These notes are to give students in the course some background on the pedagogical basis behind this course.
Teaching therefore should:
It is most desirable that learners are assessed for higher level cognitive abilities and that they have some control over that assessment. In part because the ability to define what is wanted from a learning situation is an important generic skill to use after leaving the formal educational environment. The ability to be able to undertake lifelong learning is much talked about but not assessed.
What can research tell us about the development of learners.
Piaget defined five stages in the development of the ability to learn. We would hope that people graduating from university would be functioning at the fifth level.
Associations made on the basis of emotion, personal preference and an egocentric view of the world.
Learners can use one, but only one, relevant operation. They cannot coordinate two operations as is necessary in making judgments about the area of a surface.
Learners can think by using several relevant operations. They acquire the concepts of conservation, transitivity and reversibility (click on the hightlighted term for footnotes).
Learners can generalize from their own concrete experiences but only within the context of that experience. They cannot hypothesize about possible concepts or work with abstract variables.
Learners are capable of purely abstract thought. Rules can be combined to obtain quite novel results that are beyond the individual's own experience. Scientists do this when they hypothesize about possible conclusions from theory, and then design experiments to test those not-yet-experienced hypotheses.
It follows that it is pointless to instruct or evaluate a subject that requires thinking at a higher stage than that at which the student is capable of thinking. Are the students ready for the instruction? For first year University students this usually involves the difference between the concrete and formal stages. Many first year students may not yet be formal thinkers or not yet formal thinkers about biological sciences. It is hoped that biology majors would be before they graduate.
An answer to some of these dubious assumptions is to shift the label of the student's thinking ability from the students themselves to the quality of their response to a particular task like responding to an exam or quiz question. The Structure of the Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) Taxonomy was designed to do that, but it can only describe a particular performance at a particular time and must not be used to overgeneralize.
The response stages of the SOLO Taxonomy are paralleled by the human stages of cognitive development of Piaget (in parenthesis).
Plants don't grow in the desert.
Because the plant has to balance the opposing fluxes of water and CO2 when stomate are open, it is advantageous to open the stomate at a time when it is less likely that water will be lost because CO2 will always be available. That would be at night when the desert air is cooler or in the day when excess water is temporarily available. Because carbon fixation by Rubisco can only occur in the light, an additional means of CO2 fixation is needed. That is provided by PEP carboxylase in the CAM photosynthesis dual fixation process. With excess water, stomata may open during the day and rely exclusively on Rubisco fixation. As the greenhouse effect causes a warmer and dryer global climate it could be expected that plants showing these adaptations will increase their geographical range in the future.
Learning outcomes will be stated for all parts of the course. Students in the course will be invited to select some of the evidence used to decide whether they have achieved the learning outcomes or not. That material will be assembled by each student into a portfolio. In part, this forces each student to reflect on what they want out of each part of the course and how they are going to get what they want.
Transitivity - if x if related to y and y is related to z then x must be related to z. Unidirectional relationships are transitive. e.g. taller than, multidirectional relationships are not.
Reversibility - a series of operations where the reverse order gives the original state. A requirement for conservation.
Much of the theoretical material above is lifted verbatim from Biggs J.B. and K.F. Collis (1982) Evaluating the Quality of Learning. Academic Press, London.
See also: Biggs,J. (1996) Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment. Higher Education 32:347-364.
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