I just did a quick literature search on Google scholar for the word ‘twitter’. It seem that this medium is a relatively unexplored area in the realms of psychology. Tap in ‘twitter education’ and you get plenty about education, but nothing about twitter. One researcher has worked out that twitter gives foreign people an opportunity to practise genuine English conversation, but that was about as interesting as it got.
My project supervisor has mentioned once or twice the idea that an entire lecture slide could be fit into one tweet. The field of cognitive psychology teaches us that the semantic (meaning based) level of learning is by far the best way to learn something, if you actually want to remember it, and so the process of analysis and condensing that information down into such a small string will surely help somebody.
But we don’t merely learn from the type of rehearsal that is merely the robotic re-reading or repetition of someone else’s notes. In short, the person who should be tweeting, is YOU!
Picture a lecture where parallel to the slides (or better still, instead of the slides) is a tweet board. Student’s are invited to bring their iPads, Androids or Windowses and tweet back their semantic interpretation of what is being taught. Picture a lecture who examines the tweets during the break, and uses them to stimulate a discussion during the second half of the lecture.
Picture a class being given a hash tag on the morning of the exam, where they can tweet to each other their revision, so they are effectively teaching one another the content, and comparing their understanding with one another. Picture them asking their questions, and answering each others questions, literally quizzing each other.
The equipment is set up now, the costs for such a thing are nothing. I’m not a teacher yet, but I would be very excited to see this in motion one day.
Have a read of the link below too, I read this a few years back and thought nothing of it. But it is an example of it already having been done during a Latter-day Saint general conference a few years back.
Here are two videos that I came across, which demonstrate some of the problems education is undergoing today:
So we have this problem, that many more students are coming into higher education, and the face of higher education is changing such that students don’t have to work as hard and resultantly aren’t actually acquiring the skills that we anecdotally believe emerge with a degree.
So, I think the best question we can ask, is what can be done?
In our recent introductory seminar, we were given a list of 25 different cognitive principles that guide learning. Idea’s such as the testing effect, that using multiple tests is better for memory than a single test. Or desirable difficulties, an invaluable principle that says we learn from being stretched, not molly-coddled. This idea of desirable difficulties I especially like, because the same principles applies to exercise. If we don’t strengthen our muscles through pushing them to breaking point, they will never get stronger.
What will these interventions do? Will they boost remembering? Or learning? Or is there a clever balance between both?
I am becoming a big believer in the idea, that if a computer can do it, it shouldn’t be a part of higher ed. So to me, simply storing information in our brains ought not be the point of coming to university. As I pondered over what learning really means, I formed these four categories:
- Novel thought/talent
While its moral orientation is questionable, the British empire’s strength came from individuals who used some intuition to go out and do something. Without needing to phone home. Without bureaucracy and regulation. People were trusted to go out and better the empires situation. At least from England’s perspective.
One of the challenges we face is simply making our graduates useful to employers. I believe the principles of Imperialism apply to this situation. University needs to teach people to thrive in industry, regardless of what that industry is.
I was in an ethics lecture a few weeks back, and it tore me apart to see people by-and-large answering questions of what constitutes ethical conduct based on words the university had put into their mouths over the last 18 months. I shook the boat by saying I considered it foolish to give a person a 3 page consent form for an fMRI scan, because noone will likely read all of the information, and therefore it doesn’t fulfil it’s purpose. I truly believe that there would be a better way to obtain informed consent.
We need to develop a system that breeds enthusiasm to bettering the given field of work, knowledge of how that field works, the ability to competently do and fulfil the roles of that field, and those will be the foundation of novel thought.
The idea of taking some time out from the things that you have to do, to do intellectual things you might like to do. Google call it 20% time, Stephen R. Covey called it ‘sharpening the saw’. But whatever title you might give it, it’s a habit seldom practiced these days.
Education now-a-days is often a practice of seeing what is the highest mark one can get from the least amount of work, getting maximum value from what you put in. Scrimping and saving is, in some scenarios a very noble thing to do. But putting in a little more, whether it be in wise purchasing, or the accomplishment of a degree, can go a long way.
Let us pause for a second to read from some anecdotal evidence:
Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to cut down a tree.
“What are you doing?” you ask.
“Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”
“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”
“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”
“Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”
“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”
The 7 habits of highly effective people, Stephen R. Covey
Now, think about the great discoveries that have been made over the many generations in psychology. Think about Freud, Watson, Ebbinghaus and Titchener. You’ll notice that some of these names studied along side the others, or were tutored by them. And it wasn’t in the completing of essays, or the reading of long documents to satisfy assignments that the new discoveries were made. It was in working in the lab, experimenting, contemplating and trying things out. You could even call it ‘playing’.
