Ssshhh!!! Exams in Progress!

This is a quiet but busy time in National College of Ireland semester one exams are now in progress.  We are encouraged to keep as quiet as possible as each room on the campus is now used to its fullest extent to facilitate the process. There is always tension associated with exams.  Students of all ages and all backgrounds find the prospect of being tested daunting. This is very understandable we live in a culture of measurement and accountability and education is an expensive process.  So, especially for the self-motivated,  we all want to see how much we know and how well we have progressed. As discussed previously, there is a useful distinction between goals and achievements that are measured by independent criteria such as exams or tests and other achievements that are socially referenced such as how other people regard performance.   For many students the exam results provide important feedback on how they have coped with the learning challenges associated with a course.  At some point in the future the result–put simply as a number–will be revealed.   However, this will only be a very small part of the story.  The student, and the student alone, will know how to Read More …

What are New Year’s resolutions and why they seldom work

New Year’s Celebration fireworks at Carton House, Maynooth Happy New Year! It’s the start of 2011 and last night we celebrated as we said goodbye to 2010 and welcomed the turn over to a New Year. At New Year and perhaps birthdays or other recurring significant dates we often conduct a self-appraisal and make decisions about our future behaviour. This is typically framed as a New Year’s Resolution: I will go to the gym and loose weight;I will give up smoking;I will do a course;I will complete an unfinished project (I know someone who has resolved to complete her master’s dissertation). So what’s really happening–why do we make such self-resolutions?  How likely are we to succeed in changing our own behaviour as a result of such public and private utterances? Last night I had an idea (my first of 2011) that is to develop a Theory of Resolutions.  Like many good theories will build extensively on the work of others.  Don’t worry that I state my goal in such grand terms as ‘a theory’ – I am simply attempting to provide a new perspective on the familiar, a framework for understanding and making sense of an aspect of our life.  Read More …

Learning without Teachers

I met Sugata Mitra at On-Line Educa in Berlin two years ago and was very impressed by his research work and his thinking on how children learn. This most recent presentation at the TED conference opens up a timely debate on the role of instruction in education.It is easy to be sceptical about the findings from his research. One could argue that such insights are gleaned from very particular contexts and further investigation of the actual learning processes involved is necessary. However, I am not really surprised that these effects are in evidence and they are compatible with the work of other educationalists such as Dewey, Vygotsky and Bruner.Have a look at the video and see what you think. I would be happy to have your comments. posted by Leo Casey

We hold steadfast to our own theories of learning

I have always maintained that each of us has our own theory of learning and that we are prepared to defend it robustly. This tendency to hold steadfast to one’s existing understanding of learning is what I call the “in my day” (IMD) phenomenon.  You will find IMD’s in many conversations concerning education and school.  You just need to be on the lookout and you will be surprised at the number of times they pop up.  Parents, politicians, economists and most especially business employers are IMD specialists. The simple premise of the IMD is that what worked for me and has made me successful must be right for everyone else. It is understandable that insights gained from past experience are valuable but sometimes we fail to recognise the assumptions we take for granted.  IMD statements exclude differences between individuals, changes in society, developments in education and the use of technology to support it. Generally the older are wiser and experience counts for much. However, we also need to be mindful of the basis upon which we make judgements.  This is especially the case in education. posted by Leo Casey

Leaving Certificate Results

Today’s top story is the issuing of results to almost fifty eight thousand (58,000) Leaving Certificate students. This event is widely reported in national newspapers, radio and television news.  Much of the coverage deals with the failure rates for different subjects.  Of special interest is the success rates for Science, Engineering Technology and Mathematics- the so called STEM subjects.  It is reported that some 4,300 students have failed Mathematics. The availability of a talented young workforce is often cited as part of the attraction of Ireland as a location for inward economic investment. Poor results do not help the international perception of our education system. Employers are increasingly looking for critical thinking, creativity and problem solving skills in their new recruits.  It is reasonable to ask to what extent the results of the Leaving Certificate Exam may be taken as an indication of a person’s future potential as an innovative thinker and an effective contributor to the knowledge economy. Take for example the substantial cohort of young people who have failed Mathematics.  Are we justified in writing off the potential of these people as college students, future inventors, knowledge workers, scientists, entrepreneurs and innovators?  I feel not. Letter to Sam Read More …

