Contributing to Cloud Dust
Thoughts about learning and teaching
Thoughts about learning and teaching
A recent blog article by Christopher Lane casts a light on the varied claims about what is happening in our brains based on fMRI scans. A recently published critique of neuroscientific research by Stanford scientist John Ioannidis and Denese Szucs (see References) found serious flaws in many of the reported studies based on fMRI scans.
My immediate reaction was to go back and check my notes from my recent course, a MOOC called “Learning How to Learn” and the content that referred to fMRI data and how the heightened activity in the pain centres of the brain when people procrastinated demonstrated why we are so quick to switch our attention to more pleasurable or easier tasks or thoughts. Would this mean that the strategies to overcome procrastination weren’t valid either? Well, I was unable to track down the specific fMRI data that the professor referred to (and can’t ask as the course is over) but I reviewed the tips I learned that I wanted to share with other instructors – and they still seem to make intuitive sense – see what you think.
Even if the fMRI data about the responses is inaccurate, there does seem to be real “pain” felt by those of us who procrastinate too often; avoiding important tasks too often can undermine success, create stress, frustration and unhappiness, and can become a habit that is difficult, but not impossible to break. But we also know, from the more recent neuroscientific research, that our brains can adapt and change (referred to as “neuroplasticity”). So how do we change bad habits?
In the recent past, researchers found that regular short breaks could help student stay focused. A technique developed by Francesco Cirillo, called the “Pomodoro Technique” involves working in 25 min cycles with short breaks. The cycles were called “pomodoros” which means “tomato” in Italian (named for the tomato-shaped timer that Cirillo used as a student). After four pomodoros, you take a longer break and then start on a new task.
If you’d like to try the process, here’s a straightforward explanation by Dr. Terrence Sejnowski, Francis Crick Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, from his website Mind Tools “How to Use the Pomodoro Technique.”
Note: The technique incorporates what Iowa State University researchers have found about the importance of spacing practice (see Spacing and Interleaving of Study and Practice in References). Evidence presented in the paper documents the changes in learning observed when the intervals between practice sessions varied. It appears as though different intervals, rather than “massed practice”, can help us build more constructive habits.
Some other possible techniques (proposed by psychologists, researchers, time management experts):
Another theory, referenced in an August 2016 post in Open Culture, The Neuroscience & Psychology of Procrastination and How to Overcome It from Piers Steel, Distinguished Research Chair at the University of Calgary (explained in a Youtube video – The Procrastination Equation) explains procrastination as arising from the fact that the primitive part of our brains, the limbic system, responds much faster to stimuli than our more rational pre-frontal cortex. This can result in a haze of distractions that prevent us from accomplishing tasks we find difficult or distasteful or just don’t feel like doing. His main recommendation to overcome procrastination: mindfulness meditation.
For further learning, check out the references below or review the excellent article in Open Culture (cited below). Of course you may have to set a timer, or meditate to make sure you don’t just put if off until a better time 😉
Carpenter, S. J., (2014) Spacing and Interleaving of Study and Practice, In Benassi, V.A., Overson, C.E., & Hakala, C.M. (Eds.), Applying Science of Learning in Education: Infusing Psychological Science in Curriculum. American Psychological Association, retrieved from http://public.psych.iastate.edu/shacarp/Carpenter_2014_Science_of_Learning.pdf
Cirillo, Francesco, The Pomodoro Technique (his website based on the book by the same name)
Ioannidis, JPA, D. Szucs, (2016) Empirical assessment of published effect sizes and power in the recent cognitive neuroscience and psychology literature. Stanfordretrieved from http://biorxiv.org/content/early/2016/08/25/071530
Jones, Josh, (2016, August 18). The Neuroscience & Psychology of Procrastination, and How to Overcome It, retrieved from http://www.openculture.com/2016/08/the-neuroscience-psychology-of-procrastination-and-how-to-overcome-it.html
Lane, C. (blog post Sep 09, 2016) Neuroscience Research Faulted for Widespread Inaccuracies, Psychology Today, retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/side-effects/201609/neuroscience-research-faulted-widespread-inaccuracies
Sejnowski, Dr. Terence, Francis Crick Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, The Pomodoro Technique: Staying Focused Throughout the Day, retrieved from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/pomodoro-technique.htm?utm_source=nl&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=09Sep14
I’m really looking forward to exploring new apps during the #12appsBC event (coming up F-A-S-T-!). I have the enviable position this year of being able to “peek behind the curtain” and see the apps that our enthusiastic, experienced edtechs and educator teams are preparing for you. I see a few I’ve tried, I see a few I’ve read about but haven’t tested, and a few I’ve never heard of before. I’m looking forward to seeing what a wide range of educators comes up with – a scenario ripe with possibilities and potential.
