Knowledge gained from Learning Science Research

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I am always eager to know more about how processes of learning work in an individuals mind, which cognitive tools mediate one's learning and which kind of structured environment helps a learner in their learning trajectories. That interest prompted me to take this course, Learning Science Research Seminar, in order to answer these questions. From this course, I found that Learning Science is a new area of systematic knowledge of the learning methodologies and learning environment, which lay the ground work for schools in the future. It brings together researchers from different fields such as psychology, education, computer science and anthropology (Sawyer, 2006). This course is full of information and is research-driven, which supports my prospective career. I have been enlightened through this course with different qualitative, quantitative and design based research focused on learning theories, learning processes, self-regulated learning, aligning curriculum instruction, the importance of motivation in achieving academic goals and so forth. This paper reflects what I learned throughout this course and what I learned from different research seminars.

What I learned from "Learning Science Research Seminar"

In the initial days of the course, I was confused by the new culture and study environment, but the constant encouragement and support of my instructor helped me to become more confident and eased me into the new learning environment. She always welcomed me whenever I required support or had any questions related to the assigned readings. Soon this course became very interesting to me and allowed me to gain a lot of knowledge: I discovered new research and I gained new ways of thinking by listening to the guest presenters.

The talk by Dr. Aulls about pedagogical instruction stated that effective instruction should be inquiry-based; it should not be based on isolated elements. This is based on students' learning, the subject matter and instructional methods. Nowadays teacher-centered classes are replaced with student-centered ones, where students take the responsibility of learning on their own shoulders and the teacher is a facilitator to guide them towards the attainment of set goals and motivate them to strive for a deeper understanding of the content. Inquiring based teaching tends to give more opportunities to learn by doing, posing questions and investigating the answers along with a thoughtful review of the information (Aulls & Shore, 2008; Lee, 2004 as cited in Aulls & Ibrahim, 2010). He also suggested the social constructivist environment in the class, where learning is mediated by conversation, in which different kinds of discussions take place among students while they are working in groups. I found his article interesting because it motives teachers to adopt more activities as a part of instruction and small group discussion. His articles clarify the differences of various kinds of talking that occur in the collaborative learning environment. For instance: disputational, cumulative and exploratory talking. Collaboration is rooted in Vygosky's theory, "Zone of proximal development" where learning happens by students interacting with one another; however, this idea has been re-conceptualized by Mercer (as cited in Schmitz & Winskel, 2008) where the Intermental Developmental Zone (IDZ) relies on joint communication and support of each other's ideas while promoting critical engagement and challenging ideas cognitively. According to (IDZ), there are some questions that arise with regards to the theory, such as how should a teacher handle the situation when not every participant is ready to participate in collaboration or whether the interaction occurs in a face-to-face environment or in an online asynchronous text-based learning environment. How can the instructor then play a role in motivating those students who are not contributing their ideas or helping to construct a shared solution of problem? Furthermore, high-low ability dyad collaboration may be helpful for low ability students but there is no sufficient cognitive gain for high ability students, which might provoke frustration in those high ability students because their expectations are higher and different than those of low ability students. In this case, what is the role of teachers in quenching the high ability students' thirst for information? How can an instructor make sure everyone is at ease when exchanging their views, and receiving satisfactory cognitive and emotional gain through the joint supported environment?

In the seminar "Building Community through Tele-collaboration" the major focus was on the areas of research and development work in education: knowledge building, collaboration, a teacher's professional development, and scaffolding through information and communication technologies. Before taking this seminar, I had not encountered the topic of a Tele-collaborative learning environment in school or the idea of a community of practice, which I fortunately learned about in this course. I found that technological tools are not only used for the purpose of building bridges across the world, but they also provide a powerful learning environment in terms of professional growth or personal development. According to Breuleux, social on-line networked communities in which professionals share their expertise and experience with colleagues or others can support them upgrading their knowledge and skills and help to improve their practice. Additionally, there are many other factors that need to be focused on, for instance the demands of teacher preparation programs or courses in educational technology teach the concepts of inquiry-based learning. In inquiry-based classrooms or lessons, students are encouraged to research topics under their own guidance and direction with teachers acting as facilitators. To use technology most effectively, extensive professional development is required for the classroom teachers. Another question that arose in this presentation that is related to my teaching experience is that novice teachers were ready to work with technology whereas more experienced teachers seems to resist imparting technology in their professional growth. Consequently, this caused isolation groups within the same institution and sometimes it instigated conflicts between both groups. So, there is still a question mark in my mind as to how to motivate the teachers who don't want to put aside their conventional ways of doing things and who are unwilling to embrace technology, which is demanded in today's society. Dr. Breuleux's presentation heightened my interest in knowing more about this area of communication media, which influences student and teacher learning and growth.

