During the first lecture of introductory psychology, I usually give my students a true/false quiz containing myths about the brain (and other areas of psychology). Invariably students mark down some of these statements as true, and we spend much of the class dispelling these myths.
We use 10% of our brain
We see this myth perpetuated in the movie Lucy where the main character is able to reach her “full” potential by taking a drug that allows her to tap into the remaining 90 percent of her brain. She’s instantly smarter and even gains superpowers like telepathy. We know however, from ample research and basic knowledge about how the brain works, that this is not true.
The human brain only weighs on average 3 pounds (compare that to a sperm whale’s 17 pound brain!), but it takes up 20 percent of our body’s resources (e.g., oxygen, glucose). For such a small organ it’s pretty resource intensive, and for good reason. The brain is made up of tons of networks of neurons (the basic unit of our nervous system) constantly talking to each other, and brain imaging techniques such as fMRI scans have shown that our brains are constantly active over a 24-hour period. Your brain is working even when you’re unconscious—research shows that your memories are consolidated and transferred to long-term memory stores during sleep. Lastly, in studies of trauma to the brain, significant dysfunction can occur even when small areas of the brain are damaged, and that’s because we have evolved specific functions for particular areas of the brain and need all of them working together. Continue reading Debunking Brain Myths – Crystal Tse
Gamification seems to be all the rage in higher education – the prospect of transforming the learning experience by amending game-based tools such as points, leaderboards, or badges, all in an effort to help students learn, certainly sounds intriguing. If all it takes to make students come to class and do the work is to give them a badge, then why not?
And yet however alluring the prospect sounds, it’s never that easy. I always go back to the famous words of Mary Poppins – “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”. How are you treating the implementation of gamification into your course? Is it to act as a form of sugar to help the medicine (the course content) go down easily for students? Or is it intended to stand on its own and work in conjunction with the course content as to motivate and engage students?
When gamification is seen as sugar to the course’s medicine, what is likely happening is that course content that is perceived as dry or challenging is ostensibly remedied with gamification so that students are focused on achieving points or badges, instead of actually learning the content that is being taught. While yes, they may do the work more so than before gamification was applied, it’s difficult to say whether or not they are learning more. Continue reading To gamify, or not to gamify – Kyle Scholz
The Office of the Associate Vice President, Academic, the Centre for Teaching Excellence, and the Centre for the Advancement of Co-operative Education are pleased to announce that 7 LITE Seed Grant projects have recently been funded. We are pleased to note that LITE Grants involve collaborations across departments/units, faculties, and institutions.
The LITE Grants provide support for investigating innovative approaches to enhancing teaching with a focus on fostering deep student learning at the University of Waterloo. Two kinds of grants are available: LITE Seed Grants fund projects up to $5,000, and LITE Full Grants fund projects up to $30,000.
The next LITE grant application deadline on October 1 is for the Full grants.
The annual LITE Seed Grant application deadlines are February 1 and June 1.
For more information about the grants, please visit the LITE Grant website. If you are considering applying for a grant and would like to discuss your project, please contact Crystal Tse or Kristin Brown at the Centre for Teaching Excellence.
Important note: There have been a few changes to the LITE grant application process. Please carefully review the revised application guidelines and contact Crystal or Kristin if you have any questions.
Teaching and Learning Library Research Guide
The Teaching and Learning Library Research Guide (created by the Library, Centre for Teaching Excellence and The Office of Research Ethics) is a step-by-step guide and resource for individuals who are interested in and/or engaged in conducting research on teaching and learning. This guide includes:
Refresher on research skills and keywords related to teaching and learning to use in your literature search
Resources on getting started on conducting teaching and learning research
Relevant journals, organizations, websites, and blogs
Learning assessment tools used in the literature
Resources on ethical considerations on conducting research with students as participants
Light bulb image provided by Matt Walker under the Creative Commons “Attribution-ShareAlike” license.
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.
After working in graduate student programming at CTE for the past three years, this term I collaborated with Donna Ellis, CTE Director, on a SSHRC-funded project involving eight other Canadian universities. The project is developing and validating survey tools (the Teaching Culture Perception Survey) to measure indicators of institutional teaching culture. You can find out more about the project here.