Thursday, February 19, 2009

Grade Grubbers Unite

A recent New York Times article discussed that students are expect loftier grades for doing a baseline of work. My recollection of high school was that average performance warranted a C and more effort was required to get a B and an A was rarefied air. The article points to a rise in grade expectations and attributes it to several factors including: a growing sense of entitlement, parental pressure, competition among family members and peers and achievement anxiety.

A different perspective is more critical of the educational system fosters the notion that the level of effort is equivalent to the quality of work. And within this system, students figure out how to be "ultra-efficient in test preparation" and find ways to cut corners. One way to combat this is authentic teaching that forces students to do more critical thought. Consider less well-defined problems that cause students to wrestle with the problem by redefining it and iterating their work. Less well-defined problems are causing teachers to consider including design in the curriculum (look for a future post about design).

Addendum: I found this article after I posted this blog. It has 9 reasons why grades are often in conflict with effort and learning.

Report card photo used under Creative Commons license from this URL.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Twitch Generation

I teach middle school students and they seem impulsive and not always willing to struggle with a problem before asking for help. I could not remember enough about my early teen years to know if I was the same way or this generation is different. The dearth of media and technology make it hard to concentrate and focus when "multitasking" opportunities abound. It is important to understand the Twitch Generation in order to properly engage them and design appropriate accommodations. Moreover, the first step in most instructional design models is student background and prior knowledge, such as media preferences. How people think may to be influenced by the types of media they most frequently use (McLuhan, 1964; Ong, 1928).

A recent article in the Educational Technology Research & Development Journal (February 2009) looked at the cognitive tempos of students today and thirty years ago. Over the past decade, the amount of time students spend on the computer or watching television during their teen years has grown to over 4000 hours (Cennamo, Saveneye, & Smith, 1998; Cowan, 1988; Healy, 1998; Lang, 1994; Lang & Basil, 1998; Lang, Bolls, Potter, & Kawahara, 1999; Lang, Zhou, Schwartz, Bolis, & Potter, 2000; Prensky, 2001; Tapscott, 1997, 1998).

The large amount of digital media may cause the brain to develop differently and lead to more impulsive behavior. Doman and Shichida suggest that humans naturally and progressively rely less on the right brain hemisphere from age five to early teens. The left-brain development is responsible for high-level cognition and perception. If this maturity is hindered and an imbalance begins to exist, then there is a tendency towards impulsive behavior. Restak (2003) suggests that new imaging technology and psychopharmacology provide proof that media-centric youths are exhibiting this uneven brain development and a growing population is being diagnosed with attention deficits and hyperactivity. Instead of retarding existing brain functions, it is possible that the Twitch generation is more fully developing existing latent capabilities.

Cognitive Load Theory describe the load placed on memory by various intrinsic and extrinsic factors that need to managed during the knowledge acquisition process Intrinsic loads relates to the inherent difficulty of the task, while extrinsic load related to outside influences that interfere with the learning environment (e.g., music, interruptions, etc.). Another way to look at cognitive load and memory is by the type of information being remembered. Gist memory relates to the essence or main idea, while verbatim memory relates to recall of specific facts.

Kenny (2002) confirmed earlier studies by Sweller (1988, 1994, 1999) that younger students remember the gist better than the detail. A short series of 1,300 pictures representing major events of American history was shown in chronological order to three groups of teens. The group that viewed the videos at the fastest pace (approximately three pictures per second) tended to remember significantly more of the context of the video than those that saw it at the two slower speeds.

Cognitive tempo is the balance between speed and accuracy the the trade-off is more about personal orientation than intelligence (Bridgeman, 1980; Messer, 1970; Wright & Vliestra, 1977). There are four classifications:
  • impulsive: those who sacrifice accuracy for speed
  • reflective: those who sacrifice speed for accuracy
  • slow inaccurate: those who sacrifice neither
  • fast accurate: those who sacrifice both
Research shows that impulsive-reflective behaviors mitigate with age (Doman, 1984; Shichida, 1994; Waring, Farthing & Kidder-Ashley, 1999) and cognitive tempo can be changed through training (Fletcher, 1993; Greenwald, 1972). Carin and Cammock (1984) administered the MFFT-20 test to early teens about twenty yeqars ago. Participants in this study did not have nearly the amount of music, music videos or face-paced games that today's youth enjoy.
The Matching Familiar Figures Test (MFFT) participants are shown a series of pictures and are asked to select one of the six pictures that match an original picture. Researchers recorded how long it took the participants to make their first choice and the total number of errors they made before a correct choice.

The current generation was better at the MFFT-20 experiment in that the median time required to make the first choice was reduced by about 48% and the median number of errors was reduced by about 32%. The brain is benefiting from being bombarded with more multimedia. On the other hand, there are marked differences between the cognitive tempo of the two test groups. The current generation has three times as many "impulsive" students as twenty years ago and the number of "reflective" students declined by about 10%.


Bottom Line: Using technology has forced the brain to perform "faster" than it did twenty years ago. Internet usage also helps keep the mind sharp - similar to crossword puzzles and Sudoku (see article). On the other hand, the brain is taught to be more "impulsive". A recent article discusses how befriending a computer may lead to less social skills in real settings. Schools need to combat this with tasks that demand full attention for longer than a few minutes.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Social Networks in Education

The world is changing and there are small signs every day. The number of videos watched is up 45% this year. NASA embraces web2.0 and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) is looking for water on the moon. It has a Facebook and Twitter account to keep interested people informed. The Pope Benedict XVI and the U.S. Congress have Youtube accounts. The Dalai Lama and the Pope use Twitter.

Teacher face a major challenge embracing a more media-rich and collaborative world. How do we encourage students to pay attention in class when they have social networking resources (AIM, Facebook, etc.) at their fingertips? We need to create engaging lesson plans where idel chat and tagging pictures is less interesting.


Monday, February 2, 2009

Thinking about Video

Currently, every student in my technology classes learns a curriculum of my own creation. The curriculum teaches important 21st century literacy skills and is challenging. On the other hand, it is a single curriculum and does not cater to individual students. I would like to offer three different curricula in the same class to better engage different types of interests. For example, I could teach basic programming (Scratch), analysis (Excel) and creativity (Turtleart or Photoshop). The big stumbling block is how to teach three courses simultaneously. The answer is video.

There is research that shows students lose nothing by watching videos instead of attending live lectures (see full article). The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee studied 5,000 students over two years. Students who watched the videos 12% better on the same cumulative test than students who took the traditional course. The outperformance of the video watchers came despite the fact that video learners had generally lower grades than the lecture attendees. Moreover, the online model was particularly successful for disadvantaged or underprepared students

On a side note, I also saw a video at EduCon that showed a math teacher having students watch a 10-15 minute instructional video for homework. Class time was reserved for students doing problems and collaborating. Students seemed to like the video idea for homework because it fit nicely into their world of multimedia and multitasking. If I can master video in my technology class, maybe this s worth a shot.