Debunking the Learning Styles Myth – Crystal Tse

Photo of a person's brain outlined into aidfferent sections
Image provided by William Creswell under the Creative Commons “Attribution” license.

Franz Josef Gall was a neuroscientist in the 1700s who developed phrenology, a field that attributed specific mental functions to different parts of the brain (i.e., that certain bumps on a person’s head would indicate their personality traits). This field has since then been widely discredited as pseudoscience. It is often comforting to be able to categorize things and put people into neat boxes, and phrenology is one example of this tendency. Learning styles is another example.

The idea of learning styles began in the 1970s, where a growing literature and industry posited that learners have specific, individualized ways of learning the work best for them. There are many different theories of learning styles, including ones that classify people as visual, auditory, or tactile learners, or ones that outline different cognitive approaches people take in their learning.

However, there is virtually no evidence that supports that individuals have learning styles, nor that when taught in a way that “meshes” with their learning style that there is greater learning. A group of psychologists reviewed the literature and in their report on learning styles state that while there have been studies done on how individuals can certainly have preferences for learning, almost none of the studies employed rigorous research designs that would demonstrate that people benefit if they are instructed in a way that matches their learning style. In a recent study, Rogowsky and colleagues conducted an experimental test of the meshing hypothesis and found that matching the type of instruction to learning style did not make a difference on students’ comprehension of material. Furthermore, certain teaching strategies are best suited for all learners depending on the material that is being taught – learning how to make dilutions in a chemistry course, for example, requires a hands-on experiential approach, even if you have a preference to learn from reflection!

Instead of fixating on learning styles, I recommend we instead focus on engaging our learners in and outside the class (by using active learning strategies where appropriate – there is good evidence that active learning benefits learners in STEM classrooms, for example). As instructors we can also try vary our teaching methods so all students have a way into the material. Lastly, learning doesn’t always have to feel easy – research from growth mindsets shows us that feeling challenged and failure itself is important for students’ learning and growth.

Crystal Tse

Crystal Tse

Crystal is the Educational Research Associate at the CTE where she contributes to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning work and to program evaluation. She received her PhD in social psychology in the Department of Psychology at the University of Waterloo, where her research involved applying psychological theory to inform evidence-based interventions that address different social issues.

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Why It Seems Like Your Students Can’t Write — Stephanie White

Whenever I talk with instructors here about how my job is to support them in their writing and communication instruction, I hear some version of the same response: “My students are brilliant, but they can’t write a sentence to save their lives!” No matter whom I’m talking to, regardless of discipline, job title, teaching experience, linguistic background, educational background, or teaching load, nearly everyone has the same anxieties around the role of communication in their courses. But I’m always glad to have the chance to talk about these concerns. If you’re one of those instructors I’ve talked with about teaching writing and communication in your discipline, you’ve probably seen my eyes light up as I eagerly launch into my spiel about the research on teaching writing and communication across the curriculum.

You: “My students are smart, but they can’t write!” Continue reading Why It Seems Like Your Students Can’t Write — Stephanie White

Stephanie White

Stephanie White

Stephanie White is an Instructional Developer at the UWaterloo Centre for Teaching Excellence, where she focuses on TA Training and Writing Support. In addition to helping run CTE’s certificate programs for graduate students and supervising graduate-student TA Workshop Facilitators, she teaches workshops for faculty and staff on designing effective written assignments, consults one-to-one with instructors in any discipline about their written assignments, serves on committees and working groups about communications outcomes at UWaterloo, develops resources about Writing and Communication Across the Curriculum at UWaterloo, and consults with instructors on training TAs in their departments.

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The ICE model: An Alternative Learning Framework – Monica Vesely

IMost often we approach the design of our main course elements – intended learning outcomes (ILOs), formative and summative assessments, and teaching and learning activities – by turning to Bloom’s Taxonomy (and most frequently the cognitive domain) to help us determine the appropriate level of thinking required and to help us express that accurately in our descriptions.

Sometime we can find ourselves overwhelmed with the distinctions that Continue reading The ICE model: An Alternative Learning Framework – Monica Vesely

Monica Vesely

Monica Vesely

Monica Vesely is an Instructional Developer with the Centre for Teaching Excellence where she conducts teaching observations, facilitates the Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW), coordinates the Teaching Squares Program, and assists new faculty with their teaching professional development. In her focus on new faculty, she chairs the New Faculty Welcoming Committee, supports new faculty initiatives across campus, consults with new faculty to assist them with the preparation of individualized Learning About Teaching Plans (LATPs), facilitates workshops and builds community through various communications and social events. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Monica worked with the NSERC Chair in Water Treatment in Civil and Environmental Engineering, taught in the Department of Chemistry, and designed learning experiences with Waterloo's Professional Development Program (WatPD).

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Designing for the user experience — Pia Zeni and Matt Justice, Centre for Extended Learning

user-experienceWe’ve all encountered scenes like the one pictured above – you may even be looking at one outside your office window: pedestrians choosing to ignore the nicely-constructed, costly, often very pretty footpaths designed for them, and choosing instead to forge their own path.  But have you ever thought about what scenarios like this say about design?  Why aren’t pedestrians selecting the paths constructed for them? What do their choices say about the paths designers have constructed? What goal(s) motivate them to forge their own?  These are the types of questions user experience (UX) designers ask.

