Grants

The Cognition Toolbox: Implementing Cognitive Principles and

Assessing Student Learning in College Courses (2009-2012)

 

Brief Project Description:

Basic and applied research, starting in the early 20th century and continuing to the present, has documented that learning (ranging from acquisition of rote skills to higher order thinking) can be dramatically influenced by certain conditions in which the learning environments are structured. Until recently, however, there has been little systematic, widespread application of the principles that come from this research to post secondary institution courses and curricula. We know a great deal about how adults learn and about how we can modify instructional environments to maximize their learning, retention, and transfer of knowledge. In this project, we will put these principles to work.

The University of New Hampshire (UNH) Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning has been testing a new approach to assisting faculty who want to improve student learning and retention of course material and facilitate the development and utilization of teaching and learning strategies that promote the transfer of what is learned to new situations. We will build a “Cognition Toolbox” and develop strategies by which faculty will implement one or more “cognitive tools” in courses they are currently (or will be) teaching. Our approach differs dramatically from the approaches used by other teaching and learning centers to assist faculty in their efforts to improve student learning. Teaching and learning centers typically offer some combination of programs and services such as workshops, conferences, one-on-one consultations. We will work with individual faculty to implement one or more tools from our cognition toolbox in courses they teach, and we will assess the impact of these interventions using direct measures of learning, retention, and transfer of knowledge. By the end of the third year of the project, we will have assisted faculty from UNH and at least four regional colleges/universities in an effort to improve student learning in college courses by applying tried-and-tested cognitive principles.

Proposed Project Description

Basic and applied research, starting in the early 20th century and continuing to the  present, has documented that learning (ranging from acquisition of rote skills to higher order thinking) can be dramatically influenced by certain conditions in which the learning environments are structured. Until recently, however, there has been little systematic, widespread application of the principles that come from this research to post secondary institution courses and curricula. We know a great deal about how adults learn and about how we can modify instructional environments to maximize their learning, retention, and transfer of knowledge. In this project, we will put these principles to work.

Project Description

Over the past year and a half, the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) has been developing and pilot testing a new approach to meet its primary goal: assisting faculty in improving student learning and retention of course material and facilitating the utilization of teaching and learning strategies that promote the transfer of what is learned to new situations. This new approach, The Cognition Toolbox, is characterized by a set of strategies by which faculty implement one or more “cognitive tools” in courses they are currently (or will be) teaching.

This new approach to improving student learning differs dramatically from the standard approach found in many other teaching and learning centers. Most teaching and learning centers rely on workshops, seminars, talks, and/or “bag lunch” sessions in which faculty are provided information and examples about pedagogical methods and techniques (e.g., “how to” sessions on using PowerPoint, incorporating writing into courses, techniques for facilitating active learning, etc.) We plan to meet with individual instructors; assess exactly what “cognitive tools” are likely to work in a specific course; devise a plan for the implementation of the recommended cognitive tools; provide assistance in the integration of the recommended cognitive tools into courses; develop outcome measures to assess the unique impact of incorporated cognitive tools on student learning.

Purpose

The purpose of our project is to design, implement, evaluate, and disseminate a Cognition Toolbox in a broad range of undergraduate courses, initially at UNH and then at four dissemination sites. (We already have had preliminary discussions with faculty/administrators from several regional colleges/universities.). Through the systematic application of powerful cognitive principles, we will give college teachers—most of whom are not experts in areas related to cognition and learning—the tools to improve students’ learning, retention, and transfer of important course-based knowledge. During the course of the grant, we will not only build and apply our Cognition Toolbox, we will also undertake a systematic assessment of the impact of our interventions. These assessments will provide evidence that we will use to educate and persuade other teachers, with the goal that they will begin to apply principles of cognition in their own courses. UNH will institutionalize the Cognition Toolbox through CETL at the end of this project and will support its continued implementation and assessment through our regular budgetary and staffing mechanisms.

COGNITION TOOLBOX

If you would like additional information on the Cognition Toolbox grant, please contact teaching.excellence@unh.edu


 

Teaching and Learning with Multimedia (2012-2015)

 

Brief Project Description:

            Students learn more and are better able to apply what they have learned when they are instructed with words and pictures (than when they are instructed with words alone or pictures alone). Multimedia learning refers to the conceptual understanding that students develop from words and pictures. Multimedia instruction, based on the science of learning, deals with effective and efficient ways of promoting multimedia learning. Multimedia instructional materials are being used with increasing frequency in college and university instruction, in both traditional and online courses. Unfortunately, instruction using multimedia in real academic courses has not been informed by what is known about adult learning or by multimedia instructional principles of learning. Staff at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) are undertaking a three-year project in which we will work with faculty at UNH and other New England colleges and universities to develop multimedia instructional presentations that are informed by multimedia principles of learning. These principles will be applied in both campus-based and online courses. The overarching goal is to develop templates and simple-to-follow instructions that can be used by faculty to create their own multimedia presentations that follow best principles of multimedia learning.

