BU News

Ep. 14b – Vicki Brannock and Kimberly Greene speak on 21st century learning (part two)

March 30, 2016

In this second part of a two-part podcast, Vicki Brannock, senior director of programing for Brandman University School of Extended Education, talks with Dr. Kimberly Greene, associate professor in the Brandman School of Education, about the paper Brannock asked Greene to write about teaching the 21st century learner. That topic is the focus of a certificate program designed by Greene for the School of Extended Education. The first half of the podcast can be found here or on iTunes.

To get a copy of “The 21st Century Learning Landscape for Elementary and Secondary Students in the United States: The Current State of Blended and Online Learning Opportunity” upon publication, email brannock@brandman.edu.


Welcome back Brandman Speaks and the discussion between Vicki Brannock of the School of Extended Education and Kimberly Greene from the School of Education. This is the second of a two-part podcast looking at 21st century learners. We’ll pick up with a discussion about deep learning and project-based education.

Vicki Brannock: [00:00:25] What is deep learning? I know that I have an idea about what that what that would look like. And it’s, I believe that we’ve been teaching to tests and we’ve been doing a lot of other things in the schools, and because that was that was the directive and so it wasn’t that anyone was doing anything wrong it’s that’s what they were that was the marching orders. But now we’re getting down to, we’re hearing things about deep learning and Common Core as a tool and some other types of things. Could you tell me is that deep learning? What is deep learning?

Kimberly Greene: [00:00:55] Deep learning is taking the idea of metacognitive skills and really putting that into practice for the individual. Now when I say metacognitive, what I’m talking about is understanding how to learn. It’s being aware, if you want to pull in some pop culture terminology, it’s mindfulness in the learning process. And for a very long time, again it tended to be kind of pat pat pat on the head, oh hippie dippy, isn’t that lovely. But what we’re finding, again thanks to neuroscience as well as educational research, is that when an individual is aware that learning is the focus, not just memorizing my vocabulary words but what is it that I can do to really make these words have meaning for me, and I can use them outside of the environment where I’ve learned them, and I can apply them in creative ways to do different kinds of communication — that awareness adds a layer of complexity for the individual that not only gives them a stronger neurological pathway structure of whatever that concept is but it empowers them to then build other bridges of understanding, where that learning is now tied to multiple ways of expression and multiple actions and multiple other scaffolds. So it’s more translatable and transferable into real world action without having to be conscious about it. A beautiful way of kind of helping people get a sense of this is, I ask my students to clasp their hands and then interweave their fingers. And look at your thumbs which thumb is on top? All right, be aware of that. Now open your hands, clasp them again, and purposefully put the other thumb on top. It sounds so silly. But it feels so weird because you’re so aware of it. When you initially are thinking about trying to build a new habit or do something different, you tend to be soon so aware of it that it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel normal and you’re self-conscious about applying it or trying it out in the real world. Whereas with deep learning, because it is not just the individual skill or the individual piece of content that you’re working on but you recognize it’s all part of your learning in your growth process, you’re not so uncomfortable by that awareness. You know that awareness. It’s a good thing. That means you’re stretching yourself, you’re trying something different, you’re giving it a go. And so that’s how all of this deliciously folds together, and I know initially, it sounds like goulash, right? Throw it all in a pan, mix it up, what in the world is that? But eventually it all works, with the heat and the time to come together to form something delicious and wonderful. And that’s what deep learning is all about.

Brannock: [00:04:37] And it sounds like it’s more, it’s more engaging to the student because I can see that the student plays a part in that deep learning. So it’s not just ‘I’m the vessel,’ as you said earlier, the recipient of the knowledge but that I’m an active participant in my learning or I’m not going to get to that deep learning.

Greene: [00:04:55] It relates directly to motivation. And if you want to look at, again, the big names out there whether it’s Daniel Pink or we want to go back and you know talk about Bendura. It all really comes down to: why is this important to me, why should I put the effort? I mean how many times did we all sit in algebra and go, why am I doing this? When am I going to use this? But when deep learning and it’s it really is focused on empowering you to try to explore to experiment not just the individual skill but that ability to learn. It does add this essence of it is about me. This is for me. Maybe I may not see a direct correlation at this moment. But being being aware of how I am becoming a better learner and growing my own brain, if you will, that is about me. And so it’s incredibly motivational.

Brannock: [00:05:55] The last the last question I had, after reading the research paper, was about the project-based learning, and how that looks. I know how it translates into the world of business and into the world of higher education in terms of administrative work. But how does that look in terms of teaching that? What what sorts of things are being used out in the classroom now that would make an excellent example of project based learning?

Greene: [00:06:26] A lot of people here project-based learning, they roll their eyes. You know, like, ‘oh, again, isn’t that cute.’ This is not cute. This is, when designed well, this is so rigorous and meaningful and challenging because there’s an essence of reality to it. Go back to the motivational concept we just talked about. It’s not that I’m just studying these words to get a grade on a test. It’s that I am authentically trying to craft something that has a purpose. Whether it’s going out into the community to help solve a problem, whether it’s trying to create something that will enable you to do something better, or using 3-D printing technology to authentically build a robotic arm or something with meaning. Project based learning has to come from understanding what the point of the learning is. Not, I’ve got 50,000 apples, so we’re going to make applesauce. Yay! That’s not what this is. It’s about backwards designing, in a fashion, that there is an authentic end goal and that end goal cannot be achieved unless you’ve gone through the steps to see, well: ‘What happens when I try this. Oh, the balsa wood breaks. OK, so I need to try this. Now I know where the weights need to be balanced.’ You are actually going through trial and error, learning for yourself well, that didn’t work. Why didn’t that work. Doing the research, trying again. It is employing real life skills towards the accomplishment of something. Now this is where standards come into play.

