The tenacious myth of preferred learning styles

We care about addressing ALL LEARNING STYLES (real or imagined)!

We care about addressing ALL LEARNING STYLES (real or imagined)!

Learning styles (the idea we each have a preferred style, such as visual or auditory, and that those should be catered to for effective learning) are a myth. This shouldn’t need to be said again. Other people have said it well. (You can skip below for a list of references.)

But it’s a tenacious, popular myth. I understand how attractive the idea is … when I was a neophyte graduate student in a TA training workshop, I remember the satisfaction of completing a learning styles inventory (like this: http://www.personal.psu.edu/bxb11/LSI/LSI.htm & this: http://www.learning-styles-online.com/inventory/ & this: http://www.educationplanner.org/students/self-assessments/learning-styles.shtml & I really need to stop because this is just irritating me …) and figuring out that I was a “kinaesthetic” learner. Of course! Of course, I was a science grad student, and this made sense! We do experiments! I learn by doing! (I didn’t think about the fact that I could probably have found a rationale for being a “visual” learner …) It was an easy way for me to think about my learning! And to justify why I didn’t perform so well in some courses … those ones were not tailored to my learning style! (Woe to those poor nasal learners … )

That was back in 1994.

Now there is ample evidence that teaching towards preferred learning styles does not seem to actually help people learn. Even trying to reliably categorize people into preferred learning styles is fraught with issues. Meanwhile, many teachers/professors and students waste time and energy on this, efforts they could be directing elsewhere. (Check out the book “Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning” by Brown, Roediger and McDaniel for a good overview of what we DO know about teaching/learning based on recent cognitive science research.)

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Experiential Food Education

In the last couple of days, my most popular tweets have involved science-y food items:

Protist pancakes by Nathan Shields - http://www.saipancakes.com/

Pancakes and picture by Nathan Shields  http://www.saipancakes.com/

plant cell pizza

Plant cell pizza! From: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/231794712045067230/ – Julie Newton

Both of these images were brought to my attention by a couple of the smart, young women I am lucky to know (Fatima and Renee), and judging from the number of favourites and re-tweets, the images seemed to be appreciated by many of the folks who follow me (and their followers). Food does seem to be a really good way to get people’s attention and engagement! Read the rest of this entry »


More evidence of benefits from increased course structure

Sarah L. Eddy and Kelly A. Hogan (2014) recently published a paper “Getting Under the Hood: How and for Whom Does Increasing Course Structure Work?”, a nice example of the next wave of discipline-based educational research (DBER) that goes beyond asking “Does active learning work?” to explore details of how active learning interventions actually work, and differential impacts on sub-populations of students. Here, Eddy and Hogan describe their results of a study based on the work led by Scott Freeman at the University of Washington (see Freeman et al. 2011, Haak et al. 2011).

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Why change a university grading scale?

LettersI recently mentioned the 2014 paper by Schinske and Tanner that is a great review on various aspects of grading, including some of the history of grading in higher education.

Schinske and Tanner highlighted the fact that grades were developed as a method for universities to communicate (e.g., between schools). This is still an important function that grades play today (within/between schools, and beyond), and there are clear benefits from having a valid, reliable grading system. In the early 20th century, percentage (100-point) scales were frequently used (Cureton, 1971).  The letter grade system adopted at Harvard was apparently a result of faculty members’ concerns about the reliability of grades measured on a percentage scale, and it was believed that a letter grade system (with 5-categories) would provide increased reliability. 

Even today, issues with reliability (as well as validity) of grading exist. (Schinske and Tanner discuss this as well.)  Thus, I found it a bit surprising last fall when the University of Windsor (where I currently teach) switched from a letter grade/point system (a 13 point scale) to a percentage system for final grades. I could understand if this shift were bringing the school’s grade reporting in line with many others in the same region (e.g., within a province or country); with different grading systems/scales used by various universities, it can be challenging to make comparisons between students from different schools for things like scholarships, professional school applications, etc. However, from my observations (and the OMSAS Undergraduate Conversion Chart), the percentage system isn’t the most widely used grading scale in Ontario, nor across Canada.

