Refection of a seminar titled What Students Need to Know about Learning (and Why They Won’t Believe Us)

I recently attended UNH Webinar: Empower Students for Academic Success II and learned a great deal from Dr. Stephen Chew, who is a Professor of Psychology at the Samford University. In his talk, he shared some common pitfalls and choke points in learning. He also shared what could be done to address these common concerns which could serve as guidelines when I design my courses going forward.

title of the slide: pitfalls in learning
in the center of the graph, is a flow-chart starting from learning material, then points to Senses, then points to Sensory Memory, then points to Attention, followed by Working Memory, followed by Long-term Memory. Around the flow charts are bubbles that contain choke point and pitfall at different stages of the flow chart.

I find it very challenging to persuade students today that multitasking is not gonna work, and distractions such as listening to music or checking your phone while studying won’t help you learn. Many of them claim they study better when they are listening to a particular type of music. I wonder whether there is any study out there focusing on why students hold this belief.

Another point that Dr. Chew raised is people are often overconfident when judging their level of understanding: often I have students approach me feeling frustrated because they didn’t perform well for math tests. They believe they have mastered the topics since they understand the examples covered in class, and are able to follow examples from the textbook. They are able to solve homework problems, even mock test questions. It must be the test! What they didn’t realize is for all the activities they mentioned, those are not assessments, but rather practice opportunities for them to gauge how well they learned. However, we don’t teach our students self-assessment skills so they have wrong beliefs about how good they are. Many of them miss an important difference between the tests they take and the practices they work on: it takes test-taking skills besides knowledge expertise to excel such as reading a question carefully, interpreting a question correctly and being able to present solutions properly in a limited time.

I know there are many debates over how valid a timed-test is to measure students’ learning, and I try to incorporate ungrading ideas in my courses to address those issues. But for many common entry-level courses, timed-tests are still the norm for assessments. It’s our responsibility to offer them continuous feedback about their learning, and teach them how to assess themselves (and sometimes others) to minimize the frustration felt by so many.