Friday, November 22, 2013

Learning Styles DNE

Learning Styles do not exist (or DNE for you mathematicians). There I said it. I know many of those in the education community and industry have presupposed this conjecture as the basis for many long careers. I understand that many of you at this moment are saying "But I know I'm an auditory learner." I get that it seems like a simple, logical explanation for why some methods work and others don't. But under even a little scrutiny, it doesn't work.

The reason for this post: I recently went to a workshop that I thought was going to be about teaching techniques focused on using applications, but turned into "How to Teach with Learning Styles". For the first 45 minutes I squirmed in my chair as kinaesthetic, visual, and audible were bandied about and how a 5-minute survey would help students determine their preferred method of learning. There was a glimmer of hope when the facilitator said "Now even if a student has one of these learning styles, that doesn't mean the others are neglected." and everyone nodded in agreement, but the discussion quickly turned to the deterministic ways these styles should be used. I kept quiet during the workshop, but thought this would be a good venue to air this out.

I see Learning Styles, and in fact any method of quantizing personality traits, in the same way as the Theory of Forms. These Learning Styles are the deciphering of the proverbial shadows on the cave wall, when what they really want to study is the flickering of the light, the cognition of the brain. The styles are so far removed from the process of how the brain actually works, that they simplify this dynamic process (learning) into three easily understood classifications (or however many finite number of personalities). Cognition, epistemology, psychology, neurology, etc. are the ways we study and learn about how we learn and should be the prime motivators for finding methods of how to teaching.

While reasonable, we haven't mapped the human brain just yet, and therefore most of these disciplines can't help us with the day-to-day "What do I do in the classroom?" questions. There is a large body of work on research based methods for teaching, my favorite of which is How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. The book does an excellent job of summarizing current research, and providing real implementations that produce results.

The comparison of these research based methods and Learning Styles point to a larger issue, the lack of scientific principles used in supporting Learning Styles. Many, many studies show that Learning Styles do not predict anything, are a myth, and have been classified as such for 25 years.

Unfortunately people are going to keep on believing in Learning Styles because they 'believe' they fall into one of the three/finite cases. Their belief will trump any evidence because it is about 'them' and their identity. This is probably the biggest reason why Learning Styles will continue, the narrative of the individual is a powerful force, and a series of scientific papers will not dissuade that narrative. The only way to combat this myth is the slow steady work of changing curriculum, talking to people, and developing materials and products that use research based methods of instruction.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Monday MOOC News - 11/18/2013

For this week a couple of articles, an announcement by Facebook, and an updated graphic of the LMS market.
  • Open Source Winter 2014 - Facebook's partnership with a number of universities continues with thier Open Source course continuing into Winter 2014. The program offers a bridge between what software developers do with the academic subject of computer science. Increasing the relevance of academic disciplines is always a good thing, especially for Facebook who can scout out new talent before they're even on the market.
  • Common Core State Standards: What do they have to do with Higher Education? - Faculty Focus has an overview of how the CCSS affects higher education, and while helpful if you have never heard of the CCSS, is painfully short and lacks details. How do these standards affect remediation? How can college systems better integrate these standards into their curriculum? What about all these anti-CCSS advocates, are they worth listening to? How do (or could) these standards affect current efforts in OERs, MOOCs, and other innovations/buzz words?
  • MOOCs and Statistics Education: Fad or Opportunity? - AMSTAT has a good article on statistics education and MOOCs, with an interview of Brian Caffo, Jeff Leek, and Roger Peng. I completed Peng's Computing for Data Analysis, and 'audited' Leek's Data Analysis. I've discussed both these courses before, and feel this article is a few months too late. However, the article does provide a good overview of the challenges all three have faced, and how they are attempting to meet them.
  • Higher Education Market 2013 - Phill Hill has updated his LMS market share graph for 2013. A pretty neat graphic showing the evolution of the market.


