To answer my own question, nothing. 🙂 That’s not true.
Because this class was so challenging for me, it meant that I wasn’t really focusing on all of the things I was apparently supposed to learn; rather, I focused on the things that my brain (yay cognition!) apparently decided I needed to know to further both my own educational goals as well as my goals within the course that I teach. How do you decide what’s important to learn? Short answer–your brain does that for you. And thus, mine did.
One of the biggest things I took out of this course was the lessons I learned from the Perkins book. Learning is not about me, really, but about how I can better help my students take the knowledge I’m trying to give them and apply it. I teach history, so maybe they won’t be able to apply it to their own lives as a general rule, but if they’re better able to argue for or against the Second Amendment because they took my class, awesome. If they’re able to better argue why one presidential candidate is scarier than another because of expansion of presidential powers; if they’re able to discuss competently why the current issue of blocking a Supreme Court nominee is detrimental to society as a whole; if they’re able to argue why Apple absolutely should not build a backdoor code to the iPhone–I’ve done my job.
But for all that I’m relatively good at my job (though it’s still a work in progress–don’t judge; I’m still new at this), there’s always something new that I can learn to help them learn. Perkins’ book was probably the most useful thing, next to a book about online learning pedagogy from another class I took, that I’ve ever found, because it really taught me how to view things differently. I waxed poetic about the Perkins book in my last blog post–you should take a look, and then go find the book and read it because educational reasons.
Cognition is, by definition, all about the science of learning. Cognition is how you learn. I’m always telling my students to be cognizant of the posting requirements, or of the questions being asked, or of their spelling/grammatical errors (because none of them proofread, apparently. Ever.). But what does that mean to them? I’m realizing that I’m phrasing things wrong. I’m not teaching smarter–I’m teaching harder. I’m trying to get them to be aware of their mistakes so they’ll fix them. This is Perkins’ hearts-and-minds theory that fails so spectacularly across the board. My students can be aware of their mistakes all day every day, but unless I’m teaching them how to fix them, unless I’m giving them a better understanding of why what they’re doing is inaccurate, nothing is going to change. That mistake is on me.
If you were to tell me seven weeks ago that I would have learned a different way of teaching my students because I understand how their brains work a little better, I’d’ve called you a liar. Learning styles and all that are great, and yeah, we know all about those, so what else would I have needed to know? Yeah, about that…
I needed to know that there are better ways of teaching the same information in a way that students can build the connections they need to build in order to learn what I’m teaching them, but also learn how to apply those skills to other things. Do I want them to be able to argue historical points? Absolutely. But more to the point, I want them to be able to take a source–any source, be it a book or a newspaper article or something else–and work through it to analyze it for what it doesn’t say. I want them to be able to support any arguments they make with well thought out evidence, because it means they’ve learned how to do research, and not blindly believe what other people tell them is the truth. I want them to question authority, because authority is not perfect. And if they don’t know how to do that, then I failed as a teacher. My job isn’t just to drill information into their heads–they may or may not learn it that way because the brain is screwy and cognition can screw with us (I think I included that CrashCourse video in another blog post, but since I love those guys so much, here it is again)
We as instructors live with an illusion when it comes to teaching our students. We believe the illusion that we’re better than this, that our students just don’t get it, and that it’s not our fault that they don’t get it. That’s our perception–and I believe it’s faulty. Because so many people equate cognition to, essentially, human computing, it’s easy to assume that learning is also static. However, behavior and performance are not static (Booth, 2012). It’s far too easy to put people into little boxes because you don’t understand how they work, but therein lies the beauty of the brain and the various cognitive processes—it’s for this very reason that AI is so far behind the human brain. The illusion that learning is static makes it very difficult for us to think outside that box in regards to instruction. However, if we realize that this idea of a static mental representation is simply an illusion—a subjective perception—it’s easier to see past it to the reality beyond. And that reality is that maybe we’re doing something wrong. Maybe something we’re doing isn’t working. So rather than just blaming the students, or the resources, or even ourselves, why don’t we fix it? Think outside the box and find a way to look past the illusion to the truth beyond. What harm could it do?
Booth, A. (2012). Dynamic Systems Theory. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyOQyw7ws-c