What is Higher Order Thinking?

Highlighted articles. Text courtesy of Sargolini et al., 2006.

Highlighted articles. Text courtesy of Sargolini et al., 2006.

I was working on my masters thesis today, and I started to think fundamentally about what my brain is doing as I work on an academic project like this. Like many other students undertaking academic writing for the first time, I have found it quite hard at various points. Sitting with a journal article in front of me, or having a blank document on the computer screen can be daunting.

I have found the best solution to be to break everything down in to small pieces. If I don’t know what I’m looking for in a journal article, I begin by just highlighting different bits of key information, such as areas of the brain, or the rationale for the study. Instead of viewing the project as a linear entity that I just need to get on and do, I look only as far as the first step that will open more doors for me.

When I view it this way, I begin to realize that academic work is really just making lots of small decisions. Each decision requires me to take what I know, and decide how it relates to something else. This process is a microcosm of thousands of such decisions that will be made between the start and end of a project. For me, thinking about it this way builds my confidence and makes my work more achievable.

When I tell people I’m doing a masters degree in cognitive neuroscience, I often get replies such as ‘I’d rather you than me…’ or ‘I’m too stupid to do anything like that…’ My message here is that this need not be the case. Achieving in university need not be something just for the ‘smart’. All that I do at university is practice decision making in such a way that I produce scientific research. I suppose somewhere along the way I also memorize some stuff, but that is really just a natural bi-product as I learn this new way of thinking.

The point I want to make about this is that anybody can do it! I’m not saying it will happen at the click of a finger, but I am saying almost anyone can do this with the right mentoring and practice. This, however, is what separates higher education from regular learning and work. There’s lots of very straight forward jobs out there where we know exactly the what, when and how. That’s fine; there are plenty of jobs that need doing, which are highly valuable (or ought to be), but that don’t take much higher order thought. But there’s plenty of complex problems to solve too, which can be addressed by a higher level process of thought. I hope when we view higher education in this way, it can become more graspable. Rather than a scary and mysterious realm of perpetually hard work, a place for the mind to be excercised.

Blogging University


I’ve found that in the realm of student centered learning, a lot of people are concerned about learner a missing out on important concepts.This is something that would need to be overcome, especially in applied topics such as nursing.

Considering that with respect to the social media tools and their use within education, I’ve been looking at how we could get more out of blogging as a pedagogical tool. I think the use of blogs and Wiki’s are great, but because they are the unmeasured autonomous component they are often swept away, even though they make the best learning experience.

What if the teachers could integrate blogging in a way conceptually similar to googles 20% time? What if a fifth of your grade could be pass/fail marked over blogging assignments. When you need to know about models of memory consolidation, why not expect a student to spend three hours researching and producing a simple blog post explaining it?

You could have students publishing to their blogs or wikis daily, and some blog topics might be specified while others are free choice. The teacher can then guide students through important concepts, have a good measure of real understanding and the students can benefit from autonomous, empowered, intrinsically motivated learning habits.

It would connect learners for networked learning, and it would add both variety and rigor, which are both essential for beneficial, lasting learning. Realistically, what are the reasons that we aren’t trying this?

First Day Back

I’ve found myself at the computer in the short period before my first class of my third year, and I’m wondering what would be the best use of my time.

As I look back over my previous blog posts this year, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on what went well, and what didn’t go so well.

The second year psychology syllabus is considered the hardest year of the three, because it contains a lot of content which is required to meet the British Psychological Society specifications. And I struggled with a lot of parts of it. Since in my own dissertation project group our paradigm assumed that large amounts of memorisation does not constitute proper learning. I think a few of the things I have written my have carried that frustration.

But now we have a fresh start, and I’m looking forward to studying some specialised modules this year which utilise new teaching methods. We’re also excited to see our social media in learning research take off. My goal this year is to score a first class degree, something I believe is attainable. I’m intending to achieve this through putting in the time to study, but also ensuring that the work I do is not wasted effort. I believe part of this will be worked through introduction of Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) (Jarche, 2013). I will be using twitter, wordpress and evernote to channel, record and index my thoughts, and to engage in the online discussion. Surely I also need to be wise in how I work to the grading criteria that has been set, but all this I hope will be quickened though reflective and synthesising pieces contained on my blog.

