2015: Urban Myths about Learning and Education, 1st Edition

Together with Casper Hulshof I wrote a popular book in Dutch on educational myths in 2013.

In 2015 a whole new, updated and upgraded version will be published internationally by Elsevier/Academic Press, written by myself, prof. Paul A. Kirschner and Casper Hulshof.

The manuscript has been sent in and… check here.

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Good news for culture in schools: study finds major benefits for students who attend live theater

Although I was glad with the news, when I first saw the tweet by @jellejolles, pointing me to this new study, I thought that it was maybe too good to be true. Still, this new study shows that field trips to live theater enhance literary knowledge, tolerance, and empathy among students. The research team found that reading and watching movies of Hamlet and A Christmas Carol could not account for the increase in knowledge experienced by students who attended live performances of the plays. Students who attended live performances of the play also scored higher on the study’s tolerance measure than the matched control group by a moderately large margin and were better able to recognize and appreciate what other people think and feel.

Do notice that there still can be a kind of Hawthorne effect playing a role. The fact that the students could go the theater, something rather exceptional, can also have influenced the results. Still, as @carlvankeirbilck noted on twitter, Martha Nussbaum will probably be glad reading these results.

From the press release:

The research published in Education Next examines the impact on students of attending high-quality theater productions of either Hamlet or A Christmas Carol. The researchers found that viewing the productions leads to enhanced knowledge of the plot, increased vocabulary, greater tolerance and improved ability to read the emotions of others.

“What we determined from this research is that seeing live theater produced positive effects that reading a play or watching a movie of the play does not produce,” said Jay Greene, professor of education reform. “Plays are meant to be seen performed live. You can’t always take your kids to a play but if you can, you should. The story can be conveyed in a movie, but it doesn’t engage the viewer in the same way.”

Greene’s department has conducted several studies about the effect of culturally enriching activities on students. Two years ago, researchers found significant benefits in the form of knowledge, future cultural consumption, tolerance, historical empathy and critical thinking for students assigned by lottery to visit Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.

For the live theater study, Greene led a team that constructed a randomized field trial, the gold standard of research, by offering school groups in grades 7 through 12 free theater tickets to one of the performances. A total of 49 school groups with 670 students completed the application process. Applicant groups were organized into 24 matched groups based on similarity in terms of grade level, demographics and whether they comprised a drama, English or other type of class. Lotteries were held to determine which groups would receive the free tickets and which would serve as the control group. Some members of both the control group and the treatment group also read the play or watched movie versions of these works.

Researchers then administered surveys to all students, on average about six weeks after the performances. For each play, researchers asked students six questions about the plot and five questions about the vocabulary used, combining them into a single scale of content knowledge. As compared to the control group, students who saw the live productions improved their knowledge of the plays by a very large margin. For example, 83 percent of the students who attended the play could identify Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as Hamlet’s friends, while only 45 percent of the control group correctly identified the two characters. More than 94 percent of the treatment group knew that Ophelia drowns in Hamlet, compared to 62 percent of the control group.

The research team found that reading and watching movies of Hamlet and A Christmas Carol could not account for the increase in knowledge experienced by students who attended live performances of the plays.

Students who attended live performances of the play also scored higher on the study’s tolerance measure than the control group by a moderately large margin and were better able to recognize and appreciate what other people think and feel. To determine whether live theater increases students’ ability to recognize the emotions of others, researchers administered the youth version of the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test, which was initially developed for research on autism. Students took a quiz that asked them to identify the characters’ emotions.

The study, “Learning from Live Theater: Students realize gains in knowledge, tolerance, and more” will appear in the Winter 2015 issue of Education Next and is available now on the publication’s website.

Greene holds an endowed chair in education reform. Co-authors Collin Hitt and Anne Kraybill are doctoral students and Cari A. Bogulski is a research associate with the department.

