Monday, 14 May 2018

does learning style theory promote a fixed mindset among students?

It is interesting to read in Carol Dweck's Mindset how some people think with a growth or fixed mindset as if people have one or the other in some innate fashion.  In this book, Carol Dweck is arguing against fixed abilities or personal traits. She makes it very clear that growth mindsets can be developed and that individuals can have both at the same time for different skills. This is certainly true for me I find. I have a growth mindset about some things but not others. I know that it takes hard work and effort, for example, to be able to learn how to do something. A great example is learning biochemistry: I am confident that what I do not know or understand now, I will come to understand later with some time and effort. I am also beginning to view my writing in this light: even if I cannot write something now, I will eventually be able if I continue to write a little each day. And this is the message that Dweck is trying to convey - that development of a skill or attribute is a process that takes time and effort. It does not happen overnight and it does not happen without focus and effort on practice and learning. One example in my life where I have a fixed mindset is about learning a second language. But, I am working to develop a growth mindset around languages. This is something that Dweck has also found in her research: having a growth or fixed mindset is itself not innate and fixed. It is possible to cultivate a growth mindset.

So, I am complicated. The growth and fixed mindsets exist inside of me at the same time. I wonder if MCQ tests encourage a fixed mindset because there is no meaningful feedback that accompanies it - it is either correct or incorrect. Perhaps this is where electronic quizzing can be used to develop a growth mindset because there can be feedback tailored to each of the responses that encourage students to think about why they choose a particular distractor in contrast to choosing the correct answer. This is one reason why I prefer to go over each test in my classroom so that I can unpack the question and think through the possible answers and explain why one particular answer is better than the others.

Similar to a fixed mindset, labelling students with a particular learning style implies that students have a fixed mode of learning and that the other modes cannot be developed. This was certainly the mindset that some of my first-year students presented to me this past year. The resistance to the flipped classroom style of teaching with TBL seemed to be from their assumption or desire that there was no need to read before class. There was a seeming expectation from students that they would be able to be successful in university without needing to read very much or very deeply. There was a sense from students that teaching would cater to their preferred mode of learning. But they did not view it as their preferred mode of learning but rather as their innate or fixed learning style. Learning styles had produced in the students a fixed mindset about how they learn. Granted, not all students felt this way. I had a healthy handful of students who were successful and it seemed to me that this was because they embraced the work of reading rather than trying to avoid it.

So the equation I am trying to make with these learning styles and mindset is that inventorying students for their learning style in secondary school develops in some students a fixed mindset about their reading ability. And as such inculcates in them a sense that the ability to read is an innate skill that they do not need to develop because they do not learn that way. Rather, they learn by listening to instructors and seeing videos. Not that there is anything wrong with that: listening to a teacher and watching a video of a process can certainly facilitate learning. But the written word is still where the majority of our knowledge is found and avoiding reading is avoiding a rich information source. In addition, the evidence to date does not support the theory that teaching with students' preferred learning mode enhances their learning. Rather, the learning mode needs to mirror the type of skill or ability being mastered (see the many resources below).

How should instructors respond to this fixed mindset and instead design an environment which nurtures a growth mindset around reading ability? Reading is a skill to be developed. But that requires showing students that reading ability is required for success and that reading can be learned/developed. Of course, they know this - they learned how to read in primary school! But the ability to read fiction vs non-fiction or non-fiction vs academic articles are very different skills. And I think this needs to be explained to students: that there are different ways of reading and reading rewires their brains to facilitate learning. Reading for pleasure vs reading for information vs reading for learning. Each of these reading modes requires a different approach to the text that many students have not learned and continued reading practice allows the brain to reconstruct itself.

