My Personal Learning Theory

30 Aug

Learning is the acquisition of knowledge, skills, abilities, as well the acculturation of values, attitudes, and emotional reactions (mindset). Learning is determined from the following observations: completion of a new behavior/task, change in frequency/speed/intensity to said task, changing the complexity of a task, and responding differently to particular stimulus. Moreover, learning can be inferred from certain situations like avoidance of risky or unpleasant behaviors.

Learning is impacted by prior knowledge (and misunderstandings), a learners’ belief system, and environmental barriers. Environmental barriers include economic, physical, political, linguistic, ethno-cultural, and social ones. For example, societal barriers include gender bias.

According to Pinker’s debate at the Harvard Mind, Brain, Behavior series, there’s a great deal of parental discrimination in raising and reporting on sons versus daughters’ individual differences in math and science. She suggested that this produces a pattern of discrimination in favor of sons. For example, parents of children in the 6th or 8th grade thought that their sons were better at math and science than parents of daughters of the same age. Subsequently, females may lose interest or be discouraged due to lack of encouragement. Of note, male and female students at that age both reported liking math. Fortunately, teachers of that same age group reported no gender biases.

My personal learning theory is a myriad of best practices supported by human learning theories of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. (I actually place constructivism within the cognitivist umbrella term.) I adhere for the need to show measurable outcomes which is rooted in behaviorism; an example would be the utilization of measurable objectives. Moreover, I acknowledge the use of positive reinforcement to enhance learning. As for cognitive theory, I adhere to cognitivists’ self-regulated learning. For example, I’m a constant learner who reflects on my own understanding of a topic or methodology and seeks ongoing education.

From constructivism, I utilize Vygotsky’s sociocultural learning theory to address misconceptions. For instance, I coined a term called, “smart mistakes”. These types of errors are often based on preconceived rules, such as the application of false cognates to a second language. In this situation, the learning is drawing from their first language, which is part of their socio-cultural background.

Interrelated Processes: Problem-solving, Critical Thinking and Creative Thinking

23 Aug

 Do you think that problem solving, critical thinking, and creative thinking are synonymous?

In order to solve problems effectively and efficiently, you need to use creative thinking and critical thinking.  Jonassen (2000) created a typology of problem solving.  He identified 11 types of problems: logical problems, algorithms, story problems, rule using problems, decision-making, trouble-shooting, diagnoses solution, strategic performance, case analysis, designs, and dilemmas.  He described each type of problem’s resolution process.  For example, if a problem presents limited variables that can be controlled through manipulation, then an analyst would know that they have a logical problem by referring to Jonassen’s typology chart.  Logical problems are “discovered” in Jonassen’s description of its structuredness, where discovered refers to solutions drawn from logic.  Determining the logic model is a type of critical thinking process.  Problem solving depends on the type of problem and its structuredness, context, inputs, abstractness, and activities (Jonassen, 2004).  Therefore, critically analyze the type of problem and its structuredness.

The overarching strategy for problem analysis involves the steadfast engagement of critical thinking processes.  Using a systematic process assists you with adequately thinking though the complexity and multifarious components of problem solving.  Some instructional design approaches ask questions in a stepwise process to analyze problems.  For example, Harless’ (1974) first question in the process of front-end analysis asks: “Do we have a problem?”  Learners must use critical thinking to avoid making assumptions about a situation.  Is it a problem or an opportunity?  Dick, Carey, and Carey (2009) suggested that novice instructional designers develop their critical thinking skills to become effective performance analysts.  They urged analysts to be open-minded and view problems from multiple perspectives.  Critical thinking processes include synthesis of a problem statement, front-end analysis (FEA), triangulation of data collection, root cause analysis, active listening, system-wide checks and balances, and reflective thinking.  For example, thinking critically will help you avoid various FEA pitfalls such as Groupthink.