More information can be found online at: http://educationnext.org/learning-live-theater/

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Fairness? It’s all in the brain! (and it’s maybe closely related to money)

How come we know what’s fair or not? And what makes us act fair? It’s easy to think it’s located somewhere in the brain, although we will say the person has a good heart. According to a new brain study, people appreciate fairness in much the same way as they appreciate money for themselves, and also that fairness is not necessarily that everybody gets the same income. Economists from the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) and brain researchers from the University of Bergen (UiB) have worked together to assess the relationship between fairness, equality, work and money. Indeed, how do our brains react to how income is distributed?

 

This research is trying to give neurological basis for the equity theory, a theory that tries to explain relational satisfaction in terms of perceptions of fair/unfair distributions of resources within interpersonal relationships. Do note, the research was only performed… on men.

From the press release:

More precisely, the interdisciplinary research team from the two institutions looked at the striatum; or the “reward centre” of the brain. By measuring our reaction to questions related to fairness, equality, work and money, this part of the brain may hold some answers to the issue of how we perceive distribution of income.

“The brain appreciates both own reward and fairness. Both influence the activation of the striatum,” says Professor Alexander W. Cappelen. “This may explain why a lot of people are willing to sacrifice monetary rewards when this results in a fairer balance.”

Inequality vs. fairness

Cappelen works at the Department of Economics at NHH and is co-director of the Choice Lab, which consists of researchers devoted to learning more about how people make economic and moral choices.

Along with his NHH Choice Lab colleagues Professor Bertil Tungodden and Professor Erik Ø. Sørensen, Cappelen wanted to explore how the brain’s reward system works. To help them answer this question, the NHH team got in touch with brain researchers Professor Kenneth Hugdahl, Professor Karsten Specht and Professor Tom Eichele, all from the Bergen fMRI Group and UiB’s Department of Biological and Medical Psychology.

Together, the NHH and UiB researchers set out to prove that the brain accepts inequality as long as this inequality is considered fair. The researchers published their results in the article Equity theory and fair inequality: A neuroeconomic study, which was published in the scientific journal PNAS on 13 October 2014.

People’s preferences for income distribution fundamentally affect their behaviour and contribute to shaping important social and political institutions. The study of such preferences has become a major topic in behavioural research in social psychology and economics.

“Our research showed that the striatum shows more activity to monetary rewards when the reward was judged to be fair,” says Kenneth Hugdahl.

Despite the large literature studying preferences for income distribution, there has so far been no direct neuronal evidence of how the brain responds to income distributions when people have made different contributions in terms of work effort.

Inspired by an article in Nature

The background for the joint study between the NHH and UiB researchers was an article in Nature in February 2010, where an interdisciplinary team of American researchers found evidence that people’s brains react negatively to inequality. The American researchers reached their conclusion by studying how the striatumresponded to different levels of inequality in a situation where everyone had made the same contribution.

“We wanted to challenge the interpretation of the research results published in Nature. This as other studies have found that people sometimes find income inequality to be fair. In particular, we had shown in several papers, published in both Science andAmerican Economic Review, that people accept inequality in situations where people have made different contributions to the money being distributed,” says Cappelen.

To the Bergen researchers’ knowledge, their PNAS article represents the first neuroimaging study designed to examine how the brain responds to the distribution of income in such situations. As such, and to the researchers’ knowledge, it is also the first study to examine the neuronal basis for equity theory.

Observing the test group

The NHH-UiB researchers put a test group through a set of trials. [For further details, read the section about the researchers' methodology at the end of this article.]

Their key discovery was that the activation in the striatum in response to receiving more money to themselves depends on how much they have worked. The change in the activation was larger for those who had worked a long time, than it was for those who had worked for a short time.

“We believe this happened because the reward centre was activated by money, but any unfair distribution of money was registered as a reduced reward,” says Karsten Specht.

“The results of our research show that people are neither complete saints who only care about fairness, nor complete egoists who only care about money to themselves,” adds Cappelen.

In what way could the results of your study be beneficial for the greater community?

