Last week, a reading referenced George Kuh’s idea of experiential learning. Where learning can mean something more than just memorization; instead, learning is like an adventure. A common thread between this description of learning and the examples presented in A New Culture of Learning, is the idea that learning should be more holistic. It shouldn’t just stop at simply learning facts by rote and regurgitating them back at a teacher.
There is discussion on shifting away from lecture, and instead, focusing on creating an environment where students are free to explore and interact on their own to learn. I believe that when the initiative to explore (and learn) is given to the students, they become more engaged and in turn, more invested in what they are experiencing. When it works, this is a powerful technique to teach students, not only information, but the process in which they obtain it.
In this environment, failure is not only encouraged, but it is required to explore the boundaries and constraints of the environment students are placed in. The ability to reiterate and experiment without the fear of failure is natural learning at its finest. And it is through that failure where students begin to innovate.
But that’s the trick, how do we make it work? In certain contexts, it is clear that this form of teaching is better for students. You can tell people what happened in the past, or you can design scenarios where students live through it themselves. However again, I’m thinking about how this connects back to teaching mathematics. Can we create that environment of exploration when it comes to higher level mathematics?
I took MATH 3114, Linear Algebra, with Professor Wawro my first year at Tech. Professor Wawro does research in Math Education, so unsurprisingly, her class was not a typical. She set up the topic of diagonalization in a way where we almost “stumbled” upon it by our own exploration. We were presented with a problem before us, and through the process of solving it, we unknowingly described the technique for the change-of-basis matrix. Looking back, this was really the only example of “exploration” in teaching mathematics that I have experienced.
Now, I think it is important to see the strengths of lecturing as a technique as well. I was very glad to see this article about someone who, while not a full proponent of lectures, still finds lectures helpful in certain ways. I really appreciate someone acknowledging both sides to the argument. I’m not sure about fully replacing current techniques with these new ideas, but rather, to use new techniques to support the classic techniques that we use.
Perhaps because I’m so focused on thinking about how to teach mathematics that I, myself, am missing that bigger picture, the holistic framework of learning.
My final thought is on the connection between video games and learning. Reading about learning theories in video games brings reminds me of a youtube channel I stumbled upon two years ago called Extra Credits. Among other game-related topics, they created videos discussing games in education. Some topics include gamification of education, agency in education, and also include some small case studies. While their videos aren’t necessarily deep, they are an interesting watch for those who have dabbled in video games in the past.