Oct 26, 2009

More Multimodal Learning

A couple weeks ago, we talked about a few new ways that student engagement could be improved in the classroom. Rote memorization is falling by the wayside while several new formats and practices take its place, and teachers are forging new methods of integrating technology with curriculum. This week, we’ll cover a few more ways that students can play a role in transforming their education.

Many teachers are falling over themselves in the rush to implement 21st century web-based tools in their courses. The common scenario of having an entire class “switch-off” when they enter the classroom is under scrutiny, and some educators are asking why education has chosen to ignore the reality of life as a modern student to instead fall back on tired practices. But those who choose to explore the potential of applications like Facebook and Twitter have not quite fully grasped just how to use these tools for education. As a student, you can play a role in making class time less boring, more fun, and abundantly more educational.

While some teachers may be more open than others to integrating new practices into their teaching style, it’s important to start small. Try suggesting that your teacher records his or her lectures (or maybe bring in a recording device for them) so that audio files are available for reference later, such as for studying or writing a research paper. This also helps capture anything that you may have missed while you jotted down notes. Then, post the lecture in a place where the entire class can access it. Having some notes to listen to on your iPod before taking a test can really help keep all that information in your head.

Much of the same could be said of PowerPoint presentations. If your teacher is a fan of this method of lecturing, tell them about SlideShare.net. This site is a free place to post files like PowerPoint lectures, and can provide access to anyone in the class with an Internet connection.

The ubiquitous application Facebook can also be useful. Consider creating a Facebook Group for your class. This will provide a great space for discussing homework, organizing study groups, posting useful resources, and just about any other communication need. Plus, as a bonus, it gives teachers and students a place to connect outside the classroom, and lets teachers see how students are handling the material (for example: the kind of questions that may be asked regarding a particular essay topic).

A more extreme example would be running some king of educational ARG, or Alternate Reality Game. ARGs are growing in popularity, and have been used for several purposes (especially marketing). What if a teacher set-up an ARG that taught you something? Imagine an Environmental Science course where students had to collect data in the field, make observations, and answer questions through text messaging to find a downed alien spaceship. Or, how about a History lesson where students had to work together to gather clues in a museum, eventually leading them to a particular location to find the answer to a mystery? Odds are, any teacher that went through the effort of setting up an educational ARG would be giving his or her students something they would never forget.

Remember, talk to your teacher first before trying any of these suggestions (they won’t appreciate you posting their lecture all over the Internet without them knowing!). If you can help your teacher understand and implement the tools that you use everyday for fun, the more fun you’ll have with your own education.

Oct 20, 2009

William's Windmill and Ingenuity

In the recently published book “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”, William Kamkwamba narrates the inspirational story of how his own strength of will and brilliant ingenuity overcame great odds and the skeptical views of others to produce something amazing. Kamkwamba relates how, as a fourteen-year-old boy, he created an electricity-producing windmill out of found objects in his native home of Malawi, Africa. Using nothing more than an old book found in a local library and his own genius as a guide, Kamkwamba was able to piece together a windmill that produced enough electricity to power a few light bulbs and a radio- luxuries that fewer than 2% of Malawians enjoy. He used objects like PVC pipes, metal nails, old tractor parts, and felled tree branches to produce the complicated machinery necessary for his windmill.

On a recent episode of the “Daily Show” with Jon Stewart, Kamkwamba was asked about the first time he was shown the limitless potential of the modern luxury that is the Internet. Smiling, he recalled Googling the term “windmill”, and upon viewing the millions of hits, responded “Where was this Google all this time?”

Kamkwamba’s story is a great inspiration to anyone who feels as though they are unsure about how to do something or whether they will succeed in a difficult task. A recent post regarding the closed versus growth mindset ties into this as well- Kamkwamba obviously did not consider all the ways that he could fail, but rather all the ways he could succeed. Despite tremendous adversity, he was able to prevail through ingenuity, hard work, and intelligence. While he did run into difficulties, he persevered and made discoveries that overcame them. His ability to work through these difficulties was rewarded not just with electricity and a feeling of accomplishment, but a book deal and international fame as well!

Oct 12, 2009

Multimodal Learning

For a very long time, education consisted of little more than rote memorization. This meant reading and writing, followed by more reading and writing. Learners had very little in terms of options when it came to meeting their personal educational needs.

But as history progressed and technology produced new avenues for information distribution, learning started to take on different forms. Devices like VCRs and audio cassette players brought audio and visual components into the classroom. Then came the laptop computer and Powerpoint presentations. Gradually, students have been weaned from rote memorization, and instead engaged through a variety of different media. Today, rote memorization has not been tossed aside, but rather supplemented. As modern schools grapple with the seemingly endless resources of the Internet, students are being confronted with new ways to learn.

This is undoubtedly a good thing. With new modes of learning comes higher rates of knowledge acquisition and retention. There have been a number of studies on the power of this. One study released last year, for example, demonstrated that combining visual and verbal instruction resulted in sizeable increases for learning. The challenge facing educators now is how to incorporate material that touches on all the different learning styles that students could utilize.

If you find your teacher blissfully unaware of all the opportunities available for engaging you as a student, don’t hesitate to show him or her the light. If all you get is lecture after lecture, try presenting a short HippoCampus clip to spice things up. Or, print off some pictures that might add a nice visual to the lecturer’s notes. Or, bring in an audio recording to hear another perspective, such as a speech given by the subject matter in a history lesson. There’s so much out there, you just have to go out and find it.

Even if you can’t get your teacher to incorporate all the fantastic resources you know are available, don’t deprive yourself and your fellow classmates of resources you know can help. Actively engage the content, and you’ll find that you’ll learn faster, more effectively, and possibly even have a good time.

Oct 5, 2009

Change Your Mind

In “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, renowned Stanford psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck outlines how an individual’s mindset can affect one’s actions, motivation, and performance. Last week, we delved into the meaning behind Dr. Dweck’s dueling concepts of the “Fixed” and “Growth” mindsets and the various implications that adopters of either could expect. This week, we’ll examine a few ways that an individual can change their outlook, and thus garner the benefits of a “Growth Mindset”.

Undoubtedly, the first step is recognition of what it means to have a “Growth” and “Fixed Mindset”. However, understanding how a “Fixed Mindset” will react to a difficult situation or obstacle is easier than actually applying the knowledge to one’s own thought process. To do that requires a step away from one’s own inner mental ticker to gain an outsider’s perspective. Try not to jump to any conclusions about what you can and cannot do. Instead, realize that any mental gymnastics you may undertake towards finding a solution, even if you don’t succeed, will result in great personal gains. Don’t always rely on innate skills- learning from your mistakes can be more useful than getting something perfectly on the first attempt.

In an interview on “Countdown to College” radio with Beth Pickett, Dr. Dweck describes two types of athletes. The first type has an abundance of natural talent, while the second must practice hard to gain the same level of ability. While the first group typically fizzles out when they run out of talent, the second group goes on to achieve even greater levels of ability. This is because the first group was in a “Fixed Mindset”, and would give up once they had reached the limits of their natural abilities. The second type had a “Growth Mindset”, and thanks to a willingness to learn and adapt to the challenges that they faced, could continue the development of their ability until they had surpassed those with an abundance of natural talent.

As this example demonstrates, the truly beneficial part of solving a problem is the process by which the individual goes about finding the solution. While some intelligence and ability can come naturally, the development of these traits is what really matters. Someone isn’t “stupid” if they fail. To achieve the loftier ambitions of life, don’t be afraid of a little hard work- in the end, it will help you more than you might realize.