Oh My Gosh: My Essay Was Boring!

The grades from my project proposal came back, and they we’re well, but less than what I had hoped for.

The feedback I received was that the essay was thickly written and difficult reading. I just compared my essay with one of a fellow student and I can see the difference. After a page of my own, I was gazing at the screen howling ‘this is boring!’

Which makes me ask the question: what broke?

I am a perfectionist. I am a deep analytical thinker. That gives me a wealth of conscientiousness and attention to detail, but it creates unnecessary hoops to jump when it comes to writing.

As I recall, my strategy with this essay was to spend the lions share of my time reading research papers – having the goal of one per day. And perhaps missing the forest for the trees, the operation of connecting them with a musical flow was foregone.

I like to believe that we live in a world where everything can be done exactly right. That I can do all my course reading quickly but detailed, and that I can be the expert of all the related literature before I plan my essays. But more and more I am being forced to accept that part of the academic technique is being smart with the time and material I have.

It look’s like it really is no good compelling oneself to read deeply through papers in an order of topics. Is the better way then to brainstorm out the ideas that bounce around easily? With a simple end in mind and find papers to fit?

It’s always an academic challenge matching the existing available research base with your hypothesis, and it looks like a purely bottom up ideal isn’t the solution either.

Achim’s razor, commonly called the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) clearly applies here.

A 2:1 in..?

I got my grades back from this year, and I’m very interested to look not at the scores, but at the standard deviation of those scores. Out of 100 percent, 3.279 is a very narrow variance, which would show that my weighted mean is a fair representation of my scores.
Grade Analysis

Blue: Subjects where I scores 63 & 64%
Green: The most fantastic module where we made giant posters and presented them in a poster conference, then had online discussions about the content of said posters, which was graded. Followed by a multiple choice exam.
Orange: A coursework assignment, followed by a final exam, with multiple choice questions and short essay questions.
Yellow: Completely unimaginative final exam, with multiple choice questions and short essay questions.

And it falls into the 2:1 classification category. Good.

This summer, 70% of students across the nation (and my sister is one of them) will graduate with a 2:1 degree or higher. Those who don’t will either be sent to an old poly to do a masters degree, or to do a PGCE, or to work in the HR department at Tesco. Because we’ve created a stigma to go along with our degree classifications, that if you don’t get your 2:1 you’ve basically failed, the universities are doing everything they can to ensure that the 70% statistic holds.

My solid 65.25% could mean that the grading system is an accurate measure, confirmed by test-retest reliability across time. But what exactly is 62.25% is a score of? Recall? How much of a neuro-psychologist I am? Or a developmental psychologist I am? Or a psycholinguist? Or a researcher? Or a computer scientist?

Wait?! Computer scientist? That has very little to do with psychology. Yet my different modules are also quite unrelated to one another, they talk about different paradigms, different topics, different research methods, some more exciting, some less. Yet even so, my grades are reliably steady. I reckon I could get a 2:1 in absolutely anything. I believe in me!

That’s why I’ve used colour coding in the table above, to try connect the different teaching methods and spot trends in the data. And again, there’s a very random spread among the different levels of the independent variable. For the ‘coursework and typical final exam’ subjects, I got 70%, with subsequent scores regressing to the mean, and for the very ordinary ‘typical exam’ subjects I got my lowest score, as well as one in line with the mean. Most interestingly, the subject which I enjoyed the most, Personality and Individual Differences* was right on the mode average and just one percent above the median. Also very interesting is that the two research methods modules, (RMIII & RMIV), both measured identically, scored a time consistent 60%, despite me thinking I was improving.

This tells us that these results do not conclusively argue for the class results being an accurate measure merely of memory under exam conditions. However they could argue that the system is designed to produce lots and lots of 2:1’s, since across a whole array of different subjects, teaching methods and assessment methods, the results are steady.

I don’t think that the current system allows for the genuine expression of student’s novel thought and intellectual talents at undergraduate level. There’s enough hoop jumping and invalid measures to ensure that students who are at least obedient will get their ordinary degree, without demonstrating much beyond content memorisation.

*Personality and Individual Differences was assessed very uniquely, with class groups making posters, and then subsequent graded online discussion using social media.

