There might be two fundamental things to know about me to avoid conversational confusion. First, I’m a drag queen: I visually present on an almost day-to-day basis as masculine, but I identify under the transgender banner because my embodied identity oscillates across the gender binary and my proper pronouns are he/him/his, she/her/hers, and they/them/theirs. Second, my partner and I have the same name: each is Tommy (born “Thomas” with a birth certificate to confirm), and together we are the Tommies. I say these two things might be fundamental to know about me to avoid confusion in conversation because while I do not speak about myself in the third person (if you hear me say “Tommy,” you would do well to assume I mean my partner), people do speak about me, and they speak about me with a variety of pronouns that fit me and align with who I am. This has proven to be very puzzling to some folks at several times (my dear 85-year-old grandma has finally got the knack of “the Tommies,” but that plurality for her is my partner and me, not myself and I). I love this perplexity because in life as in teaching, this is an opportunity for learning.
In teaching language studies specifically, a grammar lesson in parts of speech and number agreements would seem to be an appropriate exercise for first-year Undergraduates; it may not, though, seem immediately fitting for first-year non-language courses or even upper-year language courses where the knowledge and understanding are assumed to be established and built upon. But it is. The refresher of a language exercise like the one below not only reaffirms language and communication skills for learners but opens the window to an opportunity for learning that is wider than a grammar primer.
Many of us have likely heard the term wrapper or cognitive wrapper used when discussing ways to help our students in becoming more independent and self-aware learners. In particular, this term comes up when discussing assessment as a learning opportunity. So what exactly is a cognitive wrapper and how can it be used to aid learning?
In brief, a cognitive wrapper is a tool to guide students before, during or after a teaching and learning event to help them identify their own approaches to the teaching and learning event and what aspects of their behavior are productive and which aspects are not. It encourages students to purposefully examine what they can and should change so as to improve the teaching and learning experience. Wrappers are a structured way to guide students through a reflective process that increases their self-awareness and leads to a modification of behavior through self-regulation.
What drives curiosity in our classrooms? Can curiosity be fostered or taught? These were just a few of the questions on the table at the University of Waterloo Teaching and Learning Conference on April 27. Our ninth annual conference, this year’s event brought together over 320 participants from across all Faculties at Waterloo and neighbouring universities to explore the role curiosity plays in teaching and learning. University of Waterloo’s President and Vice-Chancellor, Feridun Hamdullahpur, opened the conference with a territory acknowledgment and shared personal reflections on teaching and learning that highlighted the connections between this year’s conference theme, Cultivating Curiosity in Teaching and Learning, and last year’s conference, Learning from Challenge and Failure.
Curiosity is at the heart of inquiry and exploration and is a powerful motivator for learning. It speaks to our innate interest in seeking out novel ideas, and applies well to the learning process our students engage in every day. Curiosity also has real-life consequences—psychological research demonstrates that curiosity is linked to greater well-being (e.g., life satisfaction and expressing gratitude) and can also serve as positive motivation—studies show that curiosity can lead people to ask more questions, explore novel stimuli, and persevere when faced with difficult tasks. Continue reading A Day of Cultivating Curiosity in Teaching and Learning
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.
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.
Most 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.
We’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.