What are those different reading approaches? Reading for pleasure simply requires understanding the context of the written word and the descriptions/explanations of plot, character, and setting to wash over you. In contrast, reading for information requires carefully noting the facts and figures and ensuring that no piece is missed. This requires focused attention and effort but not necessarily for understanding. In contrast, again, reading for learning requires understanding of what is being conveyed by the text - the meaning of the text or process being described. This often includes attending to the information, but also attending to how the information relates to itself and what has been read before, especially if it is reading to understand a process (e.g. metabolic regulation) or an argument (e.g. philosophy). Reading for meaning vs information vs pleasure requires very different levels of engaged effort and not all students have been made aware of those differences. Not all students have learned the strategies that can be used in different contexts: transmission vs transactional reading.

But students' expectancy values do make them wonder if it is worth their effort to develop this familiarity with the course material. This is what students are thinking when they view the reading requirements of my assigned pre-class coursework. Is it worth their time and effort to read the assignment? This is something that Ambrose et al and Cooper et al consider. How to develop students valuing of the effort required to learn? So in my context, how do I develop students' valuing of reading effort?

Anecdotally I know students begin to value reading when they begin to see their reading efforts producing learning in themselves. When their reading efforts result in better understanding of the material which translates into better exam scores, which, unfortunately, is the currency that students & institutions value most.

So, how do we develop students' valuing of reading? How is students' expectancy value of reading for learing developed for coursework?

I honestly do not know. What I do, is set up the course structure using team-based learning so that students are held individually responsible for the pre-class learning by administering a reading quiz. In addition, by having them repeat the quiz as a team via two-stage testing, students are able to see for themselves the learning that results in their peers who do put in the effort to read. But that simply shows them that students who read carefully and with effort and attention earn the benefits of increased learning. But they may not necessarily know how to go about reading effortfully. So it does require training/teaching on my part as an instructor to show/teach students how to read for learning.

How do I do that now? I do explain that there are different reading modes: pleasure and learning. And then I suggest strategies for reading for learning. Read with a pencil in hand to write thoughts/notes in the page margins. Avoid excessive highlighting (better yet, avoid a highlighter altogether). Take time to look up new words in a dictionary (online is fine). If you want to keep the book in pristine condition (e.g. a library book or a rented book or a book you wish to resell) then read with a pencil and blank piece of paper at hand. The important point is to have a conversation with yourself while reading. Ask questions about what is being read. What does this mean? How does that connect with what I just read before? Why did the author take the time to write this? What are they trying to tell me? To convince me of? Why does Haave think this is important to read? How is it connected to the course? How is it connected to my life? Why should I care? Why do the author and my instructor think I should care about what I am reading? How can I use what I am reading to improve my understanding of the course, of the world, of my life? How will I be able to use what I am reading in the career I aspire to? In the person I am trying to become?


learning styles theory
An, D., & Carr, M. (2017). Learning styles theory fails to explain learning and achievement: Recommendations for alternative approaches. Personality and Individual Differences, 116, 410–416. 

Brown, P. C., Roediger III, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Get beyond learning styles. In Make it stick: The science of successful learning (pp. 131–161). Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Franklin, S. (2006). VAKing out learning styles—why the notion of ‘learning styles’ is unhelpful to teachersEducation 3-13, 34(1), 81–87. 

Husmann, P. R., & O’Loughlin, V. D. (2018). Another nail in the coffin for learning styles? Disparities among undergraduate anatomy students’ study strategies, class performance, and reported VARK learning stylesAnatomical Sciences Education, March 13. 

Khazan, O. (2017, April 11). The myth of learning stylesThe Atlantic.

Kirschner, P. A. (2017). Stop propagating the learning styles mythComputers & Education, 106, 166–171. 

Newton, P. M. (2015). The learning styles myth is thriving in higher educationFrontiers in Psychology, 6

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidencePsychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105–119. 

Riener, C., & Willingham, D. (2010). The myth of learning stylesChange: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 42(5), 32–35. 

Rogowsky, B. A., Calhoun, B. M., & Tallal, P. (2015). Matching learning style to instructional method: Effects on comprehensionJournal of Educational Psychology, 107(1), 64–78. 

Willingham, D. T., Hughes, E. M., & Dobolyi, D. G. (2015). The scientific status of learning styles theories. Teaching of Psychology, 42(3), 266–271. 

