Sir Ken Robinson on Education
Joseph Ugoretz | March 5, 2011 | 6:55 pm | Learning to Learn | No comments

This video from RSA Animate is one I want to include in the course for two reasons. The first is the content–which is a collection of ideas we’ve already been thinking and reading about.

The second is the format. This is an example, in a way, of what an online “lecture” can be–in terms of using the online (or video) format to add to the value of the face-to-face lecture, instead of just trying to weakly capture an unsatisfactory pale representation.

Do watch it, and see what you think!

Learning Styles
Joseph Ugoretz | February 27, 2010 | 12:05 am | Learning to Learn | No comments

For those of us in the education field (well, you’re in the education field, too, but from another side), there’s been a lot of talk over the years about learning styles.  Most of this talk originates with the landmark study from 1999, How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School.  That study drew heavily on Howard Gardner’s earlier (1983) work on Multiple Intelligences, and it served an important purpose because (at least to some extent) there was a prevailing view that everyone could, or should, learn in pretty much the same way.  If students weren’t learning in the style that was taught, it was because they were just not very capable of learning (I’m doing some exaggerating here).

We’ve come a long distance since then, and it has pretty much become part of accepted common sense that different people learn in different ways, and that teaching should work to support those different styles.  And those styles have become codified, and in fact turned into a bit of an industry, which classes students into their various learning styles, and prescribes teaching techniques to help meet those styles.

The definitions of the specific styles vary somewhat, but the general outline that is used most often defines these seven styles (sometimes the names vary, sometimes there are less than seven):

  • Visual (spatial). You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
  • Aural (auditory-musical). You prefer using sound and music.
  • Verbal (linguistic). You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
  • Physical (kinesthetic). You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.
  • Logical (mathematical). You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.
  • Social (interpersonal). You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
  • Solitary (intrapersonal). You prefer to work alone and use self-study.

You can find all kinds of graphs and charts on the web about how these relate, and what teachers can do to help determine which styles their students are using and how to help them.  If a student is an aural learner, you’d better not try to get him to understand a text by reading it silently! Students who are social learners should be working in groups, and if they’re physical, too, it’s a good idea to have them moving around the room or manipulating objects.

You can even find some tests or quizzes online which let you determine your own learning style.  Now, I think that these are not very useful for any real analysis (for that you need to have a real study with interviews and multiple evidence, not just a few questions on a website).  But they can be a bit funny and entertaining (like those facebook quizzes: “What kind of underwear are you?” or “What Hollywood movie is most like your life?”).  There’s one fairly good one here, but they are all over the web (be cautious–some of them will want you to enter your email address, and send you plenty of spam afterwards).

But when I tried one of these recently, I got these scores (out of a possible score of 20 for each):

  • Visual 3
  • Social 0
  • Physical 3
  • Aural 1
  • Verbal 1
  • Solitary 3
  • Logical 3

I seem to be a little bit of everything (except social) but not much of anything (remember, 20 would be considered a high score on this scale–I didn’t score over 3 on any category).

I think, really, that these learning styles might be present in everyone all the time, and it’s a matter of degree, or individual context, or even time of day or season of the year, rather than being real permanent or definitive traits.  Sometimes, in fact, I’m social and want to be with other people when I’m learning.  Sometimes I like to dance or whistle or sing while I’m studying, while other times I like to learn by sitting and thinking quietly–or thinking while I drive or work on restoring an antique radio.

What about you? Do you have a learning style that is singular? Or multiple styles? And…can you connect this to culture(s)?  And is/are there (a) teaching style(s) to connect to your learning style(s) (those parentheses and slashes do get awkward, don’t they? :-)).

Joseph Ugoretz | February 27, 2010 | 12:03 am | Learning to Learn | No comments

Some years ago, when I was teaching at a different CUNY school, a colleague and I were having students work on multimedia projects (in two different kinds of classes).  We thought we noticed that these projects deepened student learning in interesting ways, and we collaborated on a project to investigate how this was working and why.  (If you’re interested, you can see some of the progress of that investigation on the website we created, “Looking at Learning: Looking Together“).

There’s really just one part of that project that I want to emphasize for this unit, though.  In our investigation, my colleague and I found that we both shared a strong belief, really an assumption, that when students became aware of their own learning, it made that learning stronger and more permanent.  We both believed that it was a good thing to push students to reflect on what they learned in class or through a specific project.  We liked to have them look at their work, while they were doing it, and after they were finished, and write about what they were learning or what they had learned from that work.  We wanted them to look in the mirror by looking at their work, and see how that looking changed them.  In fact, we felt this so strongly that we even used the same principle in our own work, our own teaching.  We not only taught, but we talked and wrote about our teaching, and we believed, and we found, that that reflecting made our teaching better.  It deepened our understanding of what we were doing and it led us to make more conscious choices about how we were teaching.