The picture presents a useful allegory for designers of any stripe: the idea being, of course, that if we want to design valuable things, we need to consult the needs, expectations, and yes, even wants, of our users.

Let’s translate that principle to an online learning context:  “If we want to design valuable online learning experiences for students, we need to take their needs, expectations, and yes, even wants into account.” Whether this strikes you as common sense, or fairly radical, it is a design approach that the Centre for Extended Learning (CEL) has recently adopted with our User Experience Design for Learning (UXDL) framework, an adaptation of UX Honeycomb, developed by leading user-experience advocate Peter Morville.

You can learn more about our UXDL framework and how our design process is evolving to put our users – our students – front and centre at cel.uwaterloo.ca/honeycomb. This is a new initiative for us, so we welcome your ideas, thoughts, and reflections.

Pia Zeni (pzeni@uwaterloo.ca)

Matt Justice (matt.justice@uwaterloo.ca)

 

[Photo Source: Kalve, S. (2014, September 11). Design vs UX I Nydalen. [Photo]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/steffenk/status/510005338545074177]

“Go on a field trip!”¹: An opinion piece – Anita Helmers

Magic School Bus book cover

As a student at the elementary and secondary level I always looked forward to day-trips to the zoo, the museum, or to a provincial park. Honestly, who wouldn’t be excited to be out of school for a day?

Regretfully I reflect back on my earlier field trips and can say I only appreciated them for the opportunity to get out of the classroom and took for granted the educational purposes. It was not until beginning my undergraduate career that I gained an appreciation for field trips and their educational experience (although it is still nice to get out of that lecture hall).

At the university level, field trips are few and far between for many students. But why is that? Field trips at the university level can offer hands-on “real-life” opportunities for students to, as Ms. Frizzle says, “Take chances! Make Mistakes! Get Messy!”¹ Field trips are an opportunity to put to practice the theories taught in the classroom. Field trips, as a teaching method, should be used to expose students to the realities of their surrounding environment and provide a safe, low-risk space to learn from experience.

I am not suggesting that professors take students to the Moon in a Magic School Bus; professors do not even need to take students off-campus. As a student in the School of Planning I have been taken on field trips across Ring Road to Laurel Creek to learn about water testing; I have travelled to North Campus to learn about soil horizons; and I have toured campus learning how to classify trees. The main goal for field trips should be to enrich students’ educational experience and to further exemplify the theories and concepts covered in class. Without wandering around campus staring at trees I would have never fully understood which elements of a tree to focus on in order to classify it. Or, I would have never had the low-consequential experience of cross contaminating my water samples from Laurel creek. Field trips should be used as a stepping stone from classroom to “real-life”; a step that is cushioned to allow for chances, mistakes, and a safe space for failures before the professional world.

I have also been spoiled with the opportunities to travel off campus – this is not something every university student can say. I was given the chance to explore Spongy Lake, the Distillery District in Toronto, Liberty Village in Toronto, and Guelph’s abandoned Correctional facility, to name a few places. Through these field trips I have learned ecological processes, planning practices such as adaptation, and the reality that I have so much left to learn before entering the professional world. I can say that without being exposed to the realities of my surrounding environment, I would enter the Profession of Planning with utopian, unrealistic perceptions of how cities develop.

So, although the University of Waterloo does not have a bus that can transform into a spaceship, a submarine, or even an alligator, students still desire hands-on experience and the chance to “get out there and explore!”¹ I ask that University professors consider field trips as a teaching method that is feasible for all disciplines. Whether you simply take students outside to study tree species or you take students across the country to practice the French language, any and all exposure counts towards an enriched education.

¹ “The Magic School Bus ™.” Magic School Bus | FAQs | Scholastic.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2016.

Image provided by xmoltarx under the Creative Commons “Attribution-ShareAlike” license.

VoiceThread Project: Call for Participation — Gillian Dabrowski

voicethreadAre you looking for ways to engage your students in learning? Consider partnering with the Centre for Extended Learning (CEL) and the Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) to pilot a new instructional tool in Waterloo’s on-campus and online classes: VoiceThread.

You may be interested in learning about the pilot if your goal is to engage students in any of the activities below:

  • Idea sharing and interaction
  • Community building
  • Social learning
  • Peer instruction
  • Critical reflection
  • Presentation practice
  • Digital literacy skills building
  • Language practice

What is VoiceThread?

VoiceThread is a media-based discussion tool. A key feature of VoiceThread is that it enables you and your students to create digital presentations and make them the centre of a discussion. Presentations can include documents, images, PowerPoint slides, audio, or video. Students attach comments to the presentation using a keyboard (text), a microphone or telephone (audio), or a webcam (video). Discussions are asynchronous, meaning students are not online at the same time.

Why use VoiceThread?