But, J. C., Brown, P., & Smyth, D. S. (2017). Reading effectively across the disciplines (READ): A strategy to improve student success. InSight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching, 12, 30–50.  

Chevalier, T. M., Parrila, R., Ritchie, K. C., & Deacon, S. H. (2017). The role of metacognitive reading strategies, metacognitive study and learning strategies, and behavioral study and learning strategies in predicting academic success in students with and without a history of reading difficulties. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 50(1), 34–48. 

Dai, D. Y., & Wang, X. (2007). The role of need for cognition and reader beliefs in text comprehension and interest development. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 32(3), 332–347. 

Haave, N. (2018, February 1). Reading to learnFaculty Focus Premium

Haave, N. (2018, January 30). Second thought: Read to succeed. Camrose Booster, p. 26.

Hermida, J. (2009). The importance of teaching academic reading skills in first-year university courses. The International Journal of Research and Review, 3(September), 20–30.

Horbec, D. (2012). The link between reading and academic success. English in Australia, 47(2), 58–67.

Knoester, M., & Plikuhn, M. (2016). Inquiry into the independent reading development of first-generation college graduates with advanced degreesJournal of Literacy Research, 48(1), 105–126. 

Linderholm, T. (2006). Reading with purposeJournal of College Reading and Learning, 36(2), 70–80. 

Manarin, K., Carey, M., Rathburn, M., & Ryland, G. (2015). Critical reading for academic purposes. In Critical reading in higher education: Academic goals and social engagement (pp. 47–64). Bloomington, In: Indiana University Press.

Schraw, G., & Bruning, R. (1999). How implicit models of reading affect motivation to read and reading engagementScientific Studies of Reading, 3(3), 281–302. 

Whitten, C., Labby, S., & Sullivan, S. L. (2016). The impact of pleasure reading on academic success. Journal of Multidisciplinary Graduate Research, 2(article 4), 48–64. 

Wolf, M. (2008). Proust and the squid: The story and science of the reading brain. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.

Dweck, C. S. (2016). Mindset: The new psychology of success - how we can learn to fulfill our potential (Updated ed). New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindsets that promote resilience: When students believe that personal characteristics can be developed. Educational Psychologist, 47(4), 302–314. 

Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). What factors motivate students to learn? In How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching (pp. 66–90). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Cooper, K. M., Ashley, M., & Brownell, S. E. (2017). Using expectancy value theory as a framework to reduce student resistance to active learning: A proof of conceptJournal of Microbiology & Biology Education, 18(2). 

Thursday, 3 May 2018

teaching naked: the naked campus

Another thoughtful chapter concludes Bowen’s book. In this 11th chapter, he considers what issues integrate student learning with the on-campus/in-class experience. I like his suggestions about attending to classroom furnishings and layout as opposed to the technology in the classroom. This is an approach that my campus that houses the Augustana Faculty of the University of Alberta has used for some time. Rather than trying to implement the latest and greatest technology in our classrooms, our Technology and Learning Services department has focused on ensuring that each classroom has a computer, projector, document camera, speakers, blu-ray player and whatever connections (wired and wireless) are required to teach using a tablet or laptop. Currently, we are considering implementing Bowen’s suggestion to simply facilitate faculty’s ability to bring their laptop from their office to the classroom and plugin to the system. We have even had success using Apple TVs to link laptops or tablets wirelessly to our computer projector. In addition, as Bowen suggests, whenever we renovate a classroom we consider whether or not it is feasible to install whiteboards on every spare wall of the classroom to facilitate students’ in-class group work. I am quite pleased with the results - none of our classrooms has a Cadillac version of classroom technology, but they are all able to facilitate what is minimally necessary. Interestingly, what I have found in my own teaching is that as I increasingly move to a flipped classroom, I find that I use technology less and less in the classroom because I am responding to students’ questions for clarification and posing to students problems which provide practice in applying what they have learned outside of class in preparation for our face to face class meetings. In order to be able to respond to my students’ immediate learning needs inside the classroom, I find that a canned PowerPoint is too inflexible for me to adequately address students’ questions. And when students resist and request me to lecture more, I find that I end up being more reliant on my prepared PowerPoints and notice student engagement decrease. It is odd that my students resist out of class preparation in order to practice their learning in class which produces obvious student engagement. They insist that they would rather have me lecture, yet they clearly look more bored when I lecture. How do I square this circle? How do I get students to appreciate that their ability to learn will increase if they put in the pre-class effort and practice thinking with the material under my guidance in-class?

