CEP 810 Week 1: Learning, Understanding and Conceptual Change Essay

The start of each semester brings the challenge of evaluating a new group of students to determine what they already know, what challenges they may have, and what they want from the course. The students come to the course with a range of reading, writing, and technology skills. While I have a plan in place, it needs to be flexible to adjust for each group of students. As the authors of How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School note, “teachers must draw out and work with the preexisting understandings that their students bring with them (p. 19).” This is especially important when dealing with adult learners who bring such a wide range of skills, education, and experience to the classroom. The process of learning can be fraught with deeply held beliefs about how things are and the students’ own abilities or shortcomings. The challenge lies in finding ways to connect with each student and draw upon their existing knowledge to make meaningful connections to the new material.

Until the latter half of the twentieth century, education was predominately limited to essential skills like reading, writing, and math (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 4). However, education has evolved to focus more on problem solving and applying the basic skills to other situations. Students no longer just add numbers. Instead, students take those basic skills and apply them to budgeting and price comparisons. With this change, learning becomes a more active process where the students do not just passively listen to lectures. Students now take an active role in the learning process.

Technology often assists instructors in enriching the student experience. Many publishers offer interactive tools for instructors to use in their classrooms that allow students to interpret the information in new ways and offer simulations students may not otherwise have access to. These new tools can lead to great success with students, as noted by the authors of How People Learn. They cite a study where the use of an interactive computer physics tool with sixth graders leads them to perform better than eleventh and twelfth graders taught through traditional methods (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 21). The use of technology in the classroom shows potential to help make connections and assist students in transferring knowledge to new situations successfully while also offering the benefit of a more active learning experience.

Moreover, a teacher must consider the difference in the students gaining “useable knowledge” versus just memorizing a set of facts to pass an exam (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 9). Too often students and teachers focus more on the ability to pass an exam rather gaining the knowledge at a level that demonstrates understanding. Instead, a better goal might be to focus on the why of learning. For students to truly understand the material, they need to connect with what application the material has in their everyday lives. For example, Algebra seems like an overwhelming and daunting task when using abstract concepts and letters. However, when you frame the same material in more practical form like budgeting to see what one may afford, a student is more likely to see the value of that material and work to learn it.

Perhaps the most significant lesson from the reading, especially when considering the use of technology in the classroom, stems from the need to account for cultural differences, whether from race, class, or gender. The authors’ cite a number of instances where cultural differences between African-Americans and Caucasians can impact the perception of the learner and how the learner approaches information (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 73). While technology dominates all aspects of modern life, there are clear differences in the level of access to and experience with technology that can be tied to the environments in which students grow up. In my experience, the ability to use and successfully understand technology is directly tied to a student’s economic standing. Poorer students tend to struggle more than wealthier students due less access to technology. Teachers who do not realize these differences may run into the same issue the authors mentioned relating to race, namely perceiving students’ abilities as lesser because of this deficit. The lack of access to or inability to understand the use of technology could also pose the problem of preventing students from successfully completing assignments. This can, in turn, increase the students’ frustration with the experience and subsequently reduce their enthusiasm and motivation, essential parts of effective learning. A balance between the benefits of this technology and the hurdles faced by using technology must be found to employ it effectively in the learning process.

Bransford, J., Brown, A.L. & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.), How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school (pp. 3-27). Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309070368


2 thoughts on “CEP 810 Week 1: Learning, Understanding and Conceptual Change Essay

  1. Katie,
    In reading your blog post, I couldn’t agree more with your statements concerning how twentieth century education has changed. In particular, I related to your quote, “With this change, learning becomes a more active process where the students do not just passively listen to lectures. Students now take an active role in the learning process.” In my mind, active learners are learners that are awake and engaged! As a teacher, I actively involve my students in the learning process through various projects and hands-on activities. Not only does this motivate them, but they become motivated and invested. It becomes something they “own” rather than something they are a part of.
    In reading your last paragraph, I found your correlations about socioeconomic differences to be quite interesting. I work at a middle-to-upper class private school as a technology teacher, and I have found gender to be a determining factor of how well students grasp a concept. Although not as stark of a determining factor as socioeconomic status, our school is gender specific with boys and girls being divided. Our theory behind this notion is that boys learn differently from girls. As applied to my classes, my boy students will grasp a concept in the computer lab much quicker than my girl students. I uniformly see this at varying grade levels, junior kindergarten through eighth grade. I know most of my boy students have pre-existing experience with gaming devices, where my girls do not. Perhaps this is the root of why the boys are more familiar with technology. However, girls are more detail-oriented when working on projects and assignments. I don’t know if any logic stems from this, but it has been an interesting thing to observe. Knowing these gender-based differences, I incorporate them into my teacher planning and instruction to maximize student learning.

    • It’s interesting that you mention gender differences in your classroom. That’s not one I have experienced. I teach software as part of the graphic design courses I teach and definitely have a great deal of gamers. However, I do not see the differences in being able to learn the new software. I do see the differences sometimes in terms of their general understanding of computers. I I’m wondering if it is not just exposure to video games, but perhaps general attitudes towards what is acceptable for boys and girls. I am not a gamer by any means. I was exposed to technology from an early age so I have never had trouble with it. However, I know many girls who were lead to believe computers are not for girls. You rarely see girls interacting with computers and other technology in media. It is changing, but is often the prevalent attitude. I was lucky enough to have a father who taught me programming and computers from early age. Even now, I tend to be the only female in the middle of computer discussions with the guys from IT. I was also note that more and more girls are participating in gaming so this may change over time.

      I would agree with you that active learners are far more engaged and interested. I teach to graphics courses. One lends itself easily to interaction and students love the course. The other is more history based and does not even though I do keep trying. The students say its better than most similar classes, but they do not engage in the same manner. In general, my preference is hand on whenever possible. I teach software and I believe that watching me do something is no where near as effective as doing it yourself.

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