The Learning Styles Zombie

zombie-blog

Learning Styles Zombie: Adapted from user cipionhabla on flickr: https://goo.gl/jmOeMv

The learning styles zombie just will not die.  If you follow me on Twitter (@hodgesc) or other social media platforms, you have seen my posts of disappointment and frustration over the years regarding the never ending stream of nonsense regarding learning styles in Education.  If you need a refresher, flip through the collection of expert opinions I have been maintaining here: Learning Styles and Expert Opinion.

A few things have converged for me lately that have made me think that I am approaching the problem of stamping out the learning zombie incorrectly.  First, I was thinking about the recent discussions of alternative facts in our news media (e.g. Conway: Trump White House offered ‘alternative facts’ on crowd size) and the recent U.S. election process in general, and how differently people look at facts and information. Despite quite clear evidence about various topics and individuals in the election, people continue to believe and promote things that (to me) are clearly wrong. Next, I have come across some recently published examples of learning styles research in academic journals, which resulted in me having some exchanges with Dr. Paul Kirschner on Facebook and Twitter.  Paul has a long record of fighting this zombie.  Mostly recently, he was a coauthor of the book Urban Myths about Learning and Education (reviewed here by Dr. Barbara Lockee in the journal TechTrends ) and an invited editorial in the journal Computers & Education titled “Stop Propagating the Learning Styles Myth“. Finally, I was re-reading the book What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain and I was reminded about the work of Halloun and Hestenes (1985). Here is their abstract:

An instrument to assess the basic knowledge state of students taking a first course in physics has been designed and validated. Measurements with the instrument show that the student’s initial qualitative, common sense beliefs about motion and causes has a large effect on performance in physics, but conventional instruction induces only a small change in those beliefs.

Basically, Halloun and Hestenes discovered that despite their best efforts at teaching a beginning, college-level physics class, students often left the class with the same misconceptions that they brought with them into the class.  I have the same problem in the graduate-level Instructional Technology classes that I teach with respect to learning styles.

My classes often wind up touching on learning styles one way or another.  If the myth of learning styles is not on the course outline, it frequently comes up as part of a class discussion, and I take some time to try and correct the misconception.  However, I have the strong sense that I do not change many minds, at least for very long.

My strategy to dispel the learning styles myth has so far been in the form of providing information.  I give students the link to my slide deck linked earlier in this post.  If there is something new on the topic, then I send that along too.  Many of my students are teachers and they usually resist this information.  The will claim that they have “seen” learning styles in their classrooms.  On top of this experience in their classes, learning styles are often actively promoted to teachers as useful information, so my voice is just one data point on the topic for them.

This recent thinking about the learning styles zombie has led me to some interesting reading about epistemology, conceptual change, schema theory, and the nature of facts and opinions.  There is so much to read and consider that I could stay engrossed in the literature probably forever.  However, fulfilling my desire to learn more will do nothing to kill this zombie. I am approaching this problem incorrectly, or maybe just insufficiently.

Simply providing information to my students, no matter how expert the source, is not enough.  I need to create a learning activity that has a good chance of correcting the misconceptions about learning styles.  I need to find out where it can fit into my classes. Ideally I would like to see a professional organization take up the fight too, but there are many good causes to support in Education, and this one is probably not high on their lists.

Why is killing the learning styles zombie important?  Think about the number of hours teachers spend addressing learning styles or learning about learning styles.  Think about the number of dollars spent on materials marketed to help learners with varied learning styles.  Teachers do not need to waste their time and schools do not need to waste money on materials that have no solid footing.

Do you have a good model for designing instruction to address conceptual change?  Do you have an activity for students that fights the learning styles zombie?  I would love to hear about your successes in this battle. We need to create and test these activities and then share them widely.

So, I was invited to the White House…

screenshot-2017-01-17-at-2-16-02-pm

In late November 2016 I was invited to a summit in Washington D.C. that was organized by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology and focused on educational technology in teacher preparation.  The summit took place in mid-December with one day of meetings hosted at the offices of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and a second day of meetings at the
Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House. It was an honor to be included on the invitation list to this event, and I was very happy to be able to attend.

The second day of the summit coincided with the release of a policy brief, Advancing Educational Technology in Teacher Preparation. The brief, and our summit, focused on four guiding principles:

  • Focus on the active use of technology to enable learning and teaching through
    creation, production, and problem-solving.
  • Build sustainable, program-wide systems of professional learning for
    higher education instructors to strengthen and continually refresh their capacity to use technological tools to enable transformative learning and teaching.
  • Ensure pre-service teachers’ experiences with educational technology are
    program-deep and program-wide, rather than one-off courses separate from
    their methods courses.
  • Align efforts with research-based standards, frameworks, and credentials
    recognized across the field.

