Tips from Tanya: Some points for students about technology in the classroom

I wrote this for my students (after Tamara Kelly and I facilitated a session on student devices in the classroom at the Western Conference on Science Education 2015) and am sharing it here, in hopes it may be of interest/use to others! Please note that my classroom policies about device use are specific to the courses I currently teach.

Almost everyone has a smartphone, laptop, tablet, or combination of these devices with them during their waking hours (and beyond, in some cases). There is huge potential for distraction using these devices – which is fine if you’re waiting in a long, boring line or on the bus, but can be problematic in the classroom*.

While a few profs ban these devices in their classes, I’m taking a different approach. In much of the world, including most work-places, these devices aren’t banned, and people are expected to be able to manage work/life and various distractions. That being said, I can understand why some instructors have different policies for their own classes.

Some of our in-class activities will make use of online resources, so I’ll encourage you to use them, if you wish to do so.  I’ll be using LectureTools, which allows me to ask you questions that you can answer on your device … and for you to ask me questions in the system (without raising your hand).

If you don’t want to use a device in our class, that’s fine! One way to avoid distraction is to keep these devices out of sight (and hearing), and I’m happy to support those who take this approach. There will be alternative activities for students who don’t use the in-class system.

If you do want to use your device(s) in class, there are some things to be aware of:

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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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Studying/learning resources for students – what to share?

LearnI’m working on some information to share with my students about studying/learning strategies. (Note – in my current position, I’m teaching classes to students who have at least one year of university under their belts.) I keep wanting to expand it, but I fear that the chances of students actually reading it are inversely proportional to its length! I am posting it here so that I can get constructive feedback, and hopefully other folks might be able to use some of it (as students or instructors). (Some aspects are specific to the University of Windsor/microbiology, but most of this is pretty general.)

Some studying/learning tips/resources:

I am often asked how to best study (for my classes, and others). Certainly, many students in microbiology have already developed effective studying/learning strategies for university classes, but here are some points about learning that might be helpful:

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