Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Kolb Learning Inventory & GIS Instruction

So, I took the Kolb Learning Style Inventory test this morning and found out that I have a very strong convergent learning style.

This blog entry is my attempt to wrestle what this might mean for my interactions with students as both GIS Librarian and adjunct Geology and Real Estate professor.

Some snippets from the definition of a convergent learning style:
"People with this learning style are best at finding practical uses for ideas and theories...You would rather deal with technical tasks and problems than with social and interpersonal issues...In formal learning situations, you may prefer to experiment with new ideas, simulations, laboratory assignments, and practical applications."
Now, this test nailed me down to a tee. This is indeed how I learn, and instinctively how I develop my workshops and lessons. All of my instruction activities emphasize problem-based learning, where GIS is used to solve practical, real-world, problems. For example, the following workshops:This semester, I am teaching both my geology course and my real estate course as the tackling of larger problems that the students must spend the semester solving.

I teach by introducing new concepts to the students while solving problems or pieces of larger problems on the overhead projector while students (I only teach in labs) follow along. I am always very open to questions and will stop the entire class for as long as I need to help an individual student to understand a concept. I require students to fully digest the concepts learned during class between classes (homework). Individual (personal) attention for students is also made available during any of my 15 weekly office hours. No appointment necessary, of course.

So, the argument is that there are lots of folks who learn differently than my convergent learning/teaching style. Should I employ different teaching techniques, such as inviting discussions during class? Or breaking students into groups, during class, to work on problems together?

My response is that these activities are best done outside of class and that class time is best utilized by demonstrating new concepts, which can be discussed and such amongst students outside of class. I do organize students into groups, but perhaps I can put more emphasis on students interacting with eachother outside of class. This can include regular (weekly?) group reports, presentations, and projects. This way, I can try to increase how much students engage with the material regardless of learning style. Then, the convergers who learn the way I teach can assist their group-mates. I do need, however, to come up with additional ways to foster student interaction outside of the classroom. I am feeling stubborn at the moment and do not want to give up any class time to activities that can be done after class.

For example (trying to think this out here), if I spend 4 weeks having my real estate students do a market analysis of the hotel industry in the DFW Metroplex (a problem-based assignment coming up), I will break the class up into groups of perhaps 3-4 students at the very beginning of the 4-week period. Then, each week the groups must submit progress reports as well as a list of 3 things that went very well that week and 3 things that did not go very well. For the three things that did not go very well, they must supply why they think it did not go well. By requiring them to come up with these things that went well/not so well, they are in affect forced to work and discuss together. The down side? People like me (convergent learners) will hate this. I would hate this immensely. But this is what it's all about, right? This will benefit students who prefer different learning styles, will encourage students to work together, while minimizing (hopefully) the grumbliness of the convergent learners. It will take a bit of class time to discuss the things that went well and not so well, but this is an acceptable price if more students can be engaged with the material and see how cool GIS is...

I'll post on this topic after this semester and report how things went with these new ideas that I will implement starting with this Saturday's real estate class.