Do the brains of students flatline during lectures? It’s a popular meme doing the rounds for some years, but it’s high time to debunk this myth.
So is this picture correct?
Bring in Neuroskeptic, with his or hers need to follow blog, and a new paper by pedagogist Ken Masters just published in Medical Teacher: Nipping an education myth in the bud: Poh’s brain activity during lectures.
Well, the picture is correct in it’s original paper by Poh et al., but it’s not what many has said it is, as Masters explains,
“According to the education researchers (Mazur 2012 time 2:39; Lancaster 2013; Neve et al. 2013; van der Vleuten 2013), brain waves or brain activity is being measured. Unfortunately, this is incorrect. Poh et al. were not measuring brain activity; they were measuring Electrodermal Activity (EDA). The purpose was the“measurement of EDA during physical, cognitive, as well as emotional stressors”.
[...] there is a wide range of possible causes of fluctuations, including fear, anger, sexual arousal or any number of stressors. Although these data would be interesting to examine in more detail, they do not indicate brain activity, and any inference about the student’s attentiveness or cognitive participation compared to other activities cannot be made.”
Neuroskeptic concludes in his summary:
“As Masters says, the value of lectures is debated and there may be good reasons to think that they’re an ineffective form of teaching, but an n=1 study of skin conductance isn’t one of them. So this is an important little paper.”
Abstract of the original paper:
The debate around the value of lectures is raging strongly, and new empirical data arguing against the value of lectures comes from a chart showing student brain activity during lectures. The evidence from the chart, however, suffers from crucial problems. These include a small and unspecific sample, mislabeling of the student activities, and a misinterpretation of the type of measurement. This chart has appeared on the Internet, in education conferences and journals, and recently at a medical education conference. For medical education to be taken seriously, it is crucial that researchers apply the same standards that they would to clinical research. As a result, this