Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

More on Study Strategies

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

This is a post from Scott H Young, an American.  The advice is helpful and practical.

How to Boost Your Study Habits
Holistic learning isn’t like a brainstorming technique or mind-mapping. It is fundamentally changing how you look at the process of learning and how you absorb information. As such, there isn’t an easy ten step program to master it.

But there are some tools that can help you shift your learning habits so they become more holistic:

  1. Visceralize – You’ve probably heard of visualizing, right? Visceralizing means taking all of your senses and connecting it to information. Studies have shown that people remember more vividly information that comes to us in an emotionally aroused state. Linking feelings, senses and imagery to bland ideas makes them more real. You probably counted on your fingers when learning numbers, why can’t you do the same when you are learning now?
  2. Metaphor - The heart of holistic learning is relating things together. Metaphors are literary devices that link two things that normally don’t go together. Come up with metaphors to describe more complicated ideas in simpler terms.
  3. Ten Year Old Rule – Explain ideas to yourself as you would to a ten year old. Sure, this isn’t always possible in your last years of a medical degree or learning how to apply neural networks to computer AI. But the idea is that you should be able to “dumb down” an idea enough so it seems obvious to yourself.
  4. Trace Back – Put away your books and start with a random fact or concept. Then relate that idea to another concept in your subject. Keep doing this tracing pattern until you’ve linked many ideas together. The Gupta Dynasty reminds you of ancient Greece which reminds you of Socrates, reminding you of Confucius…
  5. Refresher Scan – Scan through information in your text book. Notice whenever you encounter information that you either don’t remember or weren’t 100% sure about. Quickly link that information back to existing ideas through viscerlization and metaphor. If your refresher scan is turning up more than a few points per chapter, you haven’t learned it thoroughly enough.
  6. Compress Information – Not all information works well for holistic learning. A common point cited to me is learning anatomy for first year medical students. Anatomy involves learning arbitrary Latin names for hundreds of different elements of your body. There often aren’t clear patterns and constructs, just a dry list of facts. When encountering information such as this, your goal should be to compress it. Find ways to group information into smaller chunks of memory through pictures or mnemonics.
  7. Write – Take a piece of paper and write out the connections in the information. Reorganize the information into different patterns. The key here is the writing, not the final product. So don’t waste your time making a pretty picture. Scribble and use abbreviations to link the ideas together.

Scott Young is a blogger on learning, productivity and habits.

Scott has a free ebook on studying and learning that is quite useful and practical, with enough theory base to make sense of what he proposes. 


Monday, September 3rd, 2007

What is expertise?  It is the integration of a wide range of standard situations.

For example, chess masters can play blindfolded or remember the positions of each piece on the board from a game.  However, when the pieces are arranged randomly they do no better than non-chess players.  Their memory is for standard moves – and a chess master will have many thousands of these in their memory.

Expertise is the ability to recognise standard situations.
Thus doctors when doing a diagnosis will quickly assess the person and then find which of a few possibilities give the best fit.  When the person does not fit a standard situation the experienced doctor does no better than one just starting out.

Fortunately with acupuncture theory there are only about forty standard situations that you need to have memorised.
These are: the five elements and how they relate to each other, the functioning of the twelve organs and channels, the functioning of the ren and du meridians, the five vital fluids, the effect of the ’six devils’ which cause sickness, the eight conditions (which I call the three dimensions of yin and yang).  There are about a dozen standard things to know for diagnosis: eight questions to ask, the map of the tongue, the indications of the pulse, and once again how the five elements relate to each other.  For treatment you need to know how to insert the pin and which acupuncture points to put it in (about 120 for a full repertoire, however there are only thirty main ones).  As you can see learning only one concept a week you will have a good understanding of acupuncture theory within one year.

The more you make this knowledge a part of you the more of an expert you will be.  The question is how to do this.  The only way is to make it part of you daily living.  Ask how each concept: makes sense of your experience; How it helps you understand other people and; How it gives you an understanding of what is happening to your health.  So try picking any aspect of health and see how acupuncture theory understands this – you can even get people to test you by picking random parts of their body or aspects of their health. 

Once you think naturally in acupuncture terms you are on your way to being an expert practitioner.

Study Strategies

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

For long-term memory it is best to learn something then revise it later.

As we all know cramming gets you through the exam and then we blessedly forget all that stuff we crammed.

However, for stuff we are wanting to remember long-term, like acupuncture, cramming doesn’t work and neither does immediate over-learning; that is, learning it ’til you’ve got it and then going over it a few more times.  It is better to spend this extra time revising things learnt previously.

