Chapter Five Reading

I’m trying to catch up on my blog posts about Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology by Michelle D. Miller–so on to chapter five…

Chapter five seemed even more dense than chapter four–and reasonably so, since it is about memory; a crucial and often misunderstood component of learning.

One of the main takeaways for me from this chapter was Miller’s warning against relying on exposure to build memory.  She cites the study where students were asked to draw a penny–something we’ve all seen countless times–from memory, and how poorly the participants were able to accurately recall the specifics of how a penny looks.  I think it can be easy to assume that just because a student is regularly exposed to certain material, he or she will retain it–but Miller presents compelling evidence to the contrary.

Miller presents the three basic parts of memory, at least as they are commonly understood: encoding, storage, and retrieval.  She also discusses how the modal model is becoming more outdated in favor of the working memory model–where memory is not merely a holding tank of information, but rather a system of sub-components that handle specialized information.  Miller also suggests that we shouldn’t think of memory as a system or set of systems, but instead as capacities that serve our needs in different domains.  She adds that long-term memory is less of a repository of information, but more a mechanism for reproducing information based on cues.

Miller also notes that visual imagery is very powerful as it relates to memory, and that emotion–especially negative emotions–heighten memory.  I’m not sure how negative emotions can be used in a welcoming instructional environment, but that emotional component is still worth noting.

And, as is her custom, Miller again offers some techniques for tailoring online instruction to promote memory retention.  She makes a point to note the effectiveness of the Testing Effect, despite the prevailing opinion of students and even instructors that testing isn’t effective. Miller also mentions the Spacing Effect (spreading review sessions over time), the Interleaving Effect (weaving alternate topics that circle back to previous topics), and Desirable Difficulty.  I see the potential benefits of the Spacing and Interleaving Effects–but I also think they can be more challenging to incorporate into a traditional semester-long course.  But I guess that also depends on the nature of the course; I think certain disciplines better lend themselves to those approaches.

Miller again recommends frequent low-stakes quizzing that are shorter and allow for multiple attempts–which is relatively easy to do in most online courses. She also suggests that setting up spaced study can be accomplished through a recurring weekly schedule where different types of assignments are due on the same day of the week–which helps keep students from falling behind, yet lets them work ahead if they want.

One method Miller recommends for incorporating an emotional component is through video content–but she advises choosing such content prudently and offering an explanation beforehand or an alternative for students, depending on the subject matter.  Miller also suggests that encouraging students to publicly or even non-publicly share their work can also incorporate that emotional component that helps with memory retention.

Miller adds that prompting students to frame content in terms of how it relates to them–through personal examples–is one method for promoting deeper processing.  She also recommends finding ways to build new knowledge on top of students’ old knowledge as an effective technique.

In many ways, this chapter seemed more like a recipe for creating a more effective online course, compared to the other chapters.  That’s not a criticism–in fact, quite the opposite.  But for me, it does flag this chapter as one I’ll need to revisit later as a resource if/when I get the opportunity to help design or redesign an online course.

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