Addressing a problem strategically takes some creative thinking.  For example, there are timesaving strategies and models for problem analysis such as Jonassen’s idea of keeping a fault database.  When I read about this, I thought of how simple, yet, creative this strategy was.  Have you heard of Toyoda’s Why Tree? It’s a creative and simple technique for getting to the root cause of a problem.  He first used the method in the Toyota manufacturing process in 1958.  It consists of 5 why-questions that represent deeper levels of understanding the problem.  For each answer, you ask why until you uncover the true root cause.  Responses are mapped out according to different leads/reasons.  There are 3 benefits to using this process.  First, the different branches/reasons that stem from a problem statement can lead to more than one root cause and various interventions.  Second, it creates a mental map for synthesis of a presenting problem.  Third, it will aid novice analysts in digging deeper to uncover the real root causes and avoid superficial conclusions.  This creative process utilizes deductive reasoning, which is a type of critical thinking.  Therefore, critical thinking, creative thinking, and problem solving are interrelated processes but not interchangeable terms.

3 Tips for Educators Transitioning from F2F to Blended Format

16 Aug

 

In my opinion, the blended format offers the best learning situation. It’s like a web-enhanced course on steroids. You’ll get to meet with the students in person, share all types of great resources online, and continue discussions online instead of having the conversation end when the face-to-face class ends. The three most important things I’d tell faculty transitioning from regular face-to-face classes (F2F) to that of a blended format are as follows:
1. Establish a clear schedule that explicitly outlines the activities to be conducted according to your blended format.
2. Revisit each of your F2F lessons and assignments to decide which ones are compatible for the online format and adapt them accordingly.
3. Apply many of the same basic principles for engendering a community of inquiry in your F2F to that of the blended format.

Blended format schedule. It’s imperative to state which activities will happen in the F2f class and asynchronously online; otherwise, students will become confused and miss F2F class meetings other activities. Educators should provide students a paper schedule and also add the important dates to the online course calendar. Additionally, special reminders can be shared via the online course announcements tool. This schedule should also be appended to the course syllabus. I suggest placing the dates of the F2F class meetings in the heading of the syllabus instead of buried within the other information.

Adaptation of lessons. Review all of your lessons with a new lens for the blended format. Make a t-chart of which lessons are suitable for the F2F and online learning environments. Then build a new schedule. It will serve as a nice outline for the course. You may have to modify, add, or remove existing activities and lessons to adequately fit the blended format. For example, I like to conduct a mock and formal debate. In the past, I taught the reading course in a Web-enhanced format. In designing my project for the blended format, I realized that I could conduct the mock debate via the Sakai Meetings tool and keep the formal debate F2F. Lastly, make sure you edit all your existing assignments tied to lessons to reflect the updates.

Community of inquiry. A community of inquiry (COI) exists when you have social presence, cognitive presence, and teacher presence. Some educators believe that the COI can only occur in F2F formats. Actually, when teachers encourage students to share ideas and their work, this provides for social presence online and F2F. Second, try to bring the same great F2F conversations to the online forums for discussion. This requires a lot of forethought before you post your question and related articles. This can engender cognitive presence if it provides challenging questions and promotes student-student interactions. Lastly, teachers need to be actively engaged in the discussions online in the same way that they lead, moderated, or guided the F2F ones. This provides teacher presence. Just as you would give timely feedback on assignments as a F2F best practice, this also adds teacher presence. In summary, the three main things to keep in mind for transitioning content from a F2F course to a blended format is to be hyper-vigilant of the lesson scheduling, adaptation of activities, and maintenance of the COI.

Why I Think Non-violent Video Games Are a Valuable Learning Domain

14 Jul
Students wearing decorated boxes on their heads and hip to  look like characters from the Minecraft video game

Students in Minecraft Costumes at FIRST Robotics Competition

Gee’s (2007) description of semiotic domains reminds me of what my language peers refer to as multiple literacies; that’s the literacy required to perform a task beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Semiotic domain refers to the ability to detect the signs, symbols, merit, value, and language of a particular activity in order to function properly within it. For example, children who play video games are learning the semiotic domain of that particular game environment.  If they’re playing Minecraft, then they’ll learn to appreciate their physical surroundings, system alerts, personal alliances, and any help section embedded within the game.  In essence, the game’s affordances, and their role within it, become the semiotic domain that must be learned in order for the learner to be successful.

I don’t think that children should play violent video games for these same reasons.  Even though the Supreme Court declared no age-limit to graphically violent video games in 2011 (due to the lack of evidence in inciting violence among young players), I believe the semiotic domain of those violent actions become imprinted on the child.  Due to the potentially harmful activity, scientists cannot properly study this phenomenon.

