"Learning is about not making the same mistake twice; it's about making new and better mistakes"
I've spent the past 15 years teaching a new class each semester (I've taught dozens of different biology classes) and taking on a variety of new projects. So I'm used to making lots of mistakes. I have learned to be patient with myself and focus on the lifelong learning that comes with new challenges.
As a result of my experiences, I have learned to build classes that focus on information literacy (how to find accurate answers to questions) rather than memorization of facts. This is an especially important skill in science classes because our understanding of health and environmental factors is always expanding. This is especially challenging in science classes because students expect science to have "The Answer".
One of the main misunderstandings people have about science is that science is about finding facts. While that's important; asking good questions is more important. So, when we discover that chocolate helps with certain health aspects but then learn it also causes problems with other health aspects; that is the process of learning new things. The problem is that these nuanced findings are often summarized as "chocolate will save your life" and then "chocolate is killing you". People are rightfully confused by these black-and-white oversimplifications. This can lead to the misconception that we don't actually know anything at all. A better way to present scientific information is as a nucleus of "knowns" surrounded by an electron cloud of "questions". The knowns are not newsworthy - but the hints at answers to our questions are.
Let me explain with a Gif from Giphy. com. This was really fun to build and took way more time than it should have :)
Similarly, one of the main challenges with training scientists is to teach them to become comfortable with mistakes. If we don't teach this to our undergrads, they will have a very quick and painful lesson in their first true research experience. We can do this by designing labs and activities that are open-ended with no single "right" answer. [Although, there are incorrect answers!]
"If you understand what you are doing, you aren't learning anything."
I put this quote in my class materials as a way to remind students that it's OK to be confused and to make mistakes. In fact, I encourage it!
Also, I'd like to recommend two GREAT books about how science works. These are both by Stuart Firestein.These are both short books that are quick reads.
"Failure: Why Science is so Successful" explains why mistakes are essential for good science. If I were to teach Biology Majors classes again, I would include this in the curriculum. This book is a great way to prepare students for labs that require critical thinking and problem solving.
"Ignorance: How it Drives Science" explains that science is all about the questions at the edges of our knowledge rather than the knowledge we already have (that's old hat). I use this book with my General Education classes as a way to set the tone for the semester. This is a great way to start a GE biology class because it eases some of the fears about the class and shakes students out of their expectations of a class that is going to be all about memorizing facts.
With scientific knowledge expanding at light-speed, the most important skill we can teach our students is how to ask good questions and find reliable answers from quality sources. And, in a changing world, the most important value we can instill in the future generation is fearlessness in learning new things.
Week 3 of the Reflective Writing Club #CCCWrite brings me to one of my favorite topics - Digital technologies!
I have always loved learning, I was just never very good at it. I spent hours more on homework than most other people in my classes. I figured I just learned more slowly than most, but I got there with a bit extra work. When I started taking online classes I realized that I learn much better online. It was an amazing experience to find a learning modality that fit my learning style so perfectly.
That experience changed the entire trajectory of my career. Before, I was focused on teaching biology. The, I began looking much more closely at how we can use the free resources available online to help students learn complex topics. I am currently focused on how we can most effectively use these resources to build engaging online courses. This is actually why I started this website. I was looking for resources to share with students and was finding that there are many more than I can evaluate. I've been keeping track of the resources here with the hope that, as a community, we can develop a list of the best resources for our classes.
Below is a video summarizing how digital technologies have changed how I think about learning. I built this using two tools. ClipChamp was used to edit the recording from my camera. I didn't include this tool in video page of the website because it was just too limited to be helpful. The other tool is Screen-cast-O-matic. I used this to build the final video. It was easy and did everything I needed.
Week 2 of @ONE's Reflective Writing Club #CCCWrite. The prompt: Conferencing
When I first started teaching, I attended a lot of conferences (any I could find). I wanted to learn everything! One of the best conferences I attended was for High School teachers. I wasn't a HS teacher, so I have no idea how I found the conference. But, it was amazing. As a newly graduated researcher in plant genomics, I was not terribly well trained in teaching strategies. This was eye opening and informed my teaching for many years.
About 7 years ago, life got too busy for me to attend any conferences. So, for many years I only attended web based conferences. I have to admit I was quite content with that. I'm a strong introvert so being around people is tiring. I'm also a slow processor; so I prefer to learn information in a quite place where I can think without distraction. Webinars are perfect for that and I LOVE them. In fact, I attend about a webinar a week (sometimes more) from a variety of different places. They are a great way to spend my lunch break!
As my job has shifted, I've begun going to more conferences. The pendulum has swung fully the other direction and I'm attending about a conference a month right now. The one that was my favorite recently was Open Ed last summer. I got to meet some really great, amazing people. I am still inspired by many of those that I met there. It was also a great place to hang around "my people". There are many of us working on Open Educational Resources (OER) but very few in my area. So, it was great to meet others with similar interests and was an amazing experience.
What I take back with me from these conferences is some inspiration and a feeling of connection to a global community. But, I also take that away from web-based conferences. One of my very favorite experiences was at a webinar put on by Cable Green from Creative Commons. There were people on this conference call from all 6 continents! We were all brainstorming ideas on how to develop events promoting Openess. It was productive, energizing and just plain magical. I have never felt more connected to the global community than during that one hour webinar.
Below is a summary of my feelings on conferences using the animation tool: Animatron.
This site began as a way to keep track of the online tools I've been finding to help students learn. As I was searching for tools, I realized that I couldn't evaluate all of them. I am guessing many instructors are in a similar position - knowing there are great online tools but not necessarily knowing where to find them all. So, I built this site with the hope of giving us all a place to share and discuss various online learning tools.
I wished I had more time to evaluate these resources; and the universe delivered. Well, it didn't deliver more time exactly...I am beginning a 6 week Reflective Writing Club through @ONE - the Online Network of Educators.
Our first writing prompt is to reflect on what we know now that we wish we knew 10 years ago. For me, the answer is to take better care of myself both mentally and physically. I work a lot and other things tend to get put off until "later". When I get on the computer, hours pass without me realizing it. What I needed is a tool to remind me to stretch at regular intervals.
Although, since I'm still working on this skill, it's not so much "something I know now that I wish I had known then" and more "something I will have known then that I wish I knew now".