One of my summer goals is to better organize the content on my computer (and I should probably back it up, too… right? Eek!). Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be posting relevant essays I’ve written over the course of my (almost-finished) college career. First up? An essay on learning styles & educational technology for my EDTEC440 course via Penn State’s World Campus, Spring 2011:
As more research is done on the science of education, educators are becoming acutely aware of the growing number of different learning styles. Instructors are now accustomed to differentiating class material for the range of learning styles in their classrooms. As technology advances at such a rapid rate, there are more tools for teachers to use for differentiation. Roschelle et al (2001), highlight some of the most effective pedagogies for teaching today’s students, including active student engagement, group participation, frequent interaction and feedback, and real-world connections (p. 5). In order to cater to the different learning styles of every student, instructors must effectively utilize every tool they can to help their students gain a deeper understanding of important concepts. A variety of educational technologies have proven to be effective in such endeavors.
As tools are evolving over time, so too are the instructional methods used to integrate them in the classroom. Teaching used to be purely instructional — tutorials that were mostly lecture-based. Now, educators implement inquiry-based, skills-based, technology-enhanced, individual and group learning in addition to relying on lectures (Donovan, Bransford, & Pellegrino, 1999, p. 18). Emphasis on hands-on, student-centered learning has increased, and teachers are finding ways to incorporate technology into these new pedagogies. A variety of tools have been developed to encourage deeper understanding, but, inevitably, not all of them are effective. According to Roschelle et al (2001), computer programs that attempt to make learning “fun” are not as effective as programs such as computer-based math tutoring that encourages reasoning skills (p. 4). Students learn better when they focus on the “how” instead of the “what” (Roschelle et al, 2001, p. 14). Rote memorization of math formulas and repetitive mathematic practice is not as effective as providing students with a reason to learn. Why do the formulas matter? How do they make sense? How do they work? When a student focuses on the “how” instead of the “what,” they develop a deeper understanding of the material, which leads to better performance. This is a widely studied pedagogy that not only applies to educational technology but all areas of education, from preschool through adult life.
Part of a student’s deeper understanding develops from active engagement. “Students learn best by actively ‘constructing’ knowledge from a combination of experience, interpretation and structured interactions with peers and teachers” (Roschelle et al, 2001, p. 6). When students passively engage in learning by either listening to lectures or practicing rote memorization, they are absorbing information that will inevitably be lost. When they actively engage in discussions with their peers or applying knowledge to real-life situations, understanding is reached, as opposed to piecing together facts and formulas with no real context. Students frequently piece together information they’ve memorized and they may form misconceptions about important concepts. Instructors must be aware of their students’ misconceptions, as they can often make subject mastery a difficult task for both the teacher and the student, especially if the teacher does not have a deep understanding of the subject material themselves (Donovan, Bransford, & Pellegrino, 1999, p. 16).
Active engagement is one of the pedagogies Roschelle et al (2001) highlight as most effective to enhance learning (p. 5). By practicing active engagement, instructors will be easily led to practice other effective methods of teaching, including group work, using real-life experiences, and providing opportunity for frequent interaction and feedback. Engaging frequently with students by using real-world examples also promotes another common pedagogy: inquiry-based learning. “Before a teacher can develop powerful pedagogical tools, he or she must be familiar with the process of inquiry” (Donovan, Bransford, & Pellegrino, 1999, p. 16). Studies have proven that teachers who work with students’ preconceptions, teach subject matter in depth, and teach internal inquiry skills have enhanced student achievement (Donovan, Bransford, & Pellegrino, p. 17).
Instructors must utilize these pedagogies on an everyday basis before they approach educational technology. Technology is only effective if it is used correctly. Roschelle et al (2001) give three reasons for technology’s mixed effectiveness results: varying hardware and software among schools, how closely educational technology is intertwined with reform in curriculum, assessment, and professional development, and the “rigorously structured longitudinal studies that document the isolated effects of technology,” which are expensive and difficult to implement (p. 4). As educational reform moves toward the pedagogies above, more instructors will be able to gauge the importance of educational technologies in relation to the vast number of learning styles in a given classroom.
My personal learning style is a mix of several styles. Donovan, Bransford, & Pellegrino (1999) outline five major ways in which people learn including lecture-based, skills-based, inquiry-based, individual vs. group learning, and technology-enhanced (p. 18). Each of these teaching styles is supported by various learning activities including writing, listening, self-study, drill and practice, models, simulations, case studies, projects, and communication. Depending on the subject, I learn in a different way. For math, I do well with listening to lectures, taking copious notes, and enhancing learning by drilling myself with practice problems. For science, I do best with visuals (often using technology), cooperative learning, and various inquiry-based activities that help me better understand the real-world implications of specific topics. I’m currently taking an Earth science class at Penn State Brandywine, EARTH111, called Water: Science and Society, and it is heavily focused on group discussion and case studies. In the first four weeks of the semester, I’ve learned an immense amount about the global water crisis. I felt comfortable enough to ask about certain misconceptions I realized I had, and was able to re-route these misconceptions to better understand what was going on in some of the specific case studies we looked at. By participating in mock debates and other group activities, I was able to see other students’ points of view on the mining vs. salmon battle in Bristol Bay, Alaska, and the water privatization crisis in Cochabamba, Bolivia. We also took a geography quiz on the first day of class to test our knowledge of the places we’d be studying this semester. Through a Google Earth tour, the class was able to see where Lesotho and Bolivia were if they did not know. On one of the many snow days we’ve already had this semester, our professor had us write a personal reflection on a ninety-minute documentary on Amazon.com on the water crisis. All of these teaching methods have made me more knowledgeable about the topic at hand.
According to Roschelle et al (2001) “Computer-based technology is only one element in what must be a coordinated approach to improving curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, teacher development, and other aspects of school structure (p. 3). I fully support the statement. It is only when a teacher embraces various learning styles and well-studied pedagogies such as inquiry-based learning, active engagement, real-world application, and group learning, that educational technology can be effectively used in the classroom.
Donovan, M.S., Bransford, J.D., & Pellegrino, J.W. (1999). How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Roschelle, J., Pea, R., Hoadley, C., Gordin, D., Means, B. (2001) Changing How and What Children Learn in School with Computer-Based Technologies. The Future of Children, 10(2). Los Altos, CA: Packard Foundation. 76-101.
This past semester was full of really great classes. I loved doing more research on educational technology, which I did for my EDTEC class as well as my thesis prep class, and the water course was amazing.