These are the findings from research conducted by psychologist Doug Rohrer at the University of South Florida and Hal Pashler of the University of California, San Diego.  They tested how much of a memorised word list was retained up to four weeks.  They have also done research on retention of abstract concepts with the same results.

So the story is:

get it clear in your mind, then let it rest for a while and revise it later. 

If you can have a routine of revision (say next week, then monthly) it may help to make it easier to get into the habit.

Teaching is Not Learning

Saturday, September 1st, 2007

Usually in schooling it is the students who are tested.

And so attention has gone into helping students learn.

The way this was done, for decades, was by studying what teachers do.  This doesn’t really make sense.  It was hoped that by improving teaching then learning would follow.  This turned out to  not quite be the case.  Learning is what students do and so it is what learners (not teachers) do that should be studied.

With an on line course, like this blog (which has no teachers), this is important.

So what is learning about and what can you do about it?  There is a truck load of different studies on this.

Here is a brief summary of what I think are useful pieces of advice for learning. 

1. We learn by doing not by ‘learning about’.
Whatever you are learning: do as much as you can with it.  How does what you are learning help you understand and/or live your life?  How can you use it to help yourself or others?
To help you do this it may be helpful to keep a record, some kind of diary or journal.  Everyone I know who has done this has found it helpful.

2. We learn the meaning not the details.
So to grasp the details have a clear idea of the meaning for you.  How does what you are learning fit with the rest of your life?  The better the fit the more you will have learned.  The principle of “to the one who has shall more be given’ applies here.

3. It helps to have a big picture to slot the details into.
Whatever you are learning get a sense of an overview, what the parts are and how they fit together.  This is not a summary (which you can make at the end and is a brief presentation of the main ideas).  In acupuncture my overview is: health, sickness, therapy.  Under health in acupuncture my overview is: vital fluids produced by the organs flowing through the channels, and so on.  The main ideas can then get slotted in under these headings and summarised later.  The overview can give you a sense of where things fit and why they matter.

4. Find how you learn best.
There are various lists of different ways to learn.  The simplest is probably: head, heart, hand.  Head people (like me) think about stuff and think about the ideas, heart people are more engaged by people – how what they are learning relates to people and how it can be used to help them, hand people want to know how it works and learn by playing around with stuff.
Head people can: put ideas in their own words, find the main ideas for each area studied.
Heart people can: figure out how to use this stuff to help others.
Hand people: can make a model (on paper or out of cardboard or some other material).  If nothing else move around when you’re learning.

5. Make it fun.
Having to discipline yourself is a warning sign.  If you are not enjoying what you are studying ask why.  Then try to find a way to make it fun.

Do Teachers Make a Difference?

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

Depressingly, for those of us who care passionately about teaching,

this is a tricky question.

Firstly there is what Edward de Bono calls ‘The Gateway Phenomenon’.

The “gateway” is the way into a prestigious educational institution.  Because this institution is seen as prestigious it gets to select the best students.  And, you guessed it, it can then boast it has the best graduates.  It then claims these students’ ability as its own, by saying that “we produce the best graduates”.  If they truly believed they were the best educators then they could choose the worst students and turn them into the best graduates: I have yet to see an educational institution adopt this policy.

Secondly its hard to find out.

If you wanted to find from rigorous research whether teachers made a difference you’d have to do something quite complicated.  You’d need very similar groups of students, studying the same curriculum and taught in the same way.  You would then test the two groups to see what difference the teacher made.  You would probably need to do this for several thousand students across different ages and different subjects.  This kind of research just hasn’t been done.

Thirdly, even if we did this difficult research it may not be the teacher. 

It is students who need to get the grades – not the teachers.  I think we can all remember times when we have succeeded despite the teaching rather than because of it.  For the research to be on the teachers, it would have to be they who got the results and not the students.  It seems very unlikely that this kind of thing will ever be done.

The upshot is we rely on what we know from our own experiences of teaching, plus the bits of partial research that have been done.  This boils down, for me, to a three simple things:

  • 1. Teachers need to know their subject (I remember one of my teachers in acupuncture college getting wrong a couple of the basic kidney points.  I knew little acupuncture and even I knew she was wrong.  She corrected herself in the next class, without admitting her error.  I thought then and think now that this is simply unacceptable.)
  • 2. Teachers need to be able to relate to their students.  (Things like understanding the question being asked, having examples that relate well, being able to explain  technical terms and why things are done in a particular way.  I’m sure we can all remember teachers who were speaking to themselves and not to the students.)
  • 3. Teachers need to be able to present the material in a suitable way to their students.  (This means being able to break it down into bite-size chunks.  Learning something is not knowing ‘about it’, it is knowing it.  This means that teaching is not presenting an analysis – you know the sort of thing: this is the subject, it is divided into these parts, it has this many aspects, blah blah blah – but is graduated exposure to the whole thing.  We learn by doing and the skill is finding tasks (not too easy, not too hard) to start doing the thing – in philosophy, writing a small essay; in teaching, doing a five minute class; in building, laying bricks in a straight line – whatever it is, doing a small meaningful part of what you are learning.)

