Teaching the Science of Learning Around the World
By Yana Weinstein
University of Massachusetts - Lowell
For ten years up until the end of last year, I was just an academic working away quietly on applying cognitive psychology to education. I had published a number of papers that had been well-received by members of my small field, and by the Psychology Department at UMass Lowell, which offered me a job in 2012. But
three years into my dream job, as 2016 rolled around, I had a realization: my “applied” work on education wasn’t actually getting applied. I realized that I wanted to go beyond academic publications, and speak to the people that my work was supposed to help: teachers and students. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one thinking along these lines: I soon found a kindred spirit in Dr. Megan Smith at Rhode Island College, who shared my dream of communicating with teachers and students about the science of learning. Almost overnight, the Learning Scientists project was born.
We started out discussing teaching and learning strategies with educators on social media, and soon expanded to more long-form communication via a blog. But it then became apparent that we might need a little bit of money to achieve our mission. Enter grant writing - something that as junior faculty, we weren’t yet very experienced at. One of the first grants we wrote focused on filling a gap in teacher training. We had discovered a report on teacher training textbooks, which found that these textbooks did not cover important basic information on how students learn and how teachers can deliver content in the most effective way. We decided to try to fill this gap with various tools. One of the tools we wanted to create was a set of posters and videos explaining six effective study strategies to students. Of course, at the same time as designing these materials, we also wanted to know whether they would actually help students study better.
When we heard about the IDEA grant initiative, we thought our project might fit their objective of supporting practitioners engaged in promoting effective student learning. Imagine our surprise when we were informed that only six out of 126 proposals were funded, and ours was one of them! The almost $10,000 that we received from IDEA helped us acquire filming equipment, engage the services of a strategic communication expert, and invite a new learning scientist - Dr. Cindy Wooldridge at Washburn University - to our team to gather data from her students. Having created six videos with grant funds this summer, we are now in the data collection phase. Dr. Wooldridge has taken three sections of Introduction to Psychology, and is teaching one of the sections how to study using our new materials. Meanwhile, the second section will not receive the materials until later, and the third can access them whenever they want but do not have dedicated class time devoted to learning strategies. The hope is that being systematically exposed to clear explanations of how to use effective learning strategies will lead to greater use of these strategies when students study alone, and consequently, improve exam scores.
Almost as soon as we released our materials, we began getting inquiries from all over the world regarding whether we might be interested in having the materials translated into different languages. In particular, our posters - funded by another grant from the Association for Psychological Science - seemed to lend themselves very well to this idea. Very quickly, our Visualizer, Oliver Caviglioli developed a process for how to work with translators to create posters in additional languages, and with translations from Pedro De Bruyckere, we created Dutch translations of our six strategy posters.
These posters have now been downloaded well over 1,000 times in just a couple of months. Spurred on by this enthusiasm, we decided to expand our project to cover as many languages as possible. Serendipitously, at this moment in time we heard from IDEA, which was interested in helping us find funding for an additional component of our original project. We were thrilled to be given this opportunity, and fundraising for our international project is now in full swing. For every $1,000 we manage to raise, we can create a set of learning science materials in a new language. We can’t wait to see how many languages we’ll be able to cover!