During the summit experts from around the country were asked to share descriptions of their work that align with the principles. The list of presenters included: Dr. Teresa Foulger (Arizona State University) who discussed the work her team is doing to develop teacher education technology competencies and how educational technology is being integrated into the ASU teacher preparation curriculum; Dr. Jeff Carpenter (Elon University) who described his work using Twitter to develop community in Elon’s teacher education program; Dr. Royce Kimmons (Brigham Young University) presenting about the work he and his colleagues have done with technology in teacher preparation, including PICRAT; and Dr. Kyle Peck (Penn State) and Dan Randall (Brigham Young University) who discussed their work on badges and microcredentials. There were other presenters, but the ones I have listed here are working in areas that most closely align with my work context and/or research interests.  The summit attendees also heard remarks from Mario Cardona, Senior Policy Advisor for Education to the White House; Dr. Ted Mitchell, Under Secretary of Education; and Dr. Joseph South, Director of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology.

Teresa Foulger, Jeff Carpenter, Royce Kimmons, Kyle Peck, and Dan Randall are all doing important work, if you are a stakeholder in teacher preparation and/or educational technology.  I encourage you to give their work an in-depth look.  The work with badges and microcredentials may be new to you.  When I talk to people about badges in education I often sense a lot of skepticism, but I believe this topic especially has the potential to change a lot of what we do in Education in terms of pre-service and in-service teacher education.  You may see me write more about this topic in another blog entry soon.

As the summit was concluding we were given the opportunity to join affinity groups around the four principles from the policy brief.  Thus, we will all hopefully hear more about these efforts from the affinity groups rather than having the principles buried in a PDF document in some archive of government documents.  I agreed to work with the group focused professional learning for higher education instructors (the second bullet in the above list).  Our work is just getting organized, but at least one of the groups is already quite far along in their work; Teresa Foulger’s group working on technology competencies will report their work at the March 2017 SITE Conference.

Locally, I am curious about the implementation of educational technology experiences for pre-service teachers that are program-deep and program-wide, rather than one-off courses (bullet three in the above list).  I have already had some information conversations with my Dean about how this could be done in my College and I hope the conversation continues. The program-deep and program-wide goal is admirable, but many of us work in environments where student credit hours are the coin of the realm and having designated courses for educational technology makes those hours easy to count. Similarly, those of us who are faculty members in Educational Technology or Instructional Technology programs do not want to become support personnel to others implementing technology in their classes.  Implementing program-wide and program-deep experiences for pre-service teachers will take some creative thinking to ensure it works within systems that have been built for decades around the concepts of classes and semesters.

Dr. South and his staff from the Office of Educational Technology did a great job organizing and facilitating the summit.  I hope that the work of his office and the work growing out of the summit is able to continue through the transition to the next President’s administration.

 

Going Slow

Slow Down .......You Clown!!

Photo by Luc B | CC

If you are a faculty member at an institution of higher education and have spent too much time in meetings or writing reports related to recruitment, retention, enrollment, accreditation, and the like, then you should find the time to read The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy by M. Berg and B.K. Seeber. Michael M. Grant, who blogs at http://viral-notebook.com/, told me about the book.

The book is not long, just 90 pages.  It did, however, take me longer than expected to read, as I often had to stop and reflect on the number of personal experiences I have had (or friends have had) corresponding to the authors’ various observations. The book includes a preface, an introduction, four chapters, a conclusion, and acknowledgements and works cited sections.  The Preface includes the Slow Professor Manifesto, which begins:

“We are Slow Professors.  We believe that adopting the principles of Slow into our professional practice is an effective way to alleviate work stress, pressure, humanistic education, and resist the corporate university”(p. ix).

it goes on to include:

“In the corporate university, power is transferred from faculty to managers, economic justifications dominate, and the familiar ‘bottom line’ eclipses pedagogical and intellectual concerns. Slow Professors advocate deliberation over acceleration.  We need time to think, and so do our students.  Time for reflection and open-ended inquiry is not a luxury but is crucial to what we do” (p. x).

As I read the book, I found myself wanting to quote so much of that I found it ridiculous. They link the familiar three foci of professor-life (teaching, research, and service) to issues stemming from the corporate university, and they discuss how Slow can benefit them. They do not offer much in the book on the topic of online teaching.  I teach in a 100% online graduate program.  The book includes some information on technology and teaching online, but this is by no means a major part of the book.  I will continue to think about how the ideas shared in the book might be amplified or ameliorated by teaching online.

