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Learning in the digital world: Educational Leadership Conference 2015

At the 2015 Educational Leadership Conference, there was a strong emphasis on using what we know about the science of learning to inform our pedagogy.

By Alan M. Daniel, PhD

Every year at APA dues renewal time, I find myself assessing the benefits of membership. Some are evident (cheap access to PsycNet® is a big plus for me), but other things aren’t as obvious, such as APA’s psychology education and research advocacy in Washington, D.C. Thanks to Div. 6, I had the opportunity to attend this year’s Education Leadership Conference (ELC), which was a fantastic firsthand opportunity to see APA advocacy in action.

The first two days of the conference were focused on conversations about the theme, “Learning in a Digital World.” There was a lot discussion about the kinds of skills needed for effective online teaching, with general agreement that they are different from the skills needed for face-to-face (F2F) teaching, and that the APA should take efforts to ensure that teachers of online courses get appropriate training in evidence-based practices for effective online learning. I did not detect any sense that anyone was afraid online courses were any less rigorous than F2F courses, though there was speculation that colleagues from other disciplines may have those concerns.

There was an emphasis on effectively using the data that course management systems produce, such as predictive analytics. Psychologists are unique in that they are often comfortable and receive training in monitoring quantitative data, and they are used to creating interventions that change behavior. This makes us a great discipline to develop and implement on-the-fly interventions to help our students. After all, the ones who study learning and memory should be the best at structuring their courses to facilitate learning and memory, right?

To my delight, there was a strong emphasis on using what we know about the science of learning to inform our pedagogy. For example, we had presentations on ways to use testing effects to the student’s advantage, as well as optimizing multimedia to “reduce cognitive load” and generate better retention of material. Both of these examples had an empirical component, which is where we need to be going, in my opinion. It was clear to me, however, that experimentally minded folks were in the minority, which I believe underscores the importance of our presence at these events. And since an unnamed Div. 6 member, to protect anonymity we’ll give him the pseudonym “Papini,” teased me mercilessly about my call to use games as inspiration for effectively motivating students, I have to point out how forward thinking I was in the 2013 winter newsletter: one of the plenary sessions was devoted to the use of video games as a pedagogical tool.

The conference, of course, is really a backdrop for our advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill. This year, we asked our congressmen to support the senate's proposed budget of $8.9 million for the Graduate Psychology Education (GPE) program, which is increased from last year's $6.9 million. The GPE program provides grants to institutions for doctoral-level clinical training in behavioral health for underserved areas, with a special emphasis on getting no-cost mental health benefits to veterans and their families, rural populations and older adults. As someone who sees poverty on a daily basis in a vast desert of behavioral health options, I was an easy sell on the need for these grants.

The GPE program is the only program solely dedicated to the education and training of doctoral-level psychologists. In 2012-2013, GPE supported more than 1,400 graduate students, with 93 percent of those in underserved communities, and 88 percent in primary care settings. We received advocacy training as part of the conference. We were divided into teams based on our states and congressional districts, and we visited our congressmen and congresswomen to ask directly for support for GPE. It really was impressive to see the APA’s advocacy arm in action. Plus, I got a really cool pin that says “PsycAdvocate” on it.

Finally, I would like to thank the division for the opportunity to attend this year’s ELC conference. I hope I can continue to represent and advocate for the needs of Div. 6 in the future.