The SoTL Advocate

Supporting efforts to make public the reflection and study of teaching and learning at Illinois State University and beyond…

“Using Research about Teaching to Suggest a Way Forward”

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Written by Jen Friberg, SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University

On January 6, 2016, the Center for Teaching, Learning, & Technology at Illinois State University hosted its 15th annual Teaching and Learning Symposium in Normal, Illinois. Attended by over 350 faculty from ISU, this year’s symposium focused on “Imagining the Future, Reflecting the Past.”

Todd Zakrajsek was the keynote speaker for the day, delivering several sessions centered on the metacognitive processes at work in many learning contexts at the college/university level. His keynote presentation (What Got Us Here is Not What We Need Now: Using Research about Teaching to Suggest a Way Forward) identified six facts about learning for us, as course instructors, to consider in planning learning experiences for students. These are provided and expanded upon below:

  1. Learning is best when it involves the learner in meaningful ways. Significant learning occurs when students feel as though they are active participants in the learning process.
  2. Teach students about learning. We expect students to come to college understanding how learning happens when few truly do.
  3. Humans like to learn. Humans are hard-wired to learn and seek out learning opportunities early and often throughout their lifetimes.
  4. We know a bit about how humans learn, and this knowledge should impact how we teach. There is a LOT of research about brain function and teaching and learning that can and should support the choices we make in designing learning opportunities for students. Access SoTL and other valuable research to engage in scholarly teaching.
  5. Be cautious about things that sound good without research support. Just because students “like” something or tell you it was a good experience doesn’t mean that it was. Study what you do. Share the results. Build the academy and the evidence we use to inform our teaching.
  6. Avoid “either-or” thinking. Evidence exists to support a variety of pedagogical approaches to teaching. There is no need to only lecture or never lecture. You don’t have to choose between active or auditory learning. A balance in teaching is important.

What would you add to this list? Could/should it be added to? What else do we know from SoTL and other research that might be of value in thinking about a way forward for course instructors in higher education? We’d love your opinions in the comments section below!

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