The Big Ideas of SALTISE 2013
“Support Active Learning & Technological Innovation in Science Education” (SALTISE) is a consortium composed of faculty from Dawson, John Abbott and Vanier colleges and McGill University, funded by a Chantier 3 institutional grant from the Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur, Recherche, Science et Technologie (MESRST).
Working together the SALTISE team has used a community of practice approach to bring together faculty from these educational institutions, as well as others in and around the province. Our aim has been to share best practices that are rooted in empirical results of research in education, educational technology and the Learning Sciences. As part of this process we organized the SALTISE 2013 Conference.
Manu Kapur, researcher at the Learning Sciences Lab at the National Institute of Education of Singapore, started off the keynote talks discussing Productive Failure as a scaffold that aids in understanding. Kapur argues that teaching students how to understand a problem before making an attempt at a solution may not be the best approach to foster long term understanding and retention of information.
Instead, Kapur outlined several different ways how the inverse of the process may be the better option. With empirical data hailing from several studies, he showed that having students wrestle with the problem – which is beyond their immediate ability to solve – with only their starting inventory of skills promotes a more meaningful approach to understanding the concept.
He went on to explain how early instruction can lead to cognitive limits that restrain concept understanding because the problem-solver cognitively clings to an explanation – especially if it is given by the classroom authority (i.e., the teacher). By not being given easy solutions, learners are not limited and the attempts that follow, while seldom correct, ultimately lead to a deeper acquisition of targeted competencies. Students learn more from this initial failure than from success.
Professors Yannis Dimitriadis of the University of Valladolid (Spain) and Jim Slotta of the Ontario Institute for the Studies in Education (OISE) were keynote speakers after lunch. And, Thérèse Laferrière from Université de Laval along with Laurent Poliquin, UQAM, rounded off the keynote presentations exploreing the different ways in which technology could affect learning environments enriching students’ understanding. In particular, Professor Slotta’s introduction to classrooms featuring embedded phenomena – the use of the increasingly ubiquitous hand-held tablets and interactive whiteboard displays – served as a fascinating introduction to the possibilities of a modern pedagogy.
The Future of Technology in Pedagogy
In addition to the presentations, there was an afternoon poster session with various organizations and groups bringing to attention their projects and research findings.</p>
As a closing, the conference held an awards ceremony. Dawson’s own Chris Whittaker won the C21 Shifting Minds award, presented by current C21 President and former New Brunswick Deputy Minister of Education John Kershaw. Thanks to the conference sponsor AYVA there were awards at both university and college level. The university-level award was won by Chris Buddle at McGill. The college-level award was shared between Vanier’s Edward Awad (Biology Department) and John Abbot’s Murray Bronet (Chemistry Department).
Speaking to the assembled audience afterwards, Whittaker urged the crowd to continue the work of collaboration and mutual support, saying that it was the best way to move forward.
The way to go in terms of developing ourselves as teachers is really through communities of practice.
Asked as to what makes a vibrant community grow, professor Dimitriadis echoed Whittaker’s words :
In many cases it depends on who are the people who start the process. It all depends on how you create such ambience.
For a conference whose mandates seem to be the fostering of an open, constructive ambiance and call towards positive pedagogical change, a community of practice is well on its way to flourishing. And that, more than anything else, may be SALTISE’s crowning achievement.