I typically write from a blog ideas list that I keep in my "big picture planner." Planning posts ahead of time works sometimes, but other times, when I reach the planned post, it no longer feels relevant.
Maybe part of the fun of blogging is to allow for days like this? Maybe just writing until something appears can bring forth valuable ideas that people might enjoy reading?
Just now, as I was writing this (trying to avoid writing this), I popped on Twitter to find this piece on EdSurge: A 'Golden Age of Teaching and Learning at Colleges?
The pictures of brain scans associated with the article caught my eye. I've been using and studying brain-based teaching techniques for a long time. The article is the transcript of a podcast with Matthew Rascoff, an AVP of digital ed. A couple of things jumped out at me:
A recent edu conference had the unfortunate acronym of H.A.I.L. I don't love this. Hail is nasty stuff that falls from the sky. Or, it's a sort of creepy, totalitarian greeting (e.g., "All hail...). The "H" stands for Harvesting. Harvesting Academic Innovating for Learners. I appreciate the sentiment, but I think we should generally avoid the word "harvesting" when talking about students' brains. Words create worlds. Words matter. Higher ed is in need of new words (e.g., distance education, soft skills, non-traditional learners). I left this article grateful that I consider myself a word person, and hoping that all institutions and innovation efforts will make sure to have a word person at the table, to think through the possible implications of their word choices.
Rascoff said, "I think we’re doing such a bad job of telling our story right now." I do agree with this. As an industry, we've got work to do. I think about online education in particular. Horror stories abound, but those of us on the ground can fill books with success stories. One of my personal goals is to continue to spread the good news about online education. There's that, and there's also the fact that we need to do better. We're failing too many of our students, both online and in traditional education. We need to tell better stories; we need to do better. Both are true.
I think many of us are sharing good news about higher ed as individuals. We need to come together more to tell these positive stories. How? I'm thinking about it. I have an idea. I DMed a couple of colleagues about it last night.
Rascoff also said that we're in a "golden age of teaching." Are we? No. No, we are not. Again, there are pockets, often big pockets, doing amazing work grounded in the art and science of teaching and learning. That said, I fear that the norm is still passive learning, not just in higher education, but across K-12 as well. I hear stories about schools with no recess, no art, and no music. I wonder how many kids are being taught right from the textbook, with assessments that most closely resemble autopsies, and no active learning or formative assessment in sight. I suspect that we are still teaching people of all ages from the model of a fixed mindset. Again, there are huge movements to improve teaching and learning in American education, but we've got work to do.
Yes, as Rascoff said, "We know more about how people learn than we ever have in the past." Our knowledge of the human brain and how it learns is, at this very moment, greater than it's ever been. And, at the very same time, most of our field believes in neuromyths, like the existence of learning styles.
What comes to mind is the John Naisbitt quote, "We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge."
Again, we have lots of work to do. That's almost always my final thought on these twisty education conversations. We have a lot of work to do in connecting teachers (at all levels) with information about how the brain learns best, and in supporting teachers in making that shift in their classrooms. We have to help them transfer that information into knowledge and action. We've got to do it all with a deep respect for students as people, not as brains waiting to be cultivated or harvested. We need the resources to do this work.
Today is my first day of school (again). Tomorrow is my 40th birthday.
I don't think I'll ever stop being a student. I take breaks now and again, but I always return to the classroom. While I am constantly leaning on my own, there's something about formal education that works for me: probably the structure most of all.
After years of studying, using, and then teaching others about brain-based teaching strategies (aka neuroeducation), I found myself craving that structure. One day, my husband, son, and I were sitting around talking, and I asked them if they could study any topic in college (in the future, for my son, or in the case of my husband and I, if we could have a do-over), what would it be? At the time, my son was obsessed with presidential history, so his answer was "The Presidents." I think my husband chose graphic design. My answer? Brains.
I poked around for a couple of years, exploring various programs, and nothing seemed to click. I need something online to fit into my schedule, and because I thrive in online learning environments. Most of the programs I found were focused on K-12 education. Then, I stumbled upon Drexel's certificate in neuroscience, learning, and online instruction. There's a strong higher ed emphasis and I actually met the lead professor at the OLC conference years ago. She was presenting on brain-based teaching strategies, so I made a beeline for her, of course, and we had a great chat. When I realized she led the Drexel program, it seemed fortuitous.
The simple idea behind brain-based teaching is that the brain is the primary organ of learning, so understanding how it learns best helps to make us better teachers (and I would argue, better humans). I remember once that my yoga teacher training instructor said to us that if you're a curious person, yoga is a great thing to study, because you'll never reach the end; there's always more to learn. I feel that way about the brain. I'm a very curious person, and a lifelong learner, and I'm quite sure that the brain will keep me busy for years to come.
This term I'll be studying the Neuroscience of Learning. Here's the course description:
This course introduces neuroanatomy and processes associated with learning, memory, emotion, and perception. The course examines the relationship between stress, trauma, sleep, health, and aging on cognitive function as well as adaptive cognitive function. Current and emerging research in cognitive neuroscience is explored to inform educational practices to meet the needs of diverse learners. Topics include neuroplasticity, neuroimaging, learning cycle, effective differentiation, and self-efficacy.
Neuroplasticity. One of my favorites. To me, it's the science of hope. The hope that everyone can learn, grow, and change.
Birthdays always feel weird to me. Like, it's just another day, but it's also not. I try not to overcomplicate it, but...I'm an air sign, y'all. Overthinking things is written in the stars for me. So there's some stuff swirling around, but one thing that always grounds me is learning. My humungous textbook arrives tomorrow, and I plan to ring in forty with some cake, my best boys (two humans, one canine), and the joys of studying and annotating three chapters from Brain & Behavior with my favorite highlighters and colored pens.
I'm also taking a watercolor painting class at the local community college tomorrow; there's something very healing about sitting in a room for two hours and painting a flower. No one uses their phones. Since this is a day class, it's me and three older adults, all retired, so we talk about things like birds and butterflies. Speaking of brains, mine screeches for much of the class: "You have seven hundred things you could be doing right now! but I just keep painting my tulips. Maybe forty is the age when you learn how and when to ignore your brain.
I'm not going to get too weird about setting intense or specific goals for the coming year, but one thing I know is that I'm going to keep learning, both inside and outside of the classroom. I'm going to make bad art and put myself in front of timeless art.
Here are some pics from our visit to the MFA this weekend:
Life is good.
I'm committed to blogging once a week for this semester. Thanks for joining me on that journey. Check back Monday-ish for new posts.