Our book, Urban Myths about Learning and Education, out now!

It has been a long wait (and lots of work) for Paul, Casper and myself, but now our book is on sale!

You can order the book here both in paper and as e-book, but you can buy also at

A review of our book:

“A marvelous compendium of plausible-sounding ideas about education that have seeped into popular culture, but have little or no scientific support. Carefully documented yet a pleasure to read, this book should be required reading in all teacher training programs.” -Daniel T. Willingham, Professor, University of Virginia

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New review-study looks at the impact of the internet on our brain (also in education)

This new article in the Neuroscientist offers a good overview about how internet technology may or may not change our brain. From claims from Carr over famous research by Sparrow and many, many more, the conclusion and summary is quite sobering as much of what we know is still a educated guess. From the actual study by Loh & Kanai (bold by me):

Over the past two decades, a substantial body of work has unraveled important impacts of the Internet environment on our cognitive behaviors and structures. In terms of information processing, we are shifting toward a shallow mode of learning characterized by quick scanning, reduced contemplation, and memory consolidation. This can be attributed to the increased presence of hypertext environments that reduces the cognitive resources required for deep processing. However, this cognitive loading effect can be mediated by fostering adaptive learning habits or by improving the navigability in hypertext environments. Another factor contributing to the shift toward shallow learning is the ease of online information retrieval that reduces the need for deep processing to commit information to memory. Relying on technology as an external memory source can result in reduced learning efforts as information can be easily retrieved later. This is not entirely maladaptive as we can strategically free up additional cognitive resources for other prioritized operations. In interrupting the development of deep reading skills, this shift toward shallow information processing may affect brain circuitry necessary for these skills. There is evidence that Internet searching experience can result in neural changes but more research is required to reveal the exact mechanisms that are affected by online information processing.

The Internet environment also greatly facilitates multitasking behaviors. These behaviors, induced by the presence of Internet technologies, have been linked with increased distractibility and reduced learning in the classroom. Researchers have noted the importance of meta-cognitive abilities, motivation, and positive affect in moderating the distractibility by the Internet technology. Increased media-multitasking was associated with a breadth-biased form of attention control that generally resulted in better integration of multiple sources of information but poorer inhibition of distractors. However, findings about the impacts of media-multitasking on multitasking and task-switching performance were inconsistent. More research is also required to determine the causal relationship between media-multitasking and executive control as most of the existing findings have been based on cross-sectional studies. Currently, there are limited neuroimaging studies about the impacts on Internet-related multitasking and distractibility. A related line of research has found that when attending to media distractions, drivers show a reduction of brain activity required for the performance of their primary task (driving). A recent VBM study has also linked increased media-multitasking with smaller ACC volumes. However, given its correlational nature, longitudinal or experimental approaches are required to determine causality between media-multitasking and brain structure differences. Interestingly, multitasking with action video games can produce improvements in attention abilities. These improvements have also been reflected as structural and functional changes in the frontoparietal attention network. This suggested that exposure to different forms of multitasking can lead to different cognitive effects.

Finally, the rewarding Internet environment also has resulted in the increased prevalence of Internet-related addictive behaviors. IA individuals were worse at inhibiting their responses especially in the face of Internet-related cues and were also highly driven by immediate rewards even in the face of potential losses and uncertainty. These cognitive deficits were further associated with alterations in brain networks involved in self-control and reward-processing. Extending these findings, future work should examine the impacts of the rewarding Internet environment on self-control and reward-processing mechanisms in healthy, nonaddicted populations.

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Missing… presumed having a good time

When Mark Knopfler wanted to refuel, tired from touring with Dire Straits after their very successful Brothers in Arms-album, he recorded an album with some old friends called “Missing… presumed having a good time”. Their band was called The Notting Hilbillies.

Well, the past 2 years have been a great ride, blogging almost every single day about education and research and publishing our book on Urban Myths.

