This page has notes on writing, learning, technology, and miscellanea.

Memory and Learning

Scott Young (with Jakub Jilek) has an excellent post called The Complete Guide to Memory. It gives the ways that memory works and also provides general recommendations for applying this understanding in practical ways that are useful for learning and studying. Some techniques include, as you are reading, categorizing, structuring, and explaining to yourself in your own words what you are reading. And there are others, too. Good luck improving your study habits, and learning!

Close Reading and Media Ecologies

Alex Reid talks about the meaning of close reading as used in English Studies and the difficulty of defining it. He writes:

It’s really founded on the premise that interpretation and hence the meaning of the text is to be found/made in the careful consideration of word choices, style, specific sentences, and so on. A good amount of contemporary close reading is connected with what some call symptomatic interpretation (following on Fredric Jameson), which basically means that one views the text as a symptom of a larger cultural issue. As a result, close readings–in both literary studies and rhetoric–tend to move from quoting specific passages out of extensive texts to making fairly large arguments about race, gender, class, sexuality, and so on.

He moves on from there to discuss how this type of close reading cannot handle the “massive flows of data” and information we now read or collect. There’s a need to develop new “rhetorical and aesthetic practices” and ask,

“What new rhetorical capacities emerge through our relations with emerging media ecologies?

Winning an Argument

In Winning an Argument, Shane Parrish writes:

If you want to win an argument, ask the person trying to convince you of something to explain how it would work. Odds are they have not done the work required to hold an opinion. If they can explain why they are correct and how things would work, you’ll learn something. If they can’t you’ll soften their views, perhaps nudging them ever so softly toward your views.

It is worth bearing in mind, however, that someone might do the same to you.

Creativity is the Art of Connecting

Many people want to believe that they aren’t that creative, that creativity is something special, intuitive. But Shane Parrish cites others who argue that creativity is simply connecting things. such as Steve Jobs’ taking of a calligraphy class that influenced the design of the first Macintosh computer ten years later. 

It’s a short but worthwhile read.

The University and Social Media

Thomas Basbřll writes about Academic Virtues and makes the point that using social media to spread research findings

shows we are now trying to get people believe things they can't possibly understand. We are telling them what we think the truth is but without allowing them to engage critically with it. That's precisely what our classrooms and journals are for. They are situations in which ideas can be presented along with their justifications, and where those justifications can be questioned before the proposed belief is adopted.

Learning Styles Challenge

Will Thalheimer updates his “Learning Styles Challenge” to $5000.

That is, if any person or group creates a real-world learning intervention that takes learning styles into account--and proves that such an intervention produces better learning results than a non-learning-styles intervention, they'll be awarded $5,000!

This challenge started 8 years ago, and still no one has been able to show in research that learning styles make a difference in learning outcomes.

Getting It Wrong Helps Learning

An article in Scientific American, Getting It Wrong: Surprising Tips on How to Learn, reports on research that shows 

learning becomes better if conditions are arranged so that students make errors.

People remember things better, longer, if they are given very challenging tests on the material, tests at which they are bound to fail.

This learning effect occurs because generating possible (even if wrong) answers) to questions or retrieving information (even if failing to retrieve it) helps remembering more than simply studying the information. 

Six Principles for Making New Things

Paul Graham has six principles for making new things:

Here it is: I like to find (a) simple solutions (b) to overlooked problems (c) that actually need to be solved, and (d) deliver them as informally as possible, (e) starting with a very crude version 1, then (f) iterating rapidly.

Four Great Commencement Addresses

Shane Parrish has collected four excellent commencement addresses: 

Steve Jobs

David Foster Wallace

Neil Gaiman

Naval Adm. William H. McRaven

Great new online thesaurus by Dave Winer. 

AASL’s Best Websites for Teaching & Learning 2014

The American Association of School Librarians have posted their Best Websites for Teaching & Learning 2014 that

foster the qualities of innovation, creativity, active participation, and collaboration. They are free, Web-based sites that are user friendly and encourage a community of learners to explore and discover. 

Website categories include:

  • Media Sharing
  • Digital Storytelling
  • Manage & Organize
  • Social Networking & Communication
  • Content Resources
  • Curriculum Collaboration

If you want to go back to earlier years, just change the year in the web address.

