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Running head: KNOWLEDGE ACROSS CURRICULUM

Knowledge Across Curriculum: Facilitating Far Transfer of Learning Darin L. Hammond Education 602 Idaho State University 21 May 2012

KNOWLEDGE ACROSS CURRICULUM

Statement of the Problem In my Foundations of English 201 (FDENG 201), Arielle sits in the front, center desk almost too close. At Brigham Young University Idaho, this is the class that focuses on advanced critical writing, thinking, and reading. Arielle is attentive, with eyes wide and bright, her body erect, notes sitting in front of her with a pen in her hand. The title of the course is Advanced Writing and Critical Thinking, and it is the second in a pair of courses designed to teach students how to read and write at the college level. On the left side of her desk, Arielle has the textbook for our class opened the pages the students were to have read for the day. In her blue, spiral notebook, she has five section dividers, with the names of her classes written on the tabs, including writing, algebra, physics, psychology, and exercise. During our hour together, I am able to see Arielle flipping between the five tabs and writing notes. She also writes notes in the margin of her textbook as we work together in the classroom. She is actively synthesizing and transferring information between the different classes she is currently taking. She is engaged in the classroom experience, but at the same time, she is making connections outside the classroom, her mind accessing the information from all of her classes and her life. She offers comments and questions during class discussions, and in breakout group sessions, she quickly becomes one of the leaders on her team. In this same length of time, Davis is seated at the back of the class, in the right-hand corner next to the window. His attention focuses on the classroom selectively and sporadically. As we discuss the essay he read for today by Henry David Thoreau, Davis focuses on me and his classmates in turn as we speak. He does not enter the discussion, nor does he take notes. Davis has forgotten his textbook again today. When we move beyond the essay, he gazes out the window, his mind somewhere else. During class discussions, he is silent, and in the group sessions, he does not take an active role.

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Ideally in a classroom such as this, students extend the knowledge and skills they acquire to other courses and life experiences (Schunk, 2012, p. 24). Arielle is an exemplar of this group, but many times students are only selectively present as Davis is in this example. In FDENG 201, we practice critical reading skills such as annotating, questioning, inferring, and critiquing. One objective of the course is to facilitate the transfer of these skills to other college courses so that students are able to read effectively regardless of the situation. For example, students should be able to transfer critical reading skills practiced in FDENG 201 to reading a textbook in a chemistry or biology class. These skills should help students in reading, studying, retaining information, and preparing for testsArielle clearly does this. However, in practice, students do not always make the extension to distinct situations. Students tend to view the skills they acquire as isolated to the one English class. Without instruction, students are unable to transfer the reading and thinking skills from one course to another. Knowing more about how transfer works will enable instructors to more effectively instruct students and provide activities which facilitate the use of knowledge and skills in other courses and aspects of life. As an educator, targeting far transfer of learning will enrich the student knowledge acquired in the classroom, facilitating the use of information across the curriculum, providing the student with a foundation for higher education and in life. An Introduction to Far Transfer Transfer describes the way that knowledge and skills acquired and practiced are applied in new situations, contexts, and environments (Schunk, 2012, p. 317). Cognitive theories suggest that this occurs when learners comprehend how to use the skills they acquire in unique environments. The way in which information is stored plays a role in adapting knowledge to new situations. From a cognitive perspective, the uses of knowledge are stored along with the information itself. Thus, the environments that learners encounter do not have to share commonalities for the learners to be able to apply past knowledge. Social cognitive theory and information processing theory present two

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approaches that address the issues in my FDENG 201 courses, and applying their unique understandings of far transfer of learning will help me to handle this issue effectively. Two Views of Far Transfer: Definitions and Reviews of the Literature Key Terms Far transfer of learning. In order to address this issue, an understanding of the definition of far transfer of learning is necessary. "Any survey of what education hopes to achieve discloses the transfer is integral to our expectations and aspirations for education" according to Perkins and Salomon (1988) who pointedly question whether learning is bound to a specific context (p. 22). In further research, Perkins and Salomon (1989) suggest that it usually is, but that it does not necessarily have to be so (pp. 16-25). However, Macaulay and Cree (1999) point to the immensity of the task at hand for educators, stating that far transfer of learning as a "concept has been a focus of interest to educators working in various different fields: or example, psychology, philosophy, schooling, adult education, social work, nursing studies, engineering and law" (p.184). While their definition is not all-inclusive, these authors certainly point to the diverse fields that are interested in the subject and the scope to which it applies. So many disciplines are interested in the far transfer of learning because the concept reaches so far across the curriculum, influencing not simply educational philosophy and learning, but stretching all the way from birth of the child to the end of his or her life. The article "When and Where Do We Apply What We Learn? A Taxonomy for Far Transfer" by Barnett and Ceci (2002) of Cornell University provides a useful and comprehensive analysis of this complex concept, suggesting terminology and delineating definitions that are helpful in understanding its reach. Many researchers stress the importance of far transfer of learning while at the same time pointing to the majority of students who seem to be like Davis rather than Arielle. In his article