This kind of reflecting is called “meta-learning.”  It’s learning (or thinking) about learning.  And “going meta” is an important part of what many teachers are beginning to value.  This is critical thinking, in some ways–but for students it’s sometimes not required or requested, even though they may do it anyway.  In this course, certainly, we’re doing plenty of it.  It’s sort of the theme of the course, learning about learning.  But how often do you do this in your other classes? How often do you take a moment (or more) to reflect, to think about what and how you’ve learned (or whether you’ve learned).  And do you share that reflection? Maybe with friends informally?

In most classes you’re probably asked to fill out an evaluation at the end of the course–and research shows that for most students if you ask them to fill out the evaluation after the first five minutes, or after the whole semester, the results are really pretty much the same.  Most students take that evaluation as a chance to say whether or not they liked the professor and the course, and many times that decision is already made very early in the class (a sobering thought for us professors on the first day of class!).

There’s nothing really wrong with that, in my view.  But I do wonder what we could get from a deeper evaluation, a more reflective evaluation, which students do by themselves, for themselves, and about themselves.  That might or might not be an effective tool for assessing the course or the professor.  But it might be a stellar tool for helping the student to direct and understand and deepen her own learning.  Possibly?

Joseph Ugoretz | February 27, 2010 | 12:01 am | Learning to Learn | No comments

You are all working in this course in Macaulay’s eportfolio system.  And some of you also already have eportfolios of your own. And in fact, the concept of eportfolios is one that fits very nicely into this course and into this unit.  We use eportfolios at Macaulay in a lot of different ways–sometimes as blogs, sometimes as travel journals, sometimes as course websites, sometimes as complete learning management systems (like in this course).  There may be as many types of eportfolios as there are types of students and types of learning activities that students can engage in.

But there is a traditional view of an eportfolio–and a view (a different one, slightly) that connects to reflection, to going meta, to directing and understanding your own learning.  To learning to learn.

A portfolio is a collection of artifacts, a collection of objects, which demonstrate your skill or learning in a particular subject or over a particular period of time.  An artist has a portfolio, and in education, we started using the term for a kind of writing assessment.  During a writing class, students would take their best pieces of writing, polish them nicely, improve them through re-writing, and put those best pieces, with the earlier drafts, and a cover letter or some reflective piece, in a nice folder which they could submit at the end of the class.  It would give a bigger, better, picture of the student’s work and learning than just one exam or term paper could ever give.

An “eportfolio” (sometimes it’s “e-portfolio” or “ePortfolio” or even “digital portfolio” or “d-portfolio”) was an electronic, online version of that folder.  The concept then expanded to include more than just one class, or more than just one type of assignment.  Think of the box of your old school papers and report cards and drawings and clay birds that your mother might have in a closet or a basement or a cupboard.  You could go look through that box, and show it to other people, and pull out the best work, and explain what it showed about you and your learning.  And the “e” version of that just makes it easier to show and explain and organize and reorganize.

Charles Willson Peale, The Artist in His Museum, 1822, oil on canvas, Philadelphia Museum of Art; The George W.Elkins CollectionYou can read more about how we at Macaulay wanted to expand this idea even further–by thinking of the eportfolio as a cabinet of curiosities or the “museum of me” (I mean you).  I won’t repeat that here–read it on the main eportfolio site, if you haven’t yet. Your eportfolio (and it’s OK if you haven’t built it yet–or you started it and then took a long pause–it’s a process, and it continues from whenever and wherever you start, without ever being really “finished”) is a museum of you, and you can continue to add to it, and show it to other people, and walk through it yourself, as long as you’re a Macaulay student and (we hope) even longer than that.  An eportfolio is a place to collect the artifacts (maybe not the right word, but it’s better than “evidence,” which is the term that is often used for eportfolios.  “Artifacts” are things that you make, “evidence” is something that you leave behind–and it makes me feel like you’re a criminal) of your learning.  You collect them as you create them.  And you reflect on them–you explain to yourself or others, what they mean and show about you and what you’re learning.  And you present them to other people: your grandmother, your graduate school admissions committee, your prospective employer.

Have you got your eportfolio started yet? Maybe this is a good time to give some thought to how you plan to build it.  Or maybe it’s just going to grow, when the time comes, without a plan.  Sometimes the best museums might just grow that way.