April 2, 2013
Identify bottlenecks to student learning to develop improved learning strategies
Faculty are experts in their disciplines. The cognitive skills that comprise expertise can also create barriers to instruction. Experts internalize disciplinary cognitive skills and procedures through extensive practice and repetition to the point where they can execute these skills without deliberate thought. The automation of these skills (developing skilled disciplinary habits of thought) enables experts to devote their attention to areas that are difficult. However, this automation can also make it more difficult for experts to clearly articulate and explain how they carry out skilled behaviors. A solution that appears to simply “pop into the head” of an expert may actually be based on a complex series of cognitive steps that play out rapidly in the mind of the expert. When explaining the solution to a novice, the expert might omit one or more intermediary steps.
From a student’s perspective, experts solve problems through processes that seem mysterious and hidden. Students might not know all the intermediate steps hidden below the surface of the fluid performance of an expert. The “curse of expertise” sometimes prevents experts from accurately anticipating the obstacles that impair the learning of novices (Hinds, 1999). The detailed steps experts follow when they solve a problem become less obvious after years of practice enable experts to execute these steps automatically. Experts tend to represent and describe their knowledge in abstract language that interferes with clear communication with novices (Hinds, Patterson, & Pfeffer, 2001; Nickerson, 1999). The challenge facing experts who teach is to articulate their implicit knowledge so that it is explicit and accessible to students.
Researchers at Indiana University have been exploring ways to make implicit expert knowledge explicit through a process called Decoding the Disciplines. They identify three types of bottlenecks or obstacles to learning.
The Decoding the Disciplines process helps expert faculty identify conceptual bottlenecks and discover strategies to help make implicit expert strategies explicit and devise learning activities that will help students develop these skills. The process involves the following steps:
Interested faculty can learn more about Decoding the Disciplines and read about specific disciplinary examples by visiting the Decoding the Disciplines web site.
Diaz, A., Middendorf, J., Pace, D., & Shopkow, L. (2008). The History Learning Project: A department “decodes” its students. The Journal of American History, 94, 1211-1224. doi: 10.2307/25095328
Hinds, P. J. (1999). The curse of expertise: The effects of expertise and debiasing methods on predictions of novice performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 5, 205-221. doi: 10.1037/1076-898X.5.2.205
Hinds, P. J., Patterson, M., & Pfeffer, J. (2001). Bothered by abstraction: The effect of expertise on knowledge transfer and subsequent novice performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 1232-1243. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.86.6.1232
Middendorf, J., & Pace, D. (2004). Decoding the disciplines: A model for helping students learn disciplinary ways of thinking. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2004, 1-12. doi: 10.1002/tl.142
Nickerson, R. S. (1999). How we know – and sometimes misjudge – what others know: Imputing one’s own knowledge to others. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 737-759. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.125.6.737
November 6, 2012
Protect your voice during lectures
Professors spend a lot of time talking, whether they spend their time advising and mentoring students, facilitating classroom discussions, making formal conference presentations, or teaching large lecture-format classes. One of the hazards of a profession that relies on vocal communication is that extended periods of speaking can tax the voice.
The Center for Instructional Innovation & Assessment at Western Washington University frequently offers a workshop (Lecturing without Tiring or Losing Your Voice) that is offered by Dr. Rich Brown, a professor in the Theatre Department. The teaching center recently excerpted segments of Dr. Brown’s workshop as a series of five training videos. Topics discussed in each video module include:
|An introduction to how parts of the body interact to produce voice quality
A demonstration of warm-up exercises
Guidelines for breath control
Placement of sound
Use of resonators to project the voice
Together, these video modules can help faculty learn healthy voice techniques that will enable them to project their voice during extended periods of speaking and keep their voice strong through a class or a long day of talking and maintain a healthy voice throughout a career.
The videos can be accessed at the following web site:
Thanks to the Center for Instructional Innovation & Assessment and Dr. Rich Brown, Western Washington University, for producing and sharing this resource with the teaching community.
October 9, 2012
Resources for teaching strategies (ASKe site at Oxford Brookes University)
Oxford Brookes University Business School (UK) established the Assessment Standards Knowledge exchange (ASKe), which is currently associated with the Pedagogy Research Centre. ASKe publishes brochures (called the 1, 2, 3, leaflets) that describe practical and effective evidence-based strategies that faculty can implement to improve students' learning. All of the suggestions are based on research evidence and can be implemented in a few steps. The brochures are short (2-8 pages) and can be downloaded as PDF files.
The URL for the ASKe index of current titles is:
Current titles include:
How to make your feedback work in three easy steps
Using generic feedback effectively
Making peer feedback work in three easy steps
Getting the most from Groupwork Assessment
Cultivating community: Why it's worth doing and three ways of getting there
Reduce the risk of plagiarism in just 30 mins
March 27, 2012
Revealing all of your expertise while teaching
Expertise can interfere with our ability to explain a new idea clearly. Once you find the hidden pattern in an image, you may find that you can no longer look at the image again without instantly recognizing the pattern. However, what is obvious to the knowledgeable viewer may not be obvious to the naïve viewer. As Heath and Heath (2010) note, once we know something, it can be difficult to imagine what it is like to not know this information.
