Learner Experience in Design
How does a student learn to be a student? It’s a skill that is used- but not traditionally taught- in the classroom. For something so important to academic success, it’s unclear where students are to learn and refine their study process.
This semester I am analyzing how study skills are currently taught, and developing a new system to better teach them.
1/19/16: Conceptual Blockbusting - How do we currently teach students how to study?
For my first dip into the topic, I conducted a conceptual blockbusting activity on the way that study skills are currently taught. I used online research and personal experience to inform how, when, and where these skills are taught.
Currently, unless parents intervene earlier, teachers start to implement certain methods of organization (binders, notecards, notes) in the classroom in elementary school, that may be monitored or turned in. This may continue into middle school, but usually stops when students enter high school, when it’s assumed that students have identified the skills that work best for them (Note: Assumption does not mean that this has actually happened)
I identified several problems that need to be addressed. First, there seems to be no “perfect” time or place to teach study skills. If taught too early, the skill may be lost if it is not continually practiced. If it is taught too late, students may not have enough time to refine their process to figure out how they best learn. If the student learns these skills at home, they may not implement them in a school environment, and vice-versa.
Through the blockbusting activity, I analyzed the current scope of the problem, and identified that study skills are currently viewed as a means to an end, and instead should be viewed as an ongoing process that can successfully travel from a school or work environment to a home environment, tailored to and by the individual.
1/28/26: Teaching Conservation — Practicing Blockbusting
Today in class we separated into groups of 3 and were each given a prompt: Develop a program to teach conservation. My group was not given any audience constraints, so immediately we narrowed our audience to elementary school-aged children. We developed an in-school program that focuses on 4 main areas of conservation: recycling, electricity, water, and food. Overall, the message is to only use what you need, don’t waste.
Each of the 4 areas would have a representative cartoon character, plus an antagonist (3/5 shown below). Children would watch a short video introducing the characters and what they represent, and then showing ways to conserve within the 4 areas. Then, posters of the 5 characters would be displayed in relevant areas of the classroom (Water droplet by the sink, lightbulb by the light switch, etc.). The teacher watches the children’s activity daily and can switch out the character poster to a “sad version” or “happy version” depending on whether the students conserved in that area or not (did everyone finish their food, recycle, and remember to turn off the water and lights?)
After we completed the ideation of the activity, we analyzed our process to identify potential blocks. We used schemas and stereotypes of the schemas, like that kids are open to learning new things especially in the classroom, respond and relate to cartoon characters, and aim to please. While these elements may make a successful program, they may oversimplify a complex topic that children are able to understand. Restricting thinking to what we think would be successful may cut us off from teaching more useful information.
2/1/16: Defining Studying
To even start thinking about how best to approach teaching it, I first have to define what I am identifying as “studying”. Studying and learning are often used interchangeably. Before research and consultation helped me define their actual difference, I associated learning with the classroom or educational space (online, podcast etc.), and studying with reviewing information at home or outside the educational space. However of course the difference has more to do with the actual activity instead of where it takes place.
Put simply, studying is the act of deliberate learning. For example, you can study history because it involves memorizing facts, arranging events, and understanding conflicts. However, you learn your first language, because through holistic observation and imitation (rather than reviewing vocabulary lists and grammar rules) you happen to acquire it.
Back to my original passive assumption that learning takes place in the classroom and studying takes place at home, this is actually often true, but not exclusively. Learning can take place many places, and studying can take place within the classroom. For example, a biology teacher may give a lecture about DNA and RNA, to which students listen passively. The teacher then passes out worksheets and asks students to look at a strand of RNA and create the complement DNA strand. The activity the students are doing is characterized as studying, because they are taking facts they have learned (what a “complement strand” is, what DNA sequences are, that G binds to C and A binds to T) and consciously recalling them in order to complete a task. Over time, they will be able to complete this task even more quickly, and use it as a skill to complete more complex tasks.
Often, people use the verb study to mean a career, a long-time life path, rather than the individual act of sitting down and consciously learning. This kind of studying could be categorized differently. When someone says “I study history”, instead of “I am studying history”, they mean that the spend a significant amount of time learning, studying (by the first definition), and further researching, learning, studying (and so on…), history, infinitely expanding their knowledge of the subject. When someone says they study something, they also often mean that they use their skills and expertise to theorize and experiment to discover new information that has not yet been discovered by anyone else.
