2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 1:45 PM


WIRTH, Karl R., Geology Department, Macalester College, 1600 Grand Ave, St. Paul, MN 55105, wirth@macalester.edu

Recent educational trends emphasize learning that is active, student-centered, and collaborative. The perceived pressure to “cover content” in courses often favors traditional lecture formats in the classroom. Many studies, however, have shown that student learning (e.g., problem solving, transfer of knowledge to new situations, and motivation) is often improved in active learning environments.

The use of new pedagogies in the classroom can also be daunting for students, especially for those expecting a more passive learning experience. Active learning approaches place the responsibility of “first uncovering” course content on students. Collaborative learning presents additional challenges as students develop social skills. It is commonly assumed that students will develop critical thinking skills and an understanding of learning processes in the course of mastering course content, but this is not necessarily always the case. Allocating course time to explicit readings and discussions of learning helps students adjust to new pedagogies and facilitates the development of attitudes and skills for lifelong learning. Greater emphasis on learning also makes it easier for the instructor to identify learning objectives and essential course content.

To help students understand expectations for their learning, I begin each course with a reading and discussion about learning. Remarkably, there are few overviews of learning that are well suited for students. To help fill this gap, I began compiling information on learning. A draft of this document, entitled “Learning to Learn” is available from: http://www.macalester.edu/geology/wirth/learning.pdf. This document includes a brief overview of current educational practices and trends, a discussion of learning and significant learning, the importance of critical thinking, new evidence from research on the brain, cognitive development, learning styles, and the behavioral dimensions of grades. During discussions of the learning document, students often remark that they feel empowered with their new understanding of learning and that it helps them in all of their courses. Frequent references to the learning document (e.g., Bloom levels) can be made throughout the semester as students strive to master course content and skills.