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  • NPR Says Learning Styles Are A Myth…

    I’m on several listservs. I enjoy watching the dialogue between instructors and administrators about everything from the coolest new techno-widget to research questions and answers for at-risk reports. The conversations are typically interesting and challenging.

    One that I’ve been watching for the past 48 hours is no different. There is a pretty significant debate going on with regard to Learning Styles. NPR ran a story a few days ago suggesting there is no such thing as proven learning styles (NPR story) and that educators are wasting their time trying to use them in teaching.

    The listserv I have been watching began with a light-hearted response to the NPR story and it soon turned downright ugly! Professors wrote in explaining how over-joyed they were to hear a story about something they knew to be “crap all along” (quote from the listserv – name withheld). The visceral rhetoric talked about ridiculous trainings on the subject and that differentiation equates to edutainment (which essentially is teaching to the lowest common denominator).

    (It was interesting that many of the anti-learing sytlists ignored a component of the story that explains how, “Mixing things up is something we know is scientifically supported as something that boosts attention…”)

    So, several posts centered around the idea that we should all go back to lecturing as it has never been proven to be ineffective…

    I’m quite troubled by this conversation. (I don’t typically blog about other digital conversations I’m watching.) Although I must admit that I’m not surprised. As a faculty member and someone who speaks about the future of education, I come across a fair share of educators who disagree with topics of all scope and sequence. And I hear often about the lack of evidence for Dale’s Cone, Learning Styles, and the need for differentiation.

    But as I watch and listen to the debate, I have to ask myself some basic questions of motivation. Who has a stake in the fight and why?

    It certainly does not surprise me that faculty would want to replicate the manner of teaching that was modeled for them. Most people parent the way they were parented. Most people use manners as they were shown to use manners. And so, it makes sense that most people teach the way they were taught. Especially considering that the overwhelming majority of instructors have never had a single class on how to best teach or educate anyone. (We’ll not talk about the assmption that because someone is a subject matter expert they inherently know how to teach others for now…)

    But, as stakeholders in the debate, I believe it is important to ask about their motivation. Now please don’t get me wrong, I LOVE to lecture. I actually won Lecturer of the Year at Metro State before my Pearson days. I enjoy the attention, the control, and the challenge of connecting to the crowd. I like trying to find ways to challenge, engage, focus, inform, and persuade. I really enjoy a good lecture. But that actually leads to my first point. As much as I like lecturing, I have to admit that it’s easy in contrast to creating differentiated learning modules for my students. And there is a major semantic elephant in the room…I said “good lecture” above. I would argue that most lectures are NOT good. I know there are a few great lecturers out there, but most instructors are not them. (Yes, I read Nudge and I know that most instructors believe they are in the top 10% of eductators…but I have bad news for most of you…) Want me to prove it?

    Go to a conference. ANY conference. I’m particularly embarrassed by my own disclipline of communication in terms of conference presentations. You all are probably nodding already, because you know what I’m going to say. 90% of the presentations are just awful. They are boring, uninspiring lectures (sometimes more appropriately called a reading…) where the presenters (aka instructors) do not connect to the audience, the material, or the event. Most conference presentations are lectures and if you scan the room during one of these lectures, do you know what you see? You see OTHER EDUCATORS who are sleeping, texting, Facebooking, or otherwise not paying attention.

    So, it seems to me that the first reason a person would want to go back to lectures all the time is because it’s known and easy. Haven’t we all wondered if a college instructor just rolled out of bed and stood before the class expounding on things they “just knew” without any prep? And even if a lecturer does prep, how much prep actually takes place? While it may be days or weeks for a precious few, it’s likely less than an hour for most.

    OK, so why else would teachers not want to differentiate instruction? I think it’s actually simple. People hate change about as much as they hate for anyone to tell them what to do. And college educators (I believe) are particularly hard on those who give an opposing view. Think about it. Professors give red marks for a living. THEY are the ones to tell someone else that what they have done or thought about is wrong…not the other way around. So, when someone says, “I don’t think you’re teaching these students in the best possible way…” they tend to get pretty defensive.

