Weekly Writing 2 – Lori Sowa
Reflecting on a particularly good learning experience — I come up with not one particular instance, but a few categories of experiences that have stuck with me and made lasting impressions. First, I remember everything I physically constructed during school — wood shop and metal shop projects, science fair experiments, and even the interactive poster I created for a Shakespeare class in high school (I don’t recall the content of the poster as much as the clever little doors that would open and shut to display quotes). Second, I remember a number of specific quotes from instructors at the graduate school level: to design a remediation system, you must understand the physical, chemical, and biological nature of the contaminant and the environment in which it resides so that you can exploit those properties to remove it from the system; computer programs should never be a black box: you must understand how the software is built so you can correctly interpret the results; and if you are trying a new teaching method, let your students know what you are doing, and why. I think the common thread is that each was a guiding principle that I could apply to future situations I would likely encounter. The third learning experience that I remember involves my 6th grade math teacher, who had low blood sugar and carried M&Ms in her pocket in case she got light-headed while working problems on the overhead projector (the one with the crank and roller on the side). This last experience was not direct instruction of course, but changed my view of the world by making me see my teacher as a “real person’ — someone who was not immortal and all-knowing, but human and doing her best to help us learn.
My question is this: are these learning experiences powerful to me because of the deliberate pedagogy used, or because of my own individual learning style? I’m sure it is a combination of both.
Coming from an engineering background, I have only recently explored the field of educational psychology. I’ve read a bit about behaviorist, cognitive, and constructivist theories of learning, always wanting more examples than I am given. My guess is that those reading this piece with a solid background in the educational field will likely categorize me as a constructivist, and that is certainly the learning theory that resonates most with me. Although the meaningful learning experiences involving physical construction are not what is specifically intended in “construct’-ivism, they are prime examples of active learning experiences which fall directly into this learning theory. The guiding principles that stand out in my mind as significant learning experiences were meaningful because they allowed me to contextualize what I had learned, and thus provided a roadmap to apply them to real world problems. My third significant learning experience can be summed up as an awareness that my teacher was trying her best to help us learn — that teaching and learning were complimentary activities. This provided an early glimpse into metacognition, an essential part of the cognitive theory.
I look forward to continuing my study of educational theories so that I can be more deliberate in the inclusion of various methods in my teaching and more understanding of student needs. I see relevant applications in each of the three foundational theories; however, I am struggling a bit with the idea of connectivism. I agree that learners need to know how to access and evaluate information, and that is a learned skill, but I can’t get past the idea that Ally (2008) puts forth that “…we do not have control over what we learn since others in the network continually change information, and that requires new learning, unlearning old information, and/or learning current information’ (p. 34). How can it be that we don’t have control? Doesn’t access to an ever larger pool of information give us more complete control?
Ally, M. (2008). Foundations of educational theory for online learning. In Anderson, T., & Elloumi, F. (Eds.). The theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed.) (pp. 15—44). Athabasca, AB, Canada: Athabasca University.