But it’s time for me also to refuel a bit, so this is the last post before August. Have fun, be aware and…

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Children from high conflict homes process emotion differently

We know that the price of a divorce can be high for children, but staying together with many conflicts has also consequences. Children of parents who are frequently in conflict process emotional interactions differently. A new study examined this by measuring research subjects’ brain activity during a psychological test. Do note that the group of children involved is rather small (23), but the result is in line with previous research. The researchers think children living in high conflict homes  may face social challenges later in life compared with children from low conflict homes

From the press release:

The research study measured brain activity in children who were shown a mix of photos of couples in angry poses, happy poses and neutral poses. Based on questionnaires filled out by their mothers, the children were grouped in either a high conflict or a low conflict group.

When children in the high conflict group were asked to pick out the angry couples in the battery of photos, their brains registered a much higher amplitude on an EEG test of an electrical activity called P-3 in response to the angry photos, compared with children in the low conflict group. P-3 is associated with the brain’s ability to discriminate among stimuli and to focus on and give meaning to one.

The study’s lead author, Alice Schermerhorn, assistant professor of Psychological Science at the University of Vermont, said that, for the children from high conflict homes, looking for the photos of angry couples could be analogous to situations at home where parents have had an argument that hasn’t been resolved.

“They’re being watchful in the home in the same way that they’re watching for angry faces in the research setting,” she said.

The P-3 signal in children from high conflict homes was also much higher when they were asked to identify angry couples but viewed the happy faces, compared with children from low conflict homes.

The pattern suggests children from high conflict homes, by training their brains to be vigilant, process signs of interpersonal emotion, either anger or happiness, differently than children from low conflict homes, Schermerhorn said.

For some, that extra vigilance could lead to problems in social relationships later in life, Schermerhorn hypothesized, although more research is needed to test that theory.

“I would predict some association with their functioning in other kinds of situations,” she said.

Schermerhorn and her colleagues currently have research underway that could determine if a correlation exists between higher P-3 amplitudes in a similar research study and the behaviors of their research subjects.

Abstract of the study:

This study builds on the literature on child exposure to marital conflict by testing whether mother-reported marital conflict exposure predicts a child’s P3 event-related potential (ERP) components generated in response to viewing quasi–marital conflict photos. We collected ERP data from 23 children (9–11 years of age) while presenting photos of actors pretending to be a couple depicting interpersonal anger, happiness, and neutrality. To elicit the P3 ERP, stimuli were presented using an oddball paradigm, with angry and happy photos presented on 20% of trials each and neutral photos presented on the remaining 60% of trials. Angry photos were the target in 1 block, and happy photos were the target in the other block. In the angry block, children from high-conflict homes had shorter reaction times (RTs) on happy trials than on neutral trials, and children from low-conflict homes had shorter RTs on angry trials than on happy trials. Also within the angry block, children generated larger P3s on angry trials than on happy trials, regardless of exposure to conflict. Further, children from high-conflict homes generated larger P3s on angry trials and on happy trials compared with neutral trials, but children from low-conflict homes did not. Results are discussed in terms of implications for children’s processing of displays of interpersonal emotion.

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Interesting study shows why technology probably won’t be disrupting (higher) education anytime soon.

I won’t be blogging in July and a bit of August, spending time with my family but also spending time finishing some research papers myself and one related to this (Australian) study by Henderson, Selwyn and Aston I found via Jo Tondeur.

It’s still such a popular idea, education is on the verge of revolution because of technology. As Larry Cuban and others have mentioned, it’s a tune doing the rounds for over 30 years and articles such as this one try to cope with the fact that this disruption or revolution doesn’t seem to come.

In this new study the authors examined  via a survey (n=1658) how students are using technology and what they think of as being useful and by doing this answer the question why technology won’t be disrupting (higher) education anytime soon.

