Teaching and learning part 2

There are three factors that determine students' success in college:Knowledge, Critical thinking, and Curiosity. Knowledge helps them to learn and understand the world around them; Critical thinking gives them the ability to apply their knowledge to solve problems in their careers; and Curiosity allows them to realize the limitations of their knowledge and encourages them to learn more.

A teacher is the person who transfers a fundamental knowledge based on course content to students. A teacher also helps students to develop their critical thinking by asking them to apply what they have learned to solve problems in tests, quizzes, and homeworks etc. However, students learn differently, some learn by understand; some learn by memorization. Memorization may help students to build knowledge but not critical thinking. A students can pass tests by memorize many theories and facts but it will not help them to develop critical thinking.

For many years, traditional education focused on knowing facts to pass tests and memorization was the learning approach. By passing many tests at different levels, they obtain degree. Throughout history, there were many people with advanced degrees but could not solve anything or make any decision. At work, they had to depend on their advisors; at home they had to rely on their wife to make decision for them. Sometime their wife did not even go to school but she can still make good decisions because her knowledge is not based on theories but on practical solving daily activities.

Today knowledge is not enough. Students must learn how to solve problems. Memorization is no longer the right approach but the application of theories to solve problem and develop skills is preferred. By monitoring the skills of students, a teacher can challenge them to improve their skills by stir up the curiosity in students and this is where active learning will happen. When students are challenge on knowing something, they are curious and will do their own research to find out about it. When they learn something; when they read about it and work with it, it becomes meaningful to them. When students understanding the material, they remember it longer. Their knowledge goes from being something kept in their heads which they recall on exams to being a foundation for their critical thinking on which they can apply when needed.

When students are motivated to learn something based on their curiosity, they work on it with other team members, they develop team work skills. They are learning to ask questions, to find answers, to challenge reasons, to consider alternatives, to evaluate evidence, and develop the problem solving skills. This skill is further improved with additional feedback from teachers. In this situation, students are the engine and teacher is the guiding wheel.

When students actively learn by themselves, they own the knowledge. This learning becomes a transformative experience or “deep” learning as contrast with “surface” learning or memorization. When students finds out something fascinating, or something they do not know well they are more curious and through the process discovers something new, they want to learn more and this ongoing hunger for more become the lifelong learning habit.

This is why I think we need to change the way we teach. We need to move away from the tradition of teacher transmits the knowledge to active learning where students learn the materials on their own with the help from teachers. There is a time for telling students what they need to know in elementary school and high school. But there is time we must encourage students to learn by themselves on their own motivation. Students must decide what they need to know, how they learn and experience the learning process that will help them to move from someone who know a lot of theories to professionals who can apply the knowledge to solve problems. By continuously learning new things, they become knowledge workers to build a knowledge society because we are living in a fast changing information world where new kind of teaching and learning are needed.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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