Teaching Challenge #4: Creatively Providing Practice & Reinforcement

By Vanessa Eisch
Engage Staff

Henke presenting

Growing up, children often hear "practice makes perfect" when learning a new skill, such as reading or playing the piano. As university students, practice continues to be a critical element of learning.

"There's a natural advantage in being a musician, because most of your life is spent practicing. So it's a natural outlet for how to learn and a natural part of how we teach," explained music professor Jamie Henke at the Teaching Academy's fourth teaching challenge event in March.

Henke, along with engineering professor John Pfotenhauer and curriculum instruction teaching assistant Ryan Martinez took part in a panel discussion about the importance of practice and reinforcement in the classroom.

Henke says while practice is critical to learning, simple "skill and drill" is not. Instead of repeatedly reinforcing what students already know, she suggests they practice what they do not know in small amounts over a longer period of time.

Martinez presenting

This type of practice is exactly what TA Ryan Martinez uses to reinforce course material and help students understand the culture of gaming in the course "Video Games and Learning".

"We try to explore these avenues of teaching which hopefully allows students to not only explore the material which we teach, but also develop frames of knowledge of their own," says Martinez.

Martinez advocates for an apprenticeship model in his classroom where students actively learn by playing the video games they are studying.

"We demonstrate the types of learning that takes place based on reading the literature," Martinez explains.

Gaming is also a powerful learning tool for professor John Pfotenhauer's cryogenic engineering students.

"The games lend themselves to providing lots of practice," he says.

Pfotenhauer presenting

Pfotenhauer developed his game, "Cool It" through UW Engage's Simulation & Games award. "Cool It" helps students develop an "expert" perspective and empirical understanding of the physical principles of cryogenic design.

"Situation learning doesn't happen when you are sitting in the classroom where the person is lecturing to you. It happens when you are using it in real-life applications," explains Pfotenhauer.

Top 5 Teaching Challenges

The Top 5 Teaching Challenges events are a series of events focusing on the top five teaching/learning challenges identified by UW Madison faculty and instructors. The events are an opportunity for faculty, staff, postdocs, and graduate students to learn, and share ideas on how to improve teaching and learning excellence at the University of Wisconsin. This forum is a collaborative effort between DoIT Academic Technologies and the UW Teaching Academy.