Present at ADEIL’s 28th Annual (and 1st Virtual) Conference

In October, ADEIL, the Association for Distance Education and Independent Learning, will host their 28th Annual (and 1st Virtual Conference). Interested in sharing some of your knowledge and experience in a presentation? You can submit your proposal here: https://adeil.org/adeil-28th-annual-conference-call-for-proposals/

Attending DT&L Conference

This summer, UW-Madison will host the annual DT&L (Distance Teaching & Learning Conference) on August 3-7. DT&L is a great opportunity to learn about topics including design, teaching, curriculum and technology tools. There will also be opportunities to network and discuss. This year, the conference will take place online.

Additionally, this year, the main conference programming is free for UW-Madison employees – which includes Independent Learning faculty who teach through DCS – to attend. To attend the main conference programming for free, go to dtlconference.wisc.edu and use code KQX4693 to waive the registration fee. Please note that you’ll need to use your wisc.edu email address to register.

Hope to virtually see you there!

Want to help plan a virtual conference?

ADEIL, the Association for Distance Education and Independent Learning, will be hosting a virtual conference later this year, and they’re recruiting members for the planning committee.

Would you like to help plan this organization’s first virtual conference? You can contact ADEIL member Aisha Haynes: haynesa@nullemail.sc.edu

How Humans Learn – Interview

I recently had the opportunity to interview Josh Eyler, author of How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories Behind Effective College Teaching. We had a 4-part interview series, and interviews 1 and 2 can be found at the following links:

A Discussion on Curiosity and Authenticity:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAhaBUzmsjg&feature=youtu.be

A Discussion on Sociality and Emotions:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JePGkJzDhSY

Academic Technology and DoIT

Are you interested in learning more about using technology with your academic endeavors? Consider attending an event hosted by Academic Technology, a department within the Division of Information Technology (DoIT). You can find a list of events at the link below. Upcoming trainings include Canvas Tips and Tricks, supporting mental health in our online learning environments, and an Active Teaching Lab: Rubrics and Universal Design for Learning (UDL).
https://at.doit.wisc.edu/events/

How Humans Learn: Failure

The ADEIL book group has been reading How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories Behind Effective College Teaching by Joshua R. Eyler. After reviewing fields of psychology, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience, Eyler saw that humans learn when there is curiosity, sociality, emotion, authenticity, and failure; below are a few takeaways from his chapter on failure.

Eyler opens his final chapter with a quote from Kathryn Schulz’s Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error: “Far from being a sign of intellectual inferiority, the capacity to err is crucial to human cognition. Far from being a moral flaw, it is inextricable from some of our most humane and honorable qualities: empathy, optimism, imagination, conviction, and courage. And far from being a mark of indifference or intolerance, wrongness is a vital part of how we learn and change. Thanks to error, we can revise our understanding of ourselves and amend our ideas about the world” (171).

Failure is omnipresent. So much of learning comes from finding and correcting errors. Babies are constantly learning through trial and error. “When the expectancies about the structure of a baby’s world are violated, the learning begins” (179). However, as failing often has negative consequences, it becomes stigmatized. In education, students so often focus more on which steps will avoid failure instead of taking chances with assignments or projects that might jeopardize their grade; given the serious consequences failing can incur – potential loss of scholarship from low GPA, delayed graduation (and increased education expenses) because of retaking a class, etc. – it makes sense that students would want to avoid failure.

However, students need to be able to make mistakes; their brains “spark and grow” when mistakes happens (196). To help destigmatize failure, we can talk about our own failings, perhaps our own misunderstandings of course materials as students, or challenges we’ve overcome. As students keep trying to understand a concept, we can keep trying new ways to present the concept.

“With productive failure, everything depends on the design of the task we give to students” (204). We can offer low-stakes activities where students can explore a subject without fear of what mistakes they might make. We can scaffold assignments so that they become more difficult or complex, giving them a chance to make connections gradually. We can also think about how we design our gradebook. Eyler offers an example of a teacher who has students, as part of their final grade, reflect on their failures and what they’ve learned from them.

