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HOW USEFUL IS THE SCIENCE OF LEARNING?

Organizing Fellows: Al Rudnitsky (Education and Child Study) & Glenn Ellis (Engineering)

"This is a new kind of science, with the goal of providing a sound scientific foundation for all education." —R.Keith Sawyer, The New Science of Learning

Is teaching an art or a science? Over the past decade, the "science of learning" has emerged as an area of growing importance in the field of teaching and learning research. Advances in our understanding of how, why and when we learn best are forming the basis of a large literature, mostly shared only among other cognitive scientists. Little of this literature filteres down into classrooms; college and university faculty in fields outside of the learning sciences are rarely exposed to it. Indeed, studies show that pedagogy, especially on the post-secondary level, has changed little over the last decades, even as the body of material generated by "learning scientists" grows in scope and specificity. Researchers in the area of learning science complain that faculty still reduce subject matter to "propositions or procedures that can be directly taught and tested" instead of embracing better strategies—often defined as "teaching for understanding."

In this short-term Kahn project, we wish to explore the question of how and whether the learning sciences can influence and deepen college teaching. What new understandings about the science of learning most closely impact the work of college faculty? Does this literature address pedagogy in one discipline more than others? If this body of research on the science of learning really can help us think more cricially and productively about our teaching, why has it not made its way more commonly into college classrooms where "theory" is—theoretically—most valued and respected?

This project will consist of a series of late-afternoon conversations (from 4:00-6:00pm) during the month of January, each of which will culminate in an evening meal. Each session will be centered on a shared reading that highlights several core ideas in this new literature. We would like to bring together a diverse group of faculty from many fields to consider and critique these theories in light of their own disciplinary perspectives. As a group of college faculty we hope to determine whether the new science of learning has something to offer us. We invite you to participate.

Project Fellows

  • Al Rudnitsky, Education & Child Study, Organizing Fellow
  • Glenn Ellis, Engineering
  • Floyd Cheung, English Language & Literature
  • Patricia DiBartolo, Psychology
  • Gary Felder, Physics
  • Virginia Hayssen, Biological Sciences
  • Alice Hearst, Government
  • Laura Katz, Biological Sciences
  • Dana Leibsohn, Art
  • Borjana Mikic, Engineering
  • Kevin Shea, Chemistry

Project Schedule

Project Fellows will meet for a workshop at the Kahn Liberal Arts Institute from 4-6 pm on each of the following dates in January, 2009; each workshop session will be followed by an evening meal.

  • Tuesday, January 13, 2009
  • Wednesday, Janaury 14, 2009
  • Thursday, January 15, 2009

Inclement Weather

In the event of severe weather on any of the above dates, the project meeting will be postponed and will be rescheduled the following week. If possible, please try to maintain some flexibility in your schedule for the following week in case a reschedule is needed. Notification about rescheduling will be distributed via email and telephone.

Project Reading

A copy of the book Education and Mind in the Knowledge Age by Carl Bereiter has been ordered for and distributed to each participating Faculty Fellow. The Organizing Fellows will contact you with information about which sections of the book you should read in preparation for each discussion session.

Project Moodle Site

A Moodle site has been created for this project and all participating Faculty Fellows have been enrolled. To access the site, log into Moodle (http://moodle.smith.edu) and click the link for the How Useful Is the Science of Learning link. If you have any questions about or problems with the Moodle site, please contact Kara Noble.

 

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