10 hour work day to uninterrupted focus, another 1.5 hours to exercise and eating, and another 1 hour to a doctors appointment, I still managed to accomplish an impressive collection of logistical tasks both urgent and non-urgent.

from 99%’s A Day Without Distraction


Getting in the Zone

by Dr Davis on December 24, 2011

If you want to develop your ability to enter the creative zone at will, you should know that there are three conditions for a really effective hypnotic trigger:

Uniqueness – it should be something (or a combination of things) you don’t associate with other activities, otherwise the effect will be diluted.
Emotional intensity – the kind you experience when you’re really immersed in creative work.
Repetition – the more times you experience the unique trigger in association with the emotions, the stronger the association becomes.

So to fine-tune your daily routine for maximum creative magic, make sure the key triggers have these qualities. For example you might want to save a particular album for listening to while you work, or be careful not to use the same notepad for sketching ideas as for your to-do list. And when you have a particularly good day, make a note of something in your routine for that day, that you can associate with the emotional state – and use the same trigger the rest of the week.

from How Mundane Routines Produce Creative Magic, at 99%


Shakespeare Sonnets and Play (and/or Design)

by Dr Davis on November 29, 2011

Still mining the comments from Siobahn Curious’ Classroom as Microcosm blog post “How Do Games Help Us Learn?”

Samuel Wood said:

One which I have used when teaching Shakespeare’s sonnets is to take them back to their early schooling and actually draw the woman as described in many sonnets and then turn to Shakespeare’s Nothing Like the Sun. This gets students thinking about the preposterousness of much imagery, cliché and metaphor as well as ideas of love and poetry.

And Siobahn replied:

I often think I should get students to draw more in my classes. One teacher I know breaks the class into 14 groups and then has each group create an image for one line of a sonnet – then they post the pictures up in order and reconstruct the sonnet together. I always thought that sounded like a lot of fun.


Literature: More Than it Was Cracked Up To Be

by Dr Davis on November 24, 2011

Remember the six elements of the Conceptual Age that Pink argues we have moved into?

That’s okay if you don’t. Unlike my students, you don’t have a quiz (or a test) on the topic.

One of the six elements was narrative.

In 1986 psychologist Jerome Bruner, now at New York University School of Law, argued persuasively that narrative is a distinctive and important mode of thought. It elaborates our conceptions of human or humanlike agents and explores how their intentions collide with reality.

Earlier, the article, from Scientific American says:

[W]riters and readers … use fictional characters to think about people in the social world.

Psychologists once scoffed at fiction as a way of understanding people because—well—it’s made up. But in the past 25 years cognitive psychologists have developed a new appreciation for the significance of stories. Just as computer simulations have helped us understand perception, learning and thinking, stories are simulations of a kind that can help readers understand not just the characters in books but human character in general.

Literature is important to life in general. Not just to a well-rounded education or to a liberal arts degree, but to life in its full and varied forms.

Something to think about.


Adams Center Lecture: Teaching and Learning

by Dr Davis on November 16, 2011

File drawer problem: journals don’t publish null findings
THERE is a usefulness to digital scholarship

4 phenomenon cause pop ideas w/out scientific support
1. Pop culture - reification
As long as concept stays in lab, everyone using it has knowledge and awareness of limitations. Once out– no realistic awareness (evolution, climate change, learning styles/preferences, social Darwinism, the unconscious–scientists know it is scientifically untenable)
Part of the sociology of knowledge
2. Barnum Effect
If you ask people if that seems like you, they will most often say yes.
Forcher 1949 study (horoscope effect idea)
Barnum Effect is more powerful. Enhanced by 4 pts:

  • 1. Subject must believe only applies to that subject
  • 2. Must believe in the authority of the tester.
  • 3. The more positive info, the more likely they are to agree.
  • 4. People don’t do these tests unless they want to know something, feel uncertain about.
  • –people adopt this feedback into their self-concept. Teacher believes Barnum Effect because students do.

3. Students’ judgement of how they learn is most often wrong. Overestimate how much they know, how hard something is to learn.
–Science Feb article
—concept maps
—take tests w/out feedback
(what Live Science article says– I use this to teach test-taking skills for my developmental and FYC students)
!!!give regular quizzes on visual rhetoric!!!
4. Marketing
Publishers have a financial investment in learning styles.

GRE: no data that supports its use, except in high demand fields at high demand institutions

As an institution, what level if evidence should we be expecting to have?
Evidence= info useful to us for making decision. More imp decisions need more evidence.

What evidence must we have to change what we are doing in the classroom?

