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nsI read another useful study this week - on the use of object lessons to illustrate points, as opposed to teaching something purely conceptually, from the university of Ohio.

Students were given mathematics problems to solve, using abstract symbols i.e. star + snowflake = raindrop, etc.

Another group were given dynamic moving images, personalised, that had three dimensions, and moved across the screen, when they banged into each other, they morphed into something else - visually far more exciting, and one would think, a priori, that this would be easier to learn from.

it wasn't.

Students who had the more conceptual material learned it faster.

This seems to be more information along the line of what I posted about previously - our intuition as teachers as to what works may actually be way off the mark, what is needed is evidentially based practice, just as doctors try to practice evidence based medicine.

How would this alter the way we teach a language? We are dealing with conceptual material, in many respects analogous to mathematics, and often we want to 'spice it up' to make it 'easier' to learn. Perhaps we are in fact doing the exact opposite, and making the material harder to grasp when we do this?


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Comment by Laura Gibbs on July 29, 2007 at 10:25pm
Hi Evan, my sense with languages, and with most learning that involves basic skills acquistion, is that students need activities that are not too hard, but not too easy, with LOTS of IMMEDIATE (instant!) FEEDBACK about successful performance.

This is much easier to do online... in the classroom, I always found that students were at such different levels that it was hard to keep everybody engaged, giving appropriate feedback to everybody in class, when the range of student skills was simply huge.

That's why I am so optimistic about providing language materials online. Students learn in lots of different ways, but if they can work at their own pace with lots of FEEDBACK (so so so so important - clear, immediate feedback) about how they are doing, they can choose the materials and methods that work best for them.

Student choice is at a minimum in the classroom, but online we can learn using the materials that do work best for us. There are so many ways to approach learning a language, and I'm all for letting students choose the way that motivates them to dedicate the most time, so that they can make the most progress towards their goals.

When I did my Biblical Greek course online, there were hundreds of different quizzes, using various quizzing approaches, and I felt like that constant stress on practice and feedback helped people do so much better than in any classroom setting I had taught in.

Comment by Latinum Institute on July 30, 2007 at 5:46am
Hi Laura,
I agree with you, the classroom is not necessarily the ideal place to teach - especially if the students are differentiated in ability level. Even if it is simple information delivery, this can be more effectively delivered by recording the lecture, as students can listen to you over and over, which is useful when they need to remember factual information. For my Judaism theology class, I have an extensive website www.gcsejewish.org with lots of textual information, and also concept maps - but my students made it abundantly clear that they preferred to listen to me, so I recorded my lessons as poscast episodes. That was how I got 'into' podcasting - when I realised that I could get hours of attention from my students out of lesson time, as they actually wanted to listen to the lessons while they were doing other things, or during 'in between' time, such as travelling to school, etc.

My delivery in the classroom changed as a result as well, as I knew - and the students knew - that they could listen to me online. I was then able to do more 'entertaining' things in the classroom setting, which had the knock on effect of making the students happier. Time constraints to get the lesson material delivered in the classroom setting are effectively removed by podcasting.

I asked the students to email me with questions, which I said I would answer with a recorded episode, and I had a couple of such questions, which resulted in new episodes on the class podcast. I also discussed the lessons in class, and the student feedback was useful.

My students this year were in better command of their subject than any I've had previously, so I am convinced that for today's text-averse generation, for certain types of information delivery, aural material is the way forward. During the whole year, they hardly opened their textbooks, either, unless specifically directed to....but all of them listened to the class podcasts without direct prompting, they were simply informed that the podcast existed, and they could use it if they wanted to as an adjunct to their studies.

Your route for generating active student feedback seems to have been a good one - as feedback is important. This is where online material can interact with the classroom setting very effectively. I think the key, as you put it, is student choice - opening up many routes into the material, and letting the students decide which routes work best for them.

I also prefer online resources, as they reduce the amount of paper I have to give the students, and time I have to spend making copies.....and the time the students have to spend writing things down is also reduced. My ideal would be a paperless classroom.


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