Science of Learning

If you teach using presentation software such as Google Slides or PowerPoint, do you ever wonder whether your slides are more of a distraction than an aid to learning? At CRLT, we regularly consult with instructors who want to maximize the instructional value of their slides but aren't sure how to do so. 

In this CRLT video, Assistant Director Rachel Niemer identifies some common problems with instructors' use of presentation slides and provides concrete strategies for effective slide design, drawing insights from research on how attention, memory, and recall work in a learning environment. One of the most popular videos on our website, her presentation on "PowerPoint Supported by the Science of Learning" offers guidance on:

  • How to create slides so that students can focus on what is most important
  • When it's most effective to use slides vs. when it's best not to
  • How to create slide presentations efficiently by using a simple template that minimizes distractions and focuses attention on key concepts 

For more on teaching strategies informed by the science of learning, click on the tag below.  Read more »

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As memories of Spring Break fade and we head into the final stretch of winter term, it's a great time to think about student motivation. How effectively are your courses engaging your students and motivating them to learn? 

How Learning Works book cover

While it can sometimes feel that students simply choose to be engaged or apathetic for their own reasons, the research on motivation clearly indicates that instructor choices significantly affect students' investment in learning. And motivation plays a key role in how effectively students master course material. As Susan Ambrose and her co-authors argue in How Learning Works (Jossey-Bass, 2010), research shows that people are motivated to learn when they:

  1. See the value, either intrinsic or extrinsic, of learning the particular material or skills, and
  2. Believe they can succeed.

What teaching strategies do these motivational factors suggest? To help students appreciate the value of the learning goals in your course, you can: Read more »

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silhouette of a brain using gears

How can we promote academic success for all students who enter the University, particularly those students from disadvantaged backgrounds? How can we help students overcome their own anxiety about achievement and get past “stereotype threat?” How can we increase retention rates--both for particular majors and at U-M generally--by encouraging students’ to see their abilities as malleable, rather than fixed? In early February, U-M Department of Psychology faculty member Bill Gehring addressed these topics at an LSA faculty seminar on Diversity and Climate. His research-based strategies can provide direction for instructors in all fields to enhance diversity and academic success at U-M.

In his presentation, Professor Gehring described four evidence-based interventions that work to create “identity-safe” classrooms:

(1)  Seeing Students Holistically: It is important for faculty to recognize that students’ performance in class can be affected by many factors beyond intelligence. For example, Professor Gehring’s research on students in his Psychology 111 course found that students’ motivation to do well was positively related to their performance on exams, while their anxiety about testing was negatively associated. To increase motivation, faculty can help students set goals for their learning, and to decrease anxiety, more frequent, lower-stakes assessments may help.  Other “non-cognitive” factors related to performance include discipline (i.e., the ability to resist distractions and procrastination). To reduce distractors, Gehring recommends that students not bring laptops to class, as his research finds a statistically significant decrease in exam grades among students who almost always bring their laptops, compared to less frequent users.

(2)  Framing Disappointment: The first undergraduate year can be a struggle, given that many students come into U-M at the top of their classes yet underperform relative to their expectations. (Incoming student survey data from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program indicate that 75% anticipate having at least a “B” average.”) Similarly, many students experience doubts about making friends and fitting in socially.  Read more »

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Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence, Carnegie Mellon University

The following list presents the basic principles and teaching strategies that underlie effective learning. These principles are distilled from research from a variety in disciplines.
 
1. Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning.
 
Students come into our courses with knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes gained in other courses and through daily life. As students bring this knowledge to bear in our classrooms, it influences how they filter and interpret what they are learning. If students’ prior knowledge is robust and accurate and activated at the appropriate time, it provides a strong foundation for building new knowledge. However, when knowledge is inert, insufficient for the task, activated inappropriately, or inaccurate, it can interfere with or impede new learning. To apply this principle, consider the following teaching techniques:
 
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“I studied really hard for the exam and felt like I knew the material, but I did poorly.” 

Have you ever heard something like this from your students? Do you wonder how you might prevent such experiences? In a November Student Learning and Analytics at Michigan (SLAM) series lecture, Thurnau Professor of Psychology Bill Gehring explains how he has integrated key findings from the science of learning into his teaching in order to help students study more effectively and improve their course performance. 

If you haven't been able to attend the SLAM series talks but want to learn more about the ongoing conversation at U-M about using student data to enhance learning, this video is a great place to start. Professor Gehring's topics in this hour-long talk include: Read more »

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