Q? Mixing up teaching for learning?
Material presented in different ways (mixing it up) is that useful.

What was the question? (meaning, why did we start studying all this?)
What leads us to better teaching?
–differences in aptitude or ability
(teach analytic students to analyze, creative students write end of sonnet started by Shakespeare, practical folks figure out…
–prior knowledge
This matters. Mental/situational models. New info just gets sucked into the faulty model. You have to get the person on the hook for how the faulty model would predict– then do the experiment and show wrong
What do they know and how is it organized. Like brainstorming cloud.
Note: Core is 12 hours of classes required for all our students. There is one majors-only capstone in each department, but the other nine are interdisciplinary.
Core class–different from every other class because we are experts at our subject, but we have no mental model for teaching an interdisciplinary class.
Most successful Core teachers have been those who teach what they know.
–curiosity and interest
Curiosity sells every mystery novel. Anytime there is a gap, there is a pull.
–self-regulatory capacity
Give beginning students text w hyperlinks (to find new stuff) or more pictures, it impairs the cohesiveness if what they were learning. Breaks up coherence. I think this is very important, especially since we are working on online learning and ebooks. We need to consider that maybe the text that is “boring, professional, dry” may be just what the students need–at least at the beginning of their education in a subject.
Just by coloring the page the student learned less.
One example from Richard Mayer UC Santa Barbara– online on how lightning works
-1 video. 2 cartoony stuff—cartoon helped them learn better.

Used to have more external motivation through grades.
? Attribute success to being smart or talented versus to working hard?
Incremental learning is important.
Research by Carol Dweck

For novice learners pics etc bad, but for those with more knowledge hypertexted text is good.

Curse of Knowledge: impossible once you know a thing to remember how it was to not know

Interesting idea– learning as teacher is useful. (Exactly.)

Take Non-knowledgable students and teach them self-regulatory skills

Self-regulatory skills
Survey, question, read, recite, review (SQR3)
–good skill. Works really well. From 1930s.

Meta-cognitive objective built into their SLOs. Tell students what they need to think towards

Rachel Carson book on wonder. ???Any study on that?
Wonder cognate with curiosity.
Difference is existential.

Wonder/ curiosity could help students learn better.

Paschler in 2008– speaker will send PDF
Ask for name of Dweck’s book

2 of series
This talk will have 2 parts:

  • 1. studies on learning–
  • accessible
  • about behaviors students can control (except 1)
  • not all research created equal
  • 2. Should we tell them?
  • 3 or 4 ways students can learn better
  • We know it. Students don’t. If so, when? Where?

Cannot trust what students say about how they learn
Students were asked how many times they switched between tv and computer (They could watch either one.)
Observed 100s
Reported less than 50
Problematic to ask what and how they learn
?how did they measure? Answer on his blog.

Student is going to study a total of 4 hours. Results differ if separate the hours of study. Massed practice gets far lower grade on test
Longer the student waited for the test, the more important it is that they distribute their studies

Survey, question, read, recite, review
Studies on the Read-recite-review part show that those who do the R3 = 50% better on exams

Current study on relationship of music and learning. Listening to music while studying makes grade go down.

60 minute intervention changed minority averages by half a letter grade for 4 years. The 60 min is on how everybody has doubts, confusion, questions. My students seem to have no trouble acknowledging this.

This normalizes their (the minorities’) experience and helps them recognize that they are not alone.

This came at the perfect time as I offered a second option for the Xtranormal video we are doing in class. The students may choose something that they were confused about as a beginning freshman to explain.


Testing effect
Study- told to study until they thought they knew it
Repeated study- study over and over again until required time up
Concept mapping-elaborate rehearsal
Retrieval practice- notion that students learn and then we give a test to measure learning- study and take the test x3 w no feedback

Inference questions
Retrieval practice scored better. 50% better
Students write out answers. Practice answers. This is retrieval practice.

What would happen if we combined concept map (or repeated study) with retrieval practice and feedback?

For a sequence of texts:
Concept map .5
Retrieval .7
Next test
Concept map .28
Retrieval .42
Note: Retrieval practice involves asking the students to retrieve and reconstruct knowledge (Kapricke and Blunt 772).
When test was concept mapping, retrieval practice did better on the test than those who studied with concept mapping.

Discussion section:
Question: should we tell them? If so, how?

Student success program did the research that he recommended.

Ask for prep questions prior to discussions. That begins retrieval practice.

In Univ Seminar (an early student success class) one of the early themes of students was: “I already know all that.”

Do we know what to tell them?
Should we show them?