Enough about me and my students! Back to this final chapter.

Something I really appreciate in this chapter is Bowen’s assessment that as the middle ground for higher education becomes crowded out by online alternatives, that it will be necessary for universities and colleges to find their own particular niche and do that well. Bowen’s assessment suggests that the vast majority of university and college programs are far too similar but that we survive based on most students choosing what is locally available. Online learning breaks down the barrier of localized learning. Thus higher ed institutions need to articulate a clear mission of what it means to learn and teach and what is being taught and learned and how that mission is unique and well delivered. I do get weary of the rhetoric which emphasizes learning and teaching as a commodity. Suggesting that universities and colleges be evaluated on the basis of whether or not our students learn assumes that all students are actually willing to learn. Is it possible to coerce students to learn if they do not want to? Many students do not understand that learning is actually only the result of what they do themselves. Teachers simply design and deliver the conditions for learning, we cannot actually make students learn - this is something they need to do themselves. This misunderstanding of learning as something that is done to the student (open the skull and pour the knowledge and understanding into the brain) rather than something that is constructed by students themselves is what produces student comments that complain that the teacher didn’t teach, students had to learn it for themselves. Of course, students have to learn it for themselves, no one can do their learning for them.

What will be interesting as we move forward is the different niches that higher ed institutions develop for themselves. What niche will my Augustana campus carve out for itself over the next couple of years? How will we become a destination institution for some students here in the heart of central rural Alberta? How can we harness the opportunities that present themselves by using educational technology outside of the classroom in order to enhance the sparks that fly when people meet face to face in the same space to discuss the issues that need to be addressed today and in the future? I firmly believe, based on my own experience, that there is nothing like the immediacy of the engaged in-class experience to fire up the curiosity and passion of students. And I think this is what Dr Bowen is advocating for us - find ways to produce an exciting engaging learning environment for our students. The best way to do that is to stop squandering the in-class experience with content delivery and instead provide students with an opportunity to practice applying their skills in a real and immediate way under the guidance of curators and designers of learning experiences. Those curators and designers need to be us: the faculty.


Bowen, J. A. (2012). The naked campus. In Teaching naked: How moving technology out of your classroom will improve student learning, Chapter 11. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley. p 267-288.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

teaching naked: the naked curriculum

I think this 10th chapter is my favourite of the book. It is written with an immediacy that demands our attention: we know how to teach better than we are - so what is stopping us from designing our learning experiences so that they best promote student learning?

It is a frightening prospect for me because I learned and was successful using the old passive lecture model that Bowen decries. Of course, he understands that sometimes lecturing is required to clarify a misunderstanding, but he is ardent in his assertion that all surveys of post-secondary teaching indicate we are lecturing too much relative to what the pedagogical research indicates. So why do we do that? Why do most of us continue to lecture despite the evidence to the contrary of what constitutes the best learning environment for our students?

There are myriad reasons.

One is that to redevelop our teaching approach is too costly. Most faculty evaluation committees (FEC) award merit, tenure, and promotion on the basis of research not teaching. Which is unfortunate because teaching is a scholarly activity. It is certainly not a scholarly activity when all we do is teach how we were taught without keeping abreast of the research evidence for how to improve learning outcomes. Why are we adamant in basing our research programs on published evidence but not require the same of our teaching? Why do many of us assume that we already know how to teach best when we were never actually trained how to teach? Possibly because we were successful being taught under those conditions. However, what many are demanding now is that we design the learning environment so that more students can be successful.

However, our FECs do not award sabbaticals for redesigning courses or programs even though such a redesign would require research. Teaching is often not viewed as a scholarly activity and hence is not rewarded as such.