Gee stated that video gaming offers important semiotic domains which include active problem-solving, critical thinking, and unique language functions (“design grammar”) in-world as an avatar and in real life as a gamer playing the game.  Additionally, the learner discovers how they would react in new situations; they can replay the situation to manipulate outcomes.  In this way, the learner is able to make corrective actions on their own or through resets by termination. We seldom get the opportunity to manipulate our outcomes in real life. These are a few of the reasons why I think that nonviolent gaming is a valuable learning domain.

When I taught preschool at the University of California’s laboratory elementary school, I encountered parents who disliked my use of the series called Rotten Ralph by Jack Gantos. It’s a story about an undisciplined cat that always gets into trouble.  I thought the book would make a nice counter match with the popular Clifford the Big Red Dog series by Norman Bridwell. Clifford causes trouble not because he’s undisciplined but rather because of his large size.  Hence, he was not really ever in trouble for misbehaving.  I liked how Rotten Ralph showed that even if you act badly, your family will still love you and want you around. Children need to know that there’s room for error in their development of knowledge about the world around them.  In a sense, gaming can provide that error-safe environment—a world of resets.

Children should participate fully in semiotic domains to produce virtual objects, create alliances, and develop new meanings.  In Minecraft, they can create Lego-like structures for their alliances (guilds) and learn to survive various physical threats to self and environmental threats to their structure(s). This affords the child the feeling of accomplishment. Children still learn about life and death but not in a graphically violent way. Play is beneficial for humans’ assimilation and accommodation throughout life.  Piaget first posited this in his theory of cognitive development in the 1950s, which stated that play and imitation are essential human strategies.  Nowadays, there’s little time during the school day for play. There is, however,  an emphasis in computer literacy and developing critical thinking.  Perhaps gaming could meet that demand and allow for playtime, too.

WebQuest for Creating Critical Thinking Job Aids

5 Jul

Silhouette of head with different objects floating overhead

I created my first academic Webquest to search for the critical thinking processes particular to a student’s field of study.  For example, I give them key words to use like “thinking frames” + “critical thinking” + “reading” + “medicine”.  Once they find 10 different resources, they are to place at least 6 key elements into a job aid to help them read critically.  I provided them with information on the various job aid formats from the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD).

The WebQuest was one of my assignments this past week for my doctoral course in Web-based course design. Actually, I could do it on any topic, but I choose one for a hybrid course I’m creating titled Critical Reading 101.  I already submitted the assignment but find myself going back to tweak it.  Webquests are great, but they have so many little loose pieces of information that you need to tie up in a nice bow in order for it to work.  Plus, there’s the fine line of providing too much help and not enough.  My assignment stated less than 10 hyperlinks; mine only has 6.  

I used Zunal, which allows you to make one freebie Webquest.  There’s something wrong with their PDF maker, as it publishes the document with errors and without the hyperlinks.  Nevertheless, it’s a great site to host your Webquest or find an existing one.  Zunal serves a a job aid for creating a Webquest as it takes you through the introduction, task, process, evaluation, and conclusion.

Here’s my Webquest: http://zunal.com/webquest.php?w=250042

P.S. You can evaluate my WebQuest on the Evaluate WebQuest page.  It even offers a self-evaluation tool that was very helpful.  I still need to add the references to the Teacher Page and Common Core Standards for Grades 11-12.

Scoop.IT! The Critical Reader

17 Jun


One of my assignments this week is to create a e-magazine with Scoop.IT!  This social media application allows you to “scoop” interesting information all over the Web and add it to your e-magazine.  Mine is called The Critical Reader.  It’s geared toward first year college students.  I can only post 10 items a day; so on Day 1, I only have a few.

What’s nice about the app is that it searches content for you.  Simply provide key words and then cull through the list they propose.  Make sure you preview all the content before adding it to your e-magazine!

