Learning Styles

Just filled in a questionnaire about learning styles after reading about it on a secondary school forum which mentioned on a Moodle forum.

Though there are some issues with the way learning styles are theorised, I find quite appealing the notion that flexibility/diversity in teaching methods relates to flexibility/diversity in learning styles.

One problem with such questionnaires has to do with introspection which, as many cognitive scientists would argue, is unreliable as a way to learn about thinking. Of course, reliability and accuracy might not be the only features of the answers we get. But since such questionnaires are used to reveal patterns, the unreliability of introspection can be an important issue to discuss.

Filled in the questionnaire twice. The first time, I was probably trying to get a specific result, even without noticing. The second time, I tried to be as much of a realist as I could be and I think it worked. (Although, I may have tried even harder to get a different result.)
My results (on the second pass):
  • Visual: 3
  • Aural: 13
  • Read/Write: 12
  • Kinesthetic: 7
Those results make me multimodal aural and read/write, in the model used for this questionnaire. I think it's pretty accurate. Not that it draws a complete picture of my learning (and teaching) habits, but it does summarise some of my broad tendencies.
What hides behind such numbers is context. Though "learning by doing" isn't my forte, there are many situations in which it's my main learning mode. In fact, I really enjoy the playfulness of this "kinesthetic" mode of learning. Though I'm almost not visual at all, my visual memory really isn't that bad and I do rely on visual memory in several contexts. Websites and presentations with a lot of audio tend to annoy me. Part of the reason the read/write mode is almost as important for me as the aural mode is that most academic activities are associated with reading and writing.
Not that any of those issues are contradicting the model. Those who use the VARK (visual, aural, read/write, kinesthetic) model clearly take context into account (especially since multimodality is the most common pattern). My own emphasis on context is certainly linked to my ethnographic approach. And habits of connected learning.

Though the sensory model is appealing and widespread (even outside learning institutions), there are other approaches to the diversity of learning habits. For instance, I got much inspiration from a model described by Olivia Rovinescu, director of Concordia's Centre for Teaching and Learning Services. From what I remember of that model, critical thinking is conceived in connection with stages in cognitive development. As far as I can tell, Rovinescu's model relates to a reevaluation of W.B. Perry's work (which, itself, was based on Piaget's work). As an informal learner of such pedagogical theories, I'm quite taken by several approaches to learning described by the models themselves. For one thing, these models help me describe my own learning habits and strategies.

Should I now take MBTI tests? ;-)


Consoled from Life

They can hurt me, jail my body
I'll still be free
I've got the solace of you
Living Colour - Solace of You Lyrics



Learning Materials (was: PowerPoint and Teaching Effectiveness?)

Thinking about teaching, yet again...
From a post on a Moodle forum.
This thread almost had the effect of an intervention, on me. Maybe my use of bullet points on slides is not as appropriate as it should be. As a victim of Steve Jobs's RDF, I would prefer doing Jobs-style (or Lessig-style) presentations, instead of following bullet points on slides.
My main excuse to use slides is that I'm really absent-minded and I tend to go on tangents. Slides help me improvise my lectures as they: remind me of what I want to discuss, are easy to time, are easy to read while lecturing, and are clearly structured.
Some of my most honest students have told me (in course evaluations) that I should dispense with slides. The reason I still use slides is pretty much because other students react strongly if I go too far on a tangent and they don't know where I'm going. With a slide, they can at least tell where I'm at.

But lecturing is just one part of the story.
I just gave my last lecture of the semester. Only lectured for a short period of time as the rest of the course meeting was devoted to preparing students for the exam. The highlight today was that I was able to build up exam questions with a relatively large number of students. Those questions will be on the final exam and I'm convinced that the process helped students way beyond the scope of the exam.

Slides, lecture notes, textbooks, presentations, lessons, podcasts, wikis, blogs, links, webpages... All of these are pretty much what I would call "learning materials." Been thinking quite a lot about learning materials recently and will be holding a session on learning materials at the Spirit of Inquiry conference organised by McGraw-Hill/Ryerson and Concordia. My main ideas with those learning materials are that they can be free (as in speech and/or as in beer), open (access, -ended), and flexible (customizable). I'd like participants at the conference to have fun with these ideas on learning matetrials. Mashing up on mashups and mash-ups, Lessig's Free Culture and Creative Commons, Wesch's "Web 2.0" video ethnography, Baraniuk's free coursework materials, MIT's OpenCourseWare, Wired Magazine's Radical Transparency, and the Cluetrain legacy.

There are technical issues and Moodle can help. For instance, with editing and repurposing content.
I still don't have the perfect workflow which would allow me to use outlines to produce both slides and lecture notes at the same time, post everything on Moodle, link everything with podcasts, collaboratively edit content, etc.
A friend has been using ProfCast with great success. Another friend recently showed me a neat script that he hacked together which allows for seamless integration of wiki-like markup and slide structure. Previously, I've used OmniOutliner with LaTeX, HTML, Keynote, and other file formats (including PPT). I tried Hans Hagen's ConTeXt with little success. I've even started to think that OneNote 2007 might provide a solution. Zoho Notebook looks promising, especially if it can integrate with Zoho Show.

Many of us do a lot of things with our "learning materials." From producing self-paced slideshows to collaboratively editing textbooks. The content itself can be fairly simple. File formats abound to make it easy for anybody to work with this type of material. Maybe Moodle can help people understand that it's not just a question of coding in some HTML, Flash, or SCORM.

Free Show: Dakan at Balattou (April 11)

The main band in which I play, Madou Diarra and Dakan, is playing tomorrow night, April 11, at Club Balattou on Saint-Laurent. Haitian singer Dre-D will play first, at 8:30 p.m. and Dakan will be the second act.
Free as in "free beer": no cover charge.
Festival International Nuits d'Afrique de Montréal - World music Musique du monde


Did Google Lose Its Touch?

Well, ok, the changes in the APIs might be worth it. But Google's personalised maps feature (MyMaps) don't impress me much. Maybe there's something I didn't get but apart from Google Earth/KML integration, this new feature seems to add relatively little to what other services and mashups have been doing with Google Maps and other map-based online services (Yahoo! Maps, MapQuest, Microsoft's Live Local, Mappy, etc.).
One thing I expected in creating a new map is that distances would be automatically calculated. Sure, you can get directions with distances. But those directions are based on car driving and you pretty much need to have addresses. Besides, it takes a lot more time to input the data necessary than just drawing a line.
Actually, I'm still convinced that functionality exist (getting distances by drawing lines) but I haven't seen it yet. Microsoft's Live Local does it.
In fact, it could be fun to be able to set a distance (that you want to walk, say) and draw around a path which would be equivalent to that distance.
Someone told me about a Mappy, European map/direction system which takes into account toll roads, gives you an estimated gas consumption and generates maps for pedestrians or for express routes. It also includes public transportation for Paris. I hope that we'll eventually get the same in North America, especially for those of us who aren't so car-centric.
So, despite its hype for its new map-making feature, is Google losing its touch with creating new tools?
Official Google Blog: Map-making: So easy a caveman could do it


eLearning and Creativity

Yes, the Moodle Community is listening.