Monthly Archives: September 2012

Knowledge, learning, and cognition, oh my: techniques for achieving better comprehension

It’s been a very long time since I wrote, but my experiments in teaching last year were pretty successful—my students took apart their texts pretty well, they definitely learned how to write better papers over the course of a couple quarters with me, and they really seemed to enjoy class.  My ego also survived multiple questionnaires, which were extremely helpful for understanding what techniques (the students thought) worked and what techniques did not.  More about what worked will come below.

But not only do I enjoy teaching, I enjoy learning about teaching.  This year, I didn’t get a job offer for autumn until it was too late to fit it in my schedule, and so to fill the pedagogical gap, I think I’ll start a new endeavor: I’ll read a book on pedagogy each month, and think about how to apply it to future classes.   (I may teach in winter or spring, so the application could be almost immediate!)

Today, I went to a seminar on course design, offered by the University of Chicago’s Center for Teaching and Learning.  One of the most interesting things that came out of the seminar for me was unexpected and only tangentially related to the seminar’s focus on course design.  Last year, I read a book called Peer Instruction, by Eric Mazur, a physicist who discovered that, although his students tested well in his large intro courses, their retention and deep understanding of the material wasn’t strong.  He came up with a method whereby the students worked together in small groups to learn the material more comprehensively than by rote.  He found that this system was especially successful at getting them to understand the abstract concepts behind the particular examples and experiments he’d been showing them, which was key to their retention and ability to more generally apply principles of physics. Continue reading