So that is Bowen's take on transforming our in-class learning experiences by using active learning rather than passive lecturing. This chapter also discusses how to redesign curricula - something in which my campus is currently engaged. Bowen makes some bold suggestions about not confusing the package with the product. Learning is the product, not the course or the degree. Our credit system assumes that time spent equals learning. We all know that is not true. Many students earn course credit without the learning sticking. Bowen suggests that using a cookie-cutter approach to all disciplines and programs may not make sense. Maybe what constitutes a program in the humanities is different from what it is in the sciences or creative arts. Perhaps units of learning are different. Maybe professional programs are best mastered in smaller concentrated units where students take one or two courses over six weeks, whereas others require integration of multiples ideas over time and thus requires 3 or four courses completed simultaneously over 15 weeks. We don't need to assume that the same programs require the same curricular structure.

A point Bowen makes that has particular resonance for me is to scaffold learning over the time that students are learning. Educational programs need to be designed so that students' learning and skill mastery are developed to increasing levels of proficiency as they progress through their education years. This requires a different level of expectation of students' writing and thinking in their first and second years relative to their third and fourth (or fifth) years. How do we scaffold that into our courses? It means that there does need to be some linearity in course sequencing: students cannot take any course at any time in any sequence. Skills are developed sequentially over time. There is a foundational knowledge that students must first master so that they have something to draw upon when they are critically thinking, researching, or communicating.

So Bowen throws out some suggestions to see what might stick as colleges and universities try to determine how to recreate how learning occurs on our campuses in the midst of the myriad of online learning resources. As he has argued before in the book, faculty need to view themselves as curators of content and coaches of skill development. We do not need to tell students what to learn. We simply need to point them where the resources are located and then hold them accountable in our classrooms where we can then coach our students as they actively learn how to apply their learning. Of course, this will require the occasional mini-lecture in order to clarify student misconceptions. But most of our time should be spent in class engaging the students in the application of their learning in order to provide them with the opportunity to develop their thinking, researching, and communicating skills. And of course, the balance between telling students what to learn vs students applying what they are learning will depend on the level of student learning ability, on the level of the particular course, or the demands of a particular discipline.

I very much appreciate Bowen's suggestion that FECs and dept chairs provide space for failure as faculty try to implement new teaching strategies and curricular structures. We always tell our students that the best teacher is failure. Why do we not do the same for instructors as they develop their ability to teach? Why do we not do the same for programs as they field test different program structures? Bowen suggests that perhaps we need to approach changing our learning environments in terms of smaller incremental changes rather than large punctuations. That way if something does not work it is easier to backpedal and try something different. This is certainly what I have read in the SoTL literature - don't change everything in our teaching and learning all at the same time. Make the change in a manageable way that permits reassessment. The suggestions in Teaching Naked amount to a culture change in teaching and learning. And changing any culture takes time - if it happens too quickly there will be resistance and burnout.


Bligh, D. A. (1998). Evidence of what lectures achieve. In What’s the use of lectures? (5th ed., pp. 10–23). Exeter: Intellect.

Bowen, J. A. (2012). The naked curriculum. In Teaching naked: How moving technology out of your classroom will improve student learning, Chapter 10. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley. p 243-266.

Ellis, C. (2010, November 16). Tweckling, iconoclasm and lecturing as a normative discourse: Reflections on two ALT-C keynotes. cathellis13.

Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(23), 8410–5.

Haave, N. (2017). Assessing teaching to empower learning. Collected Essays on Learning and Teaching, 10, iii–ix.

Moran, L. (2015, January 11). Why can’t we teach properly?

Stains, M., Harshman, J., Barker, M. K., Chasteen, S. V., Cole, R., DeChenne-Peters, S. E., … Young, A. M. (2018). Anatomy of STEM teaching in North American universities. Science, 359(6383), 1468–1470.

Weimer, M. (2013). Taking a developmental approach. In Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice (2nd ed., pp. 218–238). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint.