sue robbins

    Essential processing – which one of these topic areas do you think would require the most processing from students and why: learning the passive voice, learning how to paraphrase, learning the Harvard referencing system?

    Although it can seem relatively straightforward to teach students how to manipulate the form of a discrete grammatical item such as the passive voice, the essential processing required may depend on a learner’s first language and how easy it is to relate to the function of the item. The abstraction of removing the agent from a sentence may be quite hard to grasp for some. It may also add a layer of ‘extraneous’ processing in some types of writing where learners are trying to manage complex ideas and structures which may be made easier by relying on more straightforward means of expression.

    Paraphrasing is a complex skill that requires students to read/listen and understand at a deep level in order to translate the author’s argument/stance/level of certainty into their own words. If a learner understands the text only at sentence level they will not be able to access these elements of the author’s intent, meaning their initial reading may require too much essential processing before the task of paraphrasing can begin.

    When it comes to learning the Harvard referencing system it depends whether the focus is on the mechanics of building a reference, or whether the focus is on understanding what referencing is for, why it matters and what constitutes sound academic practice. Teaching the mechanics is based on perform goals – procedural goals designed to promote near transfer and teach step-by-step tasks which are performed more or less the same way each time – whereas the complexity of teaching referencing is far greater.

    Generative processing – What kinds of tasks or activities do you think might help students to organise and integrate content more effectively?

    Learners have their own approaches to creating a ‘mental representation of the material’ and consciously using their brains to organise information and material into a coherent structure. So I try to avoid being prescriptive in how they construct and demonstrate their understanding by not imposing the methods and techniques I have developed for myself, and which work for me. The fact that I find it useful to see information represented in a table (tabular notes) and that I can’t make head or tail of line diagrams and branching notes, for example, doesn’t mean others do/don’t. So I might offer students 2 or 3 techniques for demonstrating understanding of a given point and ask them to select one that makes sense to them. For a new chunk of information students could be asked to show their understanding in a variety of ways and then share their (e.g.) graphic, notes (sketch notes, Cornell notes, graphic representation), word cloud, written summary, etc. with another student and talk them through it. This rehearsal opportunity can help them consolidate the new information, allows them to hear their own thoughts out loud, encourages dialogue about the way the new information is being processed and discourages the storing of faulty information. It also helps learners to hear multiple representations of the same piece of information and allows me to see/hear if the new knowledge is accessible to each student, and therefore how likely it is that they can integrate it with what they already know. A further step designed to focus on where the new information might map onto old is also useful, and asking learners to summarise the new information and make a link to an item previously learned can help. I’m not sure yet how to design these types of open-ended activities online, and hope to get a better sense of this as the course progresses. There seems to be a tension between the need to scaffold online tasks quite carefully and offer automated feedback based on a ‘right’ answer, and this need to encourage multiple, idiosyncratic expressions of meaning.