Scoop.IT has been around for a while.  I’ve used it in the past to share resources for a nonprofit.  I also follow several of my colleagues Scoop.IT accounts on e-learning, virtual worlds, etc. This is a great way to learn about a content area, too.  Check out mine on critical reading:

http://www.scoop.it/t/the-critical-reader

 

Your blogger,

Sandra Rogers

Understanding A Learner’s Misunderstanding

30 May
Fish and fish-like animals and people

Fish is Fish, written & illustrated by Leo Lionni (1970); Published by Penguin Random House

 

In Fish is Fish ©, Lionni tells the story of two friends, a fish and a tadpole, who grow up together in a pond. When the tadpole becomes a frog, he’s able to hop out of the pond and discover land.  Upon return, he describes to the fish the wondrous things he has seen. The fish imagines these things based on his prior knowledge and understanding of the world.  Hence, birds are fish with wings, cows are fish with udders, and people are fish in clothing, and so forth. With an inability to imagine a very different reality, the fish simply superimposes the new on the old.

This story illustrates the impact of a learner’s prior knowledge on new information. Generally, the learner is unaware of their misunderstandings. Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (1999) found a solid research base to support tapping into a learner’s prior knowledge. Learners’ preconceived notions remain unchanged if their initial understanding is not engaged by the instructor.  In fact, even if students learn new information about a concept for a test, they may still revert to their original understanding when transferring it to real world applications. For example, in a 1983 study by Wandersee, students prior knowledge on animal food needs biased their understanding of the primary source of food in green plants.  Elementary and college students held the misconception that soil was the plants’ food even though many had received instruction on photosynthesis. Bransford et al. suggested that educators find ways to make a learner’s thinking visible in order to address these misconceptions.

Second, a learner’s belief system is tied to their experiences and culture. Sometimes in order to make sense of something new, one needs to see it associated to something known within their culture. Bransford et al. give the example of storytelling, which is an important component of some cultures. This can be associated with the language arts curriculum as a skill. An educator needs to have an understanding of the learners’ cultural background to aid sense-making. Generally, second language educators understand the importance of valuing a learner’s cultural background. Their specific training on the nature of language (linguistics) describes how culture is inextricably tied to language. Therefore, it’s important to use many examples and nonexamples in teaching new concepts. These should be open for discussion to allow learners to make connections to their understandings. In this way, the student introduces their own culture versus the good-willed but misinformed teachers’ understanding of culture not her own.

Third, it’s important to understand the economic, physical, political, linguistic, ethno-cultural, and social environmental barriers to learning new concepts. In my opinion, the fish-is-fish phenomenon occurs with learners whose systems include one or a combination of the following: monolingualism, racial homogeneity, geographic isolation, closed systems (those that exist without need from outside systems), economic hardships, and political isolation. This list is only cursory.

I  encountered various environmental barriers when using food to discuss nutrition in the elementary classroom in East Los Angeles. A school grant provided fresh fruits and vegetables with nutrition lessons weekly to a classroom. The day I introduced blueberries became more of a discussion on the fruit than on its nutritional values. The high cost of this fruit, coupled with it not being a part of the ethnic foods generally sold or purchased in the area, made blueberries an oddity. As one can imagine, students were more interested in tasting it than hearing about it. How could I appropriately describe the taste of a blueberry to someone who has never eaten one? The nutrition program’s lesson time frame for eating the fruit was generally on day three; of course, I didn’t stick to the plan. However, in some instances, the fruit was shipped still green, so that it would ripen according to the right day of the lesson plan.

 

Your blogger,

Sandra Rogers

P.S. I received permission from Random House to use this copyrighted illustration for this single blog post!

Trace Effects Video Game for Learning English as a Foreign Language

18 May
Trace and other characters in the game  called Trace Effects

Source: Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State

 

What is it?

Trace Effects  is an educational 3-D multimedia interactive video game that can be played individually off-line from a DVD or online individually or with a group.  There’s also a complimentary mobile app called Trace Word Soup, which is a vocabulary game. Trace Effects was designed for English language learners (ELLs) ages 12-16 by the United States Department of State (DOS), Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

What does it teach?

The game teaches American English and culture in the context of a student entering a university setting for the first time.  For example, Trace, the main character, navigates the campus in search of the student information center to obtain his student identification card in order to access certain buildings and ultimately progress to the next level of play. This game (and all of its supporting material) is part of an outreach program of the Office of English Language Programs and the American English resource center, which supports the efforts of the Regional English Language Officers (RELOs) worldwide.  RELOs work directly with English language specialists to promote American culture and English language learning activities in public and private schools abroad.

