PROJECTS FOR INNOVATIVE TEACHING LEARING STRATEGIES FOR KNOWLEDGE ACQUISITION

03/22/93
by Myron H. Dembo and Robert Rueda
This is the last in a series of reports on projects funded through
the Fund for Innovative Teaching, a program designed to foster new
ideas in University instruction.

For many years, the English department taught a two-unit non-credit
course titled College Study Techniques (Eng 075), which was required
for students entering the University in the Undergraduate Access
Program (a special program for at-risk and underprepared students).
The course was helpful in improving students' research, reading and
writing skills.

The course was moved to the Department of Educational Psychology
beginning the fall 1992 semester for the purpose of developing a new
course based on research findings in cognitive psychology and
motivation. Although the improvement of basic academic skills is an
important aspect of college success, current research in learning and
motivation indicates that expert students are not simply individuals
who know more than other students. Expert students also have better
learning strategies for accessing and using their knowledge,
different motivation for acquiring and using their knowledge and more
self-regulation in acquiring and applying their expertise.

Our proposal for an Innovative Teaching Award was to develop a course
in applied cognitive psychology that would move beyond the
traditional remedial approach to helping students become more
successful learners. We feel the course will be appropriate for three
student populations: those at risk upon entering the University;
those who enter the University under normal admission requirements
but experience academic difficulties after they enroll; and those who
are successful in college but want to improve their learning and
study strategies.

Alonzo Anderson, executive director of Learning Support Services, and
Harry O'Neil, professor of educational psychology, joined us in
developing this project.



One of the most successful applied cognitive psychology courses is
offered at the University of Texas. Claire Weinstein, professor of
educational psychology at Texas, has data that indicates students who
take the course tend to increase their GPA, have a higher retention
rate and report greater satisfaction attending the university than a
comparable group of students who do not take the course.

We have been involved in three activities. First, we developed a
syllabus for the new course, Motivation and Learning Strategies (EDPT
110), which recently was approved by the Undergraduate Curriculum
Committee. The course will be offered for the first time during the
fall 1993 semester. Secondly, we developed instructional materials
including an instructor's manual for TAs. The manual includes unit
objectives, lecture outlines, discussion questions and group
activities. The availability of the manual will allow us to maintain
consistency among the many sections of the course. We plan to train
the TAs the semester before they teach and maintain weekly or
biweekly meetings with them during the semester.

Our major activity for the spring semester is to videotape lectures
of professors in different disciplines and interview them about the
organization and structure of their lecture. These tapes will be
integrated with the course content regarding knowledge acquisition in
different academic disciplines.



There are two major objectives of our course. One is to teach
students basic concepts of cognitive psychology and motivation. The
other is to have them learn to apply these concepts to their own
learning at USC and throughout their lives. The following are major
units in the course:

* Understanding How I Learn. Two instruments are used to assess
student motivation and use of learning strategies: the MSLQ
(Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire) and the LASSI
(Learning Assessment of Study Skills Inventory). Students are asked
to review their scores on these instruments, assess their strengths
and weaknesses as learners and set goals for the semester for
improving their study and learning skills.

* Self-Management and Time Management. Resource management strategies
are introduced: planning time available for studying and organizing
time for other activities in one's life; establishing a study
environment free of distractions; and self-management behaviors.

* Goals and Intrinsic Motivation: How Goals Influence Motivation.
Students are introduced to three motivational components related to
self-directed behavior: a value component, which includes students'
goals and beliefs about the importance and interest of the task; an
expectancy component, which includes students' beliefs about their
ability to perform the task; and an affective component, which
includes students' emotional reactions to the task.

* Achievement Anxiety. We explore how various manifestations of
anxiety - distressing feelings, worry and physical upset - combine
and enter into the process of academic achievement. Our discussion
of test anxiety focuses on improving cognitive skills for remembering
and organizing material and decreasing self-focused interfering
thoughts during retrieval in an exam situation.

* The Information Processing System. The basic concepts of
short-term memory store, working memory and long-term memory is used
to discuss students' own learning. In addition, the processes of
encoding and retrieval are linked to different memory strategies.

* Knowledge Structures in Different Academic Fields. It is
important to learn about how knowledge is organized and structured in
different academic disciplines. Understanding the knowledge
structure in a course has implications for the improvement of
learning since the key to retention and the transfer of knowledge is
related to learning how things are related. More specifically, the
content structure of a text or lecture is an important factor
influencing recall, comprehension, and learning.

* Applying Learning Strategies Across Disciplines. In this section of
the course, we examine how learning strategies can be applied to
different disciplines by using examples from other courses students
are taking. Students will view videotaped lectures by professors in
different disciplines, listen to interviews after their lecture and
gain further practice in using learning strategies to become more
effective learners.

* Test-Taking Strategies. Although treated in the context of
theories of retention and retrieval, this section of the course
discusses the more practical issues of test-taking. We discuss the
various task demands of different types of exams and discuss
different strategies for preparation. We also discuss strategies for
use during exams.



In addition to weekly homework assignments, two different
semester-long projects are required - an individual journal and group
project. The purpose of the journal is for students to keep track of
their progress in utilizing different approaches to learning and to
analyze their development as more successful learners.

The group project has two major goals: to help students elaborate and
apply ideas from the course and to give them practice in learning
cooperatively with other students. Students will be asked to choose
one of the following activities: (a) Develop a learning strategy to
be taught to other students in the course and compare its
effectiveness to some more common way of learning; (b) Complete a
short observational/interview study of the actual study behavior of
students and recommend changes in their study and learning behavior;
or (c) Complete a review of literature on the effectiveness of a
learning or study strategy.

We are developing a new approach to the traditional
lecture/discussion/laboratory dichotomy. We plan to limit enrollment
to 30 students per section. The students will meet with the
instructor four times per week.

Finally, we are forming a permanent research group that will be
responsible for supervising the TAs and conducting research on
college teaching and learning. There will be numerous opportunities
to involve interested faculty members in such activities as a
newsletter on effective teaching and learning, in symposia, and as
consultants for learning in different academic disciplines. We
welcome your inquiry and participation in our project. n



Myron H. Dembo, professor of counseling and educational psychology in
the School of Education, is the author of five books and numerous
articles on teacher and parent education, adolescent development and
the social psychology of education. On faculty at USC since 1968, he
holds B.A. and Ed.M. degrees from SUNY Buffalo and a Ph.D. in
educational psychology from Indiana University.

Robert Rueda, associate professor of counseling psychology, has
published extensively on cognitive development of learning-disabled
students, language-minority students in special education and the
development and uses of literacy. He holds B.A. and Ph.D. degrees
from UCLA in educational psychology and an M.S.W. degree from USC.

[Photo:] From left, Robert Rueda, Alonzo Anderson and Myron Dembo.
Our proposal was to develop a course in applied cognitive psychology
that would move beyond the traditional remedial approach to helping
students become more successful learners.