Best Practices in Facilitating Peer Instruction

Stephanie Chasteen cites and summarizes research on Best practices in facilitating peer instruction using clickers. You should read the entire post, but her three “take-home messages” are (verbatim):

  1. Have students discuss clicker questions with their peers, but give them your explanation as well.
  2. Remind students to use reasoning in their discussions, to prompt higher-quality conversations.
  3. Use credit for participation-only in order to create a productive atmosphere for frank discussion.

The Lack of Power of Um and Uh with Non-Native Speakers

Jessica Love reports on research on the discourse markers um and uh, which act to let listeners know that there is a delay in the speaker’s continuing to talk. Although listeners generally pay attention to these discourse markers, they don’t when they are listening to non-native speakers of a language.

Three Keys to Greatness

David Vogelsang, summarizes Jim Rohn’s "Three Keys to Greatness":

1. Setting Goals: I call it the view of the future. Most people, including kids, will pay the price if they can see the promise of the future. We need to help ourselves and our kids see a well-defined future so we will be motivated to pay the price today to attain the rewards of tomorrow. Goals help us do this. 

2. Personal Development: Simply making consistent investments in our self-education and knowledge banks pays major dividends throughout our lives. I suggest having a minimum amount of time set aside for reading books, listening to audio, attending seminars, keeping a journal and spending time with other successful people. Charlie Tremendous Jones says in five years you will be the sum total of the books you read and the people you are around. 

3. Financial Planning: I call it the 70/30 plan. After receiving your paycheck or paying yourself, simply set aside 10 percent for saving, 10 percent for investing and 10 percent for giving, and over time this will guarantee financial independence. 

Rohn’s three principles were for teenagers, but they can also be applied to anyone, including teachers. Setting goals for one’s teaching and “investing” in those goals through professional development are essential to improving one’s practice. 

Although a little bit of a stretch, the financial planning can be thought of as feedback loops of reflection in which one sets aside 

  1. 10 percent of one’s time for tracking and revising one's goal-planning,
  2. 10 percent for reflecting on one’s personal development and achievement of goals, and
  3. 10 percent for sharing with others the results of one’s professional development.

Students Learn by Talking to One Another

Stephanie Chasteen reviews the research showing that students learn by talking to one another.  through a process of peer instruction developed by Harvard Professor of Physics Eric Mazur and for which he received the first Minerva prize ($500,000) for “extraordinary innovation in higher education."

Deliberate Practice

Shane Parrish writes about the nature of deliberate practice. As he notes,

Despite repetition, most people fail to become experts at what they do, no matter how many years they spend doing it. Experience does not equate to expertise.

Why would that be? Because normal practice just repeats what you can already do. In contrast, deliberate practice challenges you, and it’s meeting and mastering challenges that moves you to higher levels of skill.

Mastering challenges requires feedback to understand what needs to be improved. Although you can monitor your own practice, thus giving yourself feedback, it can be helpful to have another set of eyes, a coach or teacher. 

Secrets of a Mind-Gamer

Joshua Foer, in the New York Times, writes about his approach to becoming a memory champion in Secrets of a Mind-Gamer. One point is related to that of expertise:

They’ve found that top achievers typically follow the same general pattern. They develop strategies for keeping out of the autonomous stage by doing three things: focusing on their technique, staying goal-oriented and getting immediate feedback on their performance. Amateur musicians, for example, tend to spend their practice time playing music, whereas pros tend to work through tedious exercises or focus on difficult parts of pieces. Similarly, the best ice skaters spend more of their practice time trying jumps that they land less often, while lesser skaters work more on jumps they’ve already mastered. In other words, regular practice simply isn’t enough. For all of our griping over our failing memories — the misplaced keys, the forgotten name, the factoid stuck on the tip of the tongue — our biggest failing may be that we forget how rarely we forget. To improve, we have to be constantly pushing ourselves beyond where we think our limits lie and then pay attention to how and why we fail. [Bold mine]

In writing classes, there is often more focusing on abstract concepts than technique, and seldom is feedback immediate. And the goals tend to be general, which makes it difficult to accomplish them in any concrete fashion. I need to think more about this for my own classes.