For the purpose of this project, I will be using the first definition, to consciously and deliberately learn. Although it is possible to study a skill, such as ballet, I will be focusing on studying objective material, like math and science. However, this material is often used in the process of studying a skill. For example, I must memorize vocabulary in order to become successful at ballet. I may use study skills to learn this vocabulary:
Plier (French accent)-> Plier (American accent)-> Pliers bend things / Pliable means bendy-> Bend knees
However, if you had studied French already, you may be able to recall that information and use it successfully in a different context, rather than a more complicated association strategy:
Jeter -> To throw -> Throw front leg in air to leap
Fin -> Finished -> I am finished with this post.
2/2/16: Learning Components (In-Class Activity)
Today in class we delved further into our individual topics to identify components we will analyze, rearrange, and improve.
- Define Topic in Detail
I am improving the way studying, the deliberate and conscious learning of information, is taught. This process takes time, beginning as learning to organize tasks, assignments and time around ages 7–10. At the later end of that time, people must be taught how to best use notes, lists, charts, flashcards, etc. to gradually master information. From around age 14 (the beginning of high school) this should become and independent and self-sufficient activity.
Who/When: Teaching study skills happens gradually over time in stages from elementary school or even before (organizing info into a binder or system), to elementary/middle school where study skills (notecards, lists, charts, etc) to late elementary/middle school and in high school and beyond the self-sufficient organization of time to middle/high school.
Where: Study skills must be taught and reinforced at school and at home, because one organization system that transfers between the two is important. Home may be more important because that is where most studying takes place (outside the classroom)
Why: Studying is essential to the schooling/education process because it is the only way to acquire, master, and retain information.
2. Typical Example of How it’s Taught
A teacher may require an organization system in the classroom (binders for grading, etc.) but this may fizzle out after a certain grade. Study skills are not unknown, everyone knows about flashcards and notes. However, using them consistently and correctly are skills untaught in the classroom and are often left to the parent.
3. Define Problems and Opportunities
Problems: Some do it on their own, some never need to. Often, students are taught skills that don’t work for them.
Opportunities: Could be presented with a system that they use for a long time, and won’t have to think about the system they’ll just use it.
Problems: Can only teach so much inside the classroom/at home (classroom teacher and parent, respectively), and not really their job to monitor student at all times.
Opportunities: Students keeping organized and knowing study skills will make classroom run smoother because all students are prepared.
4. Defining Components of Learning Experience;
Organization (By parents, by teachers)
Told to use study skills at scheduled time (Mostly by parents, some by teachers)
Set own schedule and use study skills on own (By self)
2/8/16: Integrating Visual Thinking into Topic
Visual note taking, mental mapping and various other methods are ways to integrate visual thinking into studying itself. Taking notes in this way helps some people emphasize important concepts and make connections between topics.
However, integrating visual thinking into the teaching process of studying is more difficult. Because study skills are fairly straightforward, consistency and timeliness are the largest issues to overcome in teaching “How to Study”. Using graphs instead of lists to organize tasks vs. time may be the most effective way to use visual thinking in the teaching process.
2/8/16: Methods of Notetaking
The Cornell Method
The Cornell Method has a systematic format for condensing and organizing notes without recopying. Write notes in the main space, use left-hand space to label each idea, and detail with a keyword. At the bottom of the page summarize the information. While you may not get every detail down, the Cornell Method is great for writing notes to be reviewed.
The Outlining Method
The information that is most general begins at the left with each more specific group facts indented with spaces to the right, carried out through indenting (sometimes bold, italic, etc.)It’s a well organized system (when done right), and is easy to review by turning main points into questions. It’s best used during a lecture that is also outlined, or taking notes from a textbook.
The Mapping Method
Mapping is a method that uses comprehensions/concentration skills and evolves in a note taking form which relates each fact to every other fact or idea. It maximizes active participation and critical thinking.
Mapping may be better used as a study tool outside of class as a supplemental study tool, because trying to graphically organize information that is continuously given to you can be a struggle and may result in missing or glossing over information.
The Charting Method
If the lecture format is chronological/cyclical, drawing columns and labeling appropriate headings is a good way to organize information. First, students determine the categories to be covered, then record information into the appropriate category. This method reduces the amount of writing necessary and is an easy review mechanism for facts and comparisons. However, may miss out on nuances of material presented.
2/15/16: Knowledge Gaps
As I have written about before, there is no ideal time or place to teach study skills. This opens up a world of possibilities for knowledge gaps. Some students are taught organization and study skills early on and consistently maintain these skills. Others are never taught these skills. Some learn these skills as they are needed, and thus struggle with learning material because they are also trying to master the use of study skills and strategies.
The largest knowledge gap that I have identified so far is the inappropriate (Ambrose definition) way that “studying” is viewed: as an isolated activity, rather than a program one follows to learn information. What I mean by this is that studying connects to all elements of classroom (or online, but different than life-learning) learning. Studying is a system of organized note-taking, scheduling, and using study materials such as notecards, lists, charts, etc. to master information. The inappropriate knowledge that many people bring to the subject is that it just includes the last item. This could also be viewed as insufficient, because it is not entirely inaccurate.