TPACK: Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge

What makes a great teacher?   This is a difficult but important question for education at all levels.  One way to get to the answer is to think about individual teachers that you have encountered in your life.   Somehow we all know great teachers when we meet them and of course, we certainly know poor teaching when we come across it. I am not one of those who believes that teaching is a natural gift and some people are born to be teachers and others not.   Most great teachers that I know work constantly on their own development as educators.  A capacity for great teaching can be gained through experience and reflection and I believe that anybody who wants to be a great teacher can become a great teacher. What then are the ingredients for successful teaching?  Well, thinking about the teachers in my life, I know that teachers need to have a very good knowledge of a content area.  I did science in college and I have some strong views on how we should teach science based on my own experiences as a student.  Previously I commented on the lecture by Carl Wieman, the Nobel laureate in Physics. Wieman Read More …

Really Useful Websites on Learning and Teaching

As a follow-up to my previous blog on the Top Ten Insights on Learning I would like to provide a list of web sources and resources that may act as good places to start with insights on learning and teaching. I’ll try to give a brief description of each and why it makes the cut for me.Starting Points: Aggregation SitesTheory into Practice (TIP)Greg Kearsley has put together an excellent resource that deals with a wide variety of learning theories.  This is an excellent starting point and it will give the beginner a good appreciation of the breath of theories and their practical applications. Emtech’s  Learning TheoriesThis is another excellent starting point with a comprehensive list of learning theory orientations.  What I like about this list is that each section is authored by a different person and you can cite each as an individual resource. Martyn Ryder’s Instructional Design ModelsMartyn Ryder’s very comprehensive listing of instructional design and learning theory resources -this site is well maintained, comprehensive and deals with an wide expanse of theoretical orientations. Learning and Teaching Teaching Tips Index This is another great starting point for lot’s of interesting exploration.  The index is compiled by the faculty development Read More …

On Motivation and Learning

Much of the scholarship on adult learning can be summarised in the following statement:Adult’s learn what they want to learn and what they find useful and applicable to their life experience.In contrast, young people, certainly up to teenage years, are happy to learn what is put before them.  Adults, on the other hand, will discriminate and select when it comes to learning.It stands to reason therefore that motivation for learning is an important topic in adult education.  Motivation theories address the question of why we learn as distinct from cognitive theories that try to explain how we learn.When we use the term “motivation” in everyday life it can mean several different things – we often say “the football team came out motivated by the half-time talk” or such a person is a “motivational speaker”.  In these examples we see motivation as a kind of energy or mind set that can be triggered for short intervals of time.  Another meaning we have for motivation suggests a long term quality, a propensity to achieve – one who is “motivated to get to the top”.  But motivation is not always directed at achievement – when a crime is committed we know that every Read More …

Seminar on the Pedagogy of Messy Play

Each Friday during term we hold professional development seminars for faculty and staff at NCI. These events focus on learning, teaching and research and we always have interesting and engaging topics. Today, our colleague Catriona Flood from the Early Learning Initiative at NCI presented a seminar on the pedagogy of messy play. During the summer a number of messy play sessions were organised by the ELC and children and parents from our hinterland attended.  The kids got stuck in so to speak and often when we looked out our windows into the enclosed garden at the college we were treated to the sight of a multitude of little ones splashing, banging, playing with sand, glup, paint and ‘coloured stuff’.  Yes generally making a mess! One might ask – is this really learning?  Yes it is and it is in its purest form.  The natural instincts for inquiry, socialising and ‘messing’ with the environment are fundamental for development and growth of thinking skills.  Catriona’s presentation focused on the principles of early school education and the thinking behind each of the play activities.  Participants at the seminar were also treated to some messy play objects which they duly played with. Subsequently the Read More …

Knowledge Surveys

I came across an interesting piece on Knowledge Surveys from Edward Knuhfer and Dolores Knipp (linked above). They advocate the use of Knowledge Surveys as a tool in support of learning and instruction.These surveys consist of a series of questions – similar to a set of exam questions – but the difference is that the learner is asked not to answer the question but to rate their own ability to respond. For example – consider the following questions: Q1 Describe three characteristics of an constructivist theory of learning? Q2 Compare constructivism with social constructivism? Q3 Outline practical applications of a behaviorist approach to learning? Now, in a traditional assessment the student would be asked to write short essays on the above. With a knowledge survey the student is asked to rate their level of knowledge as: A – I feel confident that I could answer this question B – I know about 50% of what may be involved and perhaps if I went away for twenty minutes I could find the missing information C – I am not confident that I would be able to answer this question at all Do you get the gist? The knowledge survey gauges a Read More …