“It is important to understand the nature of our fairness preferences and when we find inequality fair or unfair, as many political decisions precisely are about this question. Say, if you want the majority to support the ruling tax code, you need to make sure that it coincides with what most people perceive of as fair,” says Alexander W. Cappelen.

The researchers’ methodology

47 male volunteers took part in the experiment. First, the participants were asked to perform simple office work for either 30, 60 or 90 minutes. Participants were then matched in pairs so that a participant who had worked for 30 minutes was paired with a participant who had worked for 90 minutes and a participant who had worked for 60 minutes was paired with a participant who had also worked for 60 minutes.

After this work phase, the participants’ brain activity was measured using an MR scanner. While the striatum‘s activity was recorded, the men were presented with 51 different distributions of 1,000 Norwegian kroner or NOK (approximately 118 Euros) between themselves and the participant they were matched with. After each presentation they were asked to evaluate this split.

As an example, a participant who had worked 30 minutes and who was matched with a participant who had worked for 90 minutes was presented with a distribution that gives 120 NOK (approximately 14 Euros) to him and 880 NOK (approximately 104 Euros) to the other participant. He was then asked to rate this distribution on a scale from -5 to +5; with -5 indicating strong dislike whereas +5 indicated a strong liking.

A men only test group was selected for the study because the more similar a group of people is, the easier it is to record any differences in an experiment such as this. According to Cappelen, there is no reason to expect that the effect would have been substantially different if a women only test group had been selected. Previous studies have shown that there is no statistical difference between how women and men experience fairness and inequality.

Abstract of the research:

The present paper reports results from, to our knowledge, the first study designed to examine the neuronal responses to income inequality in situations in which individuals have made different contributions in terms of work effort. We conducted an experiment that included a prescanning phase in which the participants earned money by working, and a neuronal scanning phase in which we examined how the brain responded when the participants evaluated different distributions of their earnings. We provide causal evidence for the relative contribution of work effort being crucial for understanding the hemodynamic response in the brain to inequality. We found a significant hemodynamic response in the striatum to deviations from the distribution of income that was proportional to work effort, but found no effect of deviations from the equal distribution of income. We also observed a striking correlation between the hemodynamic response in the striatum and the self-reported evaluation of the income distributions. Our results provide, to our knowledge, the first set of neuronal evidence for equity theory and suggest that people distinguish between fair and unfair inequalities.

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Good read: A Consensus on the Brain Training Industry from the Scientific Community (bluntly put: it doesn’t work)

This is big. An open letter signed by 73 psychologists, cognitive scientists and neuroscientists from around the world stating that companies marketing “brain games” that are meant to slow or reverse age-related memory decline and enhance other cognitive functions are exploiting customers by making “exaggerated and misleading claims” that are not based on sound scientific evidence. I found the letter here via The Guardian.

In the letter it’s summarized as follows:

We object to the claim that brain games offer consumers a scientifically grounded avenue to reduce or reverse cognitive decline when there is no compelling scientific evidence to date that they do. The promise of a magic bullet detracts from the best evidence to date, which is that cognitive health in old age reflects the long-term effects of healthy, engaged lifestyles. In the judgment of the signatories, exaggerated and misleading claims exploit the anxiety of older adults about impending cognitive decline. We encourage continued careful research and validation in this field.

In the letter the scientists also give 5 recommendations I want to share:

  • Much more research needs to be done before we understand whether and what types of challenges and engagements benefit cognitive functioning in everyday life. In the absence of clear evidence, the recommendation of the group, based largely on correlational findings, is that individuals lead physically active, intellectually challenging, and socially engaged lives, in ways that work for them. Before investing time and money on brain games, consider what economists call opportunity costs: If an hour spent doing solo software drills is an hour not spent hiking, learning Italian, making a new recipe, or playing with your grandchildren, it may not be worth it. But if it replaces time spent in a sedentary state, like watching television, the choice may make more sense for you.