But I’ve also been reviewing my awareness and knowledge around some of the risks inherent in using any cloud-based “free” apps – partly because of this event but also cuz I’m developing an online design work for educators and I want to make sure I am aware of current issues, particularly in regards to any institutional initiatives or guidelines for faculty. For those in BC, you’re aware of the requirements of the BC FoIPPA legislation for higher education – but are you comfortable with how to protect your students’ privacy while still creating engaging and useful learning activities or resources? Does your institution have practical advice or assistance that you can tap into?
Other places to look for information about cloud-based tools and their use in BC-based schools is to:
Even if you can’t read every line of the ever-changing, densely worded, mind-numbing terms of reference and privacy agreements for every cloud-based app you use, keep in mind the adage “always look a gift horse in the mouth” – read for the essentials – who has ownership of what you post – where is the transition between “free” and “paid services” – what are the cancellation policies – what happens if there’s a conflict between you and the app provider – can you backup your own work in a readable format.
Keep developing your digital literacy skills – one of the better descriptions of what that entails (IMHO) is Digital Literacy Fundamental from Mediasmarts
Don’t be afraid to take risks – most powerful learning experiences involve risk. But be aware, plan to mitigate risks and, have fun exploring!
I made a wish last year, just before Christmas (see the end of my Dec 20th, 2015 blog post http://educomm.ca/appy-holiday-fun), and it looks like it’s coming true!
BC is going to throw it’s own 12Apps of Christmas event (#12AppsBC)- yay!!!
Thanks to my ETUG (and BCcampus) colleagues, Leva Lee and Clint Lalonde, and the rapidly assembling teams of “techies and teachers” from various higher-ed institutions, it looks as though BC is going to host a 12 Apps of Christmas event modelled on the Creative Commons licensed event developed by Regents University of London‘s Chris Rowell. And if you like the look of the event WordPress site, we had graphic design assistance from Robyn Humphreys (BCcampus). We’re gaining momentum and working out the things we still need to get done to make sure we can keep it fun but useful. Our UK colleagues have “set the bar high!”
Part of what made the 2015 UK-based events (six of them and I followed four!) so fun was the light-hearted approach and clean, straightforward design. Two of the institutions posted daily jokes or puns (I’ve added that to my list as it’s a feature that often made me smile.) I found the consistent structure developed by Regents University London made it easy to get involved in each day’s app and challenge activity. Some of the institutions played with the design but only to add a strong pedagogical focus or a particular insight (e.g., looking at how the app could be used to engage learners with different learning preferences).
As Clint mentioned in his recent post about the event, http://clintlalonde.net/2016/11/14/12-apps-of-christmas, there are literally thousands of apps targeted at education, and we all (educational technologists, faculty, administrators, students) need to become more conversant with ways to sort out the ones that have the greatest value for learning. Of course, evaluating apps seems like a Sisyphean task (IMHO) but exploring their potential uses in teaching and learning seems like a good beginning.
Our BC-based 12Apps of Christmas endeavour will be a little different than the UK events I participated in last year as we’ve asked that each day’s app be free to experiment with, available on both iOS and Android operating systems, and to have some potential usefulness in education – and that can be anything from communication to content creation. We’re planning on focusing on fun, reflecting on learning and pedagogical possibilities, and getting inspired by participants’ creations, comments, ideas, suggestions.
