Like in most popular culture stories, the protagonist does not work alone. The deep learner also interacts with peers in order to solve the cognitive conflict, as it cannot be resolved by the individual learner alone.

Learning is both an individual and a collective enterprise. Learning requires individual cognitive and metacognitive processes. All higher order cognitive processes, for example, communication, language, and reasoning, are first acquired in a social context and are later internalized (Canetero, 2009). We have the capacity to reflect and think, that is, to employ higher order cognitive and metacognitive processes and competences on an individual basis, because we have previously internalized social conversations (Vygotsky, 1978). “We leant together by analyzing the related experiences of others to arrive at a common understanding that holds until new evidence or arguments present themselves” (Mezirow, 1991). Thus, the deep learner constructs and reconstructs knowledge by engaging in conversations with peers through the use of higher order cognitive processes, skills, and competences. In The Lord of the Flies (Hook, 1980), the boys, most notably Ralph and Piggy, converse about their learning process all the time. They vividly discuss and compare fishing techniques; they talk about ways to improve their health by eating more protein. They also revisit the input stories that they received from adults before the plane crash, they question, and challenge them together. The boys negotiate their understanding of life, death, and other fundamental issues. Without these collective negotiations, their learning would be superficial.

There is a str ong—albeit not necessarily evident at first glance—coimec-tion between diversity and deep learning. Since the deep learning process requires a cognitive conflict that is generated through social interaction with peers (Vygotsky, 1978) who are at different developmental stages (Magolda, 2002; Perry, 1970), when the learner interacts with peers who have very different backgrounds, the exploration of the problem, question, or situation that the learner is trying to solve, answer, or deal with will be richer than if he or she only interacts with peers who come from the same cultural background. Law school and university admissions committees generally know this and try to come up with incoming classes that reflect a widely diverse demographic composition. But diversity can only play this role in the deep learning process if teachers actively and explicitly recognize and incorporate diverse worldview perspectives into the classroom. If, on the contrary, even when there is a diverse group of students, teachers repress students’ backgrounds, experiences, and cultures, they insist on teaching from a single cultural perspective, and they reject diverse ways of generating and expressing thought, then the cognitive conflict and the conceptual change (if it happens) will be significantly poorer.


hi most popular culture stories, after struggling with a problem, question, or situation, the protagonist achieves his or her goal and grows. In the deep learning process, the resolution of the cognitive conflict leads to individual and social changes. At the individual level, it gives rise to the conceptual change. Conceptual change is a change in the learner’s cognitive structure. Through interaction with new knowledge, learners come to incorporate that knowledge into their cognitive structures and change their cognitive structures forever. From a biological point of view, learning produces a physical change in the brain. The brain contains billions of neurons, which receive and transmit information in the form of chemical or electric signals to other neurons through synapses. These synapses, that is, the connections between neurons, form neuronal networks that wire the brain by building up on other neuronal networks. Synapses are formed in the brain in response to experiences and learning (Zull, 2002). There is “a neuronal network in our brain for everything we know” (Zull, 2002). A conceptual change resulting from a deep learning process forms unique connections between neuronal networks (Bransford et. al., 2008). The conceptual change is a change in neuronal connections: “more connections, stronger connections, different connections, or even fewer connections” (Zull, 2002). The existence of the concepmal change distinguishes the deep learning process from other forms of learning.

The resolution of the cognitive conflict also leads to changes in the learner’s social position. All members in every academic or professional discipline share some common features about the way in which they interact within the discipline and the outside world. These common aspects include similar ways of thinking about the discipline, communicating with other members of the discipline, interpreting thought, reading academic or professional texts, writing texts, and communicating with laypeople. Most disciplines and professions also have smaller groups that are organized around geographical areas, specializations, or type of professional work, among others7.

Deep learning implies—geographical—changes either across academic or professional communities or inside one’s own community. The first possibility involves a process of moving from one academic or professional community, such as the community of law school students or the community of criminal justice students to another, such as the community of lawyers or the community of criminal justice professionals (Bruffee, 1999). Law school and university teachers help students leave their original communities and join their target communities by helping them acculturate in the linguistic and paralinguistic discourse of the professional or academic community that they try to join. The second possible consequence of deep learning at the social level involves moving from the periphery or margins of a community of knowledge to the center, where the learner achieves full participation by performing the roles and functions that experts display in the community (Lave and Wenger, 1991). When students transition from their original communities to join professional and academic communities of knowledge, they do so gradually. They observe the way their teachers talk, question, respond, and think. They also observe written disciplinary conventions. They interact with their peers. They negotiate meanings

’For example, these may include: (1) areas of specialization, such as criminal law, property law, torts law, contracts law; (2) geographical areas, the Chicago Council of Lawyers, Puerto Rican Bar Association, Canadian Bai'Association; (3) ethnicity, for example, the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois, the Chinese American Bar Association; (4) gender and sexual orientation, such as the National Association of Women Judges, the Lesbian and Gay Law Association of Greater New York; (5) their place of work or type of work, the National Association of University and College Attorneys, Association of Trial Lawyers of America, Federal Magistrate Judges Association; (6) a theory, such as the Critical Legal Studies Association, the Critical Criminology Working Group; or (7) any possible combmation of these or other similar categories. Some subgroups can form subcommunities that may be small and close, whereas other groups can be very large and include professionals or acadeimcs from all over the world. Teaching for deep learning implies helping students become members of these academic or professional communities. In order to become frill members of the communities they want to jom, students need to master the general and specific categories of analysis, reading and writing styles, and strategies to communicate thought in writing and to interpret acadeimc texts that predominate in these communities. For this purpose, it is important to recreate the whole world of that discipline or profession in the classroom, where students can try out all the activities that disciplinary or professional experts usually engage in, including those activities that are not traditionally considered strictly academic such as learning to negotiate fees, evaluating associates, or talking to the press (Perkins, 2002). Tins offers students the whole picture of the field and not just an artificially selected fraction.