Ideally, if studying was to be taught early enough, it could be taught in stages. First, students would be taught a system of scheduling and organization, to learn how to schedule and complete tasks. Then, they would learn how to take notes in a way that makes in easier for them to identify and extract important information that will become flashcards and key terms that will be reviewed later. This will be taught closely with the step that follows it, the actual construction and use of the final study materials. However, I along with many other students, started to actually use study skills as they were needed, and did not learn them in a way that made them a part of the whole learning process.
Addressing these gaps may require an assessment activity beforehand. The teacher would first see how students take their notes on a lecture or reading, and ask them why they take their notes this way or rather to describe their note taking system. Presenting the question in this way may allow them to think of note taking as something they do in the same way every time, rather than doing it randomly or without thought.
Another useful activity may be teaching how to use these notes to make note/flashcards, one of the most widely used study tools. Allowing students to make flashcards from their original notes, and then later showing them how to make cards from their proper new method of note taking may help them see the explicit connection between the two.
Because most of the difficulties of teaching how to study don’t lie in the difficulty of learning the concepts, but rather in teaching why consistency is key, overcoming knowledge gaps is a tough concept to get at.
2/23/16: Different Learning Perspectives
In the readings and in class, we have covered a variety of perspectives on learning to apply to our topics. How can these perspectives be applied to my topic of learning how to study?
There are many mental blocks within the concept of studying: That it’s only be done at home (not in the classroom), that it is only to get a good grade (not to really retain knowledge), that it’s a one-and-done activity (rather than a process/system that builds on itself). Keeping a schedule and introducing note-taking methods to help make studying easier later on may be an effective way to break up those mental blocks.
- Thinking Fast and Slow:
In order to develop a good habit, you must “think slow” about it first, then over time, with enough diligent repetition, it becomes a “thinking fast” activity. This best applies to learning how to take notes. First, students learn a system of hierarchy for their notes, and must actively think about how to organize information during class, a lecture, etc. Later on, they will do this activity almost automatically, as it becomes easier to determine where to place information.
- Filling Gaps:
Some of the gaps I identified in an earlier post had to do with the schema of studying, and how people view it as an individual event, rather than as a system of notes, reviewing, and making study materials. Setting up a schedule that lays out this information may be a cut-and-dry way of showing how little time a student has to devote to this system daily, but how much that daily activity will help them learn information gradually, rather than cramming right before a test.
- Visual Thinking:
Notes and study tools are largely text-based. This may not be an issue for many students, but using methods of visual thinking may be required for other students to learn information hierarchy (topics, subtopics, facts), and how those topics relate to each other. Tools such a information maps can help a student to visually organize information in a way that makes sense to them.
Because studying isn’t a fact-based topic, it may not be too important to incorporate many aspects of memory into my teaching method. It may be important to remember things such as “review notes within 24 hours” or “start studying for a test 3 days in advance”, but those numbers can be slightly modified for circumstance or the individual.
Usually, someone who follows so strict a schedule and organized system is not only considered maybe a nerd (who has nothing else to focus on but their studies), but also somewhat of a control freak. To override this schema, I have to propose a “cool” teaching/learning method that is not only more convenient than taking notes and studying another way, but is also fun to use.
This is by far one of the most difficult parts of studying (or teaching how to study, rather). Many students have no motivation to take notes or study throughout elementary and middle school, maybe even high school, because their courses are too easy for them. However, this is a critical time to learn how to study, because once the coursework becomes difficult, students who don’t know how to study are put at a significant disadvantage. Overcoming the motivation issue links back to the schema issue: how do you make studying fun? (Or at least somewhat rewarding. Studying will probably never be that fun.)
2/29/16: Speed Dating Exercises
Happy Leap Day!
These “speed dating” concepts will be used in class to gauge how effective they may be at helping students learn how to study.
Extracting Important Information: You are taking psychology notes in an online note-taking software. When you type “positive reinforcement:” the software asks you if you would like to identify this as a vocabulary words. Later on when you are preparing for a test, you can use the vocabulary words you identified to make flashcards to review material.
The 24 Hour Guideline: You have your class schedule input into your digital calendar. Knowing that you should review notes from the previous class before that class meets again, you set up a notification for 30 minutes before the next class time to remind you to look over your notes and prepare you for class.
Setting Up Your Notes: You are taking notes in an online note-taking software during an American history class. You can choose from a number of templates to help organize your notes. When the professor announces that you will be covering the most important military operations of WWII. Knowing this information, you decide that choosing the “chart” template would be the best way to get down important information.
