Category: Professional practice
|Teaching and Learning Forum 2005 [ Refereed papers ]|
Curtin University of Technology, Sarawak Campus
By building on a cyclic model of lifelong learning that includes self awareness, self management, meta-learning and self monitoring, this paper reports on attempts to introduce lifelong learning skills to a class of second year engineering students. The unit taught in this case study is Physical Electronics 203. Concept maps, student generated assessment criteria, group interaction and peer assessment were introduced to broaden students' learning experiences. A comparison of the feedback obtained through Unit Evaluation Questionnaires in two consecutive years shows a clear increase in the "Good Learning Scale".
The model for lifelong learning developed by the author and used as the basis for the present work is an adaptation of Garrison's model (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Model of lifelong learning
As shown in Figure 1, lifelong learning is understood as a cyclic process with four key pillars:
The main goal of the PE203 unit is to develop an understanding of the workings, at a microscopic level, of devices such as diodes and transistors. Thus, the first half of the semester focuses on developing a model of the behaviour of electrons within a solid, which is then applied to explain the internal functioning of devices during the second half of the semester.
Understanding the behaviour of electrons in solids requires a wide range of novel concepts, both from quantum mechanics (Schrödinger equation, wave function, probability density, energy levels, etc) and solid state physics (energy bands, energy gap, density of states, Fermi-Dirac distribution, etc). The only prerequisite for PE203 is a first year unit called Structure of Matter 102, which introduces some basic concepts of modern physics and quantum mechanics. As a comparison, students majoring in physics learn the foundations of modern physics in Physics 102 (Semester 2, Year 1). This is followed by an introduction to quantum mechanics in Quantum and Statistical Physics 301 (Semester 1, Year 3), and finally "Solid States Physics 302" (Semester 2, Year 3).
While students majoring in EE, CS and CE are not expected to develop the same cognitive skills with respect to Solid State Physics as students majoring in Physics, it does not change the fact that a wide range of very new and often non-intuitive concepts need to be introduced and assimilated within a very short time frame to achieve the learning goals set by PE203.
As a consequence, the "Clear Goals and Standards Scale" on the Unit Evaluation Questionnaire (UEQ) distributed to PE203 students in 2003 reached only an average of 45%. Less than half the students (48%) agreed to the statement "I usually had a clear idea of where I was going and what was expected of me in this unit". Feedback to open ended questions included remarks such as:
Overall, the "Good Learning Scale" of the Unit Evaluation Questionnaire distributed in 2003 only reached 52%, thus pointing at the need for developing meta-learning skills among students.
Both concept mapping and mind mapping are based on the learning theories of David Ausubel, who contended, "the most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows" (Ausubel, 1968). In his subsumption theory, Ausubel states that for meaningful learning to occur (as opposed to rote learning), new material must be related to relevant ideas in the existing cognitive structures of the learner. "Learning is meaningful only when it can be related to concepts that already exist in a person's cognitive structure" (Merriam & Caffarella, 1999). To allow cognitive anchorage to existing concepts and provide necessary mental scaffolding, Ausubel encourages the use of advanced organisers. As discussed in Bowen (2004), Ausubel "emphasises that advance organisers are different from overviews and summaries which simply emphasise key ideas and details in an arbitrary manner. Organisers act as a 'subsuming bridge' between new learning material and existing related ideas."
While Ausubel specifies that his theory applies only to reception (expository) learning, Brunner (1965) emphasises that learning involves "three almost simultaneous processes: (1) acquisition of new information; (2) transformation, or the process of manipulating knowledge to make it fit the new tasks; and (3) evaluation, or checking whether the way we have manipulated information is adequate to the task." Thus, according to Brunner, the acquisition, processing and evaluation of acquired knowledge by the learner are key to a successful learning experience.
Having clarified the aims of the lesson, the lecture proceeded with a PowerPoint presentation introducing the most important concepts, slide by slide. As it was felt that this "linear" method of introducing new material did not lend enough emphasis to the relative importance of and linkages in between concepts, a second concept map was used during the lecture. This second concept map was more detailed than the first one and was developed with the input of students, on the whiteboard and in parallel to the PowerPoint presentation.
At the conclusion of the lecture, students were asked to study the map and point out the concepts that corresponded to revisions of previously studied material, those that were newly introduced, and the links between them. Students were then given information on additional reading material relevant to the topic studied.