Teaching and Learning with Multimedia

Proposed Project Description

Motivated by a desire to enhance student learning, today’s faculty may be compelled to use one of the many available cutting-edge multimedia technologies in their courses. Some examples of emerging technologies include interactive multimedia, virtual reality, lecture capture, authoring programs, etc. Technology in hand, the instructor is charged with incorporating course materials onto the technological platform, and then design specific courses features for delivery to students. Richard Mayer (2009) points out that this multimedia design approach is often driven by the technology. This is a problem, according to Mayer, who reports that, historically, promising technological advances such as the motion picture, radio, television, and even the computer have failed to live up to their student-learning potential. With this approach, the focus is on the technology, and the measures required in adapting course material and delivery within that system, and not on cognitive-based principles in which humans learn. The problem is not with the multimedia technology per se, rather with the design approach. Mayer argues for an alternative design approach that focuses on the way humans learn, based on an understanding of human cognition—called the learner-centered approach.

Basic and applied research, over the past 10-15 years, has documented that learning from multimedia instruction is dramatically influenced by the conditions in which learning environments are structured. Scholars have examined the conditions of multimedia instruction that promote better and more efficient student learning. There has been, however, little systematic, widespread application of multimedia instruction principles to postsecondary education courses and curricula. We know a great deal about how adults learn and about how we can provide instruction to maximize their learning, retention, and transfer of knowledge. In this project, we will put powerful principles of multimedia instruction to work in both campus-based and online college and university courses.

We believe that the present is an ideal time to undertake our project on multimedia learning. Although teachers have used multimedia dating back to earlier eras of formal education, the burgeoning growth of online academic courses and programs has led to an exponential increase in the types of multimedia (many of which are also used in face-to-face campus-based courses). However, as Mayer (2009) has argued, these multimedia tools have been almost exclusively developed and used with little or no consideration of how students learn in general or how they learn with multimedia in particular.

Our project will address this issue head on in the context of real academic courses, both campus-based and online.

Purpose

            The purpose of our project is to design, implement, evaluate, and disseminate powerful principles of multimedia instruction in a broad range of undergraduate courses, initially at UNH and then at dissemination sites in New England. (We already have had preliminary discussions with faculty/administrators from several regional colleges/universities.). Through the systematic application of multimedia instructional principles of learning, we will give college teachers—few of whom are experts in areas related to cognition and learning—the tools to improve students’ learning, retention, and transfer of important course-based knowledge.

During the course of the grant, we will not only build and apply our set of research-based Multimedia Best Practices, we will also undertake a systematic assessment of the impact of our interventions. These assessments will provide evidence that we will use to educate and persuade other teachers, with the goal that they will begin to design and use multimedia that maximizes student learning. UNH will sustain this project at the end of the grant and will support its continued implementation and assessment through our regular budgetary and staffing mechanisms.

TEACHING AND LEARNING WITH MULTIMEDIA

If you would like additional information on the Teaching and Learning with Multimedia grant, please contact teaching.excellence@unh.edu


 

Applying the Science of Learning across the Biological Sciences Curriculum to

Increase Student Persistence and Academic Achievement in STEM

 

Brief Project Description:

New Hampshire ranks among the top states in the percentage of adults with post-secondary degrees; despite this, New Hampshire ranks in the bottom third nationally in the percentage of bachelor degree graduates in these critical areas with only 19.3% of all bachelor degrees awarded in STEM disciplines. The leading concern is that the State is not graduating enough students in STEM to fill current, let alone future, workforce needs. This project will aim to preclude the shortfall of STEM graduates through a systematic application and infusion of proven science of learning principles within the STEM core curriculum.

Our two overarching goals in this effort are to produce a 10% or higher increase through the sophomore year of students persisting toward their degree in the biological sciences, and to improve the knowledge and skills of graduates in the biological sciences. Our program will focus during students’ first two academic years on the following foundational courses: biology, general chemistry, and mathematics.

Of several identified student challenges and barriers to overall student success, following are just a few that stand out: students vary greatly in the background knowledge and other skills vital to success in college in general and in the biological sciences curriculum in particular. In addition, students often question why, for example, as biology majors, they are required to achieve an in-depth understanding of chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Compounding this, we know that students vary widely in their approach to studying – often choosing strategies inconsistent with what we know about how people learn.

Through this grant, we will address each of these identified challenges through a program of appropriate and systematic application of science of learning principles. We will accomplish this through a series of action steps designed to coordinate academic core STEM interdisciplinary material through a series of mini-collaborations, assign students with peer-mentors specially trained in cognitively-based study strategies, redesign pedagogical approaches using cognitively-based principles, and launch an institute in which faculty will learn pedagogical methods, grounded in the learning sciences and focused on STEM disciplines, reflecting how students learn, how we teach, and how we assess what students have learned

Applying the science of learning across the biology curriculum

If you would like additional information on the Applying the Science of Learning across the Biological Sciences Curriculum to Increase Student Persistence and Academic Achievement in STEM grant, please contact teaching.excellence@unh.edu