A recent paper http://www.deansforimpact.org/program.html
published by the Deans for Impact summarizes the existing research from cognitive science relating to how students learn and connects this to practical implications for teaching and learning.
The paper sets out 6 main questions related to student learning:
- How do student understand new ideas?
- How do students learn and retain new information?
- How do students solve problems?
- How does learning transfer to new situations in or outside of the classroom?
- What motivates students to learn?
- What are common misconceptions about how students think and learn?
Addressing these questions when choosing what technology to use to advance student learning can create a more refined set of decisions.
For each question the paper lists cognitive principles and practical implications for the classroom. The cognitive principles underpinning question 1 state that students learn new ideas by reference to ideas they already know. The implications for classroom practice are that there should be a well sequenced curriculum to ensure that students have the prior knowledge they need to master new ideas. It is crucial that teachers direct student attention to the similarities between existing knowledge and what is to be learned.
Students’ understanding of a new idea can be impeded if they are confronted with too much information at once. To assist with this teachers can use scaffolds to show the step by step process to perform a task or solve a problem.
Teachers often use multiple modalities to convey and idea e.g. they will speak whilst showing a graph however the report recommends that care is taken when showing for instance a slide or graphic that what you say as a teacher matches the information in the graph.
This advice is very useful for teachers in the creation of digital content. Using content creation software like Prowise Presenter a teacher can make explicit carefully paced explanations, provide modelling and examples so that students are not overwhelmed.
Teachers can attach accurate audio files to graphic information that students can view together or replay anywhere or anytime.
The content can also be differentiated by providing links to a range of content removing the idea that content is limited to age. Giving students access to a range of quality information is one of the best features of technology.
2. How do students learn and retain new information?
The first cognitive principle underpinning this question states that information is often withdrawn from memory just as it went in. We usually want students to remember what information means and why it is important, so they should think about meaning when they encounter to-be-remembered material.
Implications for classroom practice suggested by the paper recommend that teachers ask students to explain how or why something has happened or for students to organise material.
Using lesson creation software like Presenter teachers can design content for students to sequence efficiently many times. Using the Pro Connect function teachers can share their screen and ask for explanations from students. They can provide students with a set of sentences for students to order to construct meaning and re-share with the class. Narrative/stories and mnemonics which are particularly helpful can also be created digitally.
The second cognitive principles states that practice is essential to learning new facts, but not all practice is equivalent. Teachers can space practice over time, with content being reviewed across weeks or months, to help students remember the content over the long-term. When content is developed digitally and stored in the cloud teachers can return to student work as many times as required.
Teachers can explain to students that trying to remember something makes memory more long-lasting than other forms of studying. Teachers can use low- or no-stakes quizzes in class to do this, and students can use self-tests.
Using the ProConnect feature in Prowise Presenter teachers can make quick quizzes on the fly or at the point of need. They can use games and tools to also assist in memorising critical facts and figures.
Teachers can interleave (i.e., alternate) practice of different types of content. For example, if students are learning four mathematical operations, it’s more effective to interleave practice of different problem types, rather than practice just one type of problem, then another type of problem, and so on.
EdTech enables interleaving in a way not possible before. Quickly searching via YouTube or Google teachers can find images, videos and interviews podcasts to interleave these different types of content throughout their lessons.
3. How do students solve problems?
The cognitive principles underpinning this question state that each subject area has some set of facts that, if committed to long-term memory, aids problem-solving by freeing working memory resources and illuminating contexts in which existing knowledge and skills can be applied. The size and content of this set varies by subject matter.
The implications for classroom practice are that teachers will need to teach key sets of facts. For example, the most obvious (and most thoroughly studied) sets of facts are math facts and letter-sound pairings in early years. For math, memory is much more reliable than calculation. Math facts (e.g., 8 x 6 = ?) are embedded in other topics (e.g., long division). A child who stops to calculate may make an error or lose track of the larger problem. The advantages of learning phonics for reading are well established
There is a plethora of apps, Pinterest Pins, games, content which will do this for teachers and enable students to individually rehearse their skills on their own devices. Tools within the Prowise Presenter software can engage student’s individually, around a table or across the whole class students with fun collaborative activities to learn facts.
The second cognitive principle states that effective feedback is often essential to acquiring new knowledge and skills.
Good feedback is:
- Specific and clear;
- Focused on the task rather than the student; and
- Explanatory and focused on improvement rather than merely verifying performance.
Using the share screen function in Prowise Presenter teachers are able to share their screens with all student devices enabling feedback which is “specific and clear” and focussed on the task. When students share their responses back to the teachers for collaboration, shared commentary there is an enhanced capacity through the use of technology too quickly demonstrate strategies for improvement.
4.How does learning transfer to new situations in or outside of the classroom?
The first cognitive principle here states that the transfer of knowledge or skills to a novel problem requires both knowledge of the problem’s context and a deep understanding of the problem’s underlying structure.
Classroom implications are that teachers can ensure students have sufficient background knowledge to appreciate the context of the problem. Using technology and digital content teachers can illustrate contextual information in multiple ways not possible when only using print.
The second underpinning cognitive principle states that we understand new ideas via examples, but it’s often hard to see the unifying underlying concepts in different examples. Within the classroom teachers can have students compare problems with different surface structures that share the same underlying structure. For example, a student may learn to calculate the area of a rectangle via an example of word problem using a table top. This student may not immediately recognize this knowledge is relevant in a word problem that asks a student to calculate the area of a soccer field. By comparing the problems, this practice helps students perceive and remember the underlying structure. This can be easily facilitated with digital content.
For multi-step procedures, teachers can encourage students to identify and label the sub steps required for solving a problem. This practice makes students more likely to recognize the underlying structure of the problem and to apply the problem-solving steps to other problems. Many lesson creation programs have labelling functions so students can be easily supported to do this.
Teachers can alternate concrete examples (e.g., word problems) and abstract representations (e.g., mathematical formulas) to help students recognize the underlying structure of problems.
All of this can be more easily achieved using digital content, because teachers can see the impacts on learning of the examples they have chosen, they can then save the most effective concrete examples and build up banks of alternate examples.
Questions 5 and 6 apply to building positive mindsets in classrooms and ensuring that teachers understand misconceptions or unsubstantiated theories of learning.
Papers such as this which are readily available on-line for teachers enrich their own professional learning and provide guidance for how they design for learning within their classrooms and make effective decisions in regards to using EdTech.
For more information about using EdTech in your classroom contact our ELB Academy.