Christopher Ruel
Christopher Ruel
Sr. Manager Community and Social Marketing, Wiley

Hero Images Getty Images (2).jpgEducation Has Urban Legends Too.

You know what an urban legend is, right? These are stories typically promulgated  by word of mouth from one generation to another. Popular ones include:  Walt Disney is in cryogenic hibernation; someone has woken up in an ice bath after a night of drinking only to discover one of his/her kidneys has been removed, or driving three times backward around local monuments can summon the devil. None of these have any basis in fact, but they capture the public’s imagination. Education has its own version of urban legends, called neuromyths. Have you heard the one about individual learning styles? Well Virginia, it turns out learning style-centered educational methods have little empirical data supporting them, according to many prominent researchers.


Learning Styles…True or False?

As educators, you are no doubt familiar with the idea of the auditory learner, the visual learner, the kinesthetic learner, etc. Paul A. Kirschner and Jeroen J.G. van Merriënboer, in their 2013 paper on the subject of educational urban legends, cite a review in which 71 different learning styles were identified.  “If we start from the conservative assumption that each learning style is dichotomous, there would already be 271 combinations of learning styles. This means that there are many more combinations of styles than people living on Earth.” This staggering number is just one of the issues neuroscientists, psychologists, and education experts have labeled as problematic when it comes to assigning learning styles to students. There are two other challenges related to individual learning-style methodologies and their effectiveness: 1) “pigeonholing” and; 2) student self-reporting. In a letter to The Guardian UK newspaper this past March, 30 highly-esteemed academics stated their concerns over the predominance of the individual learning style neuromyth. The empirical evidence, the researchers wrote, had no effect on student success rates.  Myth busted? Perhaps.


What Educators Think About The Urban Legend.

We shared the Guardian UK’s article to a Wiley educator-focused discussion board and asked educators what they thought. Did they agree or disagree based on their experiences in the classroom? The conversation was interesting, to say the least. The majority of educators had already moved past the “pigeonholing.” One pointed to the Kirschner/ van Merriënboer research to back up The Guardian UK’s article. Though not all of the educators on the discussion thread agreed with the findings, the majority did and explained how they approach the individual learning style methodology.


Below are excerpts from the online conversation.

  • “I think that variety is the spice in learning. When considering different learning outcomes, the students need options to help scaffold their learning through online videos, assessments, readings, complex activities, manipulation of material, oral presentations, writing etc. [Students] can figure out which one, or use all of them, to expose themselves to different topics…the students are exposed to different approaches to learning, which helps them become better rounded… I personally believe that students learn in all modalities.”
  • “Students need to develop the necessary skills to learn using whatever means and style is presented to them, especially as they grow older. They need to develop life-long learning skills. Yes, having a preferred style is good and, hopefully they will encounter opportunities to use and apply it in the future, but learning has to also take place in all types of circumstance and in all types of situations. In the workplace of their future, students must learn to adapt and change as conditions and situations change…”
  • “…Way too much emphasis has been placed on trying to meet the needs of individual students’ learning styles, especially in high school. We are seeing students more and more coming to the university level totally unprepared for college. It’s not that students don’t have specific abilities and distinct learning styles, but they have not been given any challenging direction in learning how to learn.”
  • “I think there can be a middle ground…people will likely have a preferred way of learning, [but] when they are in a career, they will need to use all learning styles to interact and grow in their professions…it is part of our responsibility to help them achieve that balance.”
  • “I have always advocated for trying as many learning styles as possible. Reading aloud, for instance, allows auditory, verbal, and visual input.  …Awareness of the learning styles may give somebody a new tool, but always emphasize the multiple styles…”
  • “I have had students who tell me they learn best by listening and when given accounting problems in class, [they] sit and do nothing, and don’t even write down the answers given to them. Then they inquire as to why they are not doing well.”
  • “To me, the key is to acknowledge these are preferred learning styles. If that is done, that gets rid of the concern that it will be used as an excuse for not learning because something didn’t match [their] learning style. …Long-term learning often involves cognitive dissonance. I believe we help our students most when we guide them to identify their preferred learning style and then encourage them to explore learning outside that preference. By helping them acknowledge they have [a] habit of learning and then helping them become comfortable with being uncomfortable…”

There were many comments akin to those listed above and they all came to similar conclusions. Yes, learning styles exist, but getting students out of their comfort zones is the best tactic for improving learning outcomes.


What Do You Think?

We had 52 individual posts to this discussion thread by educators from a wide range of institutions. What do you think? Join in the conversation by adding your thoughts on individual learning styles in the comments section below.