The Tough Stuff vs. What’s Easy Peasy: As a high school student, you know that some subjects require more attention than others to do well. Using an online learning tool, you input your test dates into a calendar. Then, using a guide that shows you how to break up studying into smaller units, you set up a customized study schedule so you know what units of different subjects to study each day. You have a lot of material to cover for your hardest class, AP Biology. You set up a 4-day study schedule for your next test. You’ve done well on all your Personal Finance quizzes, so you only set up a 1-day plan for your next test.
3/27/16: McCarthy Quadrant Map
For the past few weeks we have been discussing the four quadrants of the learning cycle, and how they are related. I set up the learning cycle of studying that I will be following while constructing my learning experience. Users will spiral through the cycle, (passing through it multiple times as their understanding grows). Starting in the middle of the cycle, first the students will be told why to study as a whole, then move into taking notes, then studying itself, then scheduling.
3/29/16: Site Mockups
This week I worked on my actual learning activities, and how they would fit together into a learning experience.
For my overall learning experience I will be making a web application, where users will complete a series of activities to teach them about all the different components of studying. As in my learning cycle above, I will first address why studying is important and laying out the components (note-taking, studying, scheduling). Next I will lead the user through a series of activities for each of the components. Each component’s activities will follow a similar structure: introduction/explanation, an activity to familiarize with the material, than an activity to apply the material to their own classes/material that they are going to be studying.
Dump of example screens:
3/30/16: Reference Sites
Last class we were to begin researching existing forms of learning media or similar relevant material that could be useful in how we are going to visually design our learning experiences. Here are a few sites I found useful in deciding what direction to head.
StudyBlue’s site is clean-cut and uses bright yet “professional” colors (blue and gray, basically). I think that the layout of using a card layout (see above photo), rather than a list (like Google Drive), to organize classes and study materials will help the user be more aware of their material and tasks.
2. Microsoft OneNote
OneNote does almost everything that I would want a note-taking application (not merely word processing) to do. I can make to-do lists, mark things as important or definitions, and a variety of other things that you can manually do on paper, but are rarely part of word processors. Although, it does feel cluttered and it can be tricky to learn all of the functionality.
During class today we mapped out an overview of the learning cycle. The blue Post-its represent the text/concepts appearing on each screen, and the green Post-its represent the corresponding visuals or activities.
4/11/16: More Involved Storyboarding
Using the storyboarding from the previous class, we identified where we are addressing the various aspects of learning that we covered during class.
Emotional Connection to Audience (Hot Pink): I will create an emotional connection in the introduction, and to set the tone for the learning experience (that studying is not a cut-and-dry, boring process, but one you can play with and customize).
Enagaging in the Learning Activity (Yellow): Activities will follow each step of each cycle, to engage the user, evaluate what they have learned, and apply it to their own schoolwork.
6 Facets of Understanding (Magenta): The activities will address the 6 facets of understanding by having users elaborate on what they have learned and filter the information through their own experiences.
Representing Info to Aid the Task (Light Blue): Activities like creating a study space through a drag-and-drop activity help the user to visualize the information in a new, fun way.
Thinking Laterally (Dark Blue): Asking students to think of new ways to do reorganization/repetition (and thinking about studying as categories of strategies rather than individual tasks) will help students to expand what they think of as studying.
Fast/Slow Thinking (Light Pink): Activities like the “rate your feelings” activity encourage fast thinking, while seeing that represented as a priorities list encourages slow thinking alter on, because it shows how you must evaluate the state of your classes to create a comprehensive list.
Questioning and Reaffirming Schemas (Dark Green): The leading questions at the beginning of each section (“Why can’t I study the night before?”) alerts users to inaccurate conceptions that they have about studying, and then below the question the schema is relates to is elaborated upon.
Knowledge Gaps (Dark Purple): The leading questions address knowledge gaps, and activities like the drag and drop study space activity evaluate how students currently think, and allow them to correct their thinking afterwards.
Aiding Memory (Red): Connecting the information to activities throughout the learning experience, and then linking the activities to the other components of the web app like the calendar, note-taking page, and flashcard maker will engrain the information learned during the lessons. The students can also review the lessons after they have been completed, as a reminder of learned information.
5/3/16: Final Reading Diagram
5/4/16: Final Learning Process
Apiary is a web app that teaches proper study methods, aimed at middle-school students. The app contains both lessons about study methods, and a study “hub” where students can see their test calendar, their classes, and take notes and create flashcards online. See the walkthrough of screens below to understand the learning process, and Apiary’s scope.