Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I Stole This Idea, But It's Still A Good One

In my Twitter feed this morning, I saw a link to this article, about building a Personal Learning Network.  I really love this idea, and I wanted to share it.

Obviously I think that using social media as a learning tool is pretty effective, which is one reason I wanted to start using Twitter and blogs to reach students.  My personal Twitter feed is a mishmash of mothers that use cloth diapers, professors tweeting anonymously about students, Community College and Higher Education organizations, feminists, scientists, and basketball analysts.  My interests are quite varied, as you can tell. 

What's great is that, by building that network of people that I know and who have gotten to know me, I have a ready resource of people that can provide answers to questions that I send out.  Sometimes they are just providing some commiseration when, for example, I tweeted that I thought I had lost a document that I had been working on for an hour.

Social media is, well, social.  So it is easy to just tweet about your daily activities.  But what if you could use social media to build a network of people who could help you learn?  What if you could build a network of friends and followers so that if you needed to, while studying, you could seek help?

We know there is a huge social learning component when studying science.  That's been proven in the academic literature, and you know the stories if you've been to my introductory lab sessions.  Students who study together are more successful.  But how do nontraditional students fit study groups into an already crammed schedule?  I think this is where social media can be most helpful to students.

There are phone apps for learning anatomy, there are websites that have animations for physiology, but having someone to help you interpret is really helpful.  Tweet a link to a site and see who else is interested.  Learned a new mnemonic device for remembering the bones of the hand?  Share it with your friends on Facebook.  You never know when they might post something equally helpful to you.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Learning Styles

At the beginning of each semester I offer students in BIO 137 an opportunity to earn some extra credit.  I used to be a firm disbeliever in extra credit - if you have time to do something extra, you have time to do the work for the class.  However, this is something that is truly "extra" since it outside the content of the course, and it's something that I find to be effective and important.  So I don't mind offering a few points to motivate students to participate.

In addition to the extra credit, it is an opportunity to learn something about themselves and develop some self-awareness.  I think that is the biggest benefit, but sometimes the points help to motivate students to do the exercise.

On the Blackboard course shell, I place this link.  I also inform students that if they complete the inventory, print out the results page, and turn it in to me by a certain deadline, they will earn two points extra credit.

The link is to a Learning Styles Inventory created by faculty at North Carolina State University.  It has around 45 questions that you answer, and at the end it reports back to you the results by showing where you fall on a continuum between two different learning styles.  For example, some people are more verbal, and some people are more visual.  One set of results shows a line from visual to verbal and shows where you fall.  If you are close to the middle, you have a good balance between learning information presented visually versus learning information presented verbally.  If your "X" is toward one end or the other, it means that you prefer that style more than the other in learning.

I discuss this exercise with students in the class, because I think being aware of your learning style is important.  I also discuss it because it helps students to understand how I have constructed the course.  I am a very visual person - when I started teaching, I taught how I learned.  So my powerpoint presentations would have a bunch of the figures from the book, that I would spend time explaining, and very little in the way of slides with words.  That's great if my students are also visual learners - but what if they're not?  So over time I developed "word" slides to go with the "picture" slides.  I point out to them that if the visuals seem overwhelming or confusing, to try reading the "word" slides, and see if that helps.  By knowing your learning style, it also helps you to know what forms of information to rely on in studying and trying to understand information.

The outcome of this exercise will benefit students far beyond the walls of my classroom.  I have had students report to me that it helped them in other courses they were taking at the same time, and some students told me it helped them in later courses in their academic program.  One student, who was a very verbal oriented learner, said she noticed when a program faculty member was teaching in a very visual style.  She would listen to the instructor explain the visuals, and she would write that explanation out to use to study.  Being aware of your learning style is a key step in creating study aids that will be useful to you.

So if you haven't already tried it,  click the link and see what your results are.  Think about how you can apply that information to your daily and academic life.  See if it makes a difference for you, as it has for some of my other students.