22 February 2010

Science, learning, and playing

I've got a pretty big crush on a blog new to my reading list, ProfHacker. I read other blogs about methods and programs to help with teaching, learning, academia, and science, but I like ProfHacker because it is written by folks from humanities and other areas not engrained in science learning. What is the difference? These academics are interested primarily in teaching students to read, interpret, and analyze literature and other texts, rather than attempting to instill large amounts of "important" scientific content into young minds.

One of the most intriguing (to me) items mentioned on ProfHacker lately include the value of multiple choice, website-administered quizzes required for each lesson's reading. The rationale? Students feel the push to read and think about material prior to discussing it in class, and the linked article also mentions framing appropriate directions for student inquiry with properly worded questions.

Even more interesting to me, and the impetus behind this entry, is the idea of incorporating games into academic lessons. To me, the idea of getting students to play is a great way of parameterizing an informal learning environment. Especially when teaching undergraduates grooming themselves for professional/medical programs after graduation, students are often afraid to take intellectual risks and instead prefer to have content handed to them to be memorized. Games provide a low-risk (i.e., no grading involved?) environment in which to explore the content at hand. That's not to say games can't be graded, but just the idea of calling it a game seems to make it more appealing to students.

These issues are especially interesting to me, as the class I'm TAing this semester (plant systematics lab) is traditionally heavy on memorization and light on creative thinking. There are some great ideas previously developed by other TAs of the course, but I'm really hoping to re-evaluate the format as the semester progresses so we can implement other approaches next year.

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