Tips for Teachers

This section on Career Development is not only useful to the students and alumni of Prowibo, but also to our teachers. Have a look at this inspiring article on tips for teachers written by one of Prowibo’s Research Fellows, Gabriel Inchausti.

Citizens of Solidaryland are known for their kindness and pro-sociality. One example will offer proof: their rate of organ donors is above 90%. The figure is seven times higher than their neighbours’ (the citizens of Egoland). Solidarylanders like to help others and they know the biggest way to do it is by giving the gift of life: donating to those who need it.

But what about Egolanders? Are they as cold, heartless, and individualistic as those figures suggest? Is it that they don’t care about others at all?

A small trick helped Solidarylanders to achieve such impressive rate of donors: all of them are automatic donors, unless they explicitly declare so. Can that seemingly innocuous fact be that important? Definitely!

Richard Thaler, winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics , coined the term ‘nudge‘ to refer to those little elements in the context of a decision that have big impact in its outcome. We are not optimal, rational machines that make decisions always in accordance to our own benefit or our beliefs. We are just humans, and as Solidarylanders, we can use some help in the context to improve our decisions.

We know that education is very important. We are willing to put a considerable dose of effort to fulfil our academic goals. However, we rely on our human condition to make the right choices when the moment comes: Should I work now and finish this essay, or can I leave it for the weekend? In the end, my deadline is only next Tuesday. This is not an easy decision, and its outcome is not necessarily related to a specific academic mindset.

Professors can greatly improve the impact of their teachings if they become ‘choice architects‘. Lectures and course structure can have more effect if professors strategically place “cues” that condition students’ academic decisions in a good way.

Here a few suggestions:

Master the Deadlines.

Do students deliberately decide to rush during the last couple of days to finish their essay? Definitely not! But procrastination is one of the most difficult forces that students fight.

Although they know they tend to procrastinate, and they self-impose deadlines, they fail in building an effective mechanism to enforce their plan. Students may benefit more from externally imposed deadlines. (Ariely & Wertenbroch, 2002)

Help your students by splitting complex tasks into smaller ones with strict interim deadlines.

Build Habits.

We rely heavily on routines, in particular those that are proposed to us. Sometimes students build the proper ones, but sometimes they don’t. It is not enough to set how much time they should allocate each week in studying for a subject. They need to go one step forward. They need to specify when, where, and with whom.

The more specific the plan, the bigger the chances for them to follow it. As odd at it may sound, consider incentivising the first steps of your students’ plan. Incentives work great for short sprints and can be very useful when trying to build a routine.

Should your students earn credits just for showing up every Monday morning at 8 AM with their group? It may not be a silly idea.

Embrace the Golden Minute.

Other Nobel Prize in Economics, Daniel Kahneman said: “Our mind has a useful capability to focus on whatever is odd, different or unusual”. That useful capability can turn into something that is not always helpful, but professors can use it in benefit of their student.

Leave the last three minutes of your lectures for students to write what they have learned, what was most surprising in  your class and ask them to choose something they learned to tell to others.

These three questions activate  a mechanism that helps in retaining concepts. The “saying-is-believing” effect, (Hausmann, Levine, & Tory Higgins, 2008) refers to the influence in a communicator’s memories that has the process of tailoring a message for an audience.

When you ask your students to choose a single salient concept and to tell it to others they care about, the chance of them to fix it, increases.

Fight the Curve of Forgetting

Humans tend to forget, but they do it following a systematic pattern: we forget exponentially. Studies regarding the way we handle memories refer to the idea that the process of forgetting is linked with our growing inability to retrieve pieces of information stored. Memories appear to be gone because we can’t recall it, not because we lose it. (Anderson, Bjork, & Bjork, 1994) Mnemonic rules are tools to help in the process of information recovery.

Remind your students about the key concepts of your lessons the day after your lecture. Do it again in ten days. And do it a third time within a period of one month. This can help students  strengthen the “recalling procedures”, thus making the learned knowledge more available.

 

(1) Master the deadlines, (2) Build Habits, (3) Embrace the Golden Minute, and (4) Fight the Curve of Forgetting. These techniques won’t alter the beliefs of your students about the importance of education and the relevance of your lectures, but they will help them engage in behaviours consistent with high academic performance.

References

Anderson, M. C., Bjork, R. A., & Bjork, E. L. (1994). Remembering can cause forgetting: Retrieval dynamics in long-term memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 20(5), 1063–1087. https://doi.org/10.1037/0278-7393.20.5.1063

Ariely, D., & Wertenbroch, K. (2002). Procrastination, Deadlines, and Performance: Self-Control by Precommitment. Psychological Science, 13(3), 219–224. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9280.00441

Hausmann, L. R. M., Levine, J. M., & Tory Higgins, E. (2008). Communication and Group Perception: Extending the `Saying is Believing’ Effect. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 11(4), 539–554. https://doi.org/10.1177/1368430208095405

 

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