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Teaching for Transfer of Core/Key Skills in Higher Education: Cognitive Skills, Billing (2007) asks: whether such predominantly cognitive skills do transfer from one educational setting to another, or from the educational context to application in an occupation. Can such key skills be taught and assessed in a general way and then applied to many disciplines and contexts, or can they be taught in one discipline and then applied in another? Much of the early research evidence, mainly from cognitive psychology, suggests instead that automatic transfer to new contexts of these desirable higher abilities should not be assumed, and procedures for generalisation should be in-built. In short, these skills are highly dependent on domain specic knowledge, i.e. learning is situated, and skills are quite use-specic. (p. 484) In the beginning of this quote, Billing defines far transfer of learning as moving cognitive skills and information from one situational context to many, extending into the individual's life and future. Although at the end Billing suggests that far transfer of learning does not usually occur, he pushes beyond this in the end of this article using the two theories that I will address in this paper: information processing theory and social cognitive theory. Information processing theory. Information processing theory sees transfer as a purely cognitive process where new knowledge spreads in memory and creates a links to prior sources of information. This new knowledge when recalled will activate areas of long-term memory that has been linked to it, so the new knowledge is embedded in the rich context and long-term memory. When a learner recalls information, diverse applications of that information are also brought up in working memory. This allows the learner to act on the information in various environments outside of where the knowledge was gained. The teacher can facilitate this by creating cues and tags that will help the

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students to link new information to old (Schunk, 2012, p. 226). This model emphasizes the flow and spread of knowledge through the networks of the brain associated with long-term memory. This theory also possesses a potential flaw in that it emphasizes the individual apart from the social context, and it also potentially has the problem of placing too much power and authority in the hands of the teacher who can become the dispenser of knowledge: Research has consistently shown that many students enter college believing authorities can and should teach them the right answer, but during college, students move toward believing they too are authorities, that there is not always a single right answer, and what counts as right may vary by context or person. In spite of the epistemological shifts students undergo in college, findings show that college students rarely reach the most complex state of development. (Pizzolato, 2009, p.131) This research is a bit disturbing because it suggests that in the current state of higher education, the college student is not move beyond the simple view that the teacher distributes knowledge and the student collects it in his or her brain. However, on the positive side, it suggests that college students are finding that there is not a single right or correct answer to complex problems and that knowledge creation for one individual might be entirely different than that of other people. For the instructor, this means that new information should be delivered along with cues and tags that will associate or link it with other long-term memories that enable the student to act in diverse situations, contexts, and environments. My FDENG 201 students will be able to use knowledge and skills in writing in chemistry and biology and other classes if I present information and activities rich with cues that will connect to other domains of knowledge in the learners brains. In contrast to the social cognitive theory which emphasizes social environments and self-efficacy, the information processing theory stresses cognition, memory interconnections using cues, and memory recall.

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Social cognitive theory. For social cognitive theorists, transfer is both a cognitive and social phenomenon. Learners must believe that the way they act in unique situations outside the classroom environment will yield positive results (Schunck, 2012, p. 161). The emphasis here is on the learner extending skills and knowledge to different social environments and situations and the belief that behavior based upon skills and knowledge previously acquired can be applied in other social environments. Social cognitivists refer to this as outcome expectations (p. 143). This requires that the learner achieves a level of self-efficacy the individual beliefs one has about her or his ability to act effectively with knowledge and skills (p. 146). So a teacher should focus both on facilitating self-efficacy in addition to knowledge and skills. The knowledge and skills have little value if the individual learner does not have self-efficacy which will allow her or him to act independently using the learning. Far transfer then, within the context of the social cognitive theory, conceives of the individual's creation and spread of knowledge almost exclusively within the cultural environment. Even self-efficacy comes through other people, and far transfer is a "dynamic process of exchange, synthesis, and ethically sound application of knowledge within a complex system of relationships" (McWilliam, Ward-Griffin, Forbes, and Leipert, 2009, p.3).This system is indeed complex and sometimes chaotic, but the theory points out important aspects of learning. We cannot conceive of far transfer without considering the social context of knowledge creation, exchange, and transmission. When students have the ability to act upon previously acquired skills and knowledge in distinct social environments using acquired learning, transfer is then possible. So, the students in my FDENG 201 class need self-efficacy to believe that they are able act outside the classroom

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environment, and as a teacher I need to facilitate their ability to see connections with diverse environments and domains of knowledge. The learners need the opportunity to engage their knowledge in diverse contexts, practicing in the classroom the transfer of knowledge and skills so that they are able to utilize them in life. A Synthesized Solution Although the social cognitive theory stresses the cultural environment in which learning takes place and the information processing theory emphasizes the peace situation of the individual and his or her cognitive state of mind, there is much overlap between the two theories. The relationship between the two does not necessarily have to be a dichotomous one although some of the literature seems to say so. As Hodkison, Biesta, & James (2007) astutely point out: the vast bulk of the current literature addresses one of these or the other, not both. Furthermore, whatever the setting within which learning takes place, it is necessary to understand that learning from both the perspective of the individual learner, and that of the learning situation. From both these perspectives, we need to understand learning at any one time as part of a lengthy on-going process, where the past life history of the individual and the past history of the situation strongly influence that current learning. Next, we need to understand the ways in which that learning is also influenced by wider social, economic and political factors, which lie outside as well as inside the person and the learning situation. Above all, we need to be able to understand the interrelationships between these issues. In our view, there is valuable and significant existing theoretical work that addresses many of these issues separately, but nothing that effectively integrates all. (pp. 7-8). The authors synthesize the literature nicely, providing a framework to analyze the problem addressed in the example with Arielle and Davis in the introduction. If we are to accomplish far transfer in our classrooms, the approach these authors take seems most likely to be effective.