  • Physical exercise is a moderately effective way to improve general health, including brain fitness. Scientists have found that regular aerobic exercise increases blood flow to the brain, and helps to support formation of new neural and vascular connections. Physical exercise has been shown to improve attention, reasoning, and components of memory. All said, one can expect small but noticeable gains in cognitive performance, or attenuation of loss, from taking up aerobic exercise training.
  • A single study, conducted by researchers with financial interests in the product, or one quote from a scientist advocating the product, is not enough to assume that a game has been rigorously examined. Findings need to be replicated at multiple sites, based on studies conducted by independent researchers who are funded by independent sources. Moreover, participants of training programs should show evidence of significant advantage over a comparison group that does not receive the treatment but is otherwise treated exactly the same as the trained group.
  • No studies have demonstrated that playing brain games cures or prevents Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
  • Do not expect that cognitively challenging activities will work like one-shot treatments or vaccines; there is little evidence that you can do something once (or even for a concentrated period) and be inoculated against the effects of aging in an enduring way. In all likelihood, gains won’t last long after you stop the challenge.

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High-quality early childhood education can save children from the effects of changes in family income

Life can have its bumps in the road and in many situations less income means an impact on how children learn. Education has a task to minimize (and maybe utopian spoken even to eliminate) these effects. How big the effect can be, was made clear by this chart I found last week on the website of the Washington Post:

What does this chart mean? Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong.

Researchers at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, the Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development, and Boston College now show that high quality early education can save children from those bumps in the road of life. In Norway, publicly subsidized high-quality early childhood education and care is available to all children, from low-income to affluent, starting at age 1. The study found that children who don’t take part in such programs have more early behavior problems when their families’ income drops.

Do note, I couldn’t read the study yet, as I couldn’t find it online yet. Still I want to share the information, based on the summary found in the press release:

“Our study adds to the growing body of evidence supporting the potential power of universal access to high-quality early childhood education and care for improving children’s well-being and growth,” according to Henrik Daae Zachrisson, senior researcher at the Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development, who was with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health at the time of the study, and Eric Dearing, associate professor at Boston College and senior researcher at the Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development, who conducted the study.

When families’ incomes (adjusted for family size and yearly median income in Norway) decreased, their children’s behavior problems increased, the study found. Conversely, when families’ incomes increased, their children’s behavior problems decreased. These patterns were strongest in low-income families, so fluctuations in income seemed to matter most for those with the least. Children in both low- and middle-income households who attended high-quality centers had stable, low levels of internalizing problems (such as withdrawal and anxiety) regardless of whether their families experienced worsening or improving economic circumstances.

The researchers drew data from a longitudinal study of more than 75,000 children and their families who participated in assessments from birth through age 3. Family income data were taken from public tax records. When children were 1 and a half and 3 years old, mothers reported on children’s aggression and noncompliance (externalizing problems), withdrawal and anxiety (internalizing problems), and attendance at an early childhood and care center. Children who did not attend a center or were not cared for by a parent or family member were typically cared for by a family day care, nanny, or outdoor nursery (i.e., monitored playground); these settings are unregulated. At 36 months, almost 88 percent of the children were in an early childhood education and care center.

“Even in a context such as Norway, which has relatively little income inequality and relatively strong social supports for families, children in low-income families still appear to be sensitive to acute fluctuations in income, a finding that’s also been demonstrated in the United States,” according to Zachrisson and Dearing. “However, children in regulated, high-quality early childhood education and care centers appear to be protected against the negative effects of changes in income within families when it comes to internalizing problems.”

 

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Pearson report on effective pedagogy in primary schools

A new report on effective pedagogy (interesting that they use this word instead of education) by Iram Siraj and Brenda Taggart with a foreword by Dylan William.

I want to share the key finds, the full report can be downloaded here.

