Infusing the Science of Learning Into a Higher Education Leadership Seminar at a Public University: Improving Graduate Learning by Design

Infusing the Science of Learning Into a Higher Education Leadership Seminar at a Public University: Improving Graduate Learning by Design

Lisa Jasinski (Trinity University, USA), Coreen W. Davis (The University of Texas at Austin, USA), Annie Biggs (The University of Texas at Austin, USA) and Julie A. Schell (The University of Texas at Austin, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0119-1.ch004


This chapter explores how one graduate-level seminar incorporated technology and insights from the science of learning to improve the delivery and assessment of course content. Drawing on the case study, “Technology and Innovation in Higher Education,” an elective seminar for master's and doctoral students taught at The University of Texas at Austin (2015-2017), the authors discuss the benefits of project-based learning, retrieval-based learning strategies, and the use of diverse teams in educational settings. The authors consider how technology was used in this blended-learning/hybrid course to more efficiently and effectively achieve the learning goals. The chapter concludes with practical recommendations for instructors who seek to incorporate insights from the science of learning in their graduate courses.
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While the purported shortcomings of higher education have gained attention in the national media—critics citing the rising costs of college, stagnant graduation rates, and admissions scandals—many of higher education’s positive achievements have failed to earn significant consideration. One such achievement that has not received due attention is that, across postsecondary institutions, instructional practices are improving; more course instructors are incorporating active learning methods than ever before (Schell & Butler, 2018), and cognitive science research about memory, attention, and cognition is guiding these instructional decisions (Miller, 2014). Compared to more passive forms of teaching such as lecture or examinations that evaluate rote memorization, active learning strategies (e.g., project-based learning, retrieval-enhanced learning) have been shown to produce considerable gains in student learning (Freeman et al., 2014; Singer, Nielsen, & Schweingruber, 2013). To indicate the scale of this achievement, a survey of more than 200 Engineering faculty members in the United States found that 98% of respondents were aware of at least one research-based pedagogy, with as many as 82% of them regularly incorporating such practices into their courses (Borrego, Cutler, Froyd, Prince, & Henderson, 2011).

At the same time that research-based instructional practices are on the rise in contemporary p-20 education, learning technologies have become ubiquitous to support student learning both in online courses and in traditional, face-to-face campus settings (Horn & Staker, 2015; Bonk & Graham, 2005). The growth of technology in contemporary education has been attributed to multiple causes, including an interest in reducing the cost of college, student demand for more flexible and personalized learning, an enhanced focus on assessment and documenting student learning gains, and the availability of technologies in the marketplace (Miller, 2014). A recent survey conducted by McGraw Hill (2017) underscores the value that college students place on educational technology; a majority of postsecondary students surveyed (94%) said that digital learning helped them retain new concepts, and 61% preferred to enroll in a course with digital learning technologies. From the perspective of students, technological elements positively enhance their learning. From the perspective of colleges and universities, there is a broadly held belief that “chalk doesn’t cut it anymore.”

In her book Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology, Miller (2014) adopts the guiding premise that it is impossible to disentangle two overlapping trends: the growing interest in applying insights from cognitive psychology about how learning happens in the brain and the rapid proliferation of online education and instructional technology. While active learning, online, and other evidence-based pedagogies are on the rise, there remains considerable variation in the instructional strategies used and how they are administered (Miller, 2014; Schell & Butler, 2018). Amid these technological and other paradigmatic shifts in education, much can be learned by closely examining how instructors adapt core concepts from the science of learning to make informed choices about what, how, and when they are going to try out new things in their teaching. The purpose of this chapter is to examine how one graduate-level seminar meaningfully incorporated blended learning technologies, retrieval-based learning strategies (Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel, 2014), project-based learning (Krajcik & Blumfeld, 2006), and the use of diverse teams (Davidson, 2012) to provide a high-quality, transformative, and memorable educational experience for master’s and doctoral students. Given that graduate courses prepare the future professoriate, the authors contend it is all the more critical that these courses foreground research-based instructional strategies and innovative technologies so that fledgling academics learn to incorporate these practices into their future classrooms.

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