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What this means for my advanced writing and reading class is that I must constantly be aware that Arielles approach to learning includes the skills sets that I need to promote in my teaching. As I teach critical reading and annotation, through discussion and a very brief lecture I should direct the learning outside our specific classroom context and towards the students' other courses and life experiences. Social cognitive theory suggests that the best way to accomplish this is through interactive learning that involves the students in a cultural context, and group work can help me to facilitate this because "simply grading students for having rich integrated ideas and complex understanding of how fields fit together can be an exercise in futility in the context of this understanding is limited to a given course" (Benander & Lightner, 2005, p. 199).Information processing theory helps me to understand what is going on in the individual student's brain and how I can best help individual students to process learning and extend it beyond the context of my classroom, but social cognitive theory is necessary for an understanding of how this can best take place. The conclusion that I must come to is that group work and social contexts will best assist my students in applying critical reading and writing skills outside the classroom experience. Lecture and grading will not be effective for my broad objectives in the course (Burke, Jones, & Doherty, 2005, pp. 133-135). Lecture and grading will inevitably be context bound, but social projects and activities will extend beyond the classroom to accomplish far transfer of learning. As an example of the application of both theories I address here to my specific course, we now begin our semester with a glimpse at the a research paper in the student's discipline area. My students say that this is the most challenging project they have ever completed in school and that this makes them feel proud and capable. I believe the semester with a glance at this final project establishes a focal point for far transfer of learning, with each of the smaller tasks that we work on prior to the paper building upon the learning that has already taken place. As we go through the

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semester, I consistently try to illustrate through the various projects and feedback that they are preparing themselves for the larger goal which pushes them outside the classroom, into their discipline area. So, we do a portfolio that focuses on critical reading and thinking strategies such as annotation, questioning, inferring, summarizing, etc. I give feedback that helps the students become aware of the skills they have developed and the level of achievement they have attained, pointing to how this is useful in other classes and for the final project. I emphasize the writing and reading skills that they are improving upon and mastering and that there is no limit to their potential. I also stress that they will use the same critical reading skills in the research project. I suggested one-on-one feedback and in class, through group activities and class discussion, that they should start forming goals that will help them apply the skills that will assist them in researching in their major. Another key project that facilitates far transfer of learning is the proposal for the research project which we work on mid-semester. This assignment is particularly effective because it centers on setting goals for the research project, both social and individual directed goals. They consider what they want to accomplish in the project within their discipline, and I stress the importance of selecting a topic that will be interesting and engaging to them. In class they share their ideas with one another and the class as a whole, involving them socially. I emphasize this so that they are passionate and engaged in the topic, and the select the subject in multiple social environments, involving the individual, the class, and the discipline itself. When the final project comes about, they have thought about it the whole semester, worked on skills connected with it, developed learning goals for it, shared their ideas with multiple audiences, and received progress reports on their learning. I think this is what makes the class and project fulfilling for the students, accomplishing far transfer of learning by focusing on the individual and social contexts.

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References Benander, R., & Lightner, R. (2005). Promoting transfer of learning: connecting general education courses. The Journal of General Education, 54(3), pp. 199-208. Billing, D. (2007). Teaching for transfer of core/key skills in higher education: Cognitive skills. Higher Education, 53(4), 483-516. doi:10.1007/s10734-005-5628-5 Burke, V., Jones, I., & Doherty, M. (2005). Analysing student perceptions of transferable skills via undergraduate degree programmes. Active Learning in Higher Education, 6(2), 132-144. doi:10.1177/1469787405054238 Macaulay, C., & Cree, V. E. (1999). Transfer of learning: Concept and process. Social Work Education, 18(2), 183-194. Perkins, D. N., & Salomon, G. (1988). Teaching for transfer. Educational Leadership, 46(1), 22-32. Perkins, D. N., & Salomon, G. (1989). Are cognitive skills context-bound? Educational Researcher, 18(1), pp. 16-25. Pizzolato, J. E. (2009). Struggling with self-study. College Teaching, 57(3), 131-138. Salomon, G., & Perkins, D. N. (1989). Rocky roads to transfer: Rethinking mechanism of a neglected phenomenon. Educational Psychologist, 24(2), 113-142. Schunk, D. H. (2012). Learning theories : An educational perspective. Boston: Pearson.