Science of Education

Further to what I posted last week about the idea of using twitter as a means of social learning; that is recording notes, seeing other peoples’ perspectives and creating discussion, my project supervisor introduced me to Storfiy.com, which can take all the tweets of a given hash tag and put them into chronoligical order. I tried it in said supervisors science of education lecture, and this was the output.
  1. @jm60 Tweeting Jesse Martins one and only education lecture under #jm60
  2. It’s fun for me, since you guys get to do all the work. #jm60
  3. Anybody who is satisfied with their teaching has low expectations #jm60
  4. Start pending on the guy who needs to press record. #jm60
  5. Education today, I give you the information, then you give it back to me in your own words with a little bit more… #jm60
  6. It doesn’t matter since you’re going to cram anyway #jm60
  7. Evidence tells us it doesn’t Foster engagement. Plus, it’s boring #jm60
  8. I empower you to go and find what you want to find. #jm60
  9. Once upon a time, school is where the information was #jm60
  10. In the last 15 years we have moved from information scarcity to information abundance. #jm60
  11. You have it all on your iPhone, so why do we keep on lecturing? #jm60
  12. understanding is not transmitted, only information. #jm60
  13. Information is that tomato is a fruit. Understanding is that you don’t put it in a fruit salad. #jm60
  14. Universities haven’t adapted to there being too much information to cover. #jm60
  15. Children stop asking why after they enter formal education. How terrible to quash that curiosity? #jm60
  16. Asked students to produce a mock election of their own #jm60
  17. 90 kids dressed up and did it. The teacher didn’t need to do anything #jm60
  18. Ask them and take the time to listen. Extraordinary #jm60
  19. Must allow kids to fail as part of the learning process #jm60
  20. Spend an hour talking about the learning process. Key word: create #jm60
  21. Ill walk off some place and do something inappropriate and you’ll have it on camera. #IfItComesOutYourMouthItsGame #jm60

Am I studying Psychology or Information

Okay, this is a question that I have: is the practise of trying to intensely internalise lots of information really going to make me into a psychologist?

And let me present another situation too: we’re all told that to pass an exam with a first, it is important to do extra reading, show novel thought and all the rest of it. Then we’re typically given 5x two hour lectures with power-point notes representing 200 pages of book which, if I understand rightly, I am to read and fully understand and be able to recall so as to be able to answer the test questions.

I do not believe that reading large amounts is an effective way to really be the master of this knowledge. I suppose when it comes to learning for exams, I think of what my father, and others have taught me, which is to make many notes from what I read and hear during my study, from which I can revise then through means such as flash cards, testing myself, simply re-reading or hand copying down notes and so forth. That to me makes the difference between studying and mere reading.

When I get down into the process of studying, which I try to do by taking the lecture slides, the course literature and my iPad for note taking, and seek to read, compare the slides with the literature and then write down in my own words what is being taught, it turns the study process into something drastically longer, and given that I have never yet completed this activity in the way I’d have hoped to, the time, and the ability to remain focused in a manor that is generally fruitful for learning doesn’t seem to be there.

I believe that things are best learned when put into practise. As an I.T. enthusiast, I have learnt to program through practise using books and guides, which had lead me to know how to program web pages, fix computers and enjoy research methods (stats). I became a fluent German speaker in the small space of 1 year through the study of a textbook, but then the putting it into practise, living in that country. And for that reason, I aren’t thoroughly convinced this is the best way to actually learn the subject at hand.

Clearly something in it works, because classes are essentially taught the same way all over the world, and have been taught that way even since my parents did their degrees. But I don’t think these modules are making psychologists, they are assessing who is good at regurgitating information under test conditions.

You could say these exams aren’t valid. Do they measure what they claim to measure? What do they claim to measure? Competence in handling matters related to developmental psychology? To some extent I’d say probably, yes.

But I believe if I were to take a more hands on approach, by participating in research straight off, seeing more replications of research, instead of being given a block of text, and immersing myself in it, like I did with German and programming, I would become a psychologist, and not the walking Wikipedia.

I’m sure that’s rich of me, a mere undergrad, to be calling change in the way education is carried out, but I believe there is much capacity for improvement, and I would like to find out how it could be done.

Comments, both positive and negative are gladly welcomed!