May 7, 2014

Learner-based Teaching

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

Learner-based teaching arises out of the expertise of new eyes – in and outside the classroom.  Students drive innovation as they challenge teachers to explore new perspectives.

In Shelagh Robinson’s first Profweb story, Simple Technologies Transform Our Brains, she related her interest in using mirror reading activities as teaching and learning tools. The Dawson College Psychology instructor described using reversed acetates on an overhead projector to illustrate her lectures on reading, memory, brain anatomy and neuroplasticity.

Surf Backwards

Now, thanks to the recent efforts of two cégep graduates, methods of mirroring have evolved – no more overheads! The solution is easy technology available as free learning resources to teachers, students and researchers in every language, all over the world. Mirror reading is a complex cognitive ability studied by scientists across the world. Mirror reading practice stimulates right brain regions not usually associated with reading, but mental rotation and spatial transformation skills. With these new technologies, mirror reading research has left the lab.

Teachers as Gamers

I’m a teacher and a game designer too. I belong to the Quebec Independent Game Developers Association, and through this connection, met Nathaniel Blumer, a graduate of Marianopolis and recent graduate of McGill Computer Engineering. He wanted programming experience in iOS, the Apple programming language, and I had an existing app that needed updating.  Knowing that I was a researcher who needed stimuli for my projects he casually mentioned that he thought he could develop a code that could turn the Internet around – so I could navigate in mirror-reverse. I replied I didn’t think it was possible. He took this as a challenge – and he made it happen: The Mirror Browser was released February, 2014 on iTunes..

On the Mirror Read app, Nate created a browsing tool that allows anyone to navigate the Internet in mirror mode. For example, to read the CBC website, type Google in the Browser search window, and the Google interface, in reverse, appears.

If you find it hard to navigate, Nathaniel made it easy to flip back and forth from Regular to Mirror mode by clicking the arrows at the bottom of the window. Type CBC News and the app flips text backwards, encouraging practice.

Momentum in Action

Several years ago I was invited to a final presentation of Dawson College computer engineering students and recognized Kyle Ilantzis, a former student. For the last year and a half, he’s been consulting with me on website design and the development of web-based research-tools. When he learned of the mirror browser, he connected with Nathaniel who said, “I think you can do this for PC – turn the net backwards.” Kyle wasn’t sure how, but with Nathaniel’s encouragement, Kyle was able to create the Mirror Bookmark. Great collaboration.

Now, drag and drop the Mirror Button you find on the Mirror Read website to your toolbar. Then surf where you like, in reverse.

Momentum in Action 2

Since launching the Mirror Bookmark in March 2014, I have received feedback from all over the world. Suddenly I’ve got people reporting from different places that they are able easily mirror read in any language, and are exploring online games, Facebook, news sites and much more – backwards.

The Mirror Reading Bookmark

The Mirror Reading Bookmark

Someone from Israel wrote saying, By the way, did you know that people write Hebrew from right to left? And now on YouTube, I’m helping my students write Hebrew from left to right –It gives them a different perspective to learn from.

Now I am in contact with mirror reading experts of all ages from around the world. There is a researcher in Germany with whom I may collaborate and lots of new projects under development.

This whole process has been impressive for me to be a part of. It’s exciting to see how people approach what they think is their limit, then jump far beyond it. These two brilliant young men have changed my program of research, my classrooms and my life. They’ve overhauled the methodologies of reading teachers and students around the world, and introduced completely new perspectives in web programming. Before, there was no technology that would allow us to turn the Internet backwards and forwards with a click. Now it’s super-easy. It’s hard to know where it will all go.

In the Classroom

Beyond the effect that these developments have had on my research, my teaching has been transformed. I instruct several courses where mirror reading plays a direct role. One is an Advanced Topics in Psychology class. Using the Browser and Bookmark to reverse web content for class activities enables me to teach about brain anatomy, visual perception, reading difficulties and memory development from a unique point of view.

One group of students did a presentation on dyslexia using mirror reading in their presentation. They showed me Mirror Monopoly. I never would have thought of that; they are teaching me what the possibilities are for this new technology.

Mirror reading actually helps students understand learning processes in themselves and the world around them. In mirror-mode, reading is harder and we must use different strategies to make sense of the characters. Students learn a little bit about what it’s like to have a learning difficulty. It’s powerful because a lot of us are such good readers at this stage that we forget that some people really struggle.

In another illustration, students who are good readers can glimpse what it’s like to read after having a stroke.  To do what they have always done so easily, they must slow down and re-learn patience, focus and fluidity. They’re using these new technologies in my classroom to get a better sense of the experiences of other people.

Empathy is really what I think teaching is all about. How do I fit into your shoes to communicate to you, so you can understand what I have to teach? In these moments is when I learn.

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