I participated a bit more in the Big Data in Education course last week. A number of students have complained that Baker speaks too fast, and the course covers topics too quickly. My response:
First, the guy is from one of the boroughs, he's going to talk a bit fast. I myself have recently moved from New York (7 years) back to my native Oregon, and all my students repeatedly ask me to slow down. In this class you do have the option of slowing down the speed of the videos, by clicking on the '-' button on the bottom left. Unfortunately my students don't have it that easy.

Second, the course is about Big Data in Education, not Big Data, statistics, or how to solve your specific research question. Prof. Baker has to assume knowledge about statistics, tools, and other Big Data odds-and-ends to get to the Education part. I have had to brush up on many of the statistical models, tools, and papers he's discussed. 

Lastly, Prof. Baker's passion and commitment to this subject is inspiring. No other Coursera professor is as active in the forums as he has been, he presents ideas concisely with plenty of avenues for us to research, and provides plenty of links, corrections, and documentation. I feel pretty lucky to be able to take this course.
That second point is something I believe is a consequence of the 'student as a consumer' paradigm some are promoting. Students sign up for some of these MOOCs expecting the instructor to cover the exact area they are interested in, at their ability level. "I'm taking this course, right? Shouldn't I get what I want from it?" Unfortunately the 'consumer' analogy breaks down here, they 'buy' these courses with their time and effort, not their money. Not sure how MOOC instructors and providers get around this paradigm, ignore it? "You are getting what you paid for."? Start charging and then provide greater support?

Another bugbear of mine cropped up in the same forum. There was discussion of MOOCs not favoring passive students, and others saying that this is the reason they have such high attrition rates. My response if you haven't heard it before:
This is a line of reasoning I can't get behind. "MOOCs have high attrition rates relative to traditional courses taught by colleges and universities. Therefore they are inferior to traditional courses." What? That's comparing two totally different things, like citrus and malus. The entry for MOOCs is an internet connection, a computer, and an email address. The entry for a college or university is prior education, placement tests, thousands of dollars, and a host of other things. By not completing a MOOC you've wasted at most a couple of minutes reading about the course and signing up. By not completing a degree, you've wasted years, thousands of dollars, and plenty else. Of course attrition rates are different, the more you invest in something the more you will see it through to completion. 

Also, the aims and motivations of students entering a MOOC can be very different. For a MOOC its not a big deal if you pick and choose the topics you want to learn about, and don't see it through to the end. For other students they want that credential. Even others may be experts in the field and want to hear what Prof. Baker is saying. Since there is no 'gatekeeper' for entry into MOOCs the population entering them will be very different than traditional colleges and universities. Again this leads to higher attrition rates, some student's initial expectations are that they won't 'complete' the course, even though they are getting something from it.
Feel free to join the conversation by commenting below.

Monday MOOC News comes out every Monday (hopefully) and contains my thoughts on current MOOC news, and a brief summary of the MOOCs I am taking. Feel free to join the conversation.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

It's been a year?!

In looking at some previous posts, it seems that this last November 12th was the 1-year anniversary of this blog! In this last year I've learned quite a bit about blogging, and made some changes:

  • Got rid of tagged articles in my RSS feed creating full posts. Initially this was pretty helpful, but I found that it clogged things up. I still do this for jobs I find.
  • Incorporated a semi-consistent Monday MOOC News feature. I've been trying to write this each week and have many, many drafts of this feature that only have one or two links, that don't say much. 
  • Failed at posting a weekly article about my teaching. I still like this idea, and may try it again Winter Term. Sharing the challenges of teaching as an Adjunct is important, not just for the therapeutic aspects, but also to explain to others what it is we do, and how higher education is changing.
If you have any suggestions for the blog, articles, formats, or anything else, feel free to comment below. I am always looking for news sources, blogs, articles, and papers, so link to those as well.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Job Opportunity: Adjunct Positions - Traditional Program - Warner Pacific College - Portland, OR

Saw this ad and thought you all might be interested: Adjunct Positions - Traditional Program - Warner Pacific College - Portland, OR. I know as much as the ad says, and am not affiliated with the poster. Good luck! via Math Adjunct Jobs in Portland, OR | at November 06, 2013 at 12:33AM