Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fall Conference on Teaching & Learning

The Pew Faculty Teaching & Learning Center at GVSU hosts an annual conference. This year's keynote speaker was James Zull (Art of Changing the Brain). His Power Point presentations are linked from this page.
Zull's primary emphasis in the morning's talk was that teachers need to create conditions in which learners' brains change, by engaging the major regions of the cortex: sensory (visual, touch, hearing), integrating (e.g., seeing an object & identifying it in speech), and action/movement (includes speech, reading, writing). Zull listed 4 pillars of learning: experience (get info), reflect (make meaning), create-solve-conceive, and act or test. Teaching begins with linking new knowledge to learners' prior knowledge base. When students have misconceptions or make mistakes, don't repeat their misconceptions or point out errors but build on the misconceptions by saying the correct thing.

Memory evolved to solve problems--remembering comes from action, working with new ideas/knowledge.

In the afternoon, Zull's talk was about "Brain, Emotion, Learning." Zull stated that the brain evolved as an organ of emotion, that reason is dependent on emotion (!) and that all actions are a result of emotion. "We are always being emotional--it's a matter of degree, balance, and the specific chemicals being released."

The emotion sparked by the Amygdala gets integrated into cognitive meaning. So fear can be integrated into memory, and that is why the memory itself can spark the actual physical reaction of fear. In smaller amounts, fear can focus our attention, increase energy, and help us remember clearly. At the other end, fear can lead to stress, not being able to think at all, and can actually damage memory. So find a balance on the positive side of fear by providing challenges (new tasks) at just the right level for the students, then supporting students until their interest progresses into hope, confidence, success, and self-motivation. When they get to a place of inertia, disinterest, or frustration, provide additional challenges. Support is not explanation, but could be an illustrating example, or a reference to written material such as an article, etc.

Another workshop I attended was about Student Responsibility. How do we help empower students' learning? Ask them to do the work, ask them to share their knowledge, connect to and build on their knowledge, build reflection into the class session, build in application of newly-acquired knowledge to new situations in the session. Hmmm, that sounds just like what Zull said.

So, what will I do differently?
1) When teaching databases to first-year students, in order to build on their prior knowledge, ask them, "When you've had a question and successfully used a computer to find an answer, what did you use? [some responses I might expect to hear are: search engine, Facebook, email, database]
2) To encourage responsibility, after having students create blog entries to answer a set of questions during an in-class library instruction exercise, say to them, "So now that you've written some responses, you can refer back to them, add, revise, see classmates' responses.... During the rest of the class, let's talk about what you found out...."
3) To encourage reflection, use minute papers with the question "What was the most important thing you learned about library research during the session?" more often, even if I don't need feedback for myself.

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