Organisation

Teachers in excellent schools were rated particularly highly on their organisational skills. Their resources were prepared ahead of time, well managed during lessons and particularly fit for purpose and tailored to the individual needs of their pupils. They made productive use of instructional time by maintaining good pace and ensuring that every second of their lessons counted. Pupils in these classes had the highest ratings of self-reliance.Year 5 classrooms in schools identified as poor had significantly lower ratings than the other groups on the organisation and suitability (fit for purpose) of teacher resources, the productiveness of instructional time, the clarity of the teacher’s expectations, the management of classroom routines and the extent to which children were independent and self-reliant. Lessons were slow to start, pace was not maintained and time was wasted during transitions. Pupils in these classes received the lowest ratings of self-reliance.

Shared objectives

Teachers in excellent and good schools ensured that the concepts and ideas presented in lessons were understood by all children. They checked that children understood the main ideas of the lesson and intervened when understanding was not clear or complete, even if this required a change part way through the lesson or activity.
Although most teachers ensured the learning intention of the lesson/activity was clear (e.g., by writing the “learning objectives” on the board), teachers in excellent schools were especially good at making sure the children understood what this meant. Pupils in these classes were very clear about what they were expected to achieve and how much time they were given to do it.
In contrast, objectives, learning concepts and ideas were less clear in schools rated as poor.
Teachers were slower in checking and correcting pupils’ understanding of key concepts and ideas. Although children in these classrooms were aware of their lesson objectives, it was not clear whether they fully understood them or how to achieve them, and they were much less focused and less motivated to meet these goals.

Homework

Teachers in excellent and good schools set homework that was more meaningful and more clearly linked to what the children were learning. They had a more flexible approach to setting homework, which was set to extend and deepen the children’s understanding.
In schools rated as poor, teachers set homework simply because they were required to, and the work itself did not appear to be expressly linked to what the children were learning in class. There were no examples of teachers using opportunities that arose during a lesson to set homework other than what was already planned.

Classroom climate

Classroom climate (the overall feeling in a classroom, evidenced through teacher-pupil and pupil-pupil relationships) was rated highly in excellent and good schools. For example, in classrooms in both excellent and good schools children appeared to be liked and respected by their peers.
The overall classroom climate in poor schools was less favourable and sometimes unpleasant.
Teachers were more likely to display negativity (disapproval, reprimands, expression of teacher’s dislike, etc.) and children in poor schools were less sociable and less cooperative than their peers in other schools.

Behaviour management

The differences between the three groups of schools were evident when considering the management of behaviour. Children in excellent and good schools were less disruptive and rarely needed to be disciplined. Where teachers did need to correct behaviour, they used humour or a quiet reminder.
Although overall levels of indiscipline throughout the sample were generally low, children in schools rated as poor were more disruptive and teachers disciplined them more frequently. Discipline was often public and sometimes involved threats, personal attacks, shaming or belittling children. Levels of chaos were significantly higher in these classrooms, and teachers practised “over control” – rigid approaches designed to meet the teachers’ (rather than children’s) needs with teacher-dominated talk.

Collaborative learning

Children in excellent schools spent relatively more time, overall, in collaborative learning situations than those in poor schools, although overall the amount of time children spent in these groups was fairly low.

Personalised teaching and learning

Teachers in excellent and good schools were more likely to personalise their pupils’ learning experiences. They did this by being sensitive to the individual needs of the children in their classes and by providing learning materials that were rich and varied. They were rated very low in teacher detachment (e.g., distancing themselves from their pupils by staying at their desks, not offering feedback, not noticing children’s behaviour or needs) and high in providing social support for pupil learning, particularly in literacy.
Teachers in excellent schools were exceptionally sensitive to the needs of the children and provided outstanding learning materials specifically chosen and adapted for their pupils. The individual needs of the Year 5 children in these schools were met through their teachers’ friendly approach, high expectations and appropriately challenging and differentiated tasks.

Making links explicit

On the whole, there were few instances of teachers making extra and cross-curricular links explicit. Teachers in excellent schools were better able and more consistent in making links with areas outside the specific lesson.