    Finally, one more thought around the motivation of anti-learning style debaters that may come into play here. It’s actually a fallacy, typically known as the fallacy of tradition. It’s the idea that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ – or more appropriately here, “We should do it this way because we’ve always done it this way?” In these listserv conversations, I watched faculty say that everyone on the list went to college and made it through lecturers, so it must be fine. Hmmm….I’ll let go the problem with educators loving education far more than non-educators. But, there is a problem with the whole line of reasoning. The reason people started asking questions in the first place was because it was NOT working. The cracks in the armor first showed up in K-12 and then quickly moved to higher education. Our students started doing poorly on local tests, national tests, and finally world tests. Our students stopped being as employable as more and more white collar jobs went to foreign-educated graduates. So, to say that it isn’t broken is wrong. And going on the old addage about insanity being an action of doing something the same way twice and expecting different results, it doesn’t seem to fly here.

    So, let me wrap up what has become a very long posting with two final thoughts. First, I will concede that the term “learning style” has become so bastardized that it may no longer be meaningful. If we need to think of better ways to express our research and to explore the extraordinarily complex human mind, so be it. While I believe we will someday understand how individuals learn better, I also feel that the brain is as complex as the cosmos and we just don’t have the technology yet. But researching and framing are two different things. A learning style framework, regardless of the author, is at its core, a way to promote differentiation. And again, differentiation HAS been proven to be better teaching.

    Second, if you doubt that learning styles exist, talk to parents. Specifically, talk to parents of two or more kids. I am willing to bet that 99% will tell you that their kids both learn quite differently. So, from a very practical standpoint, let’s start using effective teaching and learning techniques that promote the BEST learning in all situations, for all students…not just the few who can manage to stay with us as we lecture. It’s time to change the conversation…

    Good luck and good teaching.

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  • How to Make the Most of National Moon Day

    by LearnEd

    Man on the moon

    An Annual Celebration

    This Wednesday, July 20, is National Moon Day. It commemorates the day when man first walked on the moon in 1969. Millions watched live as astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down in Apollo 11, planted the American flag, and proudly called the occasion “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

    National Holiday Potential

    As James J. Mullaney, former curator of Exhibits and Astronomy at Pittsburgh’s Buhl Planetarium says, “If there’s a Columbus Day on the calendar, there certainly should be a Moon Day!” Until it becomes a national holiday, here’s how you and your loved ones can plan the perfect Moon Day outing:


    Moon Day

    Picture-Taking Tips from A NASA Photographer

    Joel Kowsky is a photographer and photo editor for NASA. While many of us don't have access to high-tech dSLR cameras like Joel, his tips can be applied to your cell phone photos too:

    The moon is much brighter than it seems.

    • -To capture it properly, use a telephoto lens (200mm or longer) and set your camera to manual mode. Though not necessary, a tripod can be helpful here. Start with an aperture of f/8 and adjust your shutter speed to ISO as needed. Your camera's autofocus should be enough, but you may need to fine-tune it with your finger. There's no hard and fast rule for exposure, so experiment until you're happy with the results.

    Take pictures just as it begins to rise (especially just before or after sunset).

    • -This way, you can often catch a bit of a colored glow. However, it can be a little more difficult to capture a sharp picture as you’re shooting through more atmosphere, and there will be some distortion. To capture the clearest and sharpest images, wait until the moon's a bit higher in the sky.

    Don't be deterred if it's cloudy.

    • -Clouds, backlit by the moon, can make for a dramatic photo.

    Make use of online resources.

    • -There are several online tools that can be used to help plan for observing and photographing the moon and other celestial objects. The U.S. Naval Observatory website is a great resource for the moonrise and moonset times in your area.

    Share your photos on social media.

    • -Don't forget to show off your masterpieces on social media using #MoonDay.

