1-3 From Passive to Active

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This paper right here gathered together the results of some 200 studies on active learning in science, technology, engineering, and math programs. Turns out that one in three people drop out of these kinds of courses if they are taught in the traditional way with the professor droning away in the front of the classroom. As one of the artists for this MOOC told me, only watching tutorials and avoiding the actual practice is a big problem with art students who are trying to teach themselves.

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[MUSIC] The Fengjia Night Market in Taichung, Taiwan is really famous. They have just about everything you could imagine. One evening, you could have also found me there. I ended up at the stall that sold something called stinky tofu. I mean, stinky tofu is really stinky. The reality is, though, it tastes pretty good, kind of like a strong cheese. The thing is, you watching me tell you about stinky tofu is very different from you actually going to the famed Fengjia night market yourself and tasting stinky tofu. It’s only when you actively do something yourself that you’re learning really sticks. Trust me, I’ll never forget about stinky tofu. You might think that taking an active approach to learning is totally obvious. But not only do students often not get this. Even professional teachers and professors themselves often don’t get this, although it goes right to the heart of how we can most effectively learn and change. It’s easy even for someone like me who knows better to sometimes take the easier path and avoid being active in what I’m trying to learn. Active learning applies to any kind of learning, whether it’s learning about stinky tofu, leaning how to speak French, or learning to play the piano. It also applies to learning in math and science. This paper right here gathered together the results of some 200 studies on active learning in science, technology, engineering, and math programs. Turns out that one in three people drop out of these kinds of courses if they are taught in the traditional way with the professor droning away in the front of the classroom. But only one in five students drops from their course if it’s taught with a professor using active learning, where the students get to actively work the problems themselves. In other words, the best teachers build breaks into their lectures so that students can actively work with the materials. Now, if you’re a professor or teacher, and you think well, there’s just no time for this just remember that speaking fast and covering a lot of material doesn’t mean that the students are actually learning the material. There are guidelines that can help you cover the material even while your students are actively learning in your classroom. I once had a student who was flunking my engineering statistics class. When I questioned him about it, he said it was because his English was bad. He spoke English as an additional language. But actually his English was great. It turned out that he just wasn’t taking the time to actively work through the problems himself. He was fooling himself. Looking at worked out solutions right in front of him and thinking he knew how to solve them himself. He also wasn’t working actively with his team. Once we corrected that problem, and he started working actively with the problems himself, checking them with others, he began to do much better. As one of the artists for this MOOC told me, only watching tutorials and avoiding the actual practice is a big problem with art students who are trying to teach themselves. As another example, let’s look at how I helped to construct the MOOC, Learning How to Learn. I’d never done any camera work or editing before. I watched YouTube clips to learn how to edit videos and that helped me to get started. But it was only when I started actively editing videos myself in conjunction with watching the YouTube instructions, that it really began to stick. One trick I’ve learned as a teacher is to deliberately put my hands behind my back when I’m trying to show something to students. It helps keep me from reaching out and doing whatever I’m trying to ask the student to do. For example, it’s always tempting for me to write an equation or adjust the setting myself, because I already know it, and I can do it much more quickly. I even do this hands-behind-the-back technique as a mom and as a grandma. So as a learner, if someone tries to show you by writing or doing it themselves, try to gently push them away so that you are doing it. More generally do your best to take charge of whatever you’re learning about to put a pen or pencil to paper to take quizzes, to do assignments, get your hands on it. So you can actively master the material yourself. Be an active group member in collaborative testing or any group project or assignment. In other words, test, test, test yourself all the time on anything you really want to learn. If the book’s just open there in front of you or the video is just played right before you, you think you know it, but you don’t. Only when you close the book or turn away from the video and test yourself by seeing if you can do it yourself, do you really know that you know it. Now, here comes the fade to white, you know what’s coming. Okay, that in video quiz question was totally easy. But we put it there just because it helps reinforce a vital point and start an effective study habit in this MOOC. Actually, good quiz questions can be super helpful for tamping down your knowledge, which is why it helps to take quizzes. If you have one hour of studying versus one hour of taking a test, you’ll actually learn far more when taking the test, even if you don’t get the answers to the test, and even if you fail the test and don’t know the answers. Well, at least then you know exactly what questions you want to find the answers to the next time you sit down to study. You can’t actively do everything in every course all the time. From time to time, all of us especially me [SOUND] are distracted by our wandering minds. [SOUND] But the more you make use of active learning about the key aspects of a material, the better your ability to change your thinking to make a MindShift. It can take more effort to learn actively, so do not be surprised if your brain sometimes finds excuses to shy away from active learning. Incidentally, working with others is another way of grappling actively with the material, so that’s why it can be so helpful to interact on the discussion forms. In fact, talking with others is probably more pleasant than any other kind of active learning. Anyway, all of this is what is really important for you to actively work through the exercises we’re suggesting. And sometimes to interact with others to get the most out of this course, or to get the most of any subject you’re trying to master. Incidentally, MOOCs like this one can be better than just watching a television show about what you’re trying to learn. That’s because MOOCs give you the opportunity to actively practice with the material, and interact with others, as well as just listen to your professor. So remember, in this course, and every subject or area where you really want to master the material, keep yourself working actively. I’m Barbara Oakley. Happy MindShift.

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