Dialogic teaching and learning

The extent of dialogic teaching showed few differences between the three groups of schools, except in maths where teachers in excellent schools received the highest ratings on using dialogic teaching and learning. Teachers in excellent and good schools were rated significantly higher on dialogic teaching for their use of analysis in maths and in the depth of their pupils’ knowledge and understanding. They were also rated more highly on maths discussion and communication, and on sharing the locus of maths authority. In literacy, they were rated higher on instructional conversations.

Assessment for Learning (AfL)

Teachers in excellent and good schools provided more evaluative feedback than those in poor schools. In addition, teachers in excellent schools provided greater opportunities for pupils to reflect on their learning through review than teachers in both good and poor schools, who did not differ in providing these opportunities.

Plenary

Teachers in excellent and good schools included plenaries in their lessons almost twice as often as those in poor schools.
In addition, those in excellent schools were more likely to use the plenary to provide opportunities for further discussion, to explore issues in more depth and to extend work and concepts covered in the lesson. In poor schools, a plenary session was often not included at the end of the lesson.

Good teachers did all of the above but teachers in excellent schools excelled in their:

  • organisational skills;
  • positive classroom climate;
  • personalised, highly interactive approaches to teaching and learning;
  • use of dialogic teaching and learning and
  • more frequent and effective use of the plenary.

 

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Jazz musicians are more creative than classical musicians (research)

A new study compared the personality and creativity of classical, jazz, and folk musicians. As Jazz musicians are more into improvisation, it’s not that surprising that they deemed more creative than classical musicians. Jazz musicians showed also higher divergent thinking ability than both folk and classical musicians. If you look at the Big Five-personality traits, most of the traits aren’t significant different when looking at the musical genres, but the study also describes folk musicians as more extraverted (but significant only at .05 level while the creativity differences.

Also interesting is this insight:

…we did not observe group differences in error orientation or motivational variables between music genres in this study. This is an interesting finding as one might have expected that jazz musicians e.g. are more comfortable with risk taking during their improvisational play.

Still, there is an important thing to know about this study, they should rather say student musicians. A total of 120 students enrolled in the study of instrumental pedagogy at the University of Music and Arts in Graz participated in this study, after exclusion a n of 99 students remained. Also when you read the study, the emphasis is strongly on Jazz musicians, the other 2 genres are more used as a means of comparison.

Hat tip to @daanballegeer for mentioning this study.

Abstract of the study (open access when writing this blog):

The music genre of jazz is commonly associated with creativity. However, this association has hardly been formally tested. Therefore, this study aimed at examining whether jazz musicians actually differ in creativity and personality from musicians of other music genres. We compared students of classical music, jazz music, and folk music with respect to their musical activities, psychometric creativity and different aspects of personality. In line with expectations, jazz musicians are more frequently engaged in extracurricular musical activities, and also complete a higher number of creative musical achievements. Additionally, jazz musicians show higher ideational creativity as measured by divergent thinking tasks, and tend to be more open to new experiences than classical musicians. This study provides first empirical evidence that jazz musicians show particularly high creativity with respect to domain-specific musical accomplishments but also in terms of domain-general indicators of divergent thinking ability that may be relevant for musical improvisation. The findings are further discussed with respect to differences in formal and informal learning approaches between music genres.

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New research warns: beware of trivial graphs and formulas

We mentioned earlier on that some research suggests that people tend to believe something more if there are brain images included, although the research isn’t that conclusive. Published this week in Public Understanding of Science, the Cornell Food and Brand Lab study found trivial graphs or formulas accompanying medical information can lead consumers to believe products are more effective.

From the press release:

“Your faith in science may actually make you more likely to trust information that appears scientific but really doesn’t tell you much,” said lead author Aner Tal, post-doctoral researcher at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. “Anything that looks scientific can make information you read a lot more convincing.”

The study showed that when a graph — with no new information — was added to the description of a medication, 96.6 percent of people believed that the medicines were effective in reducing illness verses 67.7 percent of people who were shown the product information without the graph.

