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Monday, January 28, 2008

Computer Slide Shows. A Trap for Bad Teaching

Teachers at all grade levels are increasingly using computer slide shows (like MS PowerPoint shows) to present information. Such slide shows are also common in corporate and government briefings. Such slide shows typically violate many of the principles for good remembering. In this article, published in the education journal, College Teaching, I explain what slide shows typically do wrong and suggest ways to make the content of slide shows more memorable. Click here to read.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What Good Is Learning If You Don't Remember It

I had a paper published in Journal of Effective Teaching that I hope teachers will take a look at. It can be found on-line by clicking here.

Here is the abstract:

Teachers should emphasize the educational importance of understanding, but not at the expense of overlooking the importance of memorization skills. Currently, mainstream educational theory embraces such attributes as insight, creativity, inquiry learning, and self expression. But such emphases lead to a bias and under-appreciation of the role of memory in learning. Students cannot apply what they understand if they don’t remember it. Moreover, a good memory expands the repertoire of cognitive capabilities upon which new understandings can be developed and expedited. Effective thinking does not occur in a vacuum. I advocate adding another “R” to the “three Rs”: Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic, and Remembering. This paper attempts to show teachers how they can help students become better learners — and better thinkers — by improving their memorization skills.

Please comment.

Seven Tips for Learning from Lectures:

In this post I list seven tips you can use when trying to remember the contents of a seminar or lecture. These tips are especially useful for students. Forty-three years of college teaching have made it clear that most students don't get as much out of lectures as they should (and it is not just because of my lectures). When I was a student, I wanted to learn efficiently, so I could have more play time. I soon discovered that everything I could learn in class was something I did not have to study later.

The basis for these tips comes from my book on improving memory and from the posts in this blog. Obviously, I can't review all that here. Take my word for it, these tips work. Please comment to tell me what you have learned about learning effectiveness and efficiency during lectures.

The Tips:

1. Come with the right attitude. Be pumped up. Plan to retain as much understanding and information as possible. As long as you are spending your time in class, you might as well get out of it all you can. Don't be willing to put off the learning until later study time.

2. Do at least a little pre-lecture preparation. Skim text or other sources that deal with the topic of the day. If lectures are inter-related, briefly review previous notes of lectures that this current lecture will build on.

3. Don't take many notes. Take notes only for organizing ideas and for things you don't already know or could figure out. Use a tape recorder if you worry about missing something.

4. Make notes with multiple visual and spatial cues. Use lots of drawings and diagrams.

5. If allowed, ask questions of the teacher. This helps to keep you alert and engaged. Remember the answer. If you have asked good questions, they are liable to show up on quizzes (teachers like to quiz on ideas that come up in class that are not in the book or handouts - its a reward for those who attend and pay attention).

6. THINK about what is being said by the teacher. How does this build on what has been presented in the course earlier? What issues are not getting addressed by this lecture? What is most likely to show up on a quiz? What will take special effort to remember? How can you use this information, either later in this course or in another course?

7. After the lecture:

a. Don't do anything for the next 10 minutes. Without interruption, review what has just transpired, first by looking at your notes, then trying to recall without lookng.

b. Re-work your notes and drawings if they need it.

c. Assuming your handwriting is readable, keep the longhand version of your notes. See in your mind's eye the spatial layout of the notes; recall it as you would a photograph. Cursive handwriting and the hand drawings provide many visual and spatial cues that will facilitate

d. Come back later that same day for another rehearsal of what transpired in class, first by looking at your notes, then by not looking at them. Vocalize your notes; hearing the information will reinforce the retention especially for auditory learners. Repeat this review in each of the next several days.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Aerobic Exercises Increases Brain Volume in Elderly

As you get older, you will probably at some point start to worry about staying on top of your mental game. Will you get senile? Will you get Alzheimer's? These frightening questions may have a hopeful answer if you live a healthy lifestyle and get plenty of aerobic exercise.

A recent study by Arthur Kramer and colleagues at the University of Illinois used MRI brain scans to evaluate the effects of exercise in aged humans on parts of the brain that are most involved in age-related decline. They studied 59 healthy but sedentary volunteers, aged 60-79, during a 6-month exercise period. Half of the subjects participated in aerobic exercise, and the other half did toning and stretching exercises. Twenty young adults who did no exercise served as a control group. A before-and-after comparison of MRI images revealed that the aerobic group developed more brain volume, both in white- and grey-matter areas. These improvements did not occur in the young subjects nor in the older ones who did only muscle-toning exercise.

While memory as such was not tested, it is highly likely that increased brain volume could only help memory function.

Source: Colcombe, S. J. et al. 2006. Aerobic exercise training increases brain volume in aging humans. The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and medical Sciences. 61: 1166-1170.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Need to Learn Something Quickly? Try a Nap

Daytime naps are said to rejuvenate energy and lower stress. Now there is evidence that naps speed up consolidation of memories. Maria Korman and her group at the University of Haifa evaluated consolidation of a procedural memory task of learning to bring the thumb and finger together in a specific sequence. Half of the subjects were allowed to take an afternoon 90-min nap after training, while the other group stayed awake. The group that napped showed a distinct improvement in task performance when tested that evening. After a night's sleep, both groups showed the same improvement in acquired skill. So, it would appear that the nap just speeded up the consolidation process, rather than improving on the improvement that a regular night's sleep can produce.

The role of napping on interference effects was also tested. We know from numerous studies that consolidation of new learning is easily disrupted by distracting or other new learning experiences. In this experiment, another group of subjects learned a different thumb-to-finger movement sequence two hours after practicing the first task. Learning a second task right after the first was expected to interfere with learning of the first task. This proved to be the case; there was no improvement in performance of the first task either that evening or the next day after a normal night's sleep. However, based on the findings of the first experiment where a nap speeded up consolidation, the experimenters created yet another group of subjects that were allowed a 90-min nap between learning the first movement task and the second movement task. In this case, performance on the first task was improved when they were tested the next day after a normal night's sleep. Thus, the nap actually prevented the otherwise memory disrupting effect of a second learning task, presumably because the nap speeded up memory consolidation of the initial learning so that it was resistant to interference effects.

There are practical implications here, at least for procedural memories. This study indicates that if you need to learn a "how to" kind of task quickly, you should take a nap just afterward. One perhaps trivial illustration might be for football coaches who introduce some new training in the morning of a game to be played later that evening. After the morning workout, they should let the players take a nap that afternoon. Or for "two-a-days" workouts in the summer, maybe players need a nap between sessions, not just to rest but to consolidate the training.

Source: Korman, M. et al. 2007. Daytime sleep condenses the time course of motor memory consolidation. Nature Neuroscience. 10 (9): 1206-1213.