Looking Back at Last Year, and a Useful, Fun Site for Short Lessons

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Always more to learn

Massive! Open! Free for all! 2013 in higher ed certainly was a year of much discussion around MOOCs; as just one example, this end-of-the-year piece from NPR looks at the “online education revolution” and questions the effectiveness of the MOOC (though it does offer some hopeful thoughts in the conclusion).

Maybe you, yourself, are intrigued by the concept of free learning online; maybe you’d like to learn something, academic or otherwise, but perhaps are not so interested in investing your time in an entire course. Enter the notable website Curious, which offers free, interactive lessons in bite-sized chunks. Its succinct and admirable mission is “to connect the world’s teachers with its lifelong learners.”

So, as a lifelong learner, you can carry out your 2014 resolutions to learn a little French and/or wilderness survival techniques, ski moguls, brush up on Excel spreadsheet skills, and ponder issues in philosophy. For some traditionally academic lessons on the site, check out the “Smarty Pants” lesson collection; you’ll also find quite a few lessons on avocations.

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“Here We Are Now; Entertain Us”: Edutainment’s Effectiveness

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Hey kids!

Hang around college faculty for awhile and you’re likely to hear grumbling about how students with short attention spans expect a “dog and pony show” in the classroom. I’ve read this is the “Sesame Street Syndrome”: that is, a lifetime of being tuned in to quickly-changing stimuli from various educational media has created young people for whom it is difficult to focus for any length of time, and who expect that learning should be fun. (This attitude is crystallized in a remark from one of my former students: “Well, if you were boring, we’d all be falling asleep” – as if a student’s inattentiveness is the prof’s fault.)  Enter the much-derided (in higher ed circles anyway) concept of “edutainment.”

Perhaps it’s derided for good reason. First, in my experience, I have seen that most profs do work hard to engage their students and certainly don’t set out to be boring. Even so, despite students’ personal preferences, recent research contradicts the idea that students actually learn more while they’re being entertained. In fact, the study cited here indicates there was no significant difference between student learning after students had heard a lecturer perceived as charismatic and fluent and a lecturer perceived as “disfluent.” Interestingly, however, the students thought they’d learned more from the entertainer.

In the long run, surely what matters is what you’ve learned, not what you might believe you’ve learned. This is something to keep in mind, as a student, when you hear certain professors are “fun” and entertaining in the classroom . . . they may, indeed, be excellent profs and talented at teaching, but in the end – sorry, Ernie, Bert, et al – a higher “fun” level does not equate to a better education.

Article linked above is “Charisma Doesn’t Count,” Chris Parr, Inside Higher Ed, 5/30/13.

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