“Even those with professed faith in science were more likely to be swayed by trivial scientific looking product information,” said Tal. “In fact, the more people believed in science, the more they were convinced by the graphs. What this means is that when you read claims about new products, whether it’s a medication or a new technology, you should ask yourself, ‘where does this information come from?’, ‘what’s the basis for the claims being made?’ Don’t let things that look scientific but don’t really tell you much fool you. Sometimes a graph is just a graph!”

Abstract of the research:

The appearance of being scientific can increase persuasiveness. Even trivial cues can create such an appearance of a scientific basis. In our studies, including simple elements, such as graphs (Studies 1–2) or a chemical formula (Study 3), increased belief in a medication’s efficacy. This appears to be due to the association of such elements with science, rather than increased comprehensibility, use of visuals, or recall. Belief in science moderates the persuasive effect of graphs, such that people who have a greater belief in science are more affected by the presence of graphs (Study 2). Overall, the studies contribute to past research by demonstrating that even trivial elements can increase public persuasion despite their not truly indicating scientific expertise or objective support.

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Digital native fallacy: Teachers still know better when it comes to using technology (new study)

It’s a recurring theme on this blog and I’ve just finished a paper as second author on the topic with Paul Kirschner. This new study confirms all the studies we’ve checked for our paper: adults know digital better than kids.

From the press release (bold by me):

Members of today’s younger Net Generation aren’t more tech savvy than their teachers just because they were born into a world full of computers. In fact, if it weren’t for the coaxing and support of their educators, many students would never use their electronic devices for more than playing games or listening to music. So says Shiang-Kwei Wang of the New York Institute of Technology in the US, who led a study on how middle school science teachers and their students use technology inside and outside the classroom. The findings¹ appear in the journal Educational Technology Research & Development², published by Springer.

Wang and her team investigated the technology skills of 24 science teachers and 1,078 middle school students from 18 different schools in two US states. The students surveyed are considered third-generation digital natives, for whom technology access and ownership has become the norm.

Both teachers and students were found to have rich outside-of-school technology experience, but students were not tech savvy in the classroom. Most were not very familiar with information and communication technology or even Web 2.0 tools designed to make information production and sharing easier. Their teachers, on the other hand, depended much more on using technology to solve daily problems, to improve productivity, and as learning aids.

Wang says that this disconnection cannot be linked to how old teachers are or what kind of technology skills they have. The problem rather lies with how little opportunity students get to practice technology beyond pursuing personal interests, such as entertainment. Much depends on how teachers require their students to make use of new technologies, and the ways that these technologies are integrated into teaching. School-related tasks usually require students to use technology limited to researching information and writing papers. Rarely do teachers provide opportunities to allow students to use technology to solve problems, enhance productivity, or develop creativity.

The findings reinforce directions currently being proposed to reduce the gap between how technology is used inside and outside the school setting. High-quality training should be provided to teachers on how they can integrate content-specific technology into their curricula – and how to teach their students how to use technology more effectively in the process.

“School-age students may be fluent in using entertainment or communication technologies, but they need guidance to learn how to use these technologies to solve sophisticated thinking problems,” says Wang. “The school setting is the only institution that might create the needs to shape and facilitate students’ technology experience. Once teachers introduce students to a new technology to support learning, they quickly learn how to use it.”

Abstract of the research:

The purpose of the study is to investigate the popular assumption that the ‘‘digital natives’’ generation surpasses the previous ‘‘digital immigrants’’ generation in terms of their technology experiences, because they grow up with information and com- munication technology. The assumption presumes that teachers, the digital immigrants, are less technology savvy than the digital natives, resulting in a disconnect between students’ technology experiences inside and outside of the formal school setting. To examine the intersection of these generations and their technology experiences, this study used a mixed- methods approach to survey and compare middle school science teachers’ (n = 24) and their students’ (n = 1,060) inside–outside school technology experiences, and conducted focus group interviews to investigate any barriers that prevented them from using tech- nology in school. The findings imply that the concept of digital natives may be misleading and that the disconnect between students’ inside–outside school technology experiences may be the result of the lack of sufficient teacher training concerning technology inte- gration strategies.

