Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 11, 2023

Palo Alto panel focuses on Learning Institute

By EMILY HERMAN | October 31, 2013

Last Thursday, as part of the Rising to the Challenge fundraising campaign, 125 people visited the University’s new UStream account to watch a panel discussion focused on the Science of Learning Institute, an interdisciplinary research initiative. The live event took place in East Palo Alto, Calif.

The discussion, which was moderated by Barbara Landau, the director of the Science of Learning Institute and the University’s Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs, focused on the Institute’s aim to understand human learning from a variety of different angles.

“The goal is to optimize learning for all,” Landau said. “The science of learning is about learning at all levels of analysis, from the cell level to the cognitive level.”

Landau also announced that the Institute will host a symposium in January that will explore possible changes in the methods of teaching science at the undergraduate level.

To represent a sampling of the different approaches that the Science of Learning Institute will take to understand the human learning process, three leaders from three different schools spoke about Institute initiatives they are working on.

“I’ve been trying to understand what happens in your brain when you learn — what physically is changing in your brain when you learn and encode [information],” Richard Huganir, director of the department of neuroscience at the School of Medicine, said.

“We’ve been interested on the cognitive foundations of math,” Lisa Feigenson, co-director of the Laboratory for Child Development and an associate professor of psychological and brain sciences, said. “Can we get in there and intervene on [a person’s innate] sense of number and can we sharpen it? To really understand the nature of this mechanism, [it] requires real conversation between people doing the science and people in education.”

In addition to scientific studies of learning, the Institute will also explore education policy reform and ways in which students in public institutions can receive an education better suited to their learning styles.

“We’ve been doing things pretty much the same way [in education] for the past couple hundred years,” David Andrews, dean of the School of Education, said. “We now have a window of opportunity to create personalized systems of education that we’ve never seen before. It’s not just on the cognitive side, it’s [also] on the social-emotional [and] the physical aspects of learning.”

The 200 audience members, including many active members of the San Francisco/Bay Area chapter of the Alumni Association, asked the panel questions about aspects of education and the Institute, ranging from the rise of massive online open courses (MOOCs), the Institute’s partnerships with different industries and the impact of social media exposure on learning ability.

“We thought that the Science of Learning Institute topic would be a good one to bring to the [northern California] audience in part because some of our researchers have done studies in California and worked with public schools out there, so it made a natural fit,” Jim McMenamin, director of communications for the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, said.

The Science of Learning Institute is one of five “Signature Initiatives” of the Rising To The Challenge campaign. The other four include the Institute for the American City, Global Health Initiative, Individualized Health Initiative and Institute for Water.

McMenamin noted that although the Rising to the Challenge campaign’s multidisciplinary and high-profile “Signature Initiatives” are being featured in major events, they only constitute $700 million of the $4.5 billion that the University is aiming to raise.

“It’s good for communications purposes to bring [the Signature Initiatives] forward because people have an immediate emotional response to [ideas] like ‘Can our children learn better?’” McMenamin said. “At these events while presentations are made about these initiatives, conversations about many other things are happening as well.”

McMenamin said that the majority of the money from the campaign will go towards research and support for students and faculty.

Over the next few years, more Rising to the Challenge campaign events that focus on different University initiatives will be held in different cities around the world with large Hopkins affiliate bases.

The next event, which will focus on the Institute for the American City, will be held in Boston on Nov. 19.

The Rising to the Challenge campaign, which was launched in May, has raised more that $2.2 billion dollars thus far.

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