Microlearning

In my years developing online courses starting at the turn of the century, we discovered quickly that students had no interest in recorded 90-minute lectures on tapes, CDs, DVDs, and eventually online. They hit the fast-forward button frequently.

I had learned in my secondary teaching years before my higher ed years that chunking material was essential.  Chunking is the process of breaking down instructional materials into smaller, "bite-sized" pieces and then arranging them in a sequence that makes it easier for your learners to learn the material. Think of how we write phone numbers: 800-289-9246 rather than 8002899246. We do it for dates, we make categories, chapters, heading, subheadings, menus.

The more current term for this seems to be "microlearning" which is used in education and professional development. These short, focused bursts of learning, are often delivered in the form of videos. Proponents will say that this is also effective for time-poor and attention-deficient learners, though that is arguable. 

We know that video accounts for the vast majority of Internet traffic. Of course, it's not all learning. In fact, much of it is entertainment, but educators can learn from how entertainment uses video and media. All those short clips from late-night talk shows or Saturday Night Live get far more views than would a full version of the show.

The effectiveness of microlearning depends on a range of factors: the quality of the materials being delivered, the context in which they are being consumed, and the learning objectives of the individual.

Microlearning in education, especially online, can include:
Text (in phrases, short paragraphs)
Images (photos, illustrations)
Videos (of the short variety)
Audio (also short)
Tests and Quizzes (yes, shorter is better)
Games (such as simple single-screen challenges)

MORE
https://www.umass.edu/ctl/resources/how-do-i/how-do-i-chunk-content-increase-learning

https://thepeakperformancecenter.com/educational-learning/thinking/chunking/chunking-as-a-learning-strategy/

https://elearningindustry.com/what-is-microlearning-benefits-best-practices

microlearning info
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Learning to Teach

teacher at board
   Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a forum newsletter series on teaching written by Beth McMurtrie that had a post recently summarizing what they have learned after 5 years of doing the series. As it states, teaching is "An Ever-Changing Profession" and yet I find that many things about teaching are still the same as when I first went into a classroom in 1975.

When I moved out of the classroom as a full-time teacher in 2000, one of my roles was to teach professors. Though the department I ran was instructional technology, I was also tasked with holding sessions on pedagogy. At first, I wondered if college faculty would have a real interest in topics like assessment, grading strategies, creating assignments, and leading discussions in the classroom or online. But in the early sessions, those who did attend (it was voluntary most of the time) often said things like "I try to do what my best teachers do and not do what the bad ones did" and "I never took any courses in how to teach." Those faculty were interested and had spent their academic lives focused on their subject matter and, especially at STEM institutions like NJIT, research and getting grants were the real foci of concern and attention.

It is noted that "teaching has become an increasingly public enterprise," but some say “teaching is a private act.” Certainly, the K-12 classroom has become more public and parents and the community have always played a greater role in what happens in classrooms than compared in colleges. The newsletter points to possible changes to that dynamic, citing "find a teaching buddy, bring the department together to talk about teaching, create teaching communities across campus."

The pandemic and classes going online K-20 put teaching practices more in the public and into homes. Again, that was more so in K-12, but also for higher ed. Schools also held workshops to help faculty shift their teaching and some virtual support groups appeared with topics ranging from how to use Zoom to how to grade participation online.

Though I "learned to teach" as an undergraduate with an education minor in order to be a certified secondary school teacher, I really learned how in my field experiences and even more so in my first few years of actually being a full-time teacher. Like those professors, it took being in a classroom, creating lessons, grading work, and all the day-to-day tasks for me to really learn to teach. But I did have all the theories, practices, and philosophies before I became a teacher to refer to and use. I had tools.

I used a lot of that training in doing my own training sessions for professors. They were always somewhat amazed at all the research that had been done in pedagogy. They were more surprised at hearing there was such a thing as andragogy which addressed the age group many of them were teaching. It shouldn't have surprised them that there was a vast amount of educational research available, after all, it was what most of them did in their own fields. I always suspected that some of that surprise came from an attitude that teaching was less of a science and more of an "art" - like being able to draw or play an instrument. The "A" in STEAM had not found its way into STEM.

The newsletter has covered research universities creating teaching tracks to try to improve educational outcomes and reduce faculty burnout. Innovative forms of teaching, such as inclusive teaching and active learning, are ways that faculty begin to rethink classroom strategies.

Teaching Artificial Intelligence in K-12 Classrooms

Should K-12 students be learning about artificial intelligence? Since the turn of the century, I have written about, observed and taught in programs to have all students learn the basics of coding. Prior to that, robotics made big moves into K-12 classrooms. AI seems to be the next step.

I saw recently that DayofAI.org launched a day for classrooms around the world to participate in learning about AI. They offered resources from MIT for teachers, including lesson plans and videos for all grade levels.

car gps
New vehicles have many AI-assisted applications Image: Foundry Co

It's not that students aren't already surrounded by artificial intelligence in their everyday lives, but they are probably unaware of its presence. That is no surprise since most of the adults around them are equally unaware of AI around them.

You find AI used in maps and navigation, facial recognition, text editors and autocorrect, search and recommendation algorithms, chatbots, and in social media apps. If you have a smartphone to a new car, you are using AI consciously or unconsciously. Consciously is preferred and a reason to educate about AI.