Image Credit: Hero Images / Getty Images

    Christopher Ruel
Christopher Ruel
Community and Social Marketing, Wiley

As we celebrate International Women In Engineering Day today, Wiley author, Sheri Sheppard discusses her reasons for becoming an engineer. "Of all the things that I like about engineering, I like the variety in my work the most, from working with design teams, building devices, teaching classes, running experiments, and analyzing systems. I am interested both in designing things and the PEOPLE who do design.” Dr.Sheppard’s new title, Engineering Mechanics: Statics, published this past May. She and her co-authors, Thalia Anagnos, and Sarah L. Billington believe strongly in nurturing young women to join the profession.



To learn more about Sheppard/Anagnos/Billington, Engineering Mechanics: Statics, click here. You can also view Engineer Girl’s video profile of Dr. Thalia Anagnos on Wiley Exchanges, here.

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    Christopher Ruel
Christopher Ruel
Community and Social Marketing, Wiley

Jason A. Kautz, Ph.D., Professor of Practice, Department of Chemistry, University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a chemistry professor who teaches with the goal of instilling problem-solving skills in his students that translate to all aspects of life. Three times, Professor Kautz has been awarded the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska Outstanding Educator Awards and the Hazel R. McClymont Distinguished Teaching Fellow Award. His instructor evaluation consistently score above the departmental average. Kautz is the lead coordinator of the university’s Freshman Chemistry Program, which serves more than 2,500 students each academic year. In addition, Kautz also developed a graduate course in teaching methods of chemistry, designed to improve the development of graduate students as teaching assistants and as educators upon graduation. Dr. Kautz is also currently designing and authoring a digital chemistry course-learning solution with John Wiley & Sons, Inc., available as a Preliminary Edition this coming fall.


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Credit: Wiley Exchanges would like to thank the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for allowing us to share this inspiring video.


    Diane Rubino
Diane Rubino
Adjunct Instructor, New York University and Course Associate, Columbia University

shutterstock_345887747.jpgIf you’re hurt by mean-spirited student evaluations of teaching (SETs), you’re not alone. A veteran college instructor reported that she reads SETs regularly, but takes a pain killer in anticipation of insults she may receive.


As a first-time teacher a few years back, I was shocked to discover that pouring my soul and intellect into a course was insufficient. The sting of ad hominen commentary drowned the bright spots.


My department chair was an experienced professor who sent over my first end-of-semester SETs with an unruffled, “This is where I’d expect you to be.” He even warned me during the job interview—before I set foot into the classroom—that students were “not shy” about complaining.


Those who’ve been around the academic block expect compliments and daggers, even from students in the same class. However, as an adjunct instructor, I had no idea what was coming my way; a trait shared with other beginners.


A colleague told me about his experience: “I assumed I’d get feedback on my effectiveness, things I might improve upon, what things were most valuable in the class and what things were not important. I was very startled with some of the responses because I had students make personal attacks.”


The Yelp’d Professor

Part of the surprise is the lack of precedence for unrepentant hostility. The professional environments in which I worked relied on institutional guidelines to provide an overview of strengths and weakness. Not every review was an A Ha! moment. Nevertheless, the content was balanced and focused on work. It’s also probable you’ve never been at the business end of unfiltered reviews, in which anonymity means zero accountability.


Yet due to the power inequity of the student-teacher relationship and because students really are in a good position to provide feedback, anonymous evaluations are essential. I wanted to find a better way to manage evaluations. So I spoke to associates from colleges across the country. Though they’d all been hurt, each one wanted to continue reading reviews, Here are some of the strategies they shared about how to plunge into the icy waters.


Know Before You Go


  • You Will Get Mixed Feedback. This semester I was pleasantly surprised by positive reviews. But this winning streak will end. No matter what the stature of the instructor, she may receive an earful. At an event recognizing a university’s Distinguished Teaching Award winners, one panel member lamented that the evaluations go “too far” in becoming a forum for unpleasant barbs.
  • Evaluations Mirror Social Inequity. A subtly sexist remark caught my attention a few years back: “Professor is a very knowledgeable teacher, who cares about quality of her students. I would suggest that [she] softens her approach and style in supporting her students.”
    Unfortunately, this is standard fare. The peer-reviewed literature is rich in documentation that SETs measure student internalization of society’s –isms. So the comments and ratings they ascribe to instructors can be sexist and racist, for example, rather than strictly an assessment of teaching.
  • Use The Buddy System. I sit with a colleague when I’m reviewing remarks for the first time or ask them to take a look before I dive in. You may fear calling attention to unflattering commentary. Experienced teachers expect nastiness, so they may be able to provide perspective. In addition, an objective outsider can extract good ideas and provide support when it gets personal. With this in mind, I brought my reviews to my school’s pedagogy center. They instantly pointed out the positive comments and the constructive feedback I missed by focusing on the hurtful aspects.  
  • Channel Michelle Obama. Former First Lady Michelle Obama regularly endures cruel and humiliating attacks. Despite the hurt and anxiety provoked, she ultimately managed to find value. Though a paradigm of excellence few can match, Ms. Obama has practical advice. As she explained in her Tuskegee University commencement address, she learned to ignore such commentary. “By staying true to the me I’ve always known, I found that this journey has been incredibly freeing. Because no matter what happened, I had the peace of mind of knowing that all of the chatter, the name calling, the doubting -- all of it was just noise. It did not define me. It didn’t change who I was. And most importantly, it couldn’t hold me back.”
  • Get Some Distance. Another teacher I know delays reading his SETs. “Two days before the semester starts I dig up the prior evaluation for that course. So I can pump myself up with, ‘Okay, here’s what the audience wants.’ I found that helped because I’m reading with a purpose. Because I want to remember how the students think.” Another professor I spoke with reads her reviews once and puts them aside. Steeled, she’ll return to them later to see what themes emerge and what feedback can be translated into changes that make sense to her. “That helped me because in this way I didn’t hone in on the student who absolutely thought I sucked.”