These quotes give you a fair idea:

“As such, the data presented in this paper point to clear gaps between university students’ actual uses of digital technology and the more abstracted rhetoric of  ‘technology-enhanced-learning’ and such like.”
“In particular, many of the reportedly ‘educational’ benefits of digital technology reported in this paper are more accurately described as concerned with the ‘logistics’ of university study rather than matters related directly to ‘learning’ per se.”
“…much of what students were reporting as ‘most useful’ about digital technologies related to what Denovan and Macaskill (2013) term ‘academic focus’ – that is, completing prescribed academic work and dutifully ‘performing well’. In this sense, digital technologies were most likely to be portrayed as supporting students’ organization of academic work and general ability to ‘manage academic demands’.”

“Put bluntly, then, the rather limited sets of digital practices highlighted in our data are those that best ‘fit’ the rather limited expectations and processes that currently constitute university teaching and learning.”

So, what about technology changing (higher) education?

Our study clearly finds digital technologies to be a central element of undergraduate education and associated with substantial changes to the ways in which students experience their studies. However, our analysis also suggests that digital technologies are clearly not ‘transforming’ the nature of university teaching and learning, or even substantially disrupting the ‘student experience’. This then raises the overarching ques- tion of what – if anything – needs to be ‘done’. University students are certainly finding and making good uses of digital technologies that ‘work best’ for them within the context of their undergraduate studies. However, these uses and practices are not the most expansive, expressive, empowering, enlightening or even exciting ways that digital technologies could be used.

Abstract of the study:

Digital technologies are now an integral aspect of the university student experience. As such, academic research has understandably focused on the potential of various digital technologies to enable, extend and even ‘enhance’ student learning. This paper offers an alternate perspective on these issues by exploring students’ actual experiences of digital technology during their academic studies – highlighting the aspects of digital technology use that students themselves see as particularly helpful and/or useful. Drawing on a survey of 1658 undergraduate students, the paper identifies 11 distinct digital ‘benefits’ – ranging from flexibilities of time and place, ease of organizing and managing study tasks through to the ability to replay and revisit teaching materials, and learn in more visual forms. While these data confirm digital technologies as central to the ways in which students experience their studies, they also suggest that digital technologies are not ‘transforming’ the nature of university teaching and learning. As such, university educators perhaps need to temper enthusiasms for what might be achieved through technology-enabled learning and develop better understandings of the realities of students’ encounters with digital technology.

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An extra Funny on Sunday: the modern version of “see nothing hear nothing say nothing”

This is the last Funny on Sunday before my summer break, a little extra thing I found via @netlash.

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Funny on Sunday: How long should your thesis be?

Via the as always very funny PhD Comics.

And they also added this footnote: Curious what the average thesis length in your field is? Check out this great study by Marcus Beck.

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Good read: Expert philosophers are just as irrational as the rest of us

The BPS Digest is one of the best blogs around, and this post is no exception, as studies show that expert philosophers are just as irrational as the rest of us.

These are the scenario’s that the researchers used to check if philosophers are just as susceptible to bad – or at least not entirely rational – thinking as the rest of us?

Abstract of the study:

We examined the effects of framing and order of presentation on professional philosophers’ judgments about a moral puzzle case (the “trolley problem”) and a version of the Tversky & Kahneman “Asian disease” scenario. Professional philosophers exhibited substantial framing effects and order effects, and were no less subject to such effects than was a comparison group of non-philosopher academic participants. Framing and order effects were not reduced by a forced delay during which participants were encouraged to consider “different variants of the scenario or different ways of describing the case”. Nor were framing and order effects lower among participants reporting familiarity with the trolley problem or with loss-aversion framing effects, nor among those reporting having had a stable opinion on the issues before participating the experiment, nor among those reporting expertise on the very issues in question. Thus, for these scenario types, neither framing effects nor order effects appear to be reduced even by high levels of academic expertise.

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More men pursue STEM jobs because they overestimate how good they are in sums (study)

This study adds more information to the STEM and gender debate as it shows that more men pursue science and engineering jobs because they readily overestimate how good they are in sums. But are they really better?