Hoping that many of you will join in and try the challenge activities each day. Stay tuned for more about #12AppsBC in the coming weeks!
Bravo to all who shared their “fail tales” and embraced and faced the edtech horrors we’ve created or participated in, over the past few years. The theme for this year’s ETUG Fall Workshop was: “Little (work)Shop of Horrors” and the juxtaposition with Halloween resulted in lots of colourful (?) language, metaphors, decorations and costumes.
It was held at Vancouver’s Centre for Digital Media – in the Hangar at the side (an appropriate place for a spookey session with it’s endless black, grey and metal, high ceiling and cold, blue lighting.) Kudos to SCETUG and the others involved in hosting this event – I appreciated the diversity of options and your thoughtfulness in providing time for listening, time for talking, time for learning and time to play.
Audrey Watters’ spooky keynote (“(not) a morphology and (not) a rumpus”) reviewed the recent past of educational technology and explored the question “How do you turn a craft, a practice, into a discipline?” Her answers were redolent with references to ghosts, demons, trolls, vampires, and zombies and links to the workshop theme of “fail tales” by encouraging us NOT to abandon our edtech creations “…lest they become monsters.”
She argued for greater awareness of the dragons, the giants and mad scientists of educational technology; the ones who “experiment on students…on public education…” They’re building machines and designing a world that “they alone can control.” And she ended with some thought-provoking messages about the future we are approaching that results from the inflammatory messages, the disruptions, the tsunamis of change and the dismantling of public education. The vision of a globalized networked society is populated partly by our monsters – can you see them?
Some highlights (for me) from the lightning stories of failure (and some successes) were:
A new thing for me this year was hosting a table in the afternoon to awaken interest and participation in an upcoming event that Leva Lee and I have been working on. Inspired by the UK event “12 Apps of Christmas”), we’ve been trying to sign people up for teams (starting with an educational technologist and an educator who uses technology in teaching or who is curious about the impact of technology) to host a BC-centred event this December. If it sounds like fun (cuz it was even as a participant as I was last year) then contact Leva or myself (Sylvia) soon!
A full and enlightening day!
(Sidenote from Audrey’s blog post: Apparently sociologist Bruno Latour wrote, of Frankenstein and his creator, it “was not that he invented a creature through some combination of hubris and high technology, but rather that he abandoned the creature to itself.”)
Have you been following the development of open textbooks on the BCcampus OpenEd Resources site – https://open.bccampus.ca/?
If you visit the website, you’ll find some exciting statistics about the amount of money saved by students, the number of textbooks created and adopted, the progress made in funding the development of ancillary resources. You can learn more by reviewing Dr. Tony Bates blog post “Acorns to oaks? British Columbia continues its progress with OERs”
While I’ve been appreciative of the efforts of the Open Textbooks project I’ve been far more impressed with their efforts to develop a broader understanding (and integration) of the “open” approach through their events and workshops, and the support of various special groups that pursue a particular aspect of OERs (eg, librarians, instructional designers, educational technologists).
I was particularly impressed with Lauri Aesoph’s decision to “walk the talk” by making the development of the popular guides:
visible and transparent by posting, in the Pressbook for each guide under development, a page that lists the dates and progress of various sections. AND she’s going to cc-license the “in process” material as well as the final version – very gutsy but definitely in keeping with the spirit of “open” I admire.
While the cautious side of my personality looks ahead and sees the potential chaos if people see too many “warts” in an open development project (i.e., lack of trust in the final product), the side that has always been thrilled by the possibilities of crowdsourcing and open learning/education/development approaches, applauds Lauri’s “big sky” thinking “A New Future for Open Textbooks” at the end of her blog post “From Transparent to Invisible: Open Creations”
What I see missing is a way for people to connect with each Pressbooks project and to volunteer to contribute or to report back whatever they take and use or repurpose. The shareback step seems to always be forgotten (cuz it’s hardest maybe). But kudos to Lauri and BCcampus.
You go grrrl!