Penn State’s Use Case Introduction gives several examples of why instructors use VoiceThread:

  • On-campus, create digital presentations on difficult to comprehend concepts and processes. Students can review content multiple times and ask the instructor questions on specific slides.
  • Enable students to present knowledge and research digitally. The class benefits from exposure to a multitude of topics. The presenter benefits from practice articulating themselves verbally and peer feedback.
  • Actively engage students in online lectures by prompting them to comment on specific slides or respond to questions posed within the presentation.
  • Increase your online instructor teaching presence and build online class community by initiating weekly kick-off discussions.
  • Create an online ‘seminar’ course experience where students grapple with heavy readings together in both written and verbal formats.

Pilot Details

The VoiceThread pilot is scheduled to run from Winter 2017–Winter 2018. Faculty who participate in the pilot will receive a VoiceThread account linked to their LEARN user account and a course site. Training and support for the pilot will be supported by CEL, CTE, and LEARN Help. Faculty participants and course participants will be asked to provide feedback via survey response, panel discussion, and interview.

If you would like to volunteer to be a part of this pilot, please contact CEL’s Gillian Dabrowski, gdabrows@uwaterloo.ca, or your CTE Liaison with the following details:

  1. Name
  2. Course information (CourseID, name, section) and expected number of students
  3. A description of how you will use VoiceThread in your course to support student engagement and assessment. How might VoiceThread help solve a problem you are experiencing with discussions or assessment as you currently use them?

More Information

References

Gao, F. & Sun, Y. (2010). Supporting an online community of inquiry using VoiceThread. In C. Maddux et al. (Eds.) Research Highlights in Information Technology and Teacher Education 2010 (pp.9-18). Chesapeake, VA: Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE).

SAM vs. ADDIE and 5 other takeaways from Madison — Tonya Elliott

madisonThe Distance Teaching and Learning Conference held in Madison, Wisconsin, has been running for 32 years and is the largest and longest-running distance education conference in the USA.

I’m writing this blog from Frank Lloyd Wright’s gorgeous Monona Terrace after 3 full days of #UWdtl keynotes, presentations, demo booths, ePosters, and discussions.  I was one of 4 Canadians who attended and presented to a room of 45 people about the online STEM/Math work we’ve been doing at Waterloo.

It will take me some time to fully digest everything from the conference, but here are 6 takeaways that immediately stood out.

1. Most instructional design models are some derivation of ADDIE (analyze, design, develop, implement, and evaluate), but ADDIE’s applicability to digital environments has been under scrutiny for some time. Other instructional design models are emerging, such as Allen’s Successive Approximation Model (SAM), shown below, and McKenney and Reeves’ problem-focused Education Design Research (EDR). Their books are referenced below and I now have two new books on my Amazon wish list!

ADDIE design model2. Learning analytics are becoming more prevalent and the potential to better understand our learners with concrete data is awesome. Learning analytics happens at three levels and each level involves both understanding what’s happening and sharing the information with students in a way that’s useful for them.  Here are the levels:

  • what students are doing today/have been doing in the past,
  • where students are likely going (using predictive modelling), and
  • where students have the potential to go/what is their optimal path.

Unfortunately, nobody at the conference had concrete examples about implementing levels 2 and 3 in any great depth, but I enjoy thinking about analytics in these three parts.

3. Some institutions spend a lot of money on remote proctoring services like Examity.  Math or other courses that can’t easily require students to complete their timed work electronically are trying out things like requiring students to position their web cameras downwards towards their papers and hands.  Unsurprisingly, privacy issues are surfacing. For example, same -sex options are now required at some institutions after female students reported being uncomfortable having unknown male proctors watching them work in their bedrooms.

4. You’re more likely to get buy-in for new initiatives if you start small. People are almost always willing to let you pilot something, and pilots can quickly and easily turn into beta versions.  If a beta version works out for a project, it’s almost always seamless to fully implement (and find funding for) it.  This path is much more efficient than trying to find approval for or fund something “big”.

5. Hooks are necessary: courses and classes should start with stories, problem questions, or other “hooks” instead of a bulleted list of outcomes.   Similarly, rather than nicely wrapping up a class, they should end with another “hook” to get students thinking about the next class.  Cognitive psychologists refer to this process as an open-loop.

6. Wisconsin’s recently launched Online Teaching Experiences site has been very well received and their site analytics reveal that the most popular part of their site is the instructor videos. I wonder if, in addition to our Instructor Community of Practice, CEL should investigate/create (digital) resources and videos for our fully online instructors.  Would this kind of resource be valuable at Waterloo? I’d love to hear our online instructors thoughts about this (so please email me your thoughts – tonya.elliott@uwaterloo.ca).

References and resources

Tonya Elliott

Tonya Elliott

In her role as an Online Learning Consultant (OLC) with the Centre for Extended Learning (CEL), Tonya Elliott provides instructional design and project management support to faculty and staff who wish to design, develop, and/or deliver fully online courses, programs, and resources. The majority of her projects are with members of the Faculty of Mathematics; however, she really enjoys working on a variety of online projects from faculty and staff from all areas of campus.

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