     Indoor Astronomy Fun

    If you can’t get outside on Moon Day, here are ten places you can still celebrate astronomy (with a little A/C!):

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  • Finding a Career Through a Journey, Not a Series of Steps

    by LearnEd

    Young boy with cardboard wings strapped to his back

    Robin Baliszewski speaking at a recent company event.
    Robin Baliszewski speaking at a recent company event.

    Following the Learning

    As Robin Baliszewski reflects on the twists and turns of her three decades in education, she says she always put a premium on applying what she was learning to guide her in her career.

    "I was a biology major in college with an undeclared minor in philosophy," Robin says. "I thought I wanted to go to medical school and I realized that as much as I loved science, my interests were broad."

    back porch

    After graduation and a summer working three jobs, she went on a low-budget trip through Europe with some friends.

    "When I returned home, I remember sitting on the back porch with my mom," Robin says. "She told me in so many words: 'If you aren't going to graduate school or medical school, you better get a job because you're not living here.' That was her way of saying it's time to move into the real world."

    Robin says she began to think about what she wanted to do.

    "Thinking about going to a job where I sat behind a desk all day wasn't really appealing to me," Robin says. "The thought of being able to work on a college campus, in the heart of teaching and learning was exciting."

    She soon spoke with a recruiter—and landed a job in educational publishing.

    "Everything clicked with that decision," Robin says. "I loved talking with faculty members every day, learning about what they were doing in the classroom."

    It was a long way from studying to be a doctor.

    Today, Robin leads sales for higher education in the U.S. for Pearson.

    "The funny part about my first interview with Pearson," she says, "was that I went ahead with the appointment even though I was still recovering from sinus surgery."

    "I sat at a table looking out the window and because of the glare from the window, I had a really hard time seeing the interviewer's face," Robin recalls. "I was so nervous about messing up the interview I didn't think to ask if I could move my chair."

    "I learned later that the hiring manager told his colleagues: 'If she can't maintain eye contact, she'll never succeed in our business.' Thankfully, the recruiter convinced him to see me one more time, and after taking a battery of tests, going through multiple rounds of interviews, and spending a day on campus with a sales rep, I was offered the job."

    A New Understanding About Education

    Having spent a few years as a young sales rep in upstate New York during the 1980s, Robin was moved into an editorial role with Pearson.

    She first worked with authors to develop teaching materials that taught English as a second language.

    "Again, I learned something new about myself and my work," Robin says. "The students using our materials were immigrants who needed English to get a job and have a career and pursue a productive life.

    transform lives"I would talk with teachers in church basements and YMCA rooms," she says, "and heard over and over again about how students sought out learning to improve their lives."

    Robin says she felt the power of education come alive in a whole new way.

    She liked the work so much, she stayed in that job another decade, developing products in criminal justice, hospitality, and agriculture.

    A New Challenge

    After taking on a director of marketing role, Robin was given an opportunity to run the ESL division and subsequently the career and vocational division at Pearson. She was then asked to take on the role of Director for People for Pearson.

    "I knew nothing about HR outside of my experience leading teams and working with HR in my previous jobs. The power of having a great team hit home for me in a whole new way," she recalls. "I was surrounded by HR professionals who taught me the ropes helped me succeed. To this day I'm indebted to those colleagues."

    But after four years in that role, Robin realized she missed something about her previous positions.

    "I realized I missed the direct interaction with customers and product development and sales," Robin says.

    That realization helped lead her to her current position as a Managing Director in charge of sales.

    A Mom's Influence

    "My mom always believed that if you put your mind to it, anything was possible," Robin says.

    Her mother went on to earn her GED at the age of 40 so she could secure a job with Delta Airlines.

    "She didn't let things stand in her way," Robin says. "She also loved creating experiences that people wouldn't soon forget."

    "We'd have holiday dinners," Robin says, "and my mom would make six main courses instead of one. She'd make eight pies instead of one or two," she says. "Fortunately, she was a fantastic cook."

