Quality and Equity: What does research tell us?
Adelaide Convention Centre 3-5 August, 2014
Research Conference 2013
How the Brain Learns: What lessons are there for teaching?
4–6 August 2013
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre
Advances in teaching effectiveness will depend on better scientific understandings of basic learning processes, delegates to Research Conference 2013 heard in Melbourne in August.
ACER chief executive, Professor Geoff Masters, said this year’s research conference, on the theme How the Brain Learns: What lessons are there for teaching? highlighted the need for long-term collaboration between educational practitioners and researchers in neuroscience, psychology and education to ensure that our developing understanding of how the brain learns informs educational practice.
Professor Masters said that advances in the science of learning would occur through a two-way interaction between basic science and educational practice.
‘Often we know what works long before we know why it works. For example, Hippocrates discovered that powder from the bark of a willow tree would relieve headaches, but it took 2300 years to isolate the active ingredient, aspirin, and to understand the mechanism through which it operates. In coming decades, we can expect to develop a better understanding of the mechanisms that underpin successful learning and effective teaching – in other words, a better understanding of why some practices are more effective than others.’
In his opening address, Professor Masters described Research Conference 2013 as one of the most ambitious ACER has organised. ‘We are here to consider findings from a relatively new and emerging field of multidisciplinary research, increasingly being referred to as the Science of Learning,’ Professor Masters said.
‘The question we have posed for this year’s conference is: What are we learning about learning itself – particularly from neuroscience, but also from psychology and studies of educational practice – and what are the implications for facilitating and promoting learning? In other words, what are the implications for effective teaching?’
In his plenary address, Dr Paul Howard-Jones from the University of Bristol explained how video game feedback engages learners by stimulating the brain’s reward system.
Dr Howard-Jones’s research has found that students prefer educational tasks that are embedded in a gaming context involving uncertain rewards. Studies in adult learning have shown that reward uncertainty heightens the emotional response to learning.
“These concepts may have considerable value in developing educational software. They also have potential in developing pedagogy for whole-class gaming managed by the teacher,” Dr Howard-Jones told delegates.
International speaker and author of The Woman Who Changed Her Brain, Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, explored the implications of neuroplasticity for teaching and learning.
‘Simply put, neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change structurally and functionally in response to stimuli,’ Ms Arrowsmith-Young said.
‘In order to harness neuroplasticity for practical purposes, we need to understand what research has shown to be important factors leading to both positive brain changes, such as active engagement, and to negative neural changes, such as chronic stress and anxiety,’ she said.
Visiting academic at Harvard University and senior analyst at the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, Dr Bruno della Chiesa, explored the role of experiences and environment in shaping the networks in the brain.
‘As an adult, one million billion connections link the 100 billion neurons in the brain. But only 10 per cent of the connections already exist at birth. The other 90 per cent are developed during the lifetime,’ Dr della Chiesa said.
Professor John Hattie from the University of Melbourne urged educators to focus on the impact of their practices on students’ learning, particularly in terms of feedback. ‘Students hear about three seconds of feedback per school day,’ Professor Hattie said. ‘Parents might usefully ask their children, “What feedback did you get from the teacher today?” rather than “What did you learn at school today?’”’
Professor Hattie’s comment that, ‘All you need to enhance education is a pulse!’ resonated with delegates.
Delegates described Research Conference 2013 as ‘an interesting and inspiring…conference of champions’; ‘a great conference’; ‘fabulous’, while the Twitterverse reported 'Some good stuff on cognition for learning coming out of #ACERConf' and asked 'infants develop number sense, when does maths anxiety sneak in? Do we need to work with early childhood educators? With parents?