By Susan Anderson
Do you believe some people are born with the ability to focus, while others aren’t? That multitasking is a useful skill? That examples make a topic interesting?
If so, you’re wrong — but you’re also not alone in holding these beliefs.
All across the country today, students are being taught in non-optimal ways. The reason? Myths about how learning occurs.
According to St. Bonaventure University professors Adam Brown, Ph.D., and Althea Need Kaminske, Ph.D., a lack of communication between science and educational practice is at the root of these persistent falsehoods.
“There are a multitude of myths prevalent in education today, at the university level and in secondary and primary schools. It is pervasive and lasting,” Brown said.
Added Kaminske: “There’s a clear need for translational work from psychology to teaching.”
To address these issues, Brown and Kaminske established the Center for Attention, Learning and Memory (CALM) at St. Bonaventure in 2017.
Kaminske is a cognitive psychologist with a focus on human memory, Brown a professor in educational psychology and statistics with a focus in development. Together they hold more than three decades of investigative research into attention and learning.
“We created the center to spread the intellectual wealth,” said Brown.
One of their primary goals is to engage faculty and students in dialogue about effective teaching and learning strategies.
“In our roles as professors and academic advisors, we work with smart, motivated students who get stuck in bad study habits because they never received instruction on how learning and memory actually work,” Kaminske said.
CALM offers faculty workshops through Bona’s Faculty Resource Center, tutor training and student study skills through the Student Success Center, and translation of research for the local community. It also extends internship and research opportunities to undergraduate and graduate students.
Matt Petit, a senior creative writing major from Syracuse, New York, serves as a research assistant with Brown, helping to prepare for presentations and workshops.
“My work is more like a literary analyst. I’m in charge of finding articles that have strong methodology and appropriate sample sizes,” Petit said. “I sift through different studies based on whatever the center is working on. It’s my job to make sure the research is current and what we share is credited properly.”
Petit said he appreciates the chance to be part of the collaborative work being done within CALM. He especially values Brown’s work ethic, the example he sets and the research he brings to light about learning and memory.
“The research being done is really important,” Petit said. “Everyone hears ‘take a break when studying,’ but how many people actually do it? How many people realize that when you’re taking a break you’re not necessarily just letting your brain cool down, you’re actually giving it a chance to create connections? Real biological things are happening.”
Other active research within CALM includes an ongoing cell phone study, which focuses on ownership of cell phones and how notifications affect attention and memory.
KAITLYN ENGDAHL, a senior psychology and sociology double major from Rochester, New York, has been involved with the study for more than a year.
“Dr. Kaminske has allowed me to be involved at all levels of the study, as a project leader as well as a research assistant,” Engdahl said. “I’ve been lucky enough to touch on all the different aspects, from background work to working with participants. It’s been a great experience.”
There are several more pieces of research within CALM awaiting literature reviews and approval from institutional review boards.
“We would not be able to have an active line of research to get this much work done unless students were involved at every step,” said Kaminske. “It allows us to share the workload and make the students co-investigators. Plus, having our students be able to go through the process is very important; it gives them insight into the day-to-day process.”
Kathleen Colucci, a member of Bona’s Board of Trustees, believes in the power of faculty like Kaminske and Brown to ignite and inspire students for a lifetime.
She witnessed her husband, Tom, a 1976 Bona grad, do exactly that during his 30-plus years in high school counseling. Following his death in 2018, she created The Thomas J. Colucci Fund for Faculty Development.
“Tom was a truly dedicated professional who cared intensely about helping students,” she said. “He advocated strongly and relentlessly for faculty so they could focus on what mattered — the students.”
The fund in his memory supports workshops created by CALM through the Faculty Resource Center.
“To have this as a resource has been incredible,” said Brown. “We’re very grateful and look forward to creating more partnerships as we share the knowledge.”
In addition to their teaching, workshops and research, Brown and Kaminske have co-authored “Five Teaching and Learning Myths Debunked,” published by Routledge Press in 2018. They recently presented a paper at the national Psychonomics conference in New Orleans and are considering a publisher for their new book idea on “How to Study: A Guide for Students,” designed for first-year university students.
To learn more about CALM, please visit sbucalm.blog. To help support the Faculty Resource Center, visit sbu.edu/donate.
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