For me, good teaching has made all the difference.  All the difference to looking forward to learning, to feeling that I know the subject, to enjoying what I’m doing.

What are your experiences of good and bad teaching?

Artificer Learning#3

Friday, August 17th, 2007

This series of posts was written by myself and a friend for a Futures journal. It may be seen as a bit ‘out there’ and academic, but I do think it deals with issues that are important for education. Especially for education that deals with skills.

From Action Learning to Artificer Learning

Artificer Learning is a form of action learning focused on the learner who learns by making or shaping an action decided collectively and intended for some particular application towards a better world.

Such learning is always threefold – firstly internal to the learner (integrity, values etc), secondly external to the learner (ethics and how the world works – being a good citizen), and thirdly the bridge between the two – content. Generally speaking academia focuses on the third or content area.

In action learning theory, L = P + Q.,

Learning = Programed knowledge + Questioning [L = P + Q]

We see critical futures praxis or artificer learning adding two key components: (1) ‘A’ for Action is added to L and (2) ‘I’ for Intent is added to Q. These additions bring in actioning and intentionality as key for Critical Futures Praxis.

So the formula becomes AL=P+QI.

We call this form of Critical Futures Praxis “Artificer Learning” as it incorporates the various types of action listed above with an emphasis on Instrumental Action.

Other related terms for the type of learning we are advocating include: futuring, critical futures praxis, holonomic learning, (aspects of) play, integral learning, comprehensive design learning, environmental design, phronetic learning, immersion learning, and experiential learning. In all of these thinking and doing are integrated.

We have sought to argue a need to bias learning to action and thereby view thinking from action not action from thinking. Such an approach to leaning can be seen in extending Action Learning to Critical Futures Praxis. Even further we suggest the need for a pedagogy that does not continue the Platonic differentiation of thinking and doing while privileging thinking. We call such an approach Artificer Learning.

In this way we can contribute to building a better tomorrow – a future our children can live with.

* Phronesis is a reasoned and true state of capacity to act with regard to human goods (eudaimonia). [Aristotle - Nichomachean Ethics 1140b25]. As such Phronesis is practical wisdom developed through insight, reflections and practical theory accumulated around citizen actions taken on common issues aimed at embodying the ‘good life’ in the space of public life. Boyte (1995: 6)

**. Communicative Action involves commitment to actionable principles and requires deliberants to have considered – in dialogue – the kinds of practical actions inferred by principles, and their consequences, prior to making the commitment to protect common interests in the face of global opportunities, risks and challenges. Habermas (1992)

Boyte, H., Beyond Deliberation: Citizenship as Public Work, in Civic Practices Network paper delivered at the 1995 PEGS conference. 1995: United States of America. p. 12.

Habermas, J., Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action. 1992 Vol. Translated by Lenhardt, Christian

I Would Like Your Help

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

One ambition of mine is to write the best possible acupuncture course.

To do this I would like your help.

If you are an acupuncturist I would like you to answer two questions:

1. What were the problems you had when you first started working as an acupuncturist (on either the healing or business side of your work).

2. As time has gone on what problems have you had?  The same as in 1 above, or have they changed.

The course I write will be shaped by the answers to these questions.

I’d be very grateful for anything you may write.

With many thanks in advance.  Evan 

Artificer Learning#2

Friday, August 10th, 2007

This series of posts was written by myself and a friend for a Futures journal. It may be seen as a bit ‘out there’ and academic, but I do think it deals with issues that are important for education. Especially for education that deals with skills.

Moving to action

Moving to embrace action as a vital part of praxis this article argues that we need to embrace the design process that shapes action viz. Idea | Design | Implementation (action). We have found that, to be effective, 3/4ers of the energy is absorbed in Design and Implementation rather than conceptualising the idea.

In conventional academic processes, cognition absorbs some 3/4ers of the energy – the reverse of Artificer Learning. The conventional counterpoint to the academic – the practitioner – usually has their actions limited in scope by their auspicing body (e.g. employer, sponsor, commissioning body) so that bigger conceptual issues are seldom engaged. This fundamental flaw in education (actionless conception and conceptless action) has not been adequately identified or explored previously.

