teaching

Self-Explaining

I was attracted to facilitating this chapter because, as a learner, I make minimal use of self-explanation and was curious to see how it might “serve” me to do so more often.

I write this as an educational developer who does not teach in the traditional (defined here as teaching undergraduate and graduate students in a post-secondary environment) classroom but spends a significant portion of her time consulting and working with individuals who do.

Spiral

10/365 Spiral by clogsilk

(This post was originally written for and published on the BC Campus Online Reading Club site). The book being referenced is Small Teaching by Dr. James Lang.

What is self-explaining and does it work?

(The nutshell and punchline for those who are pressed for time and/or impatient.)

The basic premise of self-explanation is that learners benefit from explaining out loud to themselves or others what they are doing during the completion of a learning task.  The best self-explanation techniques prompt learners to articulate what they are doing and why they are doing it.
Lang concludes this chapter by pointing out that research has yielded mixed results when it comes to the learning benefits of self-explanation; in some cases, learners with minimal knowledge of a subject benefit, whereas in other cases it is those with more knowledge who benefit.

How self-explaining works

In previous chapters, Lang underscored that mindful practice and mindful learning during practice foster learning and retention.

Self-explanation is a technique for fostering mindful learning during practice. It can help with that vexing problem of far transfer (or lack thereof)–that ability to carry theories or principles from the initial context to a new context.

Self-explanation can also help improve the learner’s comprehension when it requires individuals to make connections between their knowledge and their skills.

Summarizing research done in this field, Lang writes that the practices below foster learning during self-explaining.

Students:

  • tie specific problems to general principles and connect knowing and doing
  • monitor their own comprehension and can admit to being stuck
  • actively seek to fill in the gaps in their understanding when they feel stuck
  • are able to re-state different aspects of the problem in their own words
Self-explanation fosters learning because this approach helps learners:

  1. “Fill gaps and make inferences in learning productive ways” .
  2. “Modify and improve their existing perceptions or knowledge of a subject matter” (p.147)

Does self-explaining that is prompted by instructors foster learning?

One of the questions that especially piqued my curiousity in this chapter is the one that asks “Do self-explanations that are generated by teacher prompts have the same effect as self-explanations that are spontaneously generated by students?” (p.143).

According to the research that Lang reviewed, self-explanations generated by teacher prompts enhance learning and understanding when students receive immediate feedback.

The small teaching strategy that was cited several times in this chapter, as an example of a teacher-generated prompt, was that of asking students to select, from a drop-down menu, what principles are at play. When prompts are inserted into an assignment at key points, students must reflect on how certain principles are being applied in a specific context. This then helps with the issue of transfer because it requires students to make inference rules.

Citing Chi, Bassok, Lewis, Reiman, and Glaser (p. 178, 1989) Lang writes “Inference rules ‘spell out more clearly the specific conditions or situations in which a specific action is to be taken.’”

Ways to use self-explaining in your teaching

“When using self-explaining, create opportunities that require students to select or articulate principles as they are making choices, searching for solutions, or revising their work” (p.156).

  • Ask students some variation of “Why are you doing that?” as you walk around the class while students are working on their own. (I think this would need to be carefully set up so it doesn’t terrify the students).  (similar to “think aloud” below).
  • Model self-explanation by using the “think-aloud” method as you read a passage or work through a problem. Alternatively, ask students to think out loud as they make decisions (p.154-155 or see Teaching Strategies: Think Alouds [geared to K-12, but useful]).
  • Use a drop-down menu at multiple points during an assignment to prompt students to reflect on the underlying principle at play. Doing so will, ideally, guide their next step.
  • Find ways to provide immediate feedback to students when they are engaging in self-explanation.
  • Scaffold this approach so it does not “over-tax” the students’ brains.
  • Use a “backward fading” approach in which students first observe a problem being worked out, next work out 1-2 steps on their own, and then complete the problem entirely on their own (see p.148 or Teaching with Worked Examples – Save learner time and effort while increasing performance!). (p.148)
  • Ask students to select X (e.g., 3 slides, or one particular section of an assignment) and write a short explanation of their choice. (p.152)
  • Incorporate self-explanation into peer instruction (p.152-153).

1.  I have bolded select because it was found that selecting, rather than generating, fostered learning. When students had to generate the principles, it added to their cognitive load in a way that was unproductive (see p.149 for more).

A teaching-focussed career in higher education (non tenure-track)

When I am interacting with people who are not familiar with post-secondary environments and they learn that I work at a university, they generally assume I am a faculty member and that teaching is my main responsibility.

I am not a faculty member and have never aspired to have a tenure track faculty position, even when I undertook a PhD. Yet, the focus of my work is teaching and learning.

This spring, because of my professional path as an educational developer, I was invited to be a panelist at two different conference sessions. Both were designed for a graduate student audience. In this post, I’ve captured some of what I shared.