I’m not sure why the change to a percentage grade system was made. It is possible that the rationale was  provided in some form, but that I didn’t receive it, or have overlooked it. I’ve asked colleagues here, who also didn’t know. Some (quick) searching of the university website hasn’t pulled up anything helpful, but again, it could be there and I’m not finding it (as my search terms are pretty common words on a university website). Although I’ll be a bit embarrassed if someone posts a link to something that explains it, I’d still appreciate knowing!

A few questions come to mind: Why did this university change from letter grades to percentages? Is this something that has happened at other institutions? Are there schools that have recently taken the opposite approach (moving from percentages to a point system)? (From the OMSAS chart, I’m guessing that Dalhousie and the University of Toronto made changes, but I don’t know in which direction.) Have any changes in grading systems/scales been accompanied by initiatives relating to how grades are determined?

As ever, I’m interested in seeing your comments (and, hopefully, answers to some of my questions)!

References:
Cureton L.W. 1971. The history of grading practices. NCME Measurement in Educ. 2(4):1-8. Link to pdf.
Schinske, J., and Tanner, K. 2014. Teaching More by Grading Less (or Differently). CBE-Life Sciences Education 13(2): 159-166.
http://www.lifescied.org/content/13/2/159.short

 


BYOD and classroom web response systems – my intersession experience

Lecture ToolsI recently finished teaching an intersession introductory microbiology course. It was a relatively small class (at least, for me) – just over 50 students – and it was a blended, flipped class. (I may post more about the flipping/blending later.) For the in-person classes, I used a couple of Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) web-based classroom interaction systems: Lecture Tools and Learning Catalytics. (In previous offerings of the course, I used clickers.)  In this post, I’ll refer to these types of systems as WRS (Web Response Systems). We had access to both systems (at no cost to the students*), and used Lecture Tools regularly.

As I discussed in an earlier post, I had hoped I could use this experience to help me make decisions about moving away from clickers to a WRS. The fact that I met my students in class for only three hours once a week for six weeks was perhaps not the best way to gather a lot of data, but it was nice to try out new technology in a smaller class. Here are some of the things I observed/learned: Read the rest of this entry »


Thinking (and reading) about grading

I just finished my intersession course (yay!), and am trying to catch up on some reading. Schinske and Tanner’s “Teaching More by Grading Less (or Differently)” paper, recently published in CBE-Life Sciences Education includes lots of good stuff: a brief history of grading in higher ed, purposes of grading (feedback and motivation to students; comparing students; measuring student knowledge/mastery) and ending with “strategies for change” to help instructors who want to maximize benefits of grading while reducing the pitfalls. There are many interesting points and suggestions in this paper, and hopefully it will be one of the ones we discuss in an upcoming oCUBE journal club meeting.

In the meantime … anyone else want to chat about some of the stuff discussed in the paper? <:-)

Reference:
Schinske, J., and Tanner, K. 2014. Teaching More by Grading Less (or Differently). CBE-Life Sciences Education 13(2): 159-166.
http://www.lifescied.org/content/13/2/159.short


BYOD thoughts – moving on from clickers

EugeneClickersIs it time for me to move away from clickers? Can I use an online system that will do the job, and make use of devices that students already own (and can use for other purposes, unlike clickers)?

In most of my larger classes, I’ve found clickers (classroom response systems) very helpful in providing feedback to both students and me, encouraging discussion … and waking up students in 8:30 classes!  Classroom response systems, as educational technologies, can be helpful tools but also have potential pitfalls; how they are used makes a huge difference in terms of outcomes. (Want to know more about clickers? Here’s a plug for an essay I wrote back in 2008 – and the references within).

[Note – I find clickers useful in LARGE classes. In my dream-teaching-world, I’d have class sizes that would allow me to do a lot more interaction with all my students that wouldn’t require technology!]

As tools, they may not be the only (nor the best) option available. I didn’t expect clickers to actually be around all that long – I’d figured technology would emerge that allowed students to use their own devices to do the same thing (and, hopefully, more). Indeed, we now have both free (e.g., Four Good Alternatives to Clicker Systems) and commercial systems that provide this functionality (e.g., LectureTools, Learning Catalytics, Top Hat). Until recently, some things discouraged me from using these alternatives – technical barriers, and financial concerns – so I’ve continued to use clickers.

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