The Fight Against Forgetting Part 3: See and Hear (Back2Basics – Faculty Friday!)
If believing equals understanding then Houdini has it right. As teachers we strive to have our students learn, understand and remember for more than just a test or the semester but for life.
Thus for the past two Faculty Fridays we have highlighted “Back to Basics” instructional strategies – borne out by the research – to help you in the fight against forgetting. Our source is Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning, a 2007 practice guide from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).
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Below is Recommendation 3 directly from the guide.
Recommendation 3: Combine Graphics with Verbal Descriptions
“Combine graphical presentations (e.g., graphs, figures) that illustrate key processes and procedures with verbal descriptions.
Evidence Level: Moderate
We recommend that teachers combine graphical presentations (e.g., graphs, figures) that illustrate key processes and concepts with verbal descriptions of those processes and concepts in order to facilitate student learning. (p. 13).”
When you use graphical presentations (e.g., graphs, figures) that illustrate key concepts better learning occurs than with simply presenting text alone. The visual illustrations can take different forms – bringing to life tangible objects too large or small to be easily viewable or an infographic that shows relationships and interconnections between concepts. Easy tools – from Microsoft’s “SmartArt” function to free online design tools – can help you create quick visuals that lay out steps in a process or procedure, or a hierarchy or maps that is an informational representation. The underlying point – if there are big ideas or hard-to-understand concepts, think through what kind of meaningful (not decorative) visuals can help structure understanding.
When it comes to additional best practice with respect to multimedia, one of the best sources for production-friendly advice is Richard Mayer, and his book E-Learning and the Science of Instruction. Among the additional guidelines, if possible, providing a description of a visual via audio (rather than via text) can further strengthen learning as you are better optimizing both the visual and auditory channels of input.
According to Mayer, graphics can be representational, organizational, interpretive, relational or interpretive. Representational could be a screen capture, organizational a tree diagram, relational a map or pic chart, transformational could a video and interpretive a series of diagrams showing blood flowing through the heart. It’s important to think through you concept and choose the appropriate image for the instruction. A graphic used in written materials also needs a clear label to describe the goal of the illustration. These labels should be positioned close to the graphic so it’s clear they are aligned. Once the visual is chosen, align verbal instruction so students see the description right next to the item it describes or is highlighting, so that students are not distracted by looking in two different places to integrate connecting information. When using a graph or photo in your lectures or other multimedia be sure to describe to your students what they are seeing and call attention to details of importance. These two steps will unlock the magic of learning and thus your students’ may learn and understand better.
Next week, we will discuss the fourth recommendation – Connect and integrate abstract and concrete representations of concepts – and see what the research suggests is best practice. Join us on September 4.
Note: The Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning guide was intended primarily for educators in grades 3-12, but the authors believe their findings are generally extensible to higher education.