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Beyond course content: What is learned and how?

moran Dr. Greg Moran, Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario

PlayLink Promises and pitfalls of harnessing metacognition to improve student learning

5 Dr. John Dunlosky, Kent State University

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On noteworthy notes: Not all note taking is created equal

Oppenheimer Dr. Danny Oppenhiemer, University of California Los Angeles

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Incorporating desirable difficulties into the curriculum enhances student learning: Retrieval, spacing, and interleaving

overson Dr. Catherine Overson, McMaster University

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Cognitive mechanisms of desirable difficulties

Watter Dr. Scott Watter, McMaster University

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 Panel Discussion

 

Abstracts & Biographies

  • Presentation Title: Beyond course Content: What is learned and how?

    Abstract: What do students take away from their postsecondary experience beyond program content? How should we define and measure non-disciplinary skills such as literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, problem solving, communications, interpersonal skills, perseverance? Although the jargon may grate, to the extent that we accept the reality behind terms such as: “workplace ready”, “lifelong learning”, “knowledge economy”, “slash careers”, and “job-hopping,” these products of higher education may be as valuable as content knowledge – they are most certainly regarded as such by potential employers. They are arguably also at the heart of what makes a responsible and effective participant in a civil society. 

    We need to demonstrate the effectiveness of our programs in these areas by more than anecdote and unsubstantiated argument. But we have only begun to task of defining and assessing these skills, let alone identifying the experiences that foster their growth. Far more questions than answers… Does the cognitive/non-cognitive distinction make sense? What is the difference between basic and advanced cognitive skills? Are non-content skills really transferable? Perhaps most important – to what extent are these skills teachable and learnable, and how do we maximize this process? Much to discuss and to investigate. 

    Biography: Dr. Greg Moran was a faculty member at Western University from 1977-2015 and served as its provost for 10 years. Greg was provost of Aga Khan University (AKU) from 2011-2015, based in Nairobi. He is currently director, special projects at the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario where he is involved in a variety of research and policy activities. In addition, he continues his engagement in research in early child development. He is a member of the Board of Directors of Academics Without Borders, professor emeritus and provost emeritus at Western University, professor (status only) at the University of Toronto, and a visiting professor at Aga Khan University.

  • Presentation Title: Promises and pitfalls fo harnessing metacognition to improve student learning

    Abstract: To be successful, college students need to do a lot of learning on their own, and such self-regulated learning involves monitoring going progress toward a learning goal and making decisions about how to learn the more difficult concepts and materials. Students do rely on these metacognitive processes to guide their learning, but inaccurate monitoring can lead students to make poor study decisions that will ultimately undermine their performance. Accordingly, I’ll discuss the pitfalls of using metacognition to support self-regulated learning, and as important, I’ll describe some techniques that show promise for improving students’ metacognition and achievement.

    Biography: Dr. John Dunlosky is a Professor of Psychology at Kent State University, where he has taught since 2004. He has contributed empirical and theoretical work on memory and metacognition, including theories of self-regulated learning and metacomprehension. Since his post-doctoral training at Georgia Institute of Technology, he has explored people’s metacognitive capabilities and how to improve them. A major aim of his research program is to develop techniques to improve the effectiveness of people’s self-regulated learning across the lifespan. A fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, he is a founder of the International Association for Metacognition. He co-authored Metacognition, which is the first textbook on the topic, and has edited several books on metacognition and education. He also serves as an Associate Editor for the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.
  • Presentation Title: On noteworthy notes: Not all note taking is created equal

    Abstract: Note taking has (at least) two goals. The first goal is to create an external record of content for subsequent reference, and the second goal is to facilitate comprehension and encoding of the material. Unfortunately, these two goals can often be in conflict. For example, students who take verbatim notes tend to have more thorough and accurate external records, but students who summarize content in their own words tend to process information more deeply, which leads to better encoding and comprehension. This leads different media for note taking (e.g. laptops vs. longhand - the former of which allows better verbatim note-taking) to yield different educational outcomes. Moreover, for note-taking strategies that require selective recording of information instead of verbatim transcription - questions arise as to how (and how well) students determine what information to record. This talk explores how students make tradeoffs and determinations about what content to record when note taking.

    Biography: Danny Oppenheimer is a professor at UCLA jointly appointed in Psychology and Marketing who studies, among other things, how people make decisions, the psychology of charitable giving, educational assessment, metacognition and the psychological underpinnings of democracy. He is the author of over 40 peer-reviewed articles and the book "Democracy Despite Itself: Why a System that shouldn't work at all works so well". He has won awards for research, teaching, and humor, the latter of which is particularly inexplicable given his penchant for truly terrible puns.
  • Presentation Title: Incorporating desirable difficulties into the curriculum enhances student learning: Retrieval, spacing, and interleaving

    Abstract: Generating learning activities designed to limit student errors may make students happy and convey a satisfying “sense of knowing,” yet these types of activities may not contribute to ideal learning. Although learning activities designed to challenge learners (what Robert Bjork, 1994, labeled “desirable difficulties”) are likely to increase the frequency of student errors, research informs us that these kinds of activities lead to more deep and enduring learning, retention, and transfer. I will present three strategies designed to yield desirable difficulties that we have implemented in courses at the University of New Hampshire that have benefitted student learning outcomes: Retrieval practice in a course on energy and the environment; spacing of practice in an introductory course on molecular and cellular biology; and interleaving of practice in an introductory statistics course.

    Biography: Catherine Overson is the Associate Director of UNH’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Director of Teaching and Learning with Multimedia, and was previously Research Associate on the Center’s Cognition Toolbox program. Her research focuses on the application of science of learning principles to teaching and learning in college and university courses. Catherine is co-editor (with Victor Benassi and Christopher Hakala) of Applying the Science of Learning in Education: Infusing Psychological Science into the Curriculum (2014, STP)
  • Presentation Title: Cognitive mechanism of desirable difficulties

    Abstract: The concept of "desirable difficulty" - the idea that making processing more difficult during learning leads to better memory later on - has become a strong focus for both researchers and practitioners who want to apply cognitive principles to real-life educational settings. One problem with this approach is that predicting which "difficulties" will turn out to be "desirable" (rather than just distracting) is currently very hit-and-miss, and almost completely post-hoc - a "desirable difficulty" is just a label for one of these things that happens to work, not a description of any special category of causal events or mechanisms. Our recent work has tried to take what we know about cognitive control, selective attention, and how different kinds of information is processed in sequence in the brain, to make better predictions about what kinds of task difficulties should produce "desirable" effects on later memory. We suggest that "difficulty" is not a task-wide concept, but has to relate to particular interference effects on specific processing stages. This approach gives many direct predictions about what kinds of task difficulty should help versus hurt memory, that can be directly tested. The implication of these difficulty effects on memory, and more general issues about the potential impact of cognitive manipulations on educational practice, will be discussed.

    Biography: Scott Watter is an Associate Professor and current Associate Chair (Undergraduate) in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour at McMaster University. He received a medical degree from the University of Queensland (Australia), and a PhD in cognitive psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, before joining the McMaster faculty in 2005. His research focuses on the cognitive mechanisms that underlie cognitive control and divided attention performance - the mechanisms and limitations of our brain's "air traffic control" system that lets us fluently juggle and switch between tasks in everyday life. Applied extensions of this work include studying expertise in video games, medical diagnosis, and business management decision making, and how cognitive control mechanisms can describe everyday attentional events such as mind wandering, multitasking, and mindfulness meditation. His work has been supported by grants and fellowships from NSERC, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and Ontario Research Fund (ORF), Mitacs, and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH-NIH, USA).