From the press release:

Just because more men pursue careers in science and engineering does not mean they are actually better at math than women are. The difference is that men think they are much better at math than they really are. Women, on the other hand, tend to accurately estimate their arithmetic prowess, says Shane Bench of Washington State University in the U.S., leader of a study in Springer’s journal Sex Roles.

There is a sizeable gap between the number of men and women who choose to study and follow careers in the so-called STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the U.S. This is true even though women outperform their male counterparts on mathematical tests in elementary school. Bench’s study examined how people’s biases and previous experiences about their mathematical abilities make them more or less likely to consider pursuing math-related courses and careers.

Two studies were conducted, one using 122 undergraduate students and the other 184 participants. Each group first completed a math test before guessing how well they had fared at providing the right answers. In the first study, participants received feedback about their real test scores before they were again asked to take a test and predict their scores. In the second study, participants only wrote one test without receiving any feedback. They were, however, asked to report on their intent to pursue math-related courses and careers.

Across the two studies it was found that men overestimated the number of problems they solved, while women quite accurately reported how well they fared. After the participants in Study 1 received feedback about their real test scores, the men were more accurate at estimating how well they had done on the second test. The results of Study 2 show that because the male participants believed they had a greater knack for maths than was the case, they were more likely to pursue maths courses and careers than women.

‘Gender gaps in the science, technology, engineering and maths fields are not necessarily the result of women’s underestimating their abilities, but rather may be due to men’s overestimating their abilities,’ explains Bench. His team also found that women who had more positive past experiences with mathematics tended to rate their numerical abilities higher than they really were. This highlights the value of positively reinforcing a woman’s knack for mathematics especially at a young age.

‘Despite assumptions that realism and objectivity are always best in evaluating the self and making decisions, positive illusions about math abilities may be beneficial to women pursuing math courses and careers,’ says Bench. ‘Such positive illusions could function to protect women’s self-esteem despite lower-than-desired performance, leading women to continue to pursue courses in science, technology, engineering and maths fields and ultimately improve their skills.’

 

Abstract of the study:

In the United States, men are more likely to pursue math-intense STEM courses and careers than women. This investigation explored whether positivity bias in the degree to which people overestimate their past performance contributes to this gender gap. To find out, two studies were conducted with undergraduate college students in the Southern United States. In Study 1, participants (n = 122) completed a math test and estimated the percent they had solved. They then were given feedback and completed a second math test and estimation. Men overestimated their performance more than women, judging they had done better on the test than they actually had. This gender difference was not present after feedback. Further, women, but not men, who reported a more positive previous experience with math were more likely to overestimate their performance. In Study 2, participants (n = 184) completed a math test and estimated the percent they had solved. They also reported their interest in pursuing math courses and careers. Again, men overestimated their performance more than women. This greater overestimation of performance in men accounted for their greater intent to pursue math fields compared to women. The findings suggest that gender gaps in STEM fields are not necessarily the result of women underestimating their abilities, but rather may be due to men overestimating their abilities.

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Who Said Teachers Don’t Have a Sense of Humor?

Pedro:

For every teacher who is busy correcting a lot papers and tests (like me), this will make you smile throughout your work. The rest of the world will laugh too.

Originally posted on Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice:

Instead of cartoons this month, I am posting a series of photos about teacher humor. Of the 30-plus photos that I saw, these are the ones that made me laugh. Enjoy!

All of the photos come from .imgur.com / Via reddit.com    If you want to see full array of the photos, see here.

This physics teacher knows what the kids are into:

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This teacher knows how to deter students from forgetting to bring a pen:

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This teacher gives the best weekend homework:

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This teacher values his office hours:

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This teacher keeps her students focused during exams:

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This teacher should transfer to the economics department:

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This teacher will never see this spelling mistake from this student ever again:

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This physics teacher knows how to throw a curveball on a test:

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This history teacher knows there’s always time for a lesson:

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This teacher just shut down texters everywhere:

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And…

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Interestingly: parents’ comparisons are one of the factors that make siblings different (or: thou shall not compare!)