[00:08:24] And this is where I, and a lot of other educators and I know there’s a lot of people who will give you the other side of the story, we like what is at the heart of the Common Core. Now, it’s not perfect. I’m the first one stand up and say it’s not perfect, but it focuses on verbs. It doesn’t tell me that I have to teach this page on this day and my students have to memorize these six nouns. What it does is it gives me a bigger goal that I then design the learning experience for my students. I like to use the old visual of a triptych. When we were young and it was time for the big family summer vacay and you would go down to AAA and you’d wait and explain, ‘we’re driving from Omaha, Nebraska, to Oshkosh B’Gosh, Wisconsin, to go visit grandma.’ And they would give you a series of small maps — not one map with a straight line — a series of small maps, and each small map would show different tangents you could go on. And you could stop and see the world’s largest ball of twine, you could go to the mud baths, you could you could choose what things along the way would still get you to grandma’s house. You have your goal, you have your standard you need to demonstrate mastery of. But the way you get there has flexibility. Depending on what interests you or what happens along the way and, if you need to change your route, you can and still make sure you’re headed towards that end goal. So let’s say the project is studying a celestial navigation trying to gain a sense of how the ancient mariners used to use the stars to navigate all around the world.

[00:10:29] Well, additionally there’s 24 hours in a day and I only have the kids for this many (hours) so I would love to do something cross curricular. Where is there another time where celestial navigation was crucial? The Civil War, in the Underground Railroad. Celestial navigation was how the conductors, many of whom are former slaves — Harriet Tubman could not read, could not write, maps couldn’t be caught with a map, but you could navigate by the stars. So by tying those two things together and then crafting a project where the students, for themselves, would do the research, pull it all together, become experts in their own little area, stay up at night and map the stars. Then look at interactive tutorials that show why the North star stays static when other stars appear to move, despite the seasons, despite whatever’s going on. And then at the end, have a multifaceted way of demonstrating that information — whether it’s building a diorama that you explain explain, whether it’s building a model that shows you know the earth’s rotation and why the North star stays where it is. Using these kinds of projects, with an authentic demonstration of mastery, not just a fill-in-the -blank test. Now you can have quizzes along the way as check ins to make sure that the students are up on their vocabulary, but that needs to be more attuned to empowering them to be able to do the project. You can’t go further in the project unless you’re clear with basic terminology — this that and the other. So there’s meaning to all of it. And again it’s all working in concert towards the big do.

Brannock: [00:12:28] That’s absolutely fantastic because they all seem to fit together. It’s not like you can pick one and say, this is the most important thing. But that you can, but when you combine all this together, as you add, in your words, you get this kind of delicious mix of learning that is far more rigorous and far deeper. And it’s going to encompass all the skills that we’ve already identified as essential to successful 21st century employees.

Greene: [00:13:01] It gives us this beautiful cornucopia of verbs that we, then again, can tie to different experiences and different tools that open up the experiences. And we do this: works really well when we’re face to face, this works really well when we’re at a distance, this works really well in solo time. It’s no longer just a race to get it done as fast as humanly possible and then boom we’re on to the next thing. There’s nothing deep about that. And if we look at the countries, and I say this with a very light touch because I don’t like playing the rating game. I like looking at what we can learn from those who are experiencing really positive benefits from the way that they practice, you know, their educational philosophies. If we look at the countries who are rocking. The TIMMS and the PISA and the international exams that go beyond flat static knowledge, what they tend to have in common is depth. And the students don’t just memorize the vocab and move on. They spend the time, they are able to have this deeper learning, because they’re talking to people, they’re working with people, they’re applying knowledge in different ways, they’re doing different projects. They step back, they move forward. It’s more like a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance. That’s what we’re working towards. That’s the 21st century learning that meshes with the needs of the business community, of the global economy, of what’s coming at us tomorrow.

Brannock: [00:14:54] Well, we are super proud in the School of Extended Education that we’ve partnered with the School of Education and with you particularly, Dr. Greene, for putting together the 21st Century Learning course that, it’s actually a program and a minor emphasis in our master’s program as well as a certificate. So a lot of these, I know that a lot of this, the theory that you have here and some of the practical knowledge of how to implement is included in that course. And I also just wanted to let people know if they’re interested in receiving a copy of your paper which I believe you’re circulating now for publication that they can contact me, and I can put them on the list at brannock@brandman.edu. And as soon as that’s available, I’d be happy to share that with anyone who’s interested. Thank you so much for answering some of my questions I hope that answered other people’s as well.

Brandman Speaks is a production of the Communications Department of Brandman University. More information about the university can be found online at www.brandman.edu. Additional podcasts, as well as stories about the students, faculty, staff and innovative programs of the university, can be found at www.brandmanews.org.  Podcasts can be downloaded from iTunes.

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