Types of actions

There is a need for various types of action:

. Communicative action**, may be seen as a fundamental requirement for Phronetic actions – which answer the collective question ‘how then should we live?’
. Instrumental action has two subsets – strategic action (direction of intent of the action) and operational or tactical action (implementation of the action)
. Artifice action is directed to prototype development (including the above actions and integrates self building (integrity), block building (actual project), community building (ethics), and mind building (learning by making) all braided together).

On the separation of thinking and doing

Boyte (1995) after Arendt, explains that it was Plato who introduced ‘the division between those who know and do not act and those who act and do not know’, and that by ‘sheer force of conceptualization and philosophical clarification, the Platonic identification of knowledge with command and rulership and of action [or practice] with obedience and execution overruled all earlier experiences and . . . became authoritative.’ This view was possibly maintained and extended by esoteric beliefs such as the Judeo-Christian one of original sin – where the manifest world, and potentially our actions therein, is seen as tainted.

We continue to action Plato’s separation of thinking and doing and forget Aristotle’s Phronesis – virtuous action – in which the two are inseparable.

Artificer Learning#1

Friday, August 3rd, 2007

This series of posts was written by myself and a friend for a Futures journal. It may be seen as a bit ‘out there’ and academic, but I do think it deals with issues that are important for education. Especially for education that deals with skills.

Critical Futures Praxis – artificing a future we can live with

It is vital for survival in today’s complex turbulent and often incoherent world to have futurists who can collaborate on collective projects, focus on action or even validate actions towards a better world and actionists who can think of the longer-term intent of their actions and the big picture in which we, and our actions, locate.

Unfortunately “education” separates the learner from the praxis of her lived life; and classrooms separate the learner from design, production and intergenerational community life.

This short piece identifies one way to bring these futuring and actioning skill sets together.

Needed, another type of learning – critical futures praxis

Often we see thinking and doing as mutually exclusive.

There are, however, times when we put all of ourselves into what we are doing: whether building, conversing, or lovemaking. There are also times when we lose ourselves in our activity as we shape (artifice) some new gadget. At these times we are fully present in our activity; thinking and doing are united in our human ‘being’.

A pedagogy that can embrace being and doing we call Critical Futures Praxis or Artificer Learning.

It is miles away from the imitative ‘learning’ associated with much vocational, and increasingly tertiary “education”, today.

We seek a type of action learning that:

. Focuses on the learner, not only the action,
. Draws from experience yet is proactive,
. Is Comprehensive: including intelligent understanding and design of subsequent actions
. Embodies the agency of the learner; not only the structural blockages
. Is directed to the good of the persona and the good of society (integrity and ethics – a form of Phronesis* – virtuous action towards the good (of) society or Eudaimonia)
. Moves praxis from doing to making and shaping ie. prototype development

The next posts will outline (about a week apart) will outline a type of action learning that does this.

Learning and Teaching

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

This post is a book review.  If you want to know the background to my approach to education this is where to find it.

The single best book I know on classroom teaching is Eric Sotto’s When Teaching Becomes Learning: a theory and practice of teaching (Cassell Education). To give both the theory of teaching and practical guidance on how to teach all in one book is quite an achievement. EricSotto does this. He writes clearly, engagingly and personally. He writes conversationally about how he came to teaching and his struggle to find out what worked, what didn’t and why.

He presents the theory clearly and interestingly, making clear where his ideas have come from. There is an extensive bibliography where you can learn more about the theories he has used.

The big idea in this book is: the teacher’s first job is to understand how people learn.

This seems so obvious to me now. But this was the first time I had seen this stated in a book about teaching (throughout a whole course devoted to education no book we were recommended ever pointed this out). For this he draws on humanistic psychology and mounts a critique of the ‘cognitivist’ approaches that are becoming common. His critique is thorough, well reasoned and devastating.

He also deals with what (de-)motivates students.

He understands that people are naturally curious and so the problem is not motivation but what gets in the way of student’s natural curiosity. The biggest demotivator for students in classrooms is criticism from the teacher.

I find it hard to praise this book highly enough. The clearly presented theory is not left up in the air. He gives examples of good and bad teaching and even a sample lesson planner. For me this is what you know about teaching between the covers of one book.

He doesn’t however go into the varieties different styles of activities and lessons. Kevin Barry and Len King’s Beginning Teaching and Beyond is good for this. They think that what is beyond beginning teaching is research – they are academics – I think, instead, that there is a lifetime of improving and enjoying our teaching.