Saundra McGuire co-authors article with Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffmann

BATON ROUGE — LSU’s Saundra McGuire, assistant vice chancellor for learning and teaching in LSU’s Division of Student Life and Enrollment Services, recently co-authored an American Scientist article with Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Roald Hoffmann. The article, “Learning and Teaching Strategies,” describes six learning and six teaching strategies using the authors’ collective experiences as well as advances in cognitive psychology.

“The collaboration to write the article began after I gave a talk at Cornell University on Friday, Feb. 6, 2009. At 11:30 p.m. that Sunday, I received an e-mail from Roald telling me that he was so inspired by my presentation of learning strategies that he had written some of his own,” said McGuire, who is also a professor of chemistry and former director of LSU’s Center for Academic Success. “He suggested we write an article on it, and we started to put the piece together.” A shorter version of the article originally appeared in the journal Science in September 2009 as a letter.

The six learning strategies McGuire and Hoffmann detail in the article are

  1. Students should take notes by hand to increase retention.
  2. In the case of an absence, students should get notes from a fellow student
    and copy them in order to facilitate classmate discussion.
  3. Students should make the best possible use of a textbook by turning
    examples into problems, then solving them.
  4. For optimal results, learners should alternate group work with independent
    study.
  5. Develop practice tests and quiz yourself and fellow students from course
    materials to gain full mastery of a subject.
  6. Finally, a pupil should set attainable and reasonable goals for him/herself.

For educators, the authors suggest

  1. Grading contracts, which base grades on a combination of exams and
    quizzes paired with labs and other such components, with the goal of clarifying expectations.
  2. Interestingly, the authors provide a controversial technique — one that they
    disagree upon. Hoffmann feels strongly that, in this digital age, it is becoming increasingly difficult to forbid a student access to electronic devices, so students should be allowed to bring an 8 ½ inch “cheat sheet” to an exam. McGuire feels that this is counterproductive to learning, as students will think they do not need to know the information but will instead use the cheat sheet as a crutch.
  3. Instructors should bring “real life” into the classroom. This strategy not
    only underscores the relevance of what is being taught in the classroom but also builds a bond between teachers and students.
  4. Teachers need to focus on getting their students to think on their own … a
    simple way of doing this is to vary the way a question is asked to ensure the learner is actively thinking through the process and not relying on memorization.
  5. Use surprise and humor to minimize distance between teachers and
    students.
  6. Finally, use demonstrations whenever possible.

After the learning strategies and teaching tactics, Hoffmann and McGuire discuss three
transforming motivators, which include having students determine their preferred learning style, teaching students how to learn by teaching them how to use metacognition — thinking about their own thinking — to become more effective learners and developing a mentor/apprenticeship relationship between a student and teacher.

In closing, the article states, “We in academia expect students to acquire information, strategies and critical-thinking skills that allow them to learn from our teaching. There should be no less expectation that instructors think critically and seek out specific strategies to improve performance in the classroom or lecture hall.”

McGuire was Hoffmann’s teaching assistant as a graduate student at Cornell in the 1970s, and they have remained in contact since then. Hoffmann visited LSU in 2003 as a Chancellor’s Distinguished Lectureship Series speaker.

To view the article in its entirety, visit http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/pub/2010/5/learning-and-teaching-strategies.

More news and information can be found on LSU’s home page at www.lsu.edu

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