An easy way to demonstrate this impact of prior knowledge on your ability to communicate is to try the “tapper task” with a friend. Think of a common tune that you and your friend know well. Your task is to tap the rhythm of the tune by rapping on a table. Your friend’s task is to guess the name of the tune you are tapping, based only on the pattern of taps. Will your friend be able to identify the tune? The pattern will seem to be an excellent match to the tune of the song (you will hear it playing in your head while you tap), but your friend will probably not be able to identify the tune. How can your friend not imagine the tune that is clearly playing in your head while you tap? In this case, your knowledge of the tune is private. The tapping will not adequately communicate the information your friend needs to identify the song.
Similarly, an explanation that is crystal-clear to an expert may omit critical details required to clearly communicate this knowledge to a novice. These details are so obvious to the expert, that he or she forgets what learning is like for a novice who does not already know these details. An important skill in teaching is learning to identify these critical details that create bottlenecks to learning for novices and discovering strategies that make these details more explicit in the learning experiences (Diaz, Middendorf, Pace, & Shopkow, 2008). Teaching strategies that communicate new ideas using simple models, compelling stories, and multi-sensory information frequently ensure that critical details that experts notice automatically will be equally obvious to novices.
Diaz, A., Middendorf, J., Pace, D., & Shopkow, L. (2008). The History Learning Project: A department “decodes” its students. The Journal of American History, 94, 1211-1224.
Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2010). Teaching that sticks. PDF file available from www.heathbrothers.com.
January 10, 2012
First things first: Start lectures and classes with the most important ideas
One of the most robust findings in the psychology of memory is the phenomenon known as the serial position effect, which describes the pattern of recalling the information presented at the beginning of a list and the last few items in a list best. This phenomenon influences memory in many everyday situations. You are most likely to recall the names of the first and last people introduced during a meeting. Jurors are more likely to remember the first and last evidence presented during a trial.
During a typical 50-minute lecture, students are more likely to remember and retain material, information, and concepts that are presented during the first 15 minutes of class (Prime Time 1) and during the last 10 minutes of class (Prime Time 2).
Maximize student retention of the most important points of your lecture by discussing them during one or both of these Prime Times for learning. Resist the temptation to squander these critical times with mundane housekeeping tasks (routine announcements, taking attendance). Use Prime Time 1 to introduce important new course concepts and reinforce previous material. Use Prime Time 2 to summarize and reinforce the major content discussed during the day’s lecture.
This tip is based in part on a suggestion from Barbara Millis, Teaching and Learning Center, University of Texas at San Antonio (www.utsa.edu/tlc/).
January 26, 2010
Encouraging active learning by adding clicker questions to your class
Student response systems (“clickers”) can be used in a variety of ways to engage students with course content and promote deep learning. Clickers can also promote the development of faculty expertise in addressing problems in student learning. For example, Derek Bruff notes that one instructor was shocked when he discovered that students’ performance on a clicker question did not improve after students heard his standard explanation of a confusing concept. He had firmly believed that this explanation was crystal clear, but student performance clearly indicated that this explanation did not improve student understanding. Students were just as confused after hearing the explanation as before. The instructor decided that he needed to find a better way to explain this concept and discovered that he could use clicker questions to determine immediately whether a given explanation improved student understanding.
Want to learn more about strategies for using clickers?
The Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching has a rich supply of resources on the use of clickers, including a list of resources organized by discipline:
You can also find a useful resource page full of technical examples, including some video demonstrations of instructors using clickers on the Vanderbilt site:
Derek Bruff also hosts a blog, Teaching with Classroom Response Systems:
UWF now hosts a Student Response System Users Group as a Google Group.
Click on the Sites option in your UWF GMail to access and join this group.
October 21, 2008
What Makes a Great Teacher Great?
Ken Bain (2004) argues that the best teachers are not only expert in their discipline but they also know how to engage and challenge students. Evidence from a survey conducted by the University of Montana Center for Teaching Excellence indicates that students have similar criteria when they evaluate their instructors. Student respondents identified the following five behaviors as characteristics of excellent teachers (listed in order of importance):
Bain identifies a common characteristic of exemplary teachers across multiple disciplines: the best teachers believe that teaching matters and that all students can learn. Bain argues that these two beliefs influence how the best teachers prepare their classes, the kinds of learning activities they create, what they expect from students, how they treat their students, and how they evaluate the impact of their efforts on student learning. Bain defined quality teaching by the changes that occur in students’ thinking processes and future actions rather than by pass rates on exams that evaluate the retention of facts. He argues that the best teachers understand that the process of learning requires multiple opportunities to practice new skills, meaningful feedback about performance, and “plentiful opportunities to revise and improve their work.”
Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Tip based on a contribution by:
David Durr, Department of Economics and Finance
Murray State University
Updated 04/02/13 cdw
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