One of my brothers really hated being in the same school as I had visited as people tend to compare brothers. Teachers often do, but parents too. This new study has a different take on this phenomenon as it shows that parents’ beliefs about their children — and the comparisons they make — may cause differences to be magnified.

From the press release (bold by me for the juicy bits):

‘Parents’ beliefs about their children, not just their actual parenting, may influence who their children become,’ said BYU professor and lead author of the study Alex Jensen.

The study, published Friday in the Journal of Family Psychology, focused on siblings and academic achievement. Jensen and co-author Susan McHale from Penn State looked at 388 teenage first- and second-born siblings and their parents from 17 school districts in a northeastern state. The researchers asked the parents which sibling was better in school. The majority of parents thought that the firstborn was better, although on average, siblings’ achievement was pretty similar.

Parents’ beliefs about sibling differences weren’t influenced by past grades, but future grades by the teenagers were influenced by the parents’ beliefs. The child parents believed was smarter tended to do better in the future. The child parents believed was less capable tended to do relatively poorer the next year. Specifically, that belief translated to a 0.21 difference in GPA among study participants.
(ok, who is shouting self fulfilling prophecy?)

‘That may not sound like much,’ Jensen said. ‘But over time those small effects have the potential to turn into siblings who are quite different from one another.’

(but there is also an important warning:)

Jensen cautions about a chicken-and-egg scenario here. By the time siblings reach the teenage years, parents may have formed their beliefs about siblings’ relative smarts from years of experiences. So when parents compare adolescent siblings to each other, it may be based on differences that have existed for years.

‘A mom or dad may think that oldest sibling is smarter because at any given time they are doing more complicated subjects in school,’ Jensen said. ‘The firstborn likely learned to read first, to write first, and that places the thought in the parent’s mind that they are more capable, but when the siblings are teenagers it leads to the siblings becoming more different. Ultimately, the sibling who is seen as less smart will tend to do worse in comparison to their sibling.’

The one exception in the study was when the firstborn was a brother and the secondborn a sister. In that case, parents believed the sister was more academically competent.

‘Parents tend to view older siblings as more capable, but on average older siblings are not doing better in school than their younger siblings,’ Jensen said. ‘So in that case parents’ beliefs are inaccurate. Parents also tend to think their daughters are more academically competent than their sons, and at least in terms of grades that seems to be true.’

So what should parents do to set up all of their children for success?

‘It’s hard for parents to not notice or think about differences between their children, it’s only natural,’ Jensen said. ‘But to help all children succeed, parents should focus on recognizing the strengths of each of their children and be careful about vocally making comparisons in front of them.’

Abstract of the study:

To illuminate processes that contribute to the development of sibling differences, this study examined cross-lagged links between parents’ beliefs about sibling differences in academic ability and differences between siblings’ grade point averages (GPAs), and cross-lagged links between differences in siblings’ GPAs and sibling differences in academic interests. Data were collected from mothers, fathers, firstborn youth (M age at Time 1 = 15.71, SD = 1.07), and secondborn youth (M age at Time 1 = 13.18, SD = 1.29) from 388 European American families on 3 annual occasions. Findings revealed that, after controlling for siblings’ average grades and prior differences in performance, parents’ beliefs about sibling differences in academic ability predicted differences in performance such that youth rated by parents as relatively more competent than their sibling earned relatively higher grades the following year. Siblings’ relative school performance, however, did not predict parents’ beliefs about differences between siblings’ competencies. Further, after controlling for average interests and grades, sibling differences in GPA predicted differences in siblings’ interests such that youth who had better grades than their siblings reported relatively stronger academic interests the following year. Differences in interest, however, did not predict sibling differences in GPA. Findings are discussed in terms the role of sibling dynamics in family socialization.

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