6 Keys to Achieving Excellence

Tony Schwartz distills the path to achieving excellence in six parts:

  1. Pursue what you love. Passion is an incredible motivator. It fuels focus, resilience, and perseverance.
  2. Do the hardest work first. We all move instinctively toward pleasure and away from pain. Most great performers, Ericsson and others have found, delay gratification and take on the difficult work of practice in the mornings, before they do anything else. That’s when most of us have the most energy and the fewest distractions.
  3. Practice intensely, without interruption for short periods of no longer than 90 minutes and then take a break. Ninety minutes appears to be the maximum amount of time that we can bring the highest level of focus to any given activity. The evidence is equally strong that great performers practice no more than 4 ˝ hours a day.
  4. Seek expert feedback, in intermittent doses. The simpler and more precise the feedback, the more equipped you are to make adjustments. Too much feedback, too continuously can create cognitive overload, increase anxiety, and interfere with learning.
  5. Take regular renewal breaks. Relaxing after intense effort not only provides an opportunity to rejuvenate, but also to metabolize and embed learning. It’s also during rest that the right hemisphere becomes more dominant, which can lead to creative breakthroughs.
  6. Ritualize practice. Will and discipline are wildly overrated. As the researcher Roy Baumeister has found, none of us have very much of it. The best way to insure you’ll take on difficult tasks is to build rituals — specific, inviolable times at which you do them, so that over time you do them without having to squander energy thinking about them.

The 30 second habit with a lifelong impact

Robyn Scott, quoting someone, wrote: 

Immediately after every lecture, meeting, or significant experience, take 30 seconds—no more, no lessto write down the most important points.

After trying out this task for a few months, Scott has found,

  1. It's not note taking
  2. it's hard work
  3. Detail is a trap
  4. You must act quickly
  5. You learn to listen better, and ask better questions
  6. You're able to help others more
  7. It gets easier and more valuable

I never thought about doing such an activity, but along with the previous post on remembering, it does make sense.

Remembering What You Read

Shane Parrish writes A System for Remembering What You Read. Briefly, it’s a matter of interacting with what you read by taking notes, thinking and asking questions about what you’re reading, reviewing your notes, and applying/connecting those ideas to other things you know. As Parrish states,

We fail to remember a lot of the stuff we read because it’s not building on any existing knowledge

All of his techniques involve building on and making connections to what we already know. Without doing that, we might be able to, as he says, “regurgitate” information, but we don’t really understand what we’ve read. 

Moreover, he goes beyond simply building on and making connections. He argues that we need 

to build a latticework of Mental Models. That is, acquire the core multi-disciplinary knowledge and use that as your foundation. This is the best investment because this stuff doesn’t change and if it does it changes really slowly. This becomes your foundation. This is what you build on. So when you read and connect things to the core knowledge, not only do you have a better idea of how things fit together but you strengthen those connections in your head from use.

As these models are heuristics, they have fuzzy, overlapping boundaries, but they help in building our understanding of experience, and, as he points out, "Decisions are more likely to be correct when ideas from multiple disciplines all point towards the same conclusion."

If You Want to Learn, Join a Study Group

Build reports that according to a study done at Harvard in 1986, to be successful in college, the number one predictor isn’t GPA or SAT scores. Instead,

It was a student’s ability to either create or join a study group. Students who studied in groups, even only once a week, were more engaged in their studies, better prepared for class, and learned significantly more than students who worked on their own.

The Secret History of Cosmic Buzzwords

In The Secret History of Cosmic Buzzwords, Corey Powell explains the origins of some words used in physics and astronomy.

How It Feels to Be an Engineer in the Corporate World

Improving Learning Through Repeated Retrieval Practice, Spacing, and Immediate Feedback

In research on engineering students at Rice, small changes in course designed guided by three principles improved student learning:

Repeated retrieval practice - In addition to receiving the standard homework assignment, students were given follow-up problems on the same topic in two additional assignments that counted only toward their course participation grade.

 Spacing - Rather than giving all the problem sets for a week's lectures in one assignment, the researchers spaced the problems over three weeks of assignments.

 Feedback - Rather than waiting one week to learn how they did, students received immediate feedback on intervention homework, and they were required to view the feedback to get credit for the assignment.

Repeated retrieval practice and spacing are possible in a writing class, but how is immediate feedback to be given when there’s no one way to write anything?

Who Pays Writers and How Much

The outlook for free lance journalists is not good. See Who pays writers and how much