What learning principles and practices is it based on?

I was able to interview key stakeholders about the game’s program theory.  Based on their comments and my review of the game and existing documents, I concluded that Trace Effects is based on the following major concepts: cognitivism, constructivism, the communicative approach to language acquisition, the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) Technology Standards Framework, and gaming as an instructional strategy.  Moreover, the DOS’s vision (pillars) factor into the game.  The following DOS pillars are embedded in the levels/lessons of the game: entrepreneurship, community activism, empowering women, science and innovation, environmental conservation, and conflict resolution.

Who is the target audience?

The game was designed specifically for secondary school students in various nations who are involved in the English Access Micro-scholarship Program.  This is one of the State Department’s outreach efforts to provide English language skills to talented 13-20 year-olds from economically disadvantaged sectors of the world through after school classes.  The purpose is to provide an opportunity for participants to improve their English skills to increase their chances of better employment and/or entrance into post-secondary schools. For example, Access participants may compete for, and participate in, future exchanges and study in the United States. 

How will one know if users improved their English language ability and/or learned about American culture by using the game?  

In the Trace Effects’ teacher manual, teachers are encouraged to assess students before and after so many hours of playtime (pretest/posttest).  There are numerous extension activities in the teacher’s manual to assess learning (alternative assessments).  For example, the student worksheets associated with each chapter allow teachers to monitor student learning.  Students can monitor their own learning through the passive game feedback of points, redirects, and level achievement (self-regulation).  Students share their progress on an electronic log with their teacher.  There are competitions held worldwide for the record of highest scorer.  Stakeholders reported that educators could conduct action research to compare a control group that does not play the game with that of the treatment group that does.  Another  idea is using think-alouds for qualitative research—taking notes on what students report on while playing the game (phenomenology).

How can I access this game for my students?

Visit the US DOS website to play the game and download the manual.  If you teach English abroad, contact your local RELO for access to the Trace Effects DVD and supporting material to use in your classroom.  Click here to learn how to download the Trace Word Soup app.

To learn about the program theory behind the game, see my logic model of Trace Effects.

Your blogger,

Sandra Rogers

P.S. A special thanks to the US DOS Office of English Language Programs for the use of this image.

What Educators Need to Know about Working Memory

10 May

 

Working memory is a process in the brain where meaning is constructed from information received and potential self-regulation of memory occurs.  It also serves as a temporary storage device.  Working memory is limited to the amount of information it can hold and the duration it can remember.  According to Miller (1956), humans are capable of remembering only seven plus-or-minus two pieces of information in our memory at any given time without the help of learning strategies.  If self-regulation of the information is not engaged, working memory is limited to three seconds duration in the auditory registers (Ward, 2010). Ward notes that young children’s ability to remember information is more stringent than that of adults.  This age difference and the other limitations should be considered when designing and/or delivering instruction. For example, instruction of content should also include strategies to help students learn (e.g., mnemonics).

Baddeley and Hitch (1974; Baddeley, 1986) developed a model for working memory to explain the internal processing of information.  The main components are sensory register, working memory, and long-term memory.  The subcomponents are an executive control system, an articulatory loop, and a visual-spatial sketchpad.  The executive control system selects information, plans, and then transfers information to long-term memory.  The articulatory loop consists of the auditory and articulatory processes such as rehearsal.  The visual-spatial sketchpad consists of the visual and spatial processes, which can also include rehearsal. An important caveat for educators is that some learners don’t intrinsically know to select only the important information for long-term storage.  Therefore, it would be helpful for educators to preview documents and highlight key points prior to assigning the reading.

Numerous factors and self-regulatory processes affect working memory.  Self-regulation processes include rehearsal, selection of important information, and metacognitive strategies (e.g., making it meaningful, organizing, visualization, and elaboration).  Self-regulation aids working memory by stretching the time the information is held in storage, as well as enhancing transfer to and retrieval from long-term memory.  A helpful example of self-regulation would be self-directed speech.  Students might not think this is helpful, so an educator should model this behavior or otherwise teach it explicitly. The National Research Council (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking, 1999) defines metacognition as taking “the form of an internal conversation.”

