Thursday, August 16, 2012

Dead blogging the AAPT, part II

(Here is part one of my report from the AAPT meeting).

So here are some remarks on the workshops I managed to attend on day 2 of the AAPT meeting:

Day 2

  • Paul Green, "When and how to lecture"

Lecture has of course gotten a bad rap in recent decades. Paul took a nuanced approach in this workshop: We all know we shouldn't always lecture — but what are the learning conditions under which we should lecture? Paul suggested that given the apparently poor levels of retention associated with lecture, we should use lecture only when no other method is better suited than lecture than advancing the learning outcome we are pursuing. He encouraged us to divide learning outcomes into content outcomes, skills, and dispositions. Which of these can lecture serve well? Paul suggested that lecture can advance outcomes in any of these three categories, but only if it adheres to certain principles: pause every 15 minutes for 2 minutes of student processing, etc.; limit lecture points to 5-9 to make effective "chunking" possible; and most importantly, he underscored Terry Doyle's mantra that "whoever does the work does the learning." Lecture doesn't have to be a form of passive learning. The challenge for us is to tailor students' experience of lecture so as to overcome or challenge their tendency to be passive. We should instead think of lecture as a well-established and familiar pedagogical 'technology' — effective in some contexts and for some purposes.

  • Steve Finn, "Change of pace activities for philosophy courses"

The notion of a change of pace activity is (I assume) fairly familiar: something that helps students learn by being unconventional by deviating from traditional teaching modes such as lecture and discussion. Steve's particular emphasis in his presentation was on change of pace activities that put students in a more philosophical frame of mind. He offered a number of exercises whose purpose was to illustrate to students the influence of bias and overconfidence on our own judgments (most students rate themselves as better than average drivers, etc.). These are fun exercises — but what they prompted in me is the thought that perhaps we could motivate the need for philosophical inquiry by being more interdisciplinary in introducing philosophy to students. I suspect that many of us use Socrates (for instance) to encourage students to be skeptical about others' opinions. But I wonder if we do enough to encourage students to be skeptical about their own opinions. Social psychology offers a wealth of evidence that might persuade students that their opinions are less coherent, stable, and rational than they are. The hope, then, would be to illustrate the need for philosophical inquiry precisely because we are so prone to bias, etc. I wonder if Steve (or others) have thoughts about this.

  • Russell Marcus, "Sitting at the back of the class"
Russell's aim was to discuss his attempts to create an inverted classroom. The central idea here is that what tends to dominate the traditional classroom — the provision of information — takes place outside of the classroom, and what we have tended to assume should take place outside of the classroom — students engaging with the material, diagnosing the gaps in their learning, etc. — takes place inside the classroom. As Russell pointed out, the educational environment is highly controlled by the instructor, who (usually) determines the learning outcomes, the material/content, the student assessments, course policies, etc. The inverted classroom places a greater measure responsibility back onto students. Russell's way of pursuing this was by having most of his course consist in student presentations. He distributed many of these assignments and their grading rubrics. What I really liked about what Russell was doing is the way that it probably upsets (in a good way!) the metacognitive patterns students bring to the college classroom. I often wondered if there's more to be learned from, say, students observing a poor classroom presentation than there is from their observing my (presumably) competent, well-organized, expert presentation. In some respects, the traditional instructor-centered classroom makes learning insufficiently effortful. I'd be curious to know if the inverted classroom instills deeper learning precisely because the role of the faculty expert is lessened.

  • Bill Anelli, "Not just argument mapping: Representing the structure of complex primary texts with concept maps"
Everyone wants their students to read philosophical texts and extract arguments from them. But this might well be the highest level cognitive task we ask of students. Bill presented some strategies to help students identify, classify, and represent textual arguments. He introduced to some electronic tools for argument mapping, including Rationale (examples here). Bill also offered a remarkable list of several dozen argument strategies and moves that philosophers make. My reaction (and I don't think I was alone) was a mix of awe (Bill's list of strategies was impressive) and skepticism. One challenge we face when trying to teach students about arguments is not simply that there are different logical forms of argument (deductive, inductive, etc.). In addition, there are a huge number of argumentative moves that philosophers make, which, if you've become fairly expert in philosophy, you begin to recognize: analogies, shifting the burden of proof, making a cumulative case, embracing common weaknesses, etc. I guess I have some worry that students confronting this list of strategies and moves will be overwhelmed. This underscores that while we should certainly try to be explicit about what we want students to learn, there's also a fair body of philosophical knowledge that will probably develop more implicitly than overtly.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Michael. I might not have sufficiently emphasized that I don't think that the inverted classroom, in which content-delivery takes place prior to class meetings, isn't always useful when the content is complicated and difficult, as it often is in our classes. I do think that the disruption of students' expectations is part of what makes student-led classes engaging for some of my students. If my colleagues all ran student-led classes, I might have to do more lecturing! But the central point is correct: the more I recede from a central role in the class, the more they have to move forward to take control. The key is to make sure that they don't recede with me.

    It's important also to remember that some students function very well in the standard classroom. There are so many learning styles! The best way to disrupt inert metacognitive patterns is to constantly mix it up, while not unnecessarily unnverving students. (I learned more about this from Ann Renninger than anyone else.)


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