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Innovative teaching: Assistant professor keeps lessons simple

Kathryn Kao

November 19, 2020

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Assistant professor Logan Fiorella is deeply aware of how his lessons affect student thinking.

To help guide learning as an act of sense-making rather than of passive memorization, Fiorella incorporates plenty of examples and visualizations into his lessons and presents information in a conversational style to engage students in creative activities like drawing.

Logan Fiorella

“We found in our research that students learn best from multimedia lessons when we pair solid multimedia design with appropriate generative activities,” said Fiorella, who teaches an online master’s-level course on cognition in the department of educational psychology. “We’ve also found that getting more actively involved in presenting the information, such as by dynamically drawing diagrams for students or using hand gestures, can support learning.”

Fiorella also stresses the importance of distinguishing between productive and unproductive forms of engagement when using educational technologies, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when many courses are taught completely online or in a hybrid format.

“Learning ultimately depends on what students think about, not the technology per se,” he said. “Instructors can achieve productive cognitive engagement across a range of low- or high-tech media, including games, simulations, videos, slideshows and apps. For my online course, I primarily use instructional videos, which I think can be cognitively engaging when following these principles.”

Ultimately, effective video lessons do not require fancy editing or advanced technology, said Fiorella. By keeping videos simple, instructors can remove extraneous information, highlight essential key points and provide concrete examples. Fiorella also recommends keeping videos relatively short, periodically revisiting previously covered topics and providing students frequent opportunities to retrieve and explain information via low-stake quizzes or writing and drawing activities.