Grazing - a personal blog from Steve Ehrmann

Steve Ehrmann is an author, speaker, and consultant.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Observations on learning from the Lilly Conference on College and University Teaching

This past June, a number of our faculty and I attended the Lilly Conference on College and University Teaching here in DC.

One of the keynoters, Terry Doyle of Ferris State, spoke on what brain research suggests about college teaching.  At one point, he asserted that, if a person can't apply what they were taught after a sustained period of disuse of that knowledge or skill, then they never truly learned it in the first place.

When you learn something new and practice it a bit, new dendrites form in your brain.  But if the practice doesn't recur periodically, the brain reabsorbs that material. Your brain can eat your homework, eventually.

Doyle asked, If you watch someone lift weights three times a week for fourteen weeks, how much stronger will you become? It's an important question for students and for faculty: the one who does the work does the learning.

But in a typical college course, Doyle asserted, only one person in the classroom does any heavy lifting, mentally.  That's the faculty member.  To practice thinking as a scholar thinks, even at novice level, ishard work. Even harder for the novice than for the expert.  But to just take notes on what the expert concluded, that's not practicing expert thinking at all. It's learning part of what you need to do the exercise, without actually exercising.

Suppose you had to judge the success of a course you were teaching this fall.  You decide to do that by waiting a year and then seeing what your students could do in Fall 2013.  If that were your plan, what kind of practice in thinking would you give them in fall 2013? That's what Doyle was inviting us to do.

PS.   The Lilly Conference is in DC every year.  The faculty who attended this year seemed to get a lot out of the sessions and workshops.  If you'd like my office to pay for your registration in June 2013, let us know now. We prepurchased 10 registrations last year. We could provide more if there's demand. (College Park sent almost 45 faculty, as I recall.)

If you have thoughts (or objections), please post them or email me.