The Relationship Between Old Knowledge and New
Our courses are opportunities for students to grow: The powerful learning experiences we provide may change their minds—and ours. A deeper look into how this process happens can guide our approach to teaching toward the beginning of a term.
How Learning Works (a spring CAT reading group selection) begins with this fundamental principle: Learning must be built on prior knowledge . When we learn, we are “interpreting incoming information and… perceptions through the lens of…existing knowledge, beliefs, and assumptions.” To learn effectively, students must connect what they learn to what they already know; but incomplete or inaccurate prior knowledge or assumptions can hinder learning instead of help it. What students already know can also stymie their learning even if it’s not wrong, but inappropriate to a new context, like “faux amis” in language instruction, or nonscientific usage of the words “force” or “mass.”
Before we can correct or re-contextualize, and help students build on more solid foundations, we need to identify our students’ misconceptions and preconceptions. Questions that ask students to make predictions , or anticipate future learning, can be opportunities to uncover misconceptions and pique students’ curiosity. Non-graded prior knowledge probes and diagnostic writing can also be useful tools for pinpointing potential obstacles. Even if there’s not a validated concept inventory for your subject matter, you probably have a sense of common errors from reviewing students’ work.
Once we’ve identified the gaps, we also need strategies for overcoming cognitive hurdles like confirmation bias. As Gooding and Metz (2011) explain, “the brain files new data by making connections to existing information. If this new information does not fit the learner’s established pattern of thinking, it is refashioned to fit the existing pattern… Brain connections are strengthened when revisited or rehearsed, so each false practice fortifies the misconception—making it even more resistant to change.” Merely presenting the correct information does nothing to dispel misconceptions, so it’s critical that we help students become aware of gaps and errors in their learning, then work explicitly to adjust them.
This can be challenging. Students may find the necessary cognitive conflict to be destabilizing, or even threatening. A novel approach to lowering the stress of exposing errors is to have students blunder intentionally and then share the errors, so that they learn what they’re all doing wrong. More conventionally, students can make progress by discussing their conceptual frameworks, providing evidence for their beliefs and finding ways to test them, and examining what they’re accepting as evidence. In some courses, they may benefit from drawing concept maps. Students will need repeated practice with the new concepts, and reflection on the evidence that contradicts their prior assumptions or practices. They will need to reason through the new models and ideas, so that they fully understand why a new framework is more appropriate to the context. This way, they can build stronger foundations and connections for deeper learning, and they’ll have better methods for testing, and for explaining, what they believe to be true.
Effective Video Strategies for Teaching Gen Z
Friday, February 5th | 1:00 – 2:30 p.m. on Zoom | Sign up to attend
Join us for a workshop on making effective videos and using them in your teaching. We will discuss data on how this generation of students (Gen Z) learns through videos, and practical strategies for using videos to “go where the students are.” Participants will see several cases of effective video usage in courses, approaches that will be useful even after our remoteness is over. Incorporating the amazing feedback we got from faculty who attended the Fall 2020 videos workshop, this iteration will focus more on direct implementation rather than philosophy, and is intended for faculty from any discipline. Participants will leave with strategies and resources to design their own videos and video-based assignments and activities. (Will you be asked to download TikTok? Come and find out!)