Though I have never thought of my time as a K-12 teacher as training students for jobs in the way that teaching in higher education clearly has that in mind, you can't ignore what students at lower level might need one day to prepare for job training in or out of higher ed. Artificial intelligence, data analytics, cloud computing, and cybersecurity are areas that always show up in reports about jobs now and in the near future.ed workers which means that we need to do more to prepare our students for these careers and others that will evolve over time.

“AI will dominate the workplace and to be successful, people are going to have to understand it,” said Mark Cuban, who launched a foundation in 2019 that provides AI bootcamps for free to students to learn about AI. It is his belief and the belief of other tech leaders and educators that artificial intelligence is something that should and can be taught at all levels, regardless of a teacher’s experience in this field.

One starting place might be Google AI Experiments which offers simple experiments to explore machine learning, through things like pictures, drawings, language, and music. See https://experiments.withgoogle.com/collection/ai

AIClub offers courses for students and free resources for educators including professional development sessions to spark curiosity for learning about AI. They are also developing guidelines for AI curriculum in grades K through 12.

I tried an AI test (it is rather long for younger students) at www.tidio.com/blog/ai-test/ that was part of a survey for a research study about AI-generated content. It shows you images, texts, and plays sounds and asks you to decide if you think they show real people or were created by humans or not. Almost all of us will be fooled by things created by AI. Another site is fun for kids as it shows very realistic AI-created cats that don't really exist. And another site at https://ai4k12.org/ is also a human vs AI activity where you decide whether art, music, writing or photos were created by a human or AI.

All of those examples can be used as a way to introduce students to how AI is used and even caution them to recognize that they can be not only helped but deceived using AI.

The Science of Learning

Einstein
Professor Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921

Albert Einstein was definitely a subject matter expert, but he is not regarded as a good professor. Einstein first taught at the University of Bern but did not attract students, and when he pursued a position at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, the president raised concerns about his lackluster teaching skills. Biographer Walter Isaacson summarized, “Einstein was never an inspired teacher, and his lectures tended to be regarded as disorganized.” It's a bit unfair to say that "Einstein Was Not Qualified To Teach High-School Physics" - though by today's standards he would not be considered qualified. It probably is fair to say that "Although it’s often said that those who can’t do teach, the reality is that the best doers are often the worst teachers."

Beth McMurtrie wrote a piece in The Chronicle called "What Would Bring the Science of Learning Into the Classroom?" and her overall question was: Why doesn't the scholarship on teaching have as much impact as it could have in higher education classroom practices?

It is not the first article to show and question why higher education appears not to value teaching as much as it could or should. Is it that quality instruction isn't valued as much in higher education as it is in the lower grades? Other articles show that colleges and most faculty believe the quality of instruction is a reason why students select a school.

Having moved from several decades in K-12 teaching to higher education, I noticed a number of things related to this topic. First of all, K-12 teachers were likely to have had at least a minor as undergraduates in education and would have taken courses in pedagogy. For licensing in all states, there are requirements to do "practice" or "student teaching" with monitoring and guidance from education professors and cooperating teachers in the schools.

When I moved from K-12 to higher education at NJIT in 2001, I was told that one reason I was hired to head the instructional technology department was that I had a background in pedagogy and had been running professional development workshops for teachers. It was seen as a gap in the university's offerings. The Chronicle article also points to "professional development focused on becoming a better teacher, from graduate school onward, is rarely built into the job."

As I developed a series of workshops for faculty on using technology, I also developed workshops on better teaching methods. I remember being surprised (but shouldn't have been) that professors had never heard of things like Bloom's taxonomy, alternative assessment, and most of the learning science that had been common for the past 30 years.

K-12 teachers generally have required professional development. In higher education, professional development is generally voluntary. I quickly discovered that enticements were necessary to bring in many faculty. We offered free software, hardware, prize drawings and, of course, breakfasts, lunches and lots of coffee. Professional development in higher ed is not likely to count for much when it comes to promotion and tenure track. Research and grants far outweigh teaching, particularly at a science university like NJIT.

But we did eventually fill our workshops. We had a lot of repeat customers. There was no way we could handle the approximately 600 full-time faculty and the almost 300 adjunct instructors, so we tried to bring in "champions" from different colleges and departments who might later get colleagues to attend.

I recall more than one professor who told me that they basically "try to do the thing my best professors did and avoid doing what the bad ones did." It was rare to meet faculty outside of an education department who did any research on teaching. We did find some. We brought in faculty from other schools who were researching things like methods in engineering education. I spent a lot of time creating online courses and improving online instruction since NJIT was an early leader in that area and had been doing "distance education" pre-Internet.

Discipline-based pedagogy was definitely an issue we explored, even offering specialized workshops for departments and programs. Teaching the humanities and teaching the humanities in a STEM-focused university is different. Teaching chemistry online is not the same as teaching a management course online.

Some of the best parts of the workshops were the conversations amongst the heterogeneous faculty groups. We created less formal sessions with names that gathered professors around a topic like grading, plagiarism and academic integrity, applying for grants, writing in the disciplines, and even topics like admissions and recruiting. These were sessions where I and my department often stepped back and instead offered resources to go further after the session ended.

It is not that K-12 educators have mastered teaching, but they are better prepared for the classroom from the perspective of discipline, psychology, pedagogy, and the numbers of students and hours they spend in face-to-face teaching. College faculty are reasonably expected to be subject matter experts and at a higher level of expertise than K-12 teachers who are expected to be excellent teachers. This doesn't mean that K-12 teachers aren't subject matter experts or that professors can't be excellent teachers. But the preparations for teaching in higher and the recognition for teaching excellence aren't balanced in the two worlds.