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IISSaM 2013. Developing a Strong “Backstory” for Your SoTL Project. Dr. Lauren Scharff United States Air Force Academy.

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developing a strong backstory for your sotl project

IISSaM 2013

Developing a Strong “Backstory” for Your SoTL Project

Dr. Lauren Scharff

United States Air Force Academy

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this document are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U. S. Air Force, Department of Defense, or the U. S. Govt.


The “hard” sciences (Chemistry, Biology, Physics) are really the easy ones… Studying PEOPLE is the really hard science.

a few areas of behavioral science that might help support your sotl project
A few areas of Behavioral Science that might help support your SoTL project:
  • Memory / Learning
  • Motivation
  • Metacognition

“Research on learning clearly demonstrates that learning is not one thing, but many. The learning associated with developing a skill is different from the learning associated with understanding and remembering information, which in turn is different from thinking critically and creatively, solving problems, making decisions, or change paradigms in the light of evidence. Differing outcomes involve different ways of learning and teaching strategies.”

by James R. Davis, & Bridget D. Arend, with L. Dee Fink, 2012

learning of behaviors skills is different than learning of information
Learning of Behaviors & Skills is different than learning of Information

How we learn behaviors:

  • Classical Conditioning
  • Operant Conditioning
  • Observational learning
for skill behavior learning multiple opportunities to practice combined with feedback are crucial

For skill / behavior learning, multiple opportunities to practice combined with feedback are crucial.


Chapters on:

Helping students learn content

Helping students understand

Helping students learn skills

Helping students retain and use what they’ve learned in other settings

Helping students help themselves

Motivating students to learn

What to do about individual differences in learning

“In order to be more effective at anything, it helps to understand the underlying mechanisms.”

page 1

Much of what we want students to learn in higher ed relates to content rather than procedures or skills.

A Memory test to get you started…

  • Memorize the following words. Do not write them down until I tell you to do so.

Don’t write them yet! Write the year you were born and multiply it by 12. Then subtract 36. Now add 128.

NOW write down the words.

3 stage model of memory
3-Stage Model of Memory

1. Longer term memory Encoding failure starts with not paying attention


Keeps in STM










Four stages of learning:

unconscious incompetence — we don’t know we don’t know

conscious incompetence — we know we don’t know

conscious competence — we know we know

unconscious competence — second nature

other memory tidbits and references
Other memory tidbits and references
  • Retesting effects (Karpicke & Roediger, 2008)
  • The importance of feedback for content learning (Butler & Roediger, 2008)
  • Intellectual development (Wirth & Perkins, 2008)
  • Achieving “expert” levels takes a lot of time and practice (Wirth & Perkins, 2008)

“An average of 75,000 hours means spending 8 hours per day, 365 days per year, for more than 25 years to become an accomplished chess player! That’s how long it takes to develop the necessary skills for recognizing patterns of chess pieces, understanding their implications for future outcomes, and making the best moves. No wonder spending just a few hours on a homework problem, or even a semester reading a textbook often fails to provide the level of understanding that we often desire.” Wirth & Perkins, 2008

“The single best measure of mastery in a subject is time spent intellectually engaged with that particular subject. For example, chess masters spend roughly 50,000 to 100,000 hours studying chess to reach the “expert” level of playing chess (Simon and Chase 1973).”

Wirth & Perkins, 2008

The question: Is it possible to develop an expert-like knowledge structure in novices through concept mapping?

Expert’s knowledge structure

Novice’s knowledge structure


Chapters on:





Short-term memory

Long-term memory



Sensory integration





Bottom line… Learning requires EFFORT.

So, you better be motivated or you probably won’t learn much.

A brief overview of several

Motivation Theories

Think about why YOU are HERE…

intrinsic extrinsic
Intrinsic & Extrinsic

Motivation can be influenced by internal value given to the goal as well as external rewards.

  • Do your assignments, activities, topics have personal relevance? (I)
  • How many points are given for assignments? (E)
  • Are some responses showcased in class? (E)
be careful about using points
Be careful about using points

“Depending on what percentage of the course grade the JiTT component counts, it will drive students who are concerned about good grades. Many students will rise to the work load demanded, even if they resent it.”Cookman, Mandel, and Lyons(1999)

Perceived value of the assignment can be just as powerful a motivator as lots of points, and is also at least partially under an instructor’s control.

Scharff, Rolf, Novoty, & Lee (2011)

autonomy self determination
Autonomy & Self-determination

People tend to be more motivated to complete tasks over which they have some choice and control.

  • Do students have any level of choice in your class?
  • What are some ways instructors can insert choice into their courses?
mastery performance goals
Mastery & Performance Goals

Are students motivated to deeply learn the material or to look good by seeming to know the material?

  • Have you incorporated some low-risk, formative assignments?
  • Do you focus on grades or the learning process?
  • Do you discuss multiple strategies for learning?

*fixed versus incremental theories of intelligence - Dweck & Leggett (1983)

self efficacy

People are often more motivated to try tasks they believe they are capable of accomplishing.

  • How difficult are your assignments?
  • How clear are your assignments?
  • What type of feedback (formative or summative) is used?
social motivation
Social Motivation

Many students want to be (be seen as) socially responsible and to build relationships with classmates.

  • Do we ask for and meaningfully use student input?
  • Do we build in opportunities get to know each other in class?
  • Do students always sit in the same seats?
whew there are a lot of factors and ideas theories about how motivation might impact behavior

Whew! There are a lot of factors and ideas / theories about how motivation might impact behavior!

Aspects of motivation also link to metacognition.


One way to help students appreciate and benefit from the different learning experiences is to help them develop their metacognitive skills – for most students, it won’t happen spontaneously.

Dedicating time in the classroom for students to reflect on their own metacognition is one approach to increase this self-awareness and communicate the value of metacognition to the students.

area for future research individual differences in how perceive engage in metacognitive development

Area for future research…individual differences in how perceive / engage in metacognitive development.



Butler, A. & Roediger, H. (2008). Feedback enhances the positive effects and reduces the negative effects of multiple-choice testing. Memory and Cognition. 36(3), 604-616.

Davis, J., Arend, B. & Fink, L. D. (2012). Facilitating Seven Ways of Learning: A Resource for More Purposeful, Effective, and Enjoyable College Teaching. Stylus Publishing

Dweck, C. & Leggett, E. (1983). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological Review, 95(2), 256-273.

Karpicke, J. & Roediger, H. (2008). The critical importance of retrieval for learning. Science. 319, 966-968.

Mayer, R. & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Educational Psychologist, 38(1), 43-52.

McKeachie , W., & Svinicki, M. (2010). McKeachie's Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers (14th edition ed.). Florence: Cengage Learning, Inc.



  • Medina, J. (2008). Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Pear Press, Seattle, WA.
  • Peirce, W. (2003). Metacognition: Study strategies, monitoring, and motivation. Retrieved from
  • Svincki, M. (2004). Learning and Motivation in the Postsecondary Classroom. Anker Publishing Co, Inc: Bolton, MA
  • Wirth, K. & Perkins, D. (208). Learning to Learn. Retrieved from, 1 June, 2008.