Students compartmentalize knowledge and skills and hence can’t draw on them - Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation - Carnegie Mellon University

Students compartmentalize knowledge and skills and hence can’t draw on them

Students often don’t see the relevance of prior material because they compartmentalize knowledge by course, semester, professor, or discipline and so they don’t even think to bring that knowledge to bear. This compartmentalization leads students to organize knowledge in a way that is very different from yours and can impede its use.

For example, students learning about the concept of volatility in a finance course often don’t recognize the relevance of the statistical concept of variability because they do not naturally bring to bear knowledge from other courses and because they may not see the common idea given the difference in terminology.

Strategies:

Provide prompts to relevant knowledge.

Work with your colleagues to identify areas of match and mismatch.

Provide prompts to relevant knowledge.

Explicitly cue students to their relevant knowledge by identifying the common idea referred to by different labels. When students have a cue into the relevant prior knowledge, it is easier for them to bring to mind what they already know. Then, as the semester progresses, students will view identifying relevant knowledge as part of the natural problem-solving process and hence you can reduce or eliminate your help in cueing them.

Work with your colleagues to identify areas of match and mismatch.

Speak to instructors of relevant courses regarding use of terminology, notation, approach, and the importance of different features. In some cases, you may see areas of mismatch that can be easily made more consistent, for example, with terminology or notation changes. In other cases, there may be differences that are not just conventions but rather reveal different emphases across subdisciplines. In these cases, being aware of differences will enable you to indicate them to students so they can more easily see and use relevant prior knowledge.

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