Image via WikipediaOver the next couple of days I am at the Institute for Diversity in Learning and Teaching at Humboldt State University. This is an incredible resource. They are offering this free and in this time of some pretty savage budget cuts, this is a great opportunity. The opening keynote was Dr. Ken Bain who talked about the question "What Do the Best College Teachers Do to Foster Deep Learning?" Ironically, he could not make it out to Humboldt and was on live via teleconference link which is what we should be doing more of anyway. Bain distinguishes the "surface learner" from the "strategic learner" and the "deep learner." The surface and strategic learners are those who have basically figured out how to get by. They meet the requirements of the course without gaining any understanding of the subject matter. It is a really fascinating phenomena that he backs up with research into how physics students understand motion. It seems that most students have a decidedly Aristotelian approach in their understanding of physics - the problem with that is that it is absolutely wrong. Students are quizzed before and after their physics classes and they are shown to basically take the new information and wrap it around the old understanding of how motion works. In other words, they take the new information, combine it with the old world-view, and come up with the wrong idea about how things move. The classes that they took did not ask them to change the way they looked at the world. They could take these classes and not change a thousands year-old vision of how the universe works. It is really frightening.
According to Bain, deep learning only occurs when students are confronted with questions that are important, intriguing, or beautiful. There has to be some direct, personal application to the new information.
The students have been creating models about the world based on sensory input since they were born. Students have to construct a new reality based on new input. Teaching has to be more than passing multiple choice tests, competition, high stakes testing, and hierarchical learning in order to change these world views. Students can pass these tests with an "A" and still not make a shift in their basic understanding of the world.
Bain asks that courses be framed around essential questions that change a student's world-view.