For additional reading on failure, read:
https://www.edsurge.com/news/2019-10-28-why-struggle-is-essential-for-the-brain-and-our-lives

If you’d like to join the ADEIL book discussion, go to: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8521464/

How Humans Learn: Authenticity

The ADEIL book group has been reading How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories Behind Effective College Teaching by Joshua R. Eyler. After reviewing fields of psychology, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience, Eyler saw that humans learn when there is curiosity, sociality, emotion, authenticity, and failure; below are a few takeaways from his chapter on authenticity.

Authenticity connects what students learn to the real world. Eyler shares an example of a forensic anthropology professor who leads students to use human bones to determine the sex, age, size, and injuries sustained from a deceased person. It wasn’t a situation where students needed to memorize the names of bones for the sake of memorizing the names of bones; the students did work resembling what would be done “in the field,” and the professor used guiding questions to lead them to help form a hypothesis.

Brains are pretty good at determining whether an activity or assignment has real-world implications. If it does, more learning occurs. If it doesn’t, the brain filters it out. But it’s worth noting that the brain can make real-world connections even to activities or simulations that aren’t 100% accurate. For example, before flying in a real fighter jet, pilots train in simulations. The brain connects the experience in the simulator with what they’ll do in real life, and learning occurs.

As we design assignments, we shouldn’t necessarily expect students to pursue careers in our fields, but they still need to have an outlet for how our field can be practical. Students can learn plenty of content to prepare for an exam but have no idea on how to apply it. That’s just going through the motions, and content retention is less likely. Language studies offer a wonderful opportunity for authenticity. Many classrooms use immersion-based instruction; most of the instruction is done in the language being studied. Rather than simply memorizing vocabulary, students are learning the language by using it.

Undergraduate research opportunities can help offer authenticity. “Give students work that is deeply rooted in disciplinary contexts and that replicates the activities of scholars in the field, and they will learn the material more than if we simply ask them to build knowledge in environments that are void of contextual frameworks or artificial in design” (161). While this could be done within a large portion of the semester, it doesn’t have to. Perhaps the research project lasts only a day. Perhaps it is as simple as you spending some class time sharing your research and inviting them to ask questions and share thoughts.

Eyler suggests that lectures in class are especially inauthentic; rooted a thousand years ago – and before the printing press – lectures were once an opportunity for students to scribe their own copies of a text orally delivered by their teacher. While worthwhile information can certainly be transmitted with a lecture (and Eyler notes this is very much still a normative practice in education), the human attention span is only 10-20 minutes. After you’ve shared content via lecture for 10-20 minutes, use another activity, or the student’s brain can’t retain as much info.

What are some of your favorite ways to include authenticity? As a music instructor, I (Rich) like using my music courses to develop how students take in music and to give them means to discover new music. It’s certainly wonderful if they retain information about music from the Renaissance or precursors to jazz, but I’m especially hoping they can give music they already like a more thorough listening of different musical elements and be introduced to new musical ideas.

If you’d like to join the ADEIL book discussion, go to: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8521464/

How Humans Learn: Emotion

The ADEIL book group has been reading How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories Behind Effective College Teaching by Joshua R. Eyler. After reviewing fields of psychology, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience, Eyler saw that humans learn when there is curiosity, sociality, emotion, authenticity, and failure; below are a few takeaways from his chapter on emotion.

Eyler’s chapter on emotion opens with a quote from Nel Noddings’s Happiness and Education. “Through more than five decades of teaching and mothering, I have noticed that children (and adults, too) learn best when they are happy” (p.113). Emotion and cognition – the process of gaining understanding or knowledge – are connected; positive emotions, especially an attachment to the subject matter, help learning, while negative emotions can hinder the learning process. If students have no connection or attachment to what they’re learning, they can still recite or recall or regurgitate it for an assessment, but it won’t make it impact with the student. Worse, moments of stress or trauma can interfere with learning processes.