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ResearchEd-presentation by Dorothy Bishop on educational neuroscience (video)

Slides for this talk are available here and do check her blog here.

Oh, I sure like her suggestion for kidney-based learning ;).

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How the brain tricks us to believe we have sharp vision (study)

We always need to be careful in believing what we see. We also assume that we can see the world around us in sharp detail. In fact, our eyes can only process a fraction of our surroundings precisely. In a series of experiments, psychologists have been investigating how the brain fools us into believing that we see in sharp detail.

From the press release:

“In our study we are dealing with the question of why we believe that we see the world uniformly detailed,” says Dr. Arvid Herwig from the Neuro-Cognitive Psychology research group of the Faculty of Psychology and Sports Science. The group is also affiliated to the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) of Bielefeld University and is led by Professor Dr. Werner X. Schneider.

Only the fovea, the central area of the retina, can process objects precisely. We should therefore only be able to see a small area of our environment in sharp detail. This area is about the size of a thumb nail at the end of an outstretched arm. In contrast, all visual impressions which occur outside the fovea on the retina become progressively coarse. Nevertheless, we commonly have the impression that we see large parts of our environment in sharp detail.

Herwig and Schneider have been getting to the bottom of this phenomenon with a series of experiments. Their approach presumes that people learn through countless eye movements over a lifetime to connect the coarse impressions of objects outside the fovea to the detailed visual impressions after the eye has moved to the object of interest. For example, the coarse visual impression of a football (blurred image of a football) is connected to the detailed visual impression after the eye has moved. If a person sees a football out of the corner of her eye, her brain will compare this current blurred picture with memorised images of blurred objects. If the brain finds an image that fits, it will replace the coarse image with a precise image from memory. This blurred visual impression is replaced before the eye moves. The person thus thinks that she already sees the ball clearly, although this is not the case.

The psychologists have been using eye-tracking experiments to test their approach. Using the eye-tracking technique, eye movements are measured accurately with a specific camera which records 1000 images per second. In their experiments, the scientists have recorded fast balistic eye movements (saccades) of test persons. Though most of the participants did not realise it, certain objects were changed during eye movement. The aim was that the test persons learn new connections between visual stimuli from inside and outside the fovea, in other words from detailed and coarse impressions. Afterwards, the participants were asked to judge visual characteristics of objects outside the area of the fovea. The result showed that the connection between a coarse and detailed visual impression occurred after just a few minutes. The coarse visual impressions became similar to the newly learnt detailed visual impressions.

“The experiments show that our perception depends in large measure on stored visual experiences in our memory,” says Arvid Herwig. According to Herwig and Schneider, these experiences serve to predict the effect of future actions (“What would the world look like after a further eye movement”). In other words: “We do not see the actual world, but our predictions.”

Abstract of the study:

When we move our eyes, we process objects in the visual field with different spatial resolution due to the nonhomogeneity of our visual system. In particular, peripheral objects are only coarsely represented, whereas they are represented with high acuity when foveated. To keep track of visual features of objects across eye movements, these changes in spatial resolution have to be taken into account. Here, we develop and test a new framework proposing a visual feature prediction mechanism based on past experience to deal with changes in spatial resolution accompanying saccadic eye movements. In 3 experiments, we first exposed participants to an altered visual stimulation where, unnoticed by participants, 1 object systematically changed visual features during saccades. Experiments 1 and 2 then demonstrate that feature prediction during peripheral object recognition is biased toward previously associated postsaccadic foveal input and that this effect is particularly associated with making saccades. Moreover, Experiment 3 shows that during visual search, feature prediction is biased toward previously associated presaccadic peripheral input. Together, these findings demonstrate that the visual system uses past experience to predict how peripheral objects will look in the fovea, and what foveal search templates should look like in the periphery. As such, they support our framework based on ideomotor theory and shed new light on the mystery of why we are most of the time unaware of acuity limitations in the periphery and of our ability to locate relevant objects in the periphery.

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