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Interesting News in the World of Teaching and Learning

The number of articles, notes, podcasts, and blogs about educational items can seem overwhelming at times. For what it's worth, here are some links to interesting news items about teaching, learning, knowledge, cognition, and educational technology. There is no complex curation scheme nor any enhanced AI matching algorithm at work here. These are just some articles or podcasts that we found interesting. We hope you do, too.
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How extra funding and learning time are helping students catch up from COVID interruptions

Tuesday 21 December 2021
Photo by Cornell Watson for NPR

Schools in Guilford County, N.C., have used a grants from the Walton Family Foundation and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to repurpose learning hubs established in 2020. Then, the hubs were used to provide students access to technology and connection to online classrooms. Now, the hubs serve as oases in the desert of lost learning, a spot for students lost in the CoVid era to stop in and stay on track.

The grants were instrumental in setting up the hubs, and in providing funding for students to travel to the hubs, meals for them, and to help pay for materials and instruction. The administrators and teachers in the district have volunteered substantial time, too, to reach out to students that might feel lost and might fall behind because of their learning gap.

The hard work and re-purposing of the hubs has clearly paid off. Not only are students back in learning mode, "In the spring of 2021, with the help of Saturday learning hubs, increased flexibility from the state, and a summer quarter, Guilford County posted the highest high school graduation rate in its history: 91.4 percent. That's in a district where nearly two-thirds of students are living in poverty."

Kudos to all involved: students, teachers, admin, volunteers, and the two foundations that helped spark this wonderful success story.
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Percent of Students Benefiting from Homework Assignments

Wednesday 15 December 2021
Note: From transcript of a research note on Academic Minute
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters

Professor Glass offers us an update on something we know, but with a digital twist: copying your homework answers, even on an online quiz or assignment, doesn't help student performance on quizzes and exams given in class.

The twist: the advent of digital copying of answers to online quizzes/homework has actually made the problem worse: "The percent of students who did not benefit from correctly answering homework questions increased from 14% in 2008 to 55% in 2017." Glass describes the effect of using digital search tools to complete online homework as "insidious," suggesting that students have no idea that completing these tasks using digital search "… have no idea that in achieving higher homework scores they are sacrificing equally good scores on exams."
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Why I Require Office Hours Visits

Wednesday 15 December 2021
Note: this article requires a free subscription for limited access.

Zach Nowak has made office hours fun again for students. Well, maybe not fun, but certainly useful. The good news is that his efforts have been well received by his students, and they seem to be better off for it.

Nowak decided that he wanted his students to interact in office hours more regularly. He thought it would provide students an avenue to get to know him better, and to help him offer more personalized direction and advice on their course work. In addition, it hoped the visits would allow him get to know the students a bit better and thereby better align his approach in the classroom.

He decided to incentivize the students by offering them a modest five percent of their grade in return for a minimum of two visits to regularly scheduled office hours. He carefully framed the purpose and structure of office hours for his students. In addition, he went out of his way to make his office accommodating to the students, and to make it clear that they were not interfering with his regular work.

The result: they showed up. And, importantly, it helped break down the tendency of some students, particularly first-generation or low-income students, to feel they were intruding on the professor. As Nowak states, "Offering credit for both in-person and virtual office hours—a low-stakes, low-stress assignment," has really helped him connect with his students.
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How the difference between sound and noise can influence our ability to learn

Monday 13 December 2021
Communication is often described as the transmission of meaning through shared symbols. Noise, in the communicative sense, is anything that interferes with the transmission of that meaning. And, in this article by Deborah Farmer Kris for Mindshift, we learn that noise can have a significant impact on our attempt to build meaning in the classroom.

Noise, in the classroom sense, is described as unwanted sound. And, that unwanted sound can have a profound effect on learning. Kris references research showing students in learning environments close to elevated sound levels, for instance nearby subway tracks, underperformed students in the same building, but in classrooms further away from the elevated sounds. From neuroscientist Nina Kraus: In these high-noise environments, sound processing in the brain can become diminished, and there can also be increased neural noise – or “background static in the brain.”

Kris' article reminds us that while teachers can't control the external auditory environment, often-times, these unwanted sounds are in the classroom are human-made. And, if we can create the unwanted sounds, we can just as easily remove them. Simple things like turning off notification sounds on digital equipment or eliminating varied music from different learners during activity can cleanse the auditory landscape and help improve learning. Also, we can create silent spaces or quiet learning times in the class to reduce noise pollution of the learning space.

So, its seems silence is indeed sometimes golden, or at least good for deeper learning.
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Heavy electronic media use in late childhood linked to lower academic performance

Tuesday 8 September 2020
Too much time in front of the screen can be a bad thing, at least when it comes to the academic performance of late childhood/early adolescent learners.

Researchers in Australia have found a strong negative relationship between the hours 8 - 11 year-olds spent in front of the TV and their general academic performance. In addition, a strong negative relationship was found between heavy computer use and students' success with numeracy, or working with numbers. Interestingly, no such link was found between academic performance and time spent playing video games.

In all, the researchers suggested that the negative effects on performance were the equivalent of four months of lost learning.

Not surprisingly, the results suggest that parents should monitor and control screen time by round adolescents. Perhaps more troubling, though, is the paradox of more young learners going to school remotely. Does the time spent in front of the screen jeopardize students' performance in the math classroom?

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New app could help you recall important memories

Tuesday 1 October 2019
We all know how tough it can be to help learners store and retrieve information. This task is profoundly more difficult for those who have suffered damage to the hippocampus and those struggling with the scourge of Alzheimers disease.

Research on memory impairment by Dr. Morgan Barense, a neuroscientist at the University of Toronto, puts the use of video in the forefront of memory and cognition. Barenese has developed an app that uses recorded events to help solidify the memory and recall of patients. Interestingly, the technique involves reviewing the recorded events six times a day at three times the normal recording speed. This speed mimics the natural pace of the hippocampus. Preliminary results show a 40% increase in recall three months after the event.

Now, who says visual learning can't be a thing?
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How Collaboration Unlocks Learning and Lessens Student Isolation

Wednesday 25 September 2019
This brief, but excellent, article is an excerpt from the author's book, Limitless Mind. There are two strong take-aways from the article. First, if we want the benefits of collaboration, we need to remember that learners don't inherently know how to collaborate. Thus, if we want to embrace social learning, we have to "teach" learners the art of working in social groupings. Secondly, gender and cultural differences can manifest in a reluctance to collaborate with others not in their demographic. This can limit the ability of these students to benefit from social learning, leading to disparate learning outcomes.

Learning by way of collaboration doesn't occur spontaneously. As teachers, we need to help learners understand how to collaborate, and we need to ensure that the social mechanisms of collaboration are equally welcoming to all our students, regardless of demographic differences.
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