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        Put a little SWAG in your studies

        October 23, 2014 By Joe McAdory

        All News


        Bill and Hettie JohnsonDo you want more success with less stress? Do you want to make better grades and have more time to play? Then put a little SWAG in your study habits. We’re not talking about studying with extra gold chains around your neck. We’re talking about multi-sensory learning, a Study-With-All-Gears (SWAG) technique made available to Raymond J. Harbert College of Business students through a grant from Auburn alumni Bill and Hettie Johnson. What are multi-sensory learning techniques, you ask? Remembering facts through objects, colors and activities while the brain is stimulated. One can dribble a basketball and memorize mathematic equations. One can toss Frisbees and link that motion to information in textbooks. One can interact with an important list of facts by purposefully picturing and talking about ways to link those facts with things they already know.  The brain and the body working together … Swagulous. “This is what our graduate students are teaching our students: to get all of these parts of your brain lighting up at the same time,” said Hettie, a speech-language pathologist who graduated from Auburn in 1970 and specializes in advanced teaching strategies. “It lights up what I call the magic triangle that gets all of the parts of your brain connected.” She cited famous physician Samuel Orton (1879-1948), who pioneered the study of learning disabilities. “If you cause these parts of the brain to connect by studying while you use them … it makes it all work,” Hettie said. “There is this famous saying in neurology that neurons that fire together wire together. If you play while you are studying, like if you were tossing something like a koosh ball or dribbling a basketball while you are studying out-loud, you are seeing, talking, hearing, touching and moving while you are dribbling that basketball or yelling out your math. It’s totally based on science and research, but it’s simple to play while you study.” Bill, a 1970 Harbert College of Business graduate with degree in Management, enjoyed a long career with Alabama Power -- retiring in 2010 as vice-president of the company and President of the Alabama Power Foundation. “In the business world today, things are changing dramatically,” he said. “Technology is rampant … if you can discover ways to learn more quickly and easily, that follows you through your business career because nowadays you’ve got to re-learn quite frequently. In my career, entering the computer age caused rapid changes in technology, that resulted in a continual learning atmosphere. If we can help students learn how to learn more effectively, then that is bound to help them in their business career.” The Johnsons, who call Hoover, Ala., home, have committed $20,000 annually for five years to the Office of Professional and Career Development (OPCD)  to provide a multi-sensory learning advocate at Lowder Hall. SWAG’s present and past Schavion Graham, a Huntsville, Ala., native now seeking his master’s degree in Higher Education Administration, is available to students for the 2013-2014 school year. “Students can expect a variety of things from the SWAG program,” Graham said. “The concept of Studying With All Gears is based on multisensory study techniques, in which students are taught to use different senses at the same time while learning. During the SWAG presentation the goal is to help students learn to study more effectively by interacting with the information through seeing, hearing, touching and moving - this will help neurons in their brains "fire together and wire together." Using visual, auditory, and tactile-kinesthetic senses simultaneously increases the retention of learned information.” Students interested in learning more can contact Graham at the OPCD at 844-7203 or Graham is here for students now. Matthew Paul Cowley, now a Career Development Coordinator at the University of Florida, served as the program’s first multi-sensory learning advocate in 2012-13 as a graduate assistant while working toward his master’s degree in Higher Education Administration. “Seeing students have positive results is what gave me a sense of fulfillment,” said Cowley. “I was given the reigns to create something that would effect change in students. I had wonderful and supportive people around me who were excited about the work that I was doing and understanding of any growing pains that we went through as this new program took shape.” The Johnsons are proud of what they have seen. “We would like to see it available to any student at Auburn,” Bill said. “Right now, it’s concentrated on the College of Business. We also geared the fellowship to where they (graduate students) can have office hours so that an individual student can come and visit with them.” Timothy Ullmann, Director of Professional Development at the OPCD, raves about the program and encourages students to get involved. “The presentations the graduate assistants have made have been really great at saying, ‘here are some other options out here that will facilitate learning and move things from your short term to your long term memory in a more impactful way,” he said. Hettie suggested the learning techniques were “fun” and “powerful.” “We encourage students to study walking around, go to Chewacla (State Park), or somewhere and study,” she said. “Do some of your studying under this tree. Do some of your studying out loud sitting on this rock. Connect where that studying happened to your working memory. Your long-term memory works like that -- by picturing where you were when we did it, plus the words, plus the movement. You put all of that together and you’re going to learn it better. These same strategies are the same from kindergarten to medical school or law school and forever in life. You will always learn more effectively this way, combining more fun and less stress.” ‘A significant contribution’ The Johnsons, whose first date was an Auburn Sigma Nu Fraternity party 45 years ago, thought of the learning program on a trip to see grandchildren in Indianapolis. “We were talking about the upcoming campaign at Auburn and we thought we would want to make a significant contribution,” Bill explained. “We both love Auburn and went there, our kids went there, our son-in-law and daughter-in-law went there, Hettie’s father (James Wyatt Pippin) graduated from there and was captain of the track team. We have a long history with Auburn and we wanted to make a meaningful commitment and we were thinking about whether we wanted to do an additional scholarship or add to our fund for excellence. “We got to talking, and Hettie has had a long career working with students and since 2000 she’s specialized in working with students who struggle with learning. We thought, ‘there might be a way that we could take the learning strategies that she teaches and help more than just one student.’ Certainly, a scholarship is a great thing to do. It helps a student. But we were thinking that we could help a lot more students. We had this idea to do a series of classes or seminars on study strategies that incorporate the multi-sensory work that Hettie has been doing.” In 2012, the program was introduced and an estimated 350 students have taken advantage of its offerings. Helping others, over the years, is “inspiring” to Hettie. “My computer is full of email from people writing and saying ‘Thank you for restoring the joy to our lives,’ or notes that say ‘Thank you for changing the course of our lives,’” she said. “I got a note from one mother who wrote ‘The tips and strategies that you have taught my son saved his school career.’ The passion feeds itself.” Bill, who said Harbert College taught him about accountability, dependability and doing your job “with no excuses,” said he and his wife simply wanted to make a positive contribution. “We’ve been blessed in our life,” he said. “We were trying to think, ‘what can we give back?’ We’ve enjoyed doing scholarships and things like that but we were trying to think what we can do to help a large number of students. This is something that is different. To us, Auburn is a special place. We’ve got a long history in our family of support of Auburn. We have been blessed in a lot of ways and are able to do some things and to us it’s a wonderful place to invest in the future of our country. “One thing Alabama Power taught me, and that kind of goes to our project that we’ve got at Auburn, is give back to your communities. The company’s expectation was, wherever you were that you would be involved in your community.” Hettie said, “Galatians 6:2 says to carry each other’s burdens. … That’s why carrying each other’s burdens feels so good. It fulfills our lives to know that we are carrying someone else’s burden.” Ullmann likened the program to “learning for a lifetime.” “The whole thrust of this is, we’re looking at study skills for the students, but all of us need help with study skills,” he noted. “Whether it’s here in the classroom or when you get out into your career – you continue to learn. If we can instill a lot of those multisensory, multiple ways of learning here and now, then they translate that right into their jobs or whatever they are going to be doing. We’re giving you strategies for lifelong learning – specifically gearing it for your career.”