The tutorial session was scheduled after completion of the first half of the 2004 semester. Students were organised into groups, provided with a large blank poster and asked to compile a "Master Concept Map" (also called "Mega Mind Map" in what follows) that linked all significant concepts introduced in the first half of the semester. The tutorial session was structured as follows:
Figure 2(a): Mega Mind Map tutorial for PE203 students. Students are seen working collaboratively on developing a concept map that will provide an overview of the topics covered in the first half of the unit.
Feedback to open ended questions of the Unit Evaluation Questionnaire (UEQ) distributed to PE203 students in 2004 included the following remark: "The explanation is very, very clear. Helps to motivate the students to study and learn this unit. Basically, the interest were built up during the study period".
Thus, the introduction of concept maps in PE203 resulted not only in intrinsic motivation, but also in the building of a cognitive structure by the learners.
According to Smith (1982), "learning how to learn involves possessing, or acquiring, the knowledge and skill to learn effectively in whatever learning situation one encounters". Exposing students to concept maps as a possible form of advanced organisers should have contributed to the development of meta-learning aimed at:
The educational benefits of students working cooperatively in groups are well recognised. Among other things,James, McInnis & Devlin proceed by listing common areas of concern in group work, which include lack of perceived relevance and clear objectives, inequity of contribution, and overuse. For group work to be effective, specific guidelines must be given by the facilitator/lecturer focusing on group membership, roles and responsibilities within the group, scheduling of group meetings and defining group processes. In the case of the Mega Mind Map tutorial, the different aspects of group interaction seemed to have functioned well, leading to an atmosphere of constructive interaction between peers, as illustrated in Figure 2.
- studying collaboratively has been shown to directly enhance learning;
- employers value the teamwork and other generic skills that group work may help develop; and
- group activities may help academic staff to effectively utilise their own time.
Peer evaluation of assessment was introduced as it was seen to have following advantages:
However, one of the drawbacks of the peer evaluation was a lack of critical analysis by the students resulting in a very homogeneous assessment of the work performed by their peers, despite clear variations in quality the submitted work. The causes for the lack of clear discrimination between good and poor performance could have had the following roots:
Figure 3: Feedback from Unit Experience Questionnaire
for PE203 taught in 2003 and 2004
While the "Good Teaching Scale" remains unchanged at 85% in 2003 and 2004, a clear increase is observed in the "Good Learning Scale" (from 52% in 2003 to 71% in 2004), and the "Clear Goals and Standard Scale" (from 45% in 2003 to 60% in 2004).
These results seem to indicate that the new instructional approach was successful in developing meta-learning as well as self management skills among students.
Interestingly, the "Overall Satisfaction Scale" also increased dramatically from 71% in 2003 to 94% in 2004. Considering that external factors linked to the "Good Teaching Scale" remained constant at 85%, it appears that this increase in the "Overall Satisfaction Scale" is linked to factors that are inherent to the students themselves, such as eg. intrinsic motivation. This result seems to point towards increased self awareness of the students.
The strengthening of students' cognitive structure resulted in a better understanding of the goals of the unit, which in turn allowed students to improve the planning and self management of their learning.
The exposure to concept maps as advanced organisers enabled students to develop new learning strategies. Similarly, group interactions allowed students to experience their peers' approaches to learning. Both cases contributed to fostering meta-learning skills.
Student generated assessment criteria and peer assessment were critical in promoting self monitoring skills. As discussed above, the students in this case study lacked the ability to clearly discriminate between good and performance. Hence, more emphasis will be required in future classes to encourage the development of this important skill.
Last but not least, the increased overall satisfaction with the unit, as reported through Unit Evaluation Questionnaires, is interpreted as an increase in the level of intrinsic motivation and self efficacy experienced by students, thus supporting their self awareness skills.
In conclusion, the cyclic model for lifelong learning used as the foundation for the work presented here is found to have contributed positively to the development of the corresponding skills among students in this case study.
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|Author: A/Prof Barbara Stäuble|
Director R&D, Curtin University of Technology, Sarawak Campus, Malaysia
CDT 250, 98009 Miri, Sarawak, Malaysia
Phone: +60 85 443 939 Fax: +60 85 443 985 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Owing to unexpected circumstances, the presentation session for this article was cancelled.
Please cite as: Stäuble, B. (2005). Using concept maps to develop lifelong learning skills: A case study. In The Reflective Practitioner. Proceedings of the 14th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 3-4 February 2005. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2005/refereed/stauble.html
Copyright 2005 Barbara Stäuble. The author assigns to the TL Forum and not for profit educational institutions a non-exclusive licence to reproduce this article for personal use or for institutional teaching and learning purposes, in any format (including website mirrors), provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.