One of the most appealing pieces of research presented was by Bateman. D, on Curriculum alignment and assessment. This prompts me to revisit the notion of assessment. She stated that assessment is not just about assessing students' performance, but an assessment of one's own teaching practice or reflection on their own instruction. Furthermore, educational outcomes reflect the output results, which further provide a path for educational professionals to fix the roadblocks that hinder the achievement of intended outcomes and for students to change their negative perceptions of assessment. Carroll (as cited in Cohen, 2010) claims that "a fundamental component of effective instruction is the degree to which learners have a clear picture of the instructional outcome" (p. 16). By this presentation I broaden my horizon curriculum objectives, instructional processes and assessment are not unrelated, but they should work together in a synchronized way. The research presented that day broadened my horizons of curriculum alignment regarding the nature of learning and knowing how the three functions can be coordinated. Skinner's influence on instructional design was best demonstrated in a system called CRI (Criterion Referenced Instruction) which contradicts the conventional expectation of a normal distribution of assessment (Cohen, 2010). In this regard, a few pivotal things came to my mind: that it instigates educational leaders to renew the policies and reform the educational goals under the CRI model as well as for teachers and practitioners to assess their own performance by corresponding it with a student's performance product. It is a challenging task for teachers, course designers and for academic researchers to bring forward these principles of learning and understanding the triad harmonized functioning of instructional alignment among instructional objectives, instructional processes, and instructional assessment. Similarly, in students learning and their perception of the teaching-learning environment Dr. Saroyan highlighted some practical problems and underlying assumptions of university teaching. She also described the working model of teaching development, which was inspired by her research analysis. This model of teaching includes components comprised of knowledge, perspective, and reflection within a context through a teacher's proposed student-centered approach of teaching. Saroyan et al., (2004) stated that expertise in teaching occurs through the alignment of these components. I learned from her proposed model of teaching that a good teacher should know about her students, which builds a positive and strong relationship when teachers and students learn from and can understand each other.

Before the presentation by Dr. Pekrun on "The control-value theory of achievement emotions" I found that motivation plays a critical role in achieving goals and academic objectives and it potentially affects the prospective career purport. In schools, pupils are mostly motivated towards their performance goals by good grades and incentives and strive to demonstrate that they are capable students among others, which intentionally leads them towards normative motivation. Equally, the importance of beliefs on control also affects motivation, such as when beliefs that academic goals are positive, then the achievement goals will be mastery, whereas when there are beliefs that a negative control of a task would be low, a learner will be led to make an avoidance goal. Both sets of goals, mastery and performance goals, guide learners towards the achievement then which motivation (intrinsic or extrinsic) have a long affect on performance and value of task. It is true that the motivational level affects one's control of learning if the control is positive, in which case an individual will experience relief rather than anxiety. In the collaborative learning environment (Syeda, WebCT communication, November 18, 2010) each participant shares their work or engagement towards the common goal, because it is a cooperative way of learning in which each member is responsible for sharing their ability and working towards the common task. Whereas, when a low-ability learner finds the task to be insufficient, then they can be more emotionally upset and feel uncomfortable with group participation and perceive the task negatively. This question is debatable in that the learning with peer modeling approach led low-ability learners to experience anxiety or shame when they evaluate their own performance by comparing themselves with more capable group members. However, a task that is valued to be negative or low control when the participant was unwilling to incorporate their work in a group, may influence potential learning outcomes (Naismith. L, WebCT communication, November 22, 2010). Future research should provide some reasonable ways to promote motivation in a setting requiring social participation.

Conclusion

Scientific learning research is important because it allows us to assess and review the quality of schools and the educational system. It allows for reform and policy change and to determine how research affects a community and one's learning trajectories. Before taking this course, I did not have a clear understanding of Learning Science. Fortunately, my participation in this course enabled me to not only clear up blurred concepts related to teaching and learning, but it also oriented me towards more specific future research avenues. This reflective paper was a representation of the thoughts I obtained from this seminar course and it has opened new avenues for me to look towards future research goals in tandem with the information that I acquired in this course.

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