Thursday, March 24, 2011

Memory as a SLO

Why don't we teach memory skills as learning outcomes? Given the amount of memorizing required for many college courses, wouldn't it make sense to have a first-year course on the general subject: theory and application? Or better yet, integrate techniques within classes. I can remember my uncle, who is a doctor, reciting a long list of bones from some mnemonic device he'd used back in school, decades before. The subject has a long rich history. The Romans practiced memory techniques, and probably considered it essential (see Wiki article "Art of Memory" for sources and details). The book Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything is currently the number four best-seller on

Memory shows up as the base of the pyramid on the revised Bloom's Taxonomy (taken from here).

I'm guessing that there are institutions out there who do this, but I haven't heard about (or ironically forgot about). Does anyone have a "memory across the curriculum" program? It seems like this skill does belong at the base of cognitive skills, and moreover is transferable from one discipline to another. Simple things could easily be done, like teaching students how big flash-card decks should be and how to time the reinforcements, or providing online resources like SuperMemo:
SuperMemo is based on the insight that there is an ideal moment to practice what you've learned. Practice too soon and you waste your time. Practice too late and you've forgotten the material and have to relearn it. The right time to practice is just at the moment you're about to forget.
Here's another tip: move your eyes
If you’re looking for a quick memory fix, move your eyes from side-to-side for 30 seconds, researchers say. Horizontal eye movements are thought to cause the two hemispheres of the brain to interact more with one another, and communication between brain hemispheres is important for retrieving certain types of memories.
Finally, here's a very cool way to remember numbers called pegging:
Basically what pegging does is to turn a number (any number), into a set of phonetic sounds or letters. These sounds are then joined together to form words, and these words may then be linked together to form a series of images. Finally these images may then be committed to memory. This enables an individual to recall numbers of up to (and above) 100 digits, with relative ease.
It seems like helping students improve memory would have broad positive consequences for the rest of their learning. They could spend less time in the process, stop cramming vocabulary just before the test (and forgotten just after), and take away a useful life skill. We could ask students to memorize presentations instead of reading them.

Memory as an outcome is attractive because it's easy to assess, there are straightforward techniques that are known to work, and it can be incorporated into the curriculum. The biggest barrier might be faculty who don't know and don't want to learn the techniques themselves.

Undoubtedly the drama department already does some of this--you can't take the flash cards on stage with you for the performance. Music too, maybe. Can we broaden the scope and take similar advantage institutionally? I'd love to know if someone out there is doing this already.

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