Rote memorization is important. You must have some basic knowledge of facts and names in order to build on learning. However, you don’t have to do the retrieval practice for rote memorization alone. In the study it was done for more than that.Do the practice for the details. Learning facts helps the higher learning.

Is there a place in upper level classes for this?
Should inform pedagogy.
One is value of repeated questions on tests. Second is value of comprehensive testing. Third is value of frequent testing.

One person said: I teach statistics. Like the idea of them testing themselves. Don’t want to grade. — online quizzes for immediate feedback
No grades except tests.
We do test. Then they get to rewrite for half credit. Then the second test did a better job. Iterative process is working.

Good bad question. Just telling someone something doesn’t teach them. Need to create learning ops

Appears to me that some of our brighter students need to know these things. Some of our brighter students may be learning less.
28 on ACT keeps poor students off academic probation but their grades are a letter grade lower than it could/should be.

Learning Across the Curriculum

Identity class used a concept map. Showed them concept maps in one core class

Greatest resistance is against critical thinking because students think they already know it and just refuse to apply it.
Doing an essay — low grades– rubric for assignment.

Breaking point for students. If they can make the grades, then they keep doing what is working

Do they want to know? Is it our job to make them want to know?
If they want to know, some of this can be found by themselves.

Question for McKelvain: You have been studying students with high ACT scores but who are less successful in college than expected. Do you know the variables that predict why there is underachievement?
McKelvain’s answer: So far this is simply speculation– personality difference about why they believe they succeed (smart or work hard?)
Working hard is good for feedback. If they think assignments are to show they are good/smart, they are not open to feedback.
Big differences for students. See Dweck.
The smart students need actual knowledge of how to manage learning. Have never needed this knowledge.
My sons, whom I homeschooled, were required to revise their work until they made a 100 on math, science, multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank-tests. I told them they were smart, but I also told them that when they had failed to do their work. “You are smart, so you might be able to get by without this right now. However, hard work is going to be what helps you get ahead, get a job, and make good money. There you have to be smart about what choices you make for working even when it is difficult.”

Students are the equivalent of self-employed. They have to manage self and do the learning.

We need to give regular assignments and good feedback. (Apparently there are some folks who only give finals. My freshmen agreed that this is true of their professors. I find this disconcerting for my students, who go into the final and their whole grade depends on that one exam.)

I do this particularly well. In my freshman composition course, we have had forty smaller writing assignments and four communicative works of art (essays in rhetorical and visual forms).

Getting connected also impacts grades. Doing Freshman Follies (a musical for freshman participants) brings grade ave up by half a grade.

Robert McKelvain of Abilene Christian University, presenting.


77 Ways to Learn

by Dr Davis on October 6, 2011

An article from 2006 just came to my attention: Hacking Knowledge: 77 Ways to Learn Faster, Deeper, and Better. The article lists 77 simple changes to life to help improve learning. Some of them make intuitive sense. Many of them I already do. Some of them are just odd.

What can I add to my repertoire?

Since I have been sitting at the computer for a while this morning, number one makes perfect sense.

Shake a leg. Lack of blood flow is a common reason for lack of concentration. If you’ve been sitting in one place for awhile, bounce one of your legs for a minute or two. It gets your blood flowing and sharpens both concentration and recall.

Another that always works for me is this:

Write, don’t type. While typing your notes into the computer is great for posterity, writing by hand stimulates ideas. The simple act of holding and using a pen or pencil massages acupuncture points in the hand, which in turn stimulates ideas.

I like this one, as it seems to be something both my students and I need to do more of:

Give yourself credit. Ideas are actually a dime a dozen. If you learn to focus your mind on what results you want to achieve, you’ll recognize the good ideas. Your mind will become a filter for them, which will motivate you to learn more.

My favorite, both as an English teacher and as an avid–nay addicted–reader is:

Read as much as you can. How much more obvious can it get?

This is one of the reasons I love teaching:

Do unto others: teach something. The best way to learn something better is to teach it to someone else. It forces you to learn, if you are motivated enough to share your knowledge.

Here’s a point that is talking about the beginning of success being the understanding that failing is not the end.

Persist. Don’t give up learning in the face of intimdating tasks. Anything one human being can learn, most others can as well. Wasn’t it Einstein that said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”? Thomas Edison said it, too.

One that I think falls in line with the creativity, play, innovation model I’ve been working on this semester is this:

Use information design. When you record information that has an inherent structure, applying information design helps convey that information more clearly. A great resource is Information Aesthetics, which gives examples of information design and links to their sources.

The linked source, Information Aesthetics is also very cool.