Teaching is an iterative process. It takes experience and back and forth with students to get it right. Hold on to the compliments and insights that can help improve your skills.


Ultimately, students are expressing their truths—this is how they experience the class and your teaching.


A final piece of advice comes from a veteran instructor who says, “Set your boundaries.” He explained that it’s unnecessary to hold onto every remark, especially when it’s a knock on your character.


I’m hoping to mature into a mindset where insults roll off my back. Until then, I grasp my strategies and hope that day will arrive soon.


How do you approach student evaluations? Let us know in the comments below.


Image Credit: Ditty_about_summer/Shutterstock


    Christopher Ruel
Christopher Ruel
Community and Social Marketing, Wiley

And now for something completely positive.

We asked students to tell us about their favorite professors. Many of you may have read, or are in the process of reading your student reviews from this past semester. As educators, you may not always hear or read the positive impact you have had upon the lives of your students. The following anecdotes demonstrate the value you can, and do bring, to students.



Common Threads.

Reading through the student responses, some common themes jumped out.

  • Students respond to the personal touch many educators demonstrate.
  • Students want to be inspired, encouraged, and challenged.
  • Humor and stories are keys to maintaining student engagement.
  • Holistic approaches to course material resonate with students.
  • The more encouragement an educator provides, the greater the chances are that a student will rise to the occasion—no matter how hard the class may be.
  • High school educators play a major role in defining how students approach their college academic work.

We hope this article comprised of student praise encourages you, inspires you, and motivates you.


Educators matter. Read what these students have to say.

