Thursday, February 6, 2014

Day 2 - Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy

This post is part of a series reporting on my experiences at the the Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy. Click here to read more on this conference. #2014CHEP

As I wrote in yesterday's post, I have been attending the Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy in Blacksburg, Virginia. Thus far it has been a really nice experience. The conference planners and managers are doing an excellent job at keeping the conference moving in a smooth, enjoyable manner, and the sessions are meaningful and thought-provoking, for the most part. In this post I will share some of my learning experiences and reflections from Day 2 of the conference.

Session - Creative Approach to Argument Analysis
In the first session of the day, I attended a presentation on a creative approach for teaching freshman argument analysis. The instructors shared an approach for helping their students really analyze arguments in meaningful, critical ways. They defined several different approaches to analyzing arguments, which they called different "Hats."  The image below shows the general approach to be taken for each had. Students were assigned these different approaches and were asked to analyze a video, a piece of text, or some kind of media.

One thing I liked was that they used progressively difficult analysis tasks. They began by having students analyze shorter, less-serious videos and pieces of text. Specifically they shared a video (below) of a young man giving a speech to incoming freshmen and had them analyze the video.

 As I mentioned, the arguments the students analyzed became increasingly complex and mature as the semester progressed, and near the end students were analyzing TED talks and scholarly articles.

I particularly liked the progressive nature of the course. The slow increase of complexity really aids students to handle increasingly difficult concepts and tasks. I also liked that video was used - this makes the task perhaps more interesting and also helps students transfer to different settings and media. A good strategy.

Session - Brain-based Learning 
The next session I attended was one on brain-based learning. The presenters' goal was to share "key instructional principles (that)... incorporate brain-based learning" which apparently is based on neuroscience. They started the session by briefly describing how the brain on a molecular level functions. In basic (as I understand it) when something is learned, the brain creates new "links" between neurons. These links occur on a molecular level and involve some kind of a chemical reaction in which dendrites (the little arms of the neuron) share chemicals back and forth. This is a super-basic definition that is probably wrong, so if you are a biologist or a neurologist, please be kind :). Anyway, the idea is that this knowledge of how the brain functions really should help us know how we can teach effectively.
Sharing how the brain functions on a basic level.

Based on this information, the presenters (who did not claim to be neuro-scientists but educations who have learned about these principles and attempted to use them in the class) share the following three major strategies based on brain science.
  • Activate Prior Knowledge - have students describe or present heir prior learning related to the topic to be learned for that day.
  • Show Patterns/Organize Knowledge - we should provide students with patterns or organization of the knowledge and should even have them categorize and organize themselves such as through a mind map. One of the instructors mentioned that she did this by sharing the organization and sequence of activities to take place within a session or during the week. I tend to think of this as more of a classroom management strategy than activation - the activation should show the structure of the content, not the sequence ofa ctivities in a course. Still, it could accomplish both at the same time...
  • Support Deep Learning and Active Processing - This includes things like helping students see the relevance of what they are learning, helping them become emotionally connected to what they are learning, and helping them contextualize the knowledge.
What I thought was interesting was that all of these activities have been recommended for quite some time, long before the idea of brain-based learning came around. They have a cognitivist slant to them, from what I could see. I a not totally convinced that a knowledge of how these dendrites communicate with each other really changes how we teach - I tend to think that making that leap is a bit much. But I do believe in these principles and think that a general knowledge of how the brain works can have an influence on how we teach. One good side-effect of this presentation is that I plan to check out some books on the topic to see if I can glean any more knowledge on the topic.

Session - Preparing Graduate Students to Teach in the College Classroom
Preparing instructions effectively is a big issue in higher education. In this presentation, employees of the Office of Teaching Effectiveness at University of Georgia shared how they prepare their graduate assistants to teach their courses. They actually require GA's to take a semester-long course on pedagogy before they can teach, which I thought was a good idea. This is similar to how we do our training of adjunct faculty at Franklin, though our course is only 1 credit. One interesting fact is that the University of Georgia has hundreds of teaching GAs (650, I believe) at any given time. This is as many as Franklin's entire adjunct faculty. We are definitely a smaller university, but I believe that we have excellent instructors. Anyway, below is an image of the overall strategy they use at their University, the pedagogy course being one of the major root components. The leaves are additional work that a faculty member can take as desired.

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