Tag Archives: Student Life

Online learning -> brain damage???

computer-evolutionThe damaging effects that screen time has on individuals has been thoroughly researched and well documented.  However, when studies recommend to limit screen time, they are generally referring to recreational screen time.  So where does necessary (work/school-related) screen time fit into the equation?

Surely our bodies suffer the same health issues whether or not we are logged in for pleasure or business.  So it is interesting to me that with the explosion of online education, no one really speaks about the health concerns associated with this kind of screen time.  I recognize that online courses are more involved than matching various candies in a row, however, our bodies are surely suffering the same health effects.  Sedentary lifestyle, increased risk of obesity, heart attack, stroke, decreased vision, poor concentration, brain atrophy, and the list goes on…  (As I sit in front of the computer typing this, I can feel my pulse rate rising with unease).

Universities need to keep up with the times and offer online learning, I get it.  Learners want convenience, flexibility, and online courses offer all this and more.  Online learning also saves the learner and the school money (no room booking fees, resources available online, etc.).  But has anyone really considered the costs… the ones we cannot put a monetary value on…?

To read about the damaging effects of screen time on the brain, click here.

“Taken together, [studies show] internet addiction is associated with structural and functional changes in brain regions involving emotional processing, executive attention, decision making, and cognitive control.”  –research authors summarizing neuro-imaging findings in internet and gaming addiction”

(Lin & Zhou et al, 2012)



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Effects of music on learning

1147531654The Mozart Effect isn’t a new theory.  The phrase was coined in 1991 and the idea is that music (specifically, listening to Mozart) somehow improves the brain.

In our PIDP 3240 discussion forum however, a colleague revealed that she prefers to listen to classical Indian music while studying.  Interestingly, this was not related to her cultural background.  I had never considered that other forms of “classical” music may also have some positive effect on learning.  I did a little searching, and it turns out that there are actually 5 recommended types of music to enhance learning.

Check them out here: http://www.trade-schools.net/articles/music-for-studying.asp


Judging by the multi-million views on Youtube videos of “Study Music”, many people subscribe to this theory.  It doesn’t work for everyone, and it won’t work for all learning tasks, but perhaps it’s worth a try…

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No letter grades here!

Here is a little further reading to my last post.  Apparently there are colleges that don’t give letter grades…not many, and none that I found in Canada.  But here’s a look at some colleges in the States that have innovative grading systems.


Check out this article for more information on how they score their students: http://www.bestcollegereviews.org/colleges-without-letter-grades/

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Is school more about grades than actual learning?

Here is an interesting live debate, weigh in if you like!  Is school more about grades than actual learning?

I was interested in this topic after marking the first assignment for my nursing school class.  One student made the comment, “oh, we thought it was just an easy assignment so that everyone would get guaranteed full marks as a head start on their final grade”.  In personal appointments with more than one student who was unhappy with their mark, it was very obvious that they were hoping I’d change their score.  Yet, it was very clear when they questioned my marking, that they did not understand the assignment.  I felt then, like it was more the lost points they were worried about then learning why they had lost the marks.  importance-of-grades-to-college-students

It was the same when I marked the midterm exams…  I sent everyone their mark and also let them know what the average score was.  I received 4 emails back (in a class of 38), with students telling me they were disappointed in their score because they were anywhere from 0.2-0.4 points below the class average.  As well, I had one student who was disappointed with her mark – 92%!!  In fact, it was the highest mark in the class.  This kind of response from the students, with a focus on the actual score, rather than the exam content, made me question whether the course means anything to them, or if it’s just a grade.  Perhaps the assessment tools (exams and assignments) need to be re-vamped.  Or, maybe, as this article suggests, the students should appreciate the challenges and the valuable lessons they learned in college, and strive for self-improvement as a result of hard work.

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Somewhere lies the truth…

I’ve been involved in an interesting discussion with my PIDP colleagues.  There was a suggestion (backed by research evidence), that a student’s social environment can have an impact on their academic success.  Authors stated that most students who surround themselves with high-achievers improved their performance over time; the opposite was also true.  (To see the article, click here.)

But, what about John Hattie’s synthesis of over 800 studies that looked at student achievement?  I’ve discussed his idea of Visible Learning earlier in my blog, but just to review, he designed a meta-analysis and came up with a way of ranking various influences related to learning and achievement.  And where did peer influences fit on his list?  Nearly halfway down the list of positive influences.  At the top of his list is the teacher’s estimates of achievement.  So…perhaps the teacher estimates similar achievement for certain pockets of students?  If this is the case, both studies could be true…  Or does peer influence not really matter all that much?

Here’s a neat infographic depicting Hattie’s results:

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Death by Powerpoint

PowerPoint has the potential to be a great teaching tool, but it is so often misused!  This theme was a discussion topic for our Media-Enhanced Teaching course, and it sounds like many of us have experienced PowerPoint as a class killer.

I came into a bit of uncertainty with regards to PowerPoint when I was asked to fill-in for an instructor.  This instructor sent me her PowerPoint and said “all you have to do is go through this”.  When I previewed the slides, I only made it to the 3rd one before I knew that there was NO way I was going to subject the class to that.  The slides were plain – black and white, absolutely no images, and tons of text.  BORING!!