If reading the book does nothing else, it will help you know that you and your institution are not anomalies, if you share the same experiences described in the book.  Working in academe can sometimes be isolating, and the validation of knowing you are not alone can be comforting. I identified with many of the observations included in this book, but I am unsure of how to act to resist the corporate university. The reality is that deadlines are given, reports are assigned, and managers control raises (however infrequent or small) and other perks of the profession (travel and professional development funds). I believe it will be hard for any one faculty member to make much of a difference working alone to resist the corporate university without being branded as an uncooperative crank who does not work well with others.  However, recommending this book to others and discussing its many cogent points may produce meaningful changes within an academic unit.

I have many opinions and comments regarding the idea of the corporate university, which I may share in a future post.  I need some more time to organize them.

(im)possible

I was talking to one of my daughters today and remembered two experiences from my life as a young student:

1) In sixth grade the math teacher asked the class  for a show of hands indicating who was interested in math field day.  I raised my hand.  He looked square at me and said something like “You’ll never make it very far in the competition.  Don’t try.”  I didn’t, until much later.  During my junior or senior year in high school I finally participated and advanced to the regional competition.  I bombed there in spectacular fashion, but I went on to earn two math degrees and work for 17 years as a college math instructor.

2) In high school I wanted to skip a particular introductory class.  I had owned a computer for  few years and could already do everything we were doing in the introductory class.  The teacher would not allow it so I decided not to take her classes.  She commented in a not-so-nice tone that unless I had her classes, I would never pass college.  I did pass college (3 times) and earned a minor in Computer Science with one degree.  Now I am an Associate Professor.

I do not recall either incident inspiring some deep rooted resolve to prove these teachers wrong, but I am glad I did in the end. I am sure they have no idea and probably don’t even remember these incidents, but I get some self-satisfaction out of the path I have taken.  Something curious to me is that not only did I go on to have life experiences that proved these two instances wrong, my main line of research has focused on learner motivation issues and some on feedback to students.  Is that a total coincidence, or was something planted in me as early as the 6th grade?

What about other students?  I was lucky to take a path that lead me past these comments. I’ll bet many other students didn’t have my luck.  Teachers, choose your words carefully.

I told my daughter that in life you need to do this sometimes, and that as a girl/woman, she’ll need to do it even more often — prove “them”, whoever “them” might be, wrong.

Georgia STEM Day 2013: My morning run

I am a STEM guy.  I have two math degrees (and some extra coursework on top of that); the research for my Ph.D. was connected to math learning, and most of my research is connected to it as well.  I am a member of the Advisory Board for, and an Affiliate Faculty Member of, the Georgia Southern University Institute of Interdisciplinary STEM Education.  I have had projects funded to work on STEM with local school systems, and I am a team member on RealSTEM.  So, most days are STEM days for me, but I am happy to see STEM getting its own day in Georgia.  Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia declared today, May 3, 2013, Georgia’s first STEM day.

runner's shoe on fog line of roadway mid-strideAs I was on my morning run today, which takes me through farms in my little corner of south Georgia, I was thinking about STEM day.  What about my run was related to STEM?  What questions from something as simple as a morning run could be used to inspire STEM thinking in schools? I started keeping track of my observations.  Here’s a list:

  • My pace on the deep, sandy, dirt road was a full 90 seconds per mile slower than when I was on the black top.  Why?  What forces were slowing me down?
  • What is wind?
  • The farmers seem to be planting later this year than in other years.  Why?  It has been colder and wetter than normal.  Is there a connection?  Has it really been colder and wetter?
  • There’s trash in the ditch beside the road.  What type of trash is worse for the water quality in the ditch?  Aluminum cans? Plastic bottles? A mixture?
  • What’s my body doing on this run? Sweating, heart rate, blood pressure, getting fatigued? Why? How?
  • There’s a car approaching.  Will I beat it to that intersection?
  • GPS is mapping my run and telling me how fast I’m going.  What is GPS? How does it do these things?  My GPS signal is “strong”.  What might impede the signal?
  • What’s in asphalt and why?
  • How do the fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides from the local farms impact water quality? Maybe they don’t.
  • How much water will the new golf course need for irrigation?
  • How much oxygen with the grass on the golf course produce?  How much CO2 will that grass consume?
  • Do the local farmers use GMOs?
  • I took these notes using Siri on my phone.  How might that work?!

I know the answers to some of these questions.  I was pretty pleased with how many questions I could construct while I made my way along. STEM is all around us!  I am sure there are many more.  By just looking at this list and asking “how?” or “why?”, there is a lot of room for exploration and inquiry on STEM concepts for Problem/Project-Based Learning.

If you are not a STEM teacher, you can still make use of STEM day.  For example:

How does public policy interact with STEM?  Are herbicides, pesticides, GMOs all bad?  After all, we have to eat.