  • During the summer, I took a managerial accounting class. The professor’s enthusiasm and real-world examples made a very technical subject relevant and entertaining. Whenever the class became quiet and serious, he told us, "You guys are so serious. You should all be accountants!" In addition to his passion, he was an inspirational professor. In one of the class sessions, he explained to us why he wanted us to understand accounting concepts instead of memorizing them. He said, "Look, the reason I want you all to understand these concepts is that five years, ten years, or fifteen years from now, I want to see the title of CFO, CEO, CMO, Entrepreneur, or Founder on your LinkedIn profile." This professor’s belief in his students inspired me to understand the reason behind business courses.
  • My most memorable professor taught a Physics of Pollution class. The class was tedious and challenging, but the way he taught us to write out all conversions and see the process of mathematical equations is something I have used in other classes to answer questions successfully.
  • I had a finance professor who had a different philosophy than every other teacher. He wanted to ensure students in college enjoyed their time and did not stress about everything. He taught that, in the business world, it is important to be able to socialize with peers. This teacher would set-up activities for us outside of class to enable networking with people in the finance industry.
  • My most memorable teacher was my high school Advanced Literature teacher. She did a fantastic job of bringing the stories to life. Instead of just assigning reading, she would assign interactive projects. We had to re-enact scenes from The Merchant of Venice; we wrote a poetry journal; and engaged us using immersive learning techniques. For example, she turned off all the lights, played Imagine, by John Lennon, and asked us to free-write as we focused on the music. Those memories will stick with me forever and ultimately inspired me to get into writing.
  • I had a couple of English teachers in high school who helped me form the way I think about art, etc. There was so much I had not realized I was missing when reading or watching movies. These teachers helped me look for deeper meaning within the arts.
  • My favorite teacher left an impression on me because he was a world traveler. His parting words to me on my graduation day were, "You will go far and don't let anything hold you back." I took some courses from him between my sophomore and senior years. He recognized my passion for becoming an RN and encouraged me to pursue my dream career.
  • One professor inspired me to pursue an area of study, Classics that I wasn't familiar with at all, but he was so passionate about it. His breadth of knowledge blew me away and sparked a passion for learning. He was also instrumental in convincing me to study abroad for a summer. I had an amazing experience that I will never forget. I can never repay him for all the experiences he made possible.
  • My favorite professor encourages his class to perform well academically, but he's concerned with more than just grades. He cares about each of his students as people. He wants us to develop a healthy, holistic lifestyle. He has given me advice on several occasions and has impacted me probably more than he knows. He is one-of-a-kind, and I am going to miss his classes.
  • My advisor and professor of intermediate accounting are my favorite. He's there for his students, guiding them to complete their undergraduate degree and planning for the CPA exam. He is very willing to help when you have questions about reviewing for the CPA. I have him to thank for the job I received out of school.
  • One of my professors was passionate about her students’ success. She went beyond in everything she did; the way she taught, the homework assignments and discussion board she made, the office hours she held, and every minute she spent with her students. She was never annoyed when asked a question, but instead always responded with,  "What a great question." She then answered it to the best of her ability.
  • My favorite professor taught circuit analysis. He revealed to me my true potential and helped me realize that I really can do anything I set my mind to.
  • My favorite teacher was my high school calculus teacher. He was incredibly open minded and sensitive towards students who came from different backgrounds and those with unique needs. His enthusiasm was infectious.
  • "Remember to live life every day. It is the balance you create between work, school, family, and yourself that is the most important goal." These words were my favorite professor’s mantra. He always asked each student what it was they were going to do this week just for themselves.
  • I have two favorite teachers; both taught me accounting and made the material enjoyable. I always felt like I could ask anything without feeling judged.
  • I loved my Physics professor! She had over 300 students and could remember your name even if you visited her office once.
  • My most memorable teacher was actually from high school. She didn't come to class with many colorful stories or comments. When I began high school, I wasn't self-motivated. By junior year, I knew that had to change, and I did. I received almost a 4.0 that year and did go on to get a 4.0 my senior year. My senior year, she assigned a ten-page research paper. She spent lots of time reviewing the exam to make sure it was right. It was some of the most challenging work I have done, it pushed my limits, and I learned how rewarding hard work could be. That has stuck with me ever since.
  • I attend the University of Texas at San Antonio, and here is where I met the smartest, kindest, and most loving human being in my college experience. She does more for her students than any other professor I have learned from. I idolize how dedicated she is and how she always manages to find time to bond with each one of her students semester after semester. I will always keep in contact with her. She's stuck with me.
  • My favorite professor pushed me hard in accounting class, and although I hated how hard it was, it paid off. She showed me that success comes through hard work and confidence—it doesn't come easy. I am so grateful for my experience with her.
  • My favorite teacher was my high school physics teacher.  He inspired me to do engineering and helped me get to where I am today.
  • One important lesson I will never forget is this phrase a professor told me when I was at a very low point: "You’re only a kid once, make sure you employ a healthy balance in your life.”
  • I had a professor who advised me that, "Few things in life ought to be taken with absolute seriousness. Education is one of them. If you pursue knowledge, you pursue a future; there is nothing more honorable than that."
  • My Calculus I professor changed the way I think about learning. Before I took his class, I hated calculus; I was scared of it. Unfortunately, my previous teacher and I did not get along. But this other professor was big about group work, and he always challenged us to think about things critically. I'll never forget that he set up a foundation for a beautiful way of seeing life—through the lens of calculus!
  • My accounting teacher in high school is by far my favorite. He would take the time to make sure that everyone understood the material, and he would also tell us a bunch of interesting stories to help us remember the material. Also, he would crack jokes to entertain and engage the class; he made learning fun as crazy as that sounds! One of the things that I enjoyed about his class was that he would play music while we worked on problems in the book.
  • My art teacher from high school left a deep impression on me. She believed in my ability and encouraged not only me, but all of her students to try to do the best they could. I have not seen her in twenty-six years, and I would love to let her know how much her support meant to me.


Did you know when you became an educator that you change lives forever? Perhaps you did, or maybe that realization came later in your career. What’s the best thing a student ever said to you about your teaching? Let us know in the comments below.


Image Credit: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

    Douglas Petrick
Douglas Petrick
Physics Teacher, Pittsburgh, PA

Doug Petrick, physics teacher at Upper St. Clair High School and regular Wiley Exchanges blogger, discusses themes in his article An Educator’s Journey: How I Solved for X and Discovered Why. Doug expands upon the steps he took to switch from a career in engineering to one in education and how the challenges he faced helped him evolve as a person and a teacher. Embracing small changes can lead to big results, as Doug learned, and it’s a lesson he brings into his classroom every day.



To read more of Doug’s posts go here.


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