Graduate Students in Teaching Mini Conference 2019

Grad student mini conference panel

The purpose of this session was to highlight different types of teaching-focussed careers in academia. Bits and pieces I shared:

  • If you are attracted to a career the involves teaching, seek out opportunities to teach!
  • Think broadly about teaching. Explore and consider what type of teaching brings you enjoyment. Categories may include: adults, children, classroom, formal, group, one-on-one, facilitative, content-expert, training, planning…
  • Inform people that you want to do more teaching. If volunteering or doing guest lectures are options for you, let people know. Unless you do so, organizers may feel shy to invite you when they know they don’t have a budget to compensate you.
  • Share which topics/areas you’re interested in teaching. If you are teaching people who are not topic specialists, make sure you can speak on the topic in a way that is relatable to others.
  • Get over the belief that teaching is reserved for those with a faculty appointment! Teaching is part of so many roles and positions.

Note: The mini-conference was organized by my colleagues Drs. Shaya Golparian and Joseph Topornycky at the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology at the University of British Columbia. Thank you for inviting me to be part of this session! Co-panelists were Drs. Rowshan Rahmanian, Lacey Samuels and David Oliver. Conference link. 

 

Life after your PhD: Jobs beyond the academy

The purpose of this session was to hear the career narratives of four people who had graduated with PhDs in Education and whose primary role was not a tenure-track faculty member. Bits and pieces I shared:

  • Within the academy, there exists a strongly held belief that landing a faculty position is the (most) desirable outcome. Even if, intellectually, one doesn’t buy into that belief, I think it still affects the self-perception of those of us who intentionally choose not to pursue traditional faculty roles.
  • Take full advantage of any institutional career support you have for your career growth.
  • When seeking employment, reach out to your network.
  • LinkedIn has many features that allow you to grow your network, share your expertise, and develop your brand. Learn how to use it in a way that feels good to you (and be willing to stretch and/or try things out).
  • If you are lucky enough to have a supervisor who is willing to mentor you, gladly accept and enjoy this partnership in whatever ways are possible (co-publications, conferences, introductions, committees…)

Photo above: Isabeau with co-panelists Ernesto Pena and Lucia Terra (also Shaya Golparian, not in picture).

This session was organized by Dr. Christine Kampen Robinson (below) who served as LLRC 2nd VP along with Casey Burkholder under the Canadian Association of Curriculum Studies (which is part of the Canadian Society for the Study of Education). Thank you for inviting me to be part of this session!

Christine Kampen Robinson organizer and Isabeau

Does good student-faculty rapport enhance student learning?

Over the past few months, I have collaborated with faculty members from the Faculty of Arts to do two panel presentations on the topic of student-faculty rapport.

As I prepared for those sessions, I looked into the connections between learning and student-faculty rapport.

For those who are impatient to know whether rapport can enhance student learning, I’ll go straight to my findings: unsurprisingly, research to date has not been able to draw a direct link between rapport and learning.

Though strong faculty-student rapport may not ’cause’ enhanced learning, it helps create conditions conducive to learning.

The literature I reviewed consistently reports that faculty-student rapport results in:

  • higher student motivation
  • increased student participation in class
  • perceptions of increased program quality (from the students’ perspective)
  • greater course satisfaction among students
  • enhanced communication and understanding between students and faculty members

(Frisby & Martin, 2010; Granitz, Koernig & Harich, 2009; McInnis Brown & Starrett, 2017; Wilson & Ryan, 2012)

The above is a compelling list of reasons to pay attention to this aspect of teaching and learning!

Below are the slides I developed for the panel sessions; for anyone interested, there is an extensive list of references at the end. You can view the entire slide deck by clicking on the link below the image. Please note that you are welcome to use and modify these slides (with attribution).

References:

Frisby, B. N., & Martin, M. M. (2010). Instructor–student and student–student rapport in the classroom. Communication Education, 59(2), 146-164.

Granitz, N. A., Koernig, S. K., and Harich, K. R. (2009). Now it’s personal: Antecedents and outcomes of rapport between business faculty and their students. Journal of Marketing Education, 31 (1), 52-65.

McInnis Brown, M. & Starrett, T. (2017). Fostering student connectedness: Building relationships in the classroom. Retrieved from: https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/fostering-student-connectedness-building-relationships-classroom/

Wilson, J. & Ryan, R. (2012). Developing student-teacher rapport in the undergraduate classroom. In W. Buskist & V.A. Benassi (Eds.) Effective College and University Teaching: Strategies and Tactics for the New Professoriate, 81-90 Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Photo Credit: https: //flic.kr/p/8MYPZi. Professor MaryCarol Huner and Katie Dennis discuss her 3-D model of “Daily Domestic Arguments” by Leonardo Dudreville

How do young undergraduate students learn best?

young students at post-secondaryIt should come as no surprise to me that the longer I work at UBC, the younger the students look. I can’t tell the difference between someone who is 17 and 26 and even photos of newly appointed faculty members make me feel “old”.