Think now about today. Is it a drag, knowing you have these essays to do, or that revision to do before you can rest, party, never think about it again, or what have you? Is that a pleasurable experience? What about the personal statements we all had to produce where we had to show passion and excitement for our subjects? Do you feel that now? Do you think Watson felt that way?
Maybe sometimes, but by and large, I don’t think he did. Next thing to think about. How unexciting is reading research papers and lab reports? Twenty pages of bumf that you need to get through for one little bit that you can use as a reference. It is devastatingly boring. What if I asked you to go on Google Scholar, and find a paper of your choosing to read? For no particular reason, other than just ‘cos? What would you choose? Do you think you’d enjoy reading that? And, how well do you think you would remember it?
I’ll bet you could even describe with detail what you have read, and what it means! Why? Because you are sharpening the saw!
I have greatly enjoyed reading some papers, and blog entries from different academic’s, because they are about matters that genuinely interest me. And I know all about the things I have read. I’m sincerely hoping I’ll be about to do my dissertation on that topic next year. I also enjoy writing my blog, about the things that interest me.
And I believe that this is how best to learn the skills of analysis and novel thought. That is what useful talents are made of. Real cutting edge research, truly spectacular solutions to life’s challenges. That is what education is really about, and when you have hit that nail, you should be able to feel it. You don’t have to have a doctorate or a professorship to do the exciting stuff. Heck, you don’t even need to be enrolled in anything. It’s actually quite devastating that we live in this world where you have to have ‘Dr’ by your name for anyone to listen to you.
Last night, I watched an old childhood favourite: Disney’s ‘The Sword in the Stone’. Apart from quite distinctly remembering a set of rather creepy looking animals and instruments, watching it as an adult seemed to teach me a whole new set of lessons.
If you’re not familiar with the film, Young Arthur is destined for the throne of England, however in preparing him for it, Merlin desires to give him a proper education. Merlin, the wizard, takes him on many adventures, transforming him into different animals and letting him experience for himself lessons that teach real wisdom.
When Merlin transforms Arthur into a fish, Arthur marvels, exclaiming that he has become a fish. Merlin points out that he is not a fish, he merely looks like one, and that he needs to learn to think and do like a fish. So off they go into the mote, when suddenly they meet the big, hungry pike. What is Merlins advice?
“Use your head!”
And sure enough, in the moment, Arthur the fish swims away, and soon finds the arrow on the water-bed which he uses to trap the pikes mouth open and impained.
In a later occurrence when Merlin has transformed Arthur into a squirrel, he is again faced with new challenges, that of meeting a female squirrel who is drastically in love with him, and a wolf, who would love him to constitute tomorrows poop. While Merlin ends up dealing with the middle aged and clingy ‘buddy’ who has found him, Arthur is left to run, jump, and try to deal with both his new found friend, and the wolf below, and he very often comes within inches of his life.
Merlin teaches true wisdom. He will never tell Arthur the answers. He merely puts Arthur in the situation to learn the answers, by his own experiences. He puts Arthur in the real world, where it’s not fair and it is dangerous. But Arthur is a good learner, and very effectively advances from being dependant on Merlin to forming novel solutions on his own.
Arthur is someone special. From the very start he is keen to help his brother Kaye, he runs in to the dangerous forest to fetch the arrow, he longs to be Kaye’s squire at the tournament. He loves taking chances, he thinks using his head and he never becomes disheartened through the degrading treatment he receives from his adopted family. While all around him are just happy to keep within their traditions, living in the castle, eating fine banquets, and measuring success with the sword or the lance, Arthur comes to learn about the real world, and takes on discoveries that will aid him in making wise decisions.
To sum it up, let me share these words from the song sung my Merlin as they swim around the mote, as I think they particularly demonstrate the principles in this film:
You must set your sights upon the heights
Don’t be a mediocrity
Don’t just wait and trust to fate
And say, that’s how it’s meant to be
It’s up to you how far you go
If you don’t try you’ll never know
And so my lad as I’ve explained
Nothing ventured, nothing gained
You see my boy it’s nature’s way
Upon the weak the strong ones prey
The human life it’s also true
The strong will try to conquer you
That is what you must expect
Unless you use your intellect
Brains and brawn, weak and strong
That’s what makes the world go round
The Sword in the Stone, Disney, 1963