So I came up with a plan: I taught the class and used activities to cover the learning objectives.  At the end of the class I let the students know that the PowerPoint was available to them for review on their course webpage.  I felt like this was a good compromise, and also wouldn’t offend the other instructor.  One student even commented after the class that they really enjoyed the class, and that it was very “active” – much better than the death by PowerPoint alternative.

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From the heart of a teacher

This is a beautiful, inspiring video.  It’s directed at highschool-aged students, but the message is relevant for first or second-year college students – and maybe beyond!

Teachers care.  They care more about the students than the students realize.  Teachers lose sleep over their students.  They worry about students.  And they aspire to help students learn…not just the course content, but how to face adversity, deal with harsh realities and the uncertainties of the future.

I found this to be motivating and relevant, even for teaching adults.  I hope you’ll get something out of it too!

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How Not To Be A Jerk: In A Lecture

I came across this entertaining blog post – some good tips for students!

How Not To Be A Jerk

ImageOne of the main features of university life is sitting through seemingly endless lectures. In most degrees, lectures are going to be a pretty major part of the learning process. Some will be the kind of lecture that you look forward to, either because it’s a great topic that you’re super interested in, or because you fancy the lecturer. Unfortunately, it’s much more likely that lectures will be a chore that you feel happy to skip should you sleep in an extra 10 minutes and realise that coffee beforehand is no longer an option. Considering how most lectures are already going to be tough, I’ve put together some tips on how to make each one a little bit better for all of us. To do this, I’ve used my vast experience in attending the first three lectures of any given subject I’m supposed to be doing.

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The Resistant Learner

Funny that this is the topic for the week….I had an experience just yesterday that relates perfectly.

The story (in brief): I was called in to teach a practice lab for a group of level 1 students.  We were learning a very important foundational skill – one that carries through the Image result for adult plugging earsprogram and into the workforce.  There are very specific guidelines for performing the skill, which the students were to practice with their lab partner.  I circulated around the lab, observing each pair, offering feedback and answering questions.  One particular pair was always “just finished” by the time I made it to them, and so I made a point of being present the next time they were beginning the skill.  As I observed, I asked a few questions and gave some constructive feedback.  I was not well received!  The student became defensive and angry, and then stated I was picking on them.  I was stunned, and not in a good way.

Anyhow, this experience gave me context for Brookfield’s (2015) discussion on student resistance to learning, and responding to resistance.  Why was the student resistant?  I suspect that the student lacks confidence and may feel that feedback is indicative of failure.  Maybe they’ve had negative experiences in the past where feedback was degrading rather than constructive.  I don’t feel that Brookfield really spoke to this kind of learning resistance in his book.  The student was seemingly willing to learn (partaking in the activity), but not receptive to any feedback.

How did I respond to the resistance?  I was feeling pretty uncomfortable with the situation, to have “teacher power” thrown back in my face, especially being a very new instructor who really doesn’t exude much power.  I did my best to respond to the student’s comments, but I had to be careful not to get sucked into acting unprofessionally (e.g. arguing back, saying something I’d regret).  Although the situation diffused somewhat, I don’t think the interaction did anything for breaking down the student’s resistance. But I also don’t believe this is achievable in one class for any instructor/resistant learner.

Reflecting back on how the situation made me feel, I was surprised at how “little” the student made me feel.  But the prevailing thought from the day was surprise that a student would shut-down an instructor so boldly.  I am certainly not an expert, but I was in the lab to help the students learn a new skill.  I know students aren’t always excited to learn, but I assumed that they would all at least be willing to learn.  Isn’t that why they are there?

Reference: Brookfield, S. D. (2015). The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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We Are All Different

I love this graphic!  It is a great visual of how diversity exists in adult education.      http://www.diversityaustralia.com.au/about-us/

We usually associate the term ‘diversity’ with race or gender.  But diversity in its largest sense refers to the differences of all kinds between students.  Diversity doesn’t stop at the obvious…we must go beyond common thinking and need to open our eyes to our “multicultural classrooms in which multiple intelligences and culturally ground ways of knowing coexist” (Brookfield, 2015, p. 97).  I think diversity is evident in every classroom, but when we get to adult education, the variety of students explodes as we now have adults with previous life/educational experiences, jobs, preferred learning styles, other obligations and commitments, etc.

As an instructor, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with the diversity we face in the classroom.  We cannot ignore it or try to remain blissfully unaware.  It exists.  Brookfield (2015) suggests that instructors should try to gauge its presence in the classroom.  We might use instruments to assess learning styles, personality types, pre-formative evaluations,  or informal testing such as asking for a show of hands or using clickers to respond to a set of questions.  But we can get bogged down focusing on what makes each of the students different.  But we must remember that the attention should be on their learning.  The students are taking the course with the expectation of learning, and this is where our energy should be going.  Certainly, depending on the type of course you are teaching, diversity may play a large or small role in the instructional activities, but the focus should always be to help the students learn.

Reference:  Brookfield, S. D. (2015). The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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