I frequently wonder how the generational gap between educators and students affects the teaching and learning of undergraduates. Given that 87% of undergraduate students at UBC are 25 years or younger, there is a compelling need to better understand how these students like to learn and how they learn best.

I recognize there is a whole literature on the first year experience (FYE) (see note 1) and a growing recognition of these students’ needs. See, for example, the research section of the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition (USA).

I have not yet delved into that scholarship and perhaps the answers to “How do young undergraduates like to learn?” and “What teaching practices best promote their learning?” are in the FYE literature.

However, If I were an overworked and overwhelmed instructor and wanted some accessible ideas to address the above questions–specifically as it pertains to young undergraduate students–I might feel out of luck. A quick google search with the search terms “How do undergraduates like to learn?” brings up many results along the lines of “What courses should you take” or “What’s it like to study [history, business, physics etc]?”. Everything reads like it was written by someone my age:)

 

Note 1: As an educational developer, I am well aware of the excellent and extensive literature on teaching and learning in post-secondary. What I’m eager to discover is whether there is accessible and current literature that focuses on the young adult. 

Helping students incorporate instructor feedback

Beyond feedback: Developing student capability in complex appraisal (Sadler, 2010).

In articles I read about student peer feedback, Sadler’s work is repeatedly referenced–hence my interest in reading this paper. Below are some of my notes from “Beyond feedback: Developing student capability in complex appraisal” by Dr. Royce Sadler.

Sadler argues that “regardless of levels of motivation to learn, students cannot convert feedback statements into actions for improvement without sufficient working knowledge of some fundamental concepts.” (p.537)

  • “For students to be able to apply feedback, they need to understand the meaning of the feedback statements.” p.535
  • Ideally, feedback helps students engage in divergent thinking (ie, not memorization, not one narrow response)
  • The literature on feedback has often declared that feedback aids learning (i.e., it can accelerate learning)

Those who have studied how students respond to instructor-provided feedback, acknowledge that, in order to improve communication, we need to:

  • Raise students’ understanding of assessment criteria
  • Recognize that the medium of communication matters (certain comments/ideas/etc are more likely to be communicated in writing, others more likely to be communicated orally. See p.537)

Challenges associated with feedback:

  • Feedforward and feedback are essentially about telling and disclosure and typically consist of 1-way messages from instructor to student.
  • Students have trouble assimilating feedback from instructors into an existing knowledge base.
  • “Complementary attention should therefore be directed to what students make of the feedback, rather than just its composition. Seen from the learner’s perspective, this represents an emphasis on visibility (to the student) rather than disclosure (by the teacher)” ” (p.539) [I really like that quote]

Interpretive challenges faced by students

Students face at least three interpretive challenges when trying to capitalise on feedback. In order to be able to make critical connections between feedback and their work, students need to have knowledge/understanding of three relevant appraisal terms and concepts. Sadler urges that “these assessment concepts must be understood not as abstractions but as core concepts that are internalised, operationalised and applied to concrete productions” (p.548).

The core concepts are:

  1. Task Compliance.  Did the student comply with the basic specifications of the assignment? A simplistic example would be: if the instructor asked for an essay, did the student produce an essay (vs, let’s say, a podcast).  I’m oversimplifying here.
  2. Quality.  Sadler defines quality as “The degree to which a work comes together as a whole to achieve its intended purpose” (p.544). Determinations of quality require judgements of many different things and also require diverse forms of judgment. As such, we need to create planned opportunities for students to practice with feedback.
  3. Criteria. A criterion is a “property or characteristic that is useful in the context of quality and quality determinations” (p.544). Students need help grasping the role and nuances of the criteria used in the assessment. Part of the challenge here is that some criterion have sharp boundaries and others don’t.

Even once the students understand these concepts, learners still face the challenge of assimilating the teacher’s feedback into an existing knowledge base so that it can be drawn on in the future (and this task draws on tacit knowledge, as well as an understanding of the concepts). “As with all learning, newly acquired knowledge needs to be consolidated before it decays if it is to have any positive influence on future works” (p.540).

A helpful summary from the section“A way forward”

Sadler writes:

“There are four basic tasks for peer appraisal, and they can be expressed as questions in the following order.

Does a particular response qualify as an attempt to address the issue specified in the task description? This is a category question, not a quality issue, and can be decided only after analysing the work as a whole.

The next question is: How well does the work achieve the purpose intended? This gets to the heart of the determination of quality.

Third: What are the grounds for the judgement reached, using whatever criteria are appropriate to substantiating the valuation?…

The fourth and final question is: How could the work be substantially improved? This requires advice in terms of the work as a whole, and on specific deficiencies or weaknesses.” p.547

 

Reference: Sadler, D. R. (2010). Beyond feedback: Developing student capability in complex appraisal. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(5), 535-550.

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