within this conununity and construct knowledge. Eventually, they move to the center as they adopt the linguistic and paralinguistic language of the experts in the community. They embrace the beliefs, ideas, methods, and principles of the conununity.

A prominent student vividly recounts her transition from the margins of a community of dance students at Princeton University toward the center of the community of professional dancers, thanks to classes she took with renowned jazz dance teacher Frank Hatchett in Studio A.

During university, [...]! was accepted to a theater company that used quite a bit of dancing in its programs. The actors were divided into ‘dancers-dancers’ and the ‘background dancers’. My dancing ability at the time solidified my position as a background dancer. I watched and envied the dancer group and vowed to one day become good enough to join it. The following summer I began taking classes with Frank Hatchett at the Broadway Dance Center. I took two to three classes a day and was determined to become an eligible dancer. [...] My life changed the moment I walked into the back comer of Studio A. [...]! would never have been able to perform eight shows a week on Broadway [...]. From the back of Studio A to center stage to the wall at Sardi's, I have steadily been moving forward (Hatchett and Gitlin, 2000).


Just like good films, TV shows, and books that require an instance of interpretation and reflection, the deep learning process also requires reflection about the input story, the resulting conceptual and social position changes, and the steps taken toward the resolution of the cognitive conflict. This reflection is done mainly through metacognitive competences discussed in Chapter 7.

TABLE 2.1 The Deep Learning Process.

Deep learning process

Elements Meaning

The input story Problem, question, or situation that the learner finds


TABLE 2.1 (Continued)

Tire stoiy conflict: cognitive conflict

Tire stoiy conflict: nonarbitrary and substantive higher order cognitive skills, competences, and processes

The stoiy conflict: collective negotiation of meanings and social interaction

The resolution of the conflict: the conceptual change and changes in the social position

Evaluation and metacognitive reflection

The challenges and obstacles that the learner faces, which constitute the driving force that impels the process toward its resolution and the actions that the learner takes individually and together with peers in order to overcome those challenges.

The meaningful, nonarbitrary, and substantive connections between the input story and another stoiy that the input stoiy activates from the learner’s own cognitive structure (the activated existing stoiy).

The learner’s interaction with peers in order to solve the cognitive conflict, as it cannot be resolved by the individual learner alone.

A change in the learner’s cognitive structure, i.e., the incorporation of new knowledge into the learner’s cognitive structure and a change in the learner’s social position (academic or professional disciplinary community).

Reflection about the input stoiy, the resulting conceptual and social position changes, and the steps taken toward the resolution of the cognitive conflict.


A fixation with the case-dialogue method in United States law schools, the abuse of lectures in universities in North America and Europe, an obsession with seminar teaching in most criminal justice graduate programs, and a combination of the case-dialogue and lectures in Canadian law schools have given rise to superficial learning across the board, as these pedagogies deprive students of the possibility of discovering and constructing knowledge hi authentic or recreated disciplinary environments.

Teaching for deep learning is the key to changing this problem. For deep learning to occur, the learner must face an exciting input stoiy that contains a problem, question, or situation that gives rise to a cognitive conflict derived from interaction with peers and that the learner feels motivated to solve. To do so, the learner must make nonarbitrary and substantive connections between new knowledge arising from the input stoiy and an activated stoiy in the learner’s existing cognitive structure through recourse to higher order cognitive and metacognitive competences. The new knowledge that the learner grapples with must be within the learner’s zone of proximal development. If the input story is motivating, the learner will change his or her cognitive structure. This will produce two interrelated phenomena. At the individual level, the learner will produce a conceptual change. From a biological point of view, this change will imply a physical transformation of the neuronal connections in the learner’s brain. At the social level, there will be a reacculturation from one community of knowledge to another or a movement from the periphery of an academic or professional community to its center. Deep learning also requires an awareness of this movement and the resulting conceptual change. Absent these phenomena, learning is merely superficial. In this case, stirdents will forget what they learn once they take the exams and finish the course.

Popular culture plays a very important role in the whole deep learning process. It greatly maximizes the quality of stirdents’ learning by motivating students and by providing opportunities for students to develop higher order intellectual skills.

The next chapter focuses on how popular culture can promote rapid cognition thought processes. Rapid cognition, a skill generally devalued in higher education, is an important competence which lawyers and criminal justice officers rely upon in their daily professional practice. The chapter will analyze the main characteristics of rapid cognition and will discuss how popular culture can help students improve the effectiveness of their rapid cognition strategies and decisions.


  • deep learning
  • surface learning
  • popular culture
  • input story
  • story conflict
  • signature pedagogies
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