Feel free to use my questions to stimulate discussion or projects in your classes. You can adapt the questions for different grade-levels.  Better yet, generate your own list for your local environment.  Have your students generate the list! I think those pesky, mandated, standardized exams are mostly over for the year.  Now’s your chance to give some problem-based, project-based, inquiry learning a try.  Ask questions. Think STEM!

If this blog post inspires you to have a STEM discussion or to do a problem-based STEM lesson, let me know about it.  Comment back to this page and tell what you did and how it worked!

Is technology pushing college-level Math Courses up Bloom’s Taxonomy?

prof lecturing about math

public domain image from: http://bit.ly/W3xJsE

Many college or university-level math courses are delivered with the following general structure. A course meets 3 days per week for the length of the semester.  In each class meeting there is a one-to-many lecture delivered by the instructor, and possibly some questions answered about the lecture or the homework assigned during the previous class period.  There are variations on this structure; a quiz might be involved for example, or graded homework might be collected or returned.  Periodically there will be an assessment of some type, often a closed-book, written exam.  Calculators may or may not be allowed on the exam.  Of course there are exceptions to this type of structure, but my experience as a college math teacher and my work at universities gives me this gut feeling that this is the most common course structure.

Homework is a staple of most college-level math courses.  Instructors often will assign students the even-numbered exercises in the text book to be turned in as part of a homework grade.  The beauty of the even-numbered exercises are that their answers are not provided in the back of the book.  If you work the odd-numbered problems, many books include at least the correct final answer so that you can check your work.  In some cases there are hints for how the solution can be found there too.  Expanded solutions manuals are sometimes available, at an extra cost to the student that show you in a step-by-step fashion how to work those odd-numbered exercises.  You see the importance of assigning the even-numbered exercises; the ones with no solution available.  The students can use the resources available to them with the odd-numbered exercises to learn and self-evaluate their learning, but when it comes time to do some grading, you need to see how they do with no such resources.  Enter some modern technologies…

Technology in math courses has long been a source of debate.  Many of us have had math courses where the instructor commanded “no calculators allowed”.  Others may have been able to use them sometimes, and others yet perhaps all the time.  A strategy I have often seen enacted is for the math instructor to construct exercises and/or quiz and test questions where the use of a calculator was really no help.  Two freely available online resources are changing a lot of how this might be working: Wolfram|Alpha and YouTube.

wolfram|alpha logo           

The combination of these two technologies creates the largest solution manual ever created and renders the even-numbered math exercise strategy pretty much useless. Wolfram|Alpha has tagged itself a “computational knowledge engine for computing answers and providing knowledge“.  The stated long-term goal for Wolfram|Alpha is to “make all systematic knowledge computable and broadly accessible“. Since a lot of the exercises assigned for math homework fall into the category of being solved by the use of various algorithms, it seems like Wolfram|Alpha will have it done.  Actually, it already does quite a lot. You can enter standard calculus problems of calculating derivatives and integrals and Wolfram|Alpha will produce the final answer, produce graphs, and here’s the kicker — show you the step-by-step work from the statement of the problem through to the final answer.  You can get up to three step-by-step solutions per day for free, but a very modest fee eliminates that limit.  If you have not tried Wolfram|Alpha, do it.  I taught university-level calculus and differential equations for several years and I am impressed with the information Wolfram|Alpha provides, and it does it all quickly on just about any Internet connected device.

Some of you reading may be thinking that Wolfram|Alpha is impressive, but it cannot do “real” math.  It cannot do a mathematical proof.  Enter YouTube.  Do you need to prove that a subgroup of a cyclic group is cyclic? Click here.  Do you need to prove that a scalar multiple of a continuous function is continuous?  Click here. Will there be incorrect proofs posted online?  Sure.  However, the comments and “likes” available will allow users to find the best versions available.  What does all of this mean for college and university-level math teaching?

Some math students who choose to rely on these resources for homework solutions will be discovered when their test scores show that they cannot solve the problems.  Some math students will regulate their learning using these resources and perform well on tests.  But should an instructor wait until the tests to see which students are really engaged with the course material in a meaningful way?

What about flipping your classroom? Make use of the online resources like lectures and examples of proofs and then utilize class time for collaboration and problem solving.

Many of you have heard of Bloom’s Taxonomy for learning objectives.  Where do you think “traditional” math homework falls in this taxonomy? Do tools like Wolfram|Alpha and YouTube push assignments up the taxonomy to make them worthwhile? The fact is that Wolfram|Alpha and YouTube are becoming ubiquitous thanks to mobile devices and increasing access to wi-fi and cellular networks.

bloom taxonomy pyramid

Bloom’s Taxonomy from: http://bit.ly/13QkBKE

Acknowledge that these tools exist.  Design your courses to make use of them.  Leverage their power to help you create courses that require students to function higher on the Bloom pyramid.   Will you do it?

creative commons license