    "Breaking bread with family and friends was one of her favorite things to do. She wanted people to leave feeling like they just ate the best meal of their lives," Robin says. "My mother always went the proverbial extra mile."


    Robin says her mom's outlook and attitude influenced her greatly, especially in her career.

    "It all starts with the relationships and bonds we build with each other," Robin believes. "It's all about the experience we create for ourselves and the people we work with."

    Helping Others Find a Career Path

    Over the years, people have asked Robin about particular career paths.

    "I love having those conversations," Robin says. "I always tell people, 'do what you love.'"

    "I didn't have a plan to one day be a managing director for a large company. To me, it's always been about the journey, about what's possible, about what I love doing."

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  • Pokemon Go: A Mom Falls For It and Loves Playing With Son

    by LearnEd

    Mother and her kids taking a walk

    A Global Phenomenon: From Avatars to Key Work Skills


    Dianna Blake and her son were interviewed by an ABC affiliate in Los Angeles. The story:

    First things first:

    If you're not familiar with all the ins and outs of this mobile app that is sweeping the globe, Vox has published a really useful story called "Pokemon Go: 9 Questions About the Game You Were Afraid to Ask."

    This is exactly where Dianna Blake started.

    She's a mom, a graduate student, a blogger for moms in college, an emerging author—and this fall, a professor of English composition at California State University, Fullerton.

    "My social feeds were blowing up with posts about this new game," Dianna says. "I glanced at the logo and it looked sketchy. I wondered: what was going on?"

    "Seeing my friends stressed out over finding characters blew my mind," she says.

    'We Fell Pretty Hard For It'

    "I decided to download the app," Dianna says, "and happened to mention it to my son when I picked him up from Vacation Bible School."

    Her son's name is Matthew and he's 14.

    "He perked up," Dianna says, "and said 'That's the new thing.'"

    Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 9.19.48 AM

    Then she fell in love, in a matter of speaking.

    "Matthew and I played together on the way home that night," Dianna says, "and we fell pretty hard for it."

    "I've already Tweeted J.K. Rowling and told her 'If you build a world like this in an app, I will live on it!'"

    A New Bond Between Mother and Son

    Matthew has been diagnosed with high-functioning autism.

    "Our interests are very different," Dianna says. "I'm an academic, he is so in to gaming and computers. He dives in to that world and, often, we don't have much to talk about."

    "This game has really built a new bridge between mother and son," she says.

    Matthew playing Pokemon Go with his mom in a picture posted on her blog:
    Matthew playing Pokemon Go with his mom in a picture posted on her blog:

    Last week, Dianna and Matthew caught a Pokemon character in their kitchen.

    They've started going on walks to the park after sundown, looking for characters together.

    They play together on car trips. She drives, he holds the phone.

    "He never would go voluntarily on walks before," Dianna says. "and he's been able to teach me about the game while we're together."

    "Matthew educates me about Pokemon, even correcting my grammar as we're talking about the game," she says.

    Using the Game's Strengths to Be a Better Teacher

    "My three kids so often talk about social memes and characters and I have no idea what they're talking about," Dianna says.

    "This game has invited me to be young again and to share a childhood gaming experience with my son," she says.

    "Matthew is more active, I'm able to get him out in the sunlight," Dianna says, "and most importantly, we're doing this together."

    As Dianna and Matthew continue collecting Pokemon characters and increased their status on the game—they're now a Level 9 player on Team Instinct—it's given her some ideas about classes she's start teaching in the fall.

    "This game is teaching students really important workplace skills like collaboration, oral communication, teamwork," Dianna says. "We see groups all the time asking each other who they've caught and what team they're playing for."

    "So I want to use this kind of experience in my class," she says.

    She plans a Pokemon Go-like scavenger hunt on the first day of class this fall.

    "My students can work together to find places on campus," Dianna says. "Hopefully, this gets them motivated, it encourages discussion, and it helps me relate to my students in a fresh way."

    "Just like this new door has been opened up with my son."

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John Fallon

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