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Learning Theories

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Article One:  

Relations between Intuitive Biological Thinking and Biological Misconceptions in Biology Majors and Nonmajors. John D. Coley and Kimberly Tanner. CBE-Life Sciences Education. 2015. 


This is an interesting article that talks about some potential cognitive similarities between common (but seemingly unrelated) misconceptions that students have when learning biology. Understanding the source of these misconceptions is an important first step to tackling them in the classroom. These misconceptions represent differences in the ways biology experts and biology novices construe the biological world. Surprisingly, Biology majors seem to have more hardwired misconceptions than nonmajors. Three relevant construals are described in the article. First, teleological thinking describes the tendency to prefer causal based explanations. Second, essential thinking is the tendency to believe that underlying principles directly determine the overt features of a system. Finally, anthropocentric thinking tends to give more weight to the role of humans in the natural world. Students who rely on these forms of thinking have a harder time succeeding in the biology and thus work is needed to understand and combat these misconceptions. The main thing that I took away from this article is the need to remain cognizant of research in cognitive science when thinking about and designing curriculum. 


Article Two:   

A Delicate Balance: Integrating Active Learning into a Large Lecture Course. JD Walker, SH Cotner, PM Baepler and MD Decker. CBE-Life Sciences Education. 2008.  

I found this article helpful because the courses that I teach are always large lecture format. In this article the researchers examine a large introductory biology course using active learning mechanisms in one section of the course and more “traditional” lecture in the second section of the course. It highlighted some difficulties and benefits of using active learning mechanisms in these large lecture classes. The most important thing that I took from the article is that even in very large courses active learning mechanisms can improve student learning outcomes, particularly for those at the bottom of the course.   


Article Three:

 Academic Self-Handicapping and Achievement: A meta-analysis. Malte Schwinger, Linda Wirthwein, Gunnar Lemmer, and Ricarda Steinmayr. Journal of Educational Psychology. 2015.

I found this article very interesting because it describes a phenomenon that I see often in my students, colleagues and myself. This is the tendency to provide self-handicaps in order to avoid the perception of failure and the resultant lowering of self-esteem.  The authors perform an analysis on a large number of studies of self-handicapping and find that this mechanism is widespread and nearly universal in academic settings. The authors conclude that in order to improve student achievement we need to use interventions to prevent self-handicapping. These interventions can include using mastery-based goals that allow the student to judge negative feedback in a more positive light. 

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