As instructors, what can we do to provide positive emotions in our learning environments? Eyler states that “happy students seem to be more attuned to the work of the classroom and more expansive in the connections they make” (127). Little things, like injecting some humor, can help with learning; you shouldn’t feel the need to turn into a stand-up comic, but as you find moments of levity, this can help lower anxiety (after all, students will need to be assessed on our content, and their grades can impact their academic trajectory) in the classroom. Simple things like smiling and seeming approachable to students also make a positive impact.

Eyler brings into the discussion the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls fear responses. This triggers the impulse to fight, freeze, or flight; this is helpful for survival situations, but gets in the way of the brain’s cognitive functions, like learning. This can negatively impact students with high test anxiety. It’s also related to the topic of trigger warnings, where teachers give a disclaimer about potentially disturbing or traumatic content. If a student has experienced the kind of trauma being studied in the course, it can cause anxiety or flashbacks to the traumatic event. By prefacing this content with a trigger warning, or content warning, or content disclaimer, or whichever term you might prefer, potentially impacted students can try to use coping mechanisms to regulate emotions and still be in a state where their brain can learn.

As the chapter closes, Eyler calls for engaging with students empathetically. “Such a move requires that we see and value our students as fellow travelers on this educational journey and that we may actually care enough to help them reach their destination” (147).

While one might not necessarily connect distance learning and emotion in the same way as a face-to-face course, it’s wonderful seeing how IL teachers have made those connections in their courses. Do you have any highlights to share about ways you’ve used emotion in your Independent Learning environments?

If you’d like to join the ADEIL book discussion, go to: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8521464/

Professional Development Resources

Have you ever checked out UW-Madison’s HR website for professional development? It has a number of opportunities you can explore: courses you can take; resources, programs, and counseling for career development; conferences to attend; communities you can connect with. Wherever you’re at in your career, worthwhile resources can be found at:
https://hr.wisc.edu/professional-development/

How Humans Learn: Sociality

The ADEIL book group has been reading How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories Behind Effective College Teaching by Joshua R. Eyler. After reviewing fields of psychology, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience, Eyler saw that humans learn when there is curiosity, sociality, emotion, authenticity, and failure; below are a few takeaways from his chapter on sociality.

Eyler states early in this chapter that “it is not a stretch to say that much of what makes us human stems directly from our sociality” (p. 66). The absence of social interaction can contribute to physical pain or health issues. As we socialize, there is a strong instinct for imitating what we see in others; this imitating process can help (and will often inspire) learning to take place. The social interaction of playing can help increase an understanding of concepts and social dynamics. Maria Montessori, a pioneer of children education, stressed that learning among young children develops between the interaction of the group.

In education of all ages, the classroom environment can contribute to a sense of belonging. Eyler quotes the research of David Yeager and Gregory Walton: “If students feel more secure in their belonging in school, they may approach others in the academic environment more and with more positive attitudes, building better relationships, reinforcing their feelings of belongs, and laying the groundwork for later academic success” (p. 85).

As instructors, we can foster sociality with classroom management. For Eyler, this is less about monitoring behavior and more about establishing ground rules for discussions, especially with potentially sensitive subjects. We can also model this in our behavior, sharing a variety of perspectives, citing sources in discussions and presentations, and in trying to engage with students as individuals during class discussions. If we use group projects, we can try designing projects that are less divide-and-conquer the responsibilities and more of students gathering evidence and bringing it together.

As the chapter closes, Eyler highlights an educational role-playing game Reacting to the Past and encourages using group activities and discussions, even if it means there’s less time to deliver content. “Let’s think about choosing content carefully as a way to help our students develop a framework for thinking about the discipline” (106-107). Instead of focusing on cramming so much content into our courses, how can we help students, especially those looking for a general degree requirement, make broader connections to our fields of study?

If you’d like to join the ADEIL book discussion, go to: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8521464/