What I Learned from Student-Created Learning Taxonomies

My assignments are often inspired by things I learn about from my Personal Learning Network (PLN), and this particular assignment is inspired by several people. The assignment I recently gave my students (who are largely freshmen learning about educational game design as part of a core curriculum course on creativity) is to develop their own learning taxonomy, in any shape or form, with any items that they feel are important to their learning. The idea of the assignment was inspired by a an activity Sean Michael Morris created where we hacked (well re-thought) Bloom’s Taxonomy during the recent #MOOOCMOOC Instructional Design. It was also partly inspired by Amy Collier’s keynote here at Digital Pedagogy Cairo (recorded here) which referred to a recent presentation by Gardner Campbell using a taxonomy of engagement which focused on love.

So here’s some of what I learned from the student responses to this assignment (all my student blogposts are aggregated here but they’ve had several assignments since this one):

  1. Remembering is not necessarily considered of low/no value. In many of my student’s taxonomies, they reminded me that sometimes it is easier to understand and apply something first before being asked to memorize it. Many of my students come from an Egyptian schooling where memorizing was the main goal, and their going through the process of understanding and applying were sometimes considered approaches to helping them memorize, rather than considered as higher forms of learning. Thinking about this, it actually makes more sense for e.g. a medical doctor who does need to remember certain facts, to learn to understand and apply them before they are asked to remember them. Whereas as social scientist (and previously computer scientist), remembering facts is often not really even on the radar of skills (e.g. sure, you need to learn particular syntax to create a computer program, but this is pretty minor compared to what you can do with it, and you don’t need to sit and learn it by heart).

  2. Pyramids are not a universal symbol. I am laughing as I write this, because, you know, pyramids. In Egypt. You’d think the symbol was pretty culturally relevant. You’d be wrong. Whereas most educators recognize that Bloom’s taxonomy means you start at the foundation, lowest level being remembering, and go up to the more difficult and more valuable learning from understanding to applying and so on – my students’ own pyramids (and other shapes they used) sometimes had remembering near the end not the beginning — see #1 above. What this showed me, though, is that maybe because students thought remembering/memorizing was valuable, they may have interpreted the whole Bloom’s taxonomy upside down or something. I’m still not 100% sure.

  3. Interest is Underrated by Bloom, But Valued by Students. Many students caught onto Gardner/Amy’s ideas of interest, passion , inspiration, and so on. Almost every student-created taxonomy mentioned this

  4. Students added their own elements, some of which I found extremely useful, like “relating concepts to what one already knows about” and “sharing what one has learned”. One student also added concepts like “forced learning” and “potential learning”.

  5. Some students included very process-oriented elements in their taxonomies, such that the learning itself needed things like “discussing”, “experimenting” and “researching”.

Best of all – I helped students realize that what they value (and find difficult) about learning is different from others in the class, and I got to know more about them. Even better? I realized that undergraduate students can come up with pretty good models that I think can challenge Bloom’s any day.

Have you assigned your students something that asks them to subvert known models/frameworks in the field? Tell us in the comments.

flickr photo by granger shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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