Here are some factors that hinder working memory:

  1. construction of memory requires attribution and inference and therefore can cause distortions as to the correct source,
  2. articulatory suppression can cause forgetting of non-articulated information,
  3. physical impairments can cause faulty encoding of information,
  4. multitasking influences the depth of learning,
  5. merely trying to remember something can conflict with other memories (Ward); and
  6. cognitive overload can occur when information is presented with distracting enhancements like background music or elaborative fonts.

There are different types of memories: declarative (episodic and semantic) and non-declarative memory (implicit) (Ward).  Episodic memory refers to a person’s personal events, whereas semantic memory refers to conceptual knowledge. Ward stated that episodic memory is stronger than semantic memory. Therefore, it is imperative to teach students metacognitive strategies for encoding conceptual knowledge into long-term memory.  These strategies should be embedded in the curriculum after they are presented through direct instruction.

Note: For more information on the information processing system as it relates to instructional design see my blog on The Basics.

Your blogger,

Sandra Rogers

Ideas for Teaching Problem-Solving, Critical Thinking and Reasoning

8 May

Note: Last semester, I took a graduate school course on advanced theories of learning.  One of our tasks was to apply the information we learned to describe how we might develop a curriculum for teaching problem-solving, critical thinking, and reasoning.  What follows are my musings on the topic.

If I were to teach problem solving, critical thinking, and reasoning, I’d embed it into the content already being taught (e.g., math or science class). The selection of instructional strategies would depend upon the nature of the subject matter, as different content requires different ways of thinking. Bruning, Schraw, and Norby (2011) refer to this as thinking frames such as how one would think about scientific inquiry and the use of research methods.

PROBLEM SOLVING. I’d determine the thinking frame that corresponds with the content. Possibilities include scientific inquiry methods for science, engineering method of systems approach for information technology and machinery, or the use of cause and effect when writing analytical essays.  As for instructional strategies, I’d use Dewey’s 5-step problem-solving model, which solves different types of problems.  I’d consider various instructional models: team-based learning, problem-based learning, and tools for discovering the root cause of a problem (e.g., Ishikawa’s Fishbone Diagram and Toyoda’s Why-Tree).  Bruning et al., encourage educators to teach how to evaluate solutions, products, and processes.  They found that most of the time when an improvement has been made from problem solving it is because there was some type of evaluation or reflection of it.  The means-ends analysis could help learners evaluate each step in the process of problem solving.   Here are some options for problem-solving formats: Web quests, gaming, report writing, brainstorming, natural frequency formatted problems (Gigerenzer, 2002), worked problems for case studies, and real world problems.

CRITICAL THINKING. I’d include information on functional fixedness and divergent and creative thinking.  Functional fixedness is the inability to view common objects in a new way, which inhibits critical thinking about things.  Divergent and creative thinking are skills that can be taught to students, so that they think outside the box.  Second, it’d be important to include information about groupthink (conforming to group consensus instead of individual concerns), overgeneralizations, and prejudice when dealing with people and ideas.  I suggest the following instructional strategies to teach critical thinking: advance organizers, imagery, concept maps, Frames Type 2(there’s a rule involved with the matrix), jigsaw group work, reciprocal teaching, and metacognitive strategies (e.g. self-regulation of understanding).  Appropriate formats include debates, HyperInquiry, mock trails, writing, simulations, gaming, cooperative group discussions, journals, think-alouds, case studies, and apps that teach critical thinking.

REASONING. I’d create measurable objectives that address verbal and written reasoning skills on the topic, or mathematical reasoning if warranted.  I’d include logic models and frames to analyze and evaluate.  In my opinion, educators should explicitly teach how to make inferences (inductive and deductive reasoning). Inductive reasoning is a bottom-up approach to exploratory research, while deductive reasoning is a top-down approach to comparative research.  I’d include the Bayesian model (a logic model), so that students could understand probability errors and other probability theories.  I suggest the following instructional strategies to teach reasoning: metaphors, analogies, Venn Diagrams, case studies, cognitive apprenticeships, and metacognitive strategies.  Appropriate formats include persuasive essays, debates, HyperInquiry, mock trails (persuasive arguments), simulations, and gaming.

 

Your blogger,

Sandra Rogers

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