By Judi Fusco
One of the topics we learned about at Cyberlearning 2017 was the brain. Cyberlearning researchers are not typically neuroscientists. Many cyberlearning researchers are learning scientists, but there is a gap between neuroscience and the learning sciences. As we planned Cyberlearning 2017, we decided to try and address this gap so we invited Mary Helen Immordino Yang, a social-affective neuroscientist to give one of the keynotes. In this post, I’m going to introduce one of the topics she talked about and give you the link to her talk.
In much of the work we do in helping people learn, we’re trying to make sure they are engaged in a task and paying full attention to it. However, as with most things, there’s another side to consider. Neuroscientists have discovered that the brain has a “default mode” that takes over and is active when the mind is wandering. This default mode network (DMN), that takes over when a person looks like they are engaging in off-task behavior, may be important for social emotional well-being, and it may serve to help “recharge” the brain for better focus in attending to tasks.
I’m grossly oversimplifying, but as we learn more about the DMN, we may need to consider the importance of downtime in the design of learning environments so that brains can work really well. Our brains are never idle and some of what they do when we look off-task might involve using our imagination to help us plan or think about what we are learning and better relate it to ourselves. Mary Helen Immordino Yang calls what is happening when the DMN is active “constructive internal reflection.”
While we know that it’s important to pay attention during tasks, without time in default mode, it may not be possible to focus as well as we should; it may not be possible to really internalize and personalize learning without this network. “Off-task” time may be key to deep learning. Of course, there is much work to be done to understand the balance needed between time for activities requiring focus and attention and time for the DMN.
Below is the Cyberlearning 2017 Keynote by Mary Helen Immordino Yang.
Here are some additional readings if you’re interested:
Why we shouldn't worry about our wandering minds
Rest is not idleness an article by Mary Helen Immordino Yang
Why your brain needs more downtime
I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions as you look at this research. I’ll be looking more at neuroscience, emotion, and learning in future blog posts. Please let me know if there are things you’d like to think about or questions you have.
By Judi Fusco
Cyberlearning 2017 was an inspiring event in April. You can see a storify (a record of the tweets during the meeting) that documents many of the topics and technologies presented. In this post, I'm going to share a little about the 4 keynotes and give you the links so you can watch them.
The four keynotes kicked off with a future thinking one about virtual reality (VR) by Jeremy Bailenson. The VR discussed in this keynote isn't ready for the classroom yet, but we'll have new technologies soon that will be classroom ready. The keynote by Jeremy Bailenson describes his work and helps us think about what we need to investigate to understand about learning and VR. Cyberlearning researchers and teachers need to be thinking and planning now for the future. (We'll do a post soon about VR that is in the classroom.)
The second keynote by Mary Helen Immordino Yang focused on the link between emotions and learning and what we know from neuroscience. Most of the good teachers I know intuitively understand how important the emotional connection is in the learning process, but the keynote talk helps us understand reasons why emotion and cognition are so intertwined and has helped me think. I will share more in another post.
The third keynote talk by Eileen Scanlon was on the challenges of creating and sustaining a meaningful program of research. Eileen does research on Citizen Science; you can learn more about it in a CIRCL Primer on Citizen Science.
The final keynote, given by Karthik Ramani, discussed computational fabrication as a way to engage students and help them learn. He is also creating new technologies and interfaces to technologies. He describes his work and lab. His students showed off cardboard robots! In the photo on the right, one of the CIRCL Educators checks out the robots.
I highly recommend watching each of the four keynote videos at some point. Each keynote is one-half hour and if you watch, leave a comment and tell us what you think and if you see any implications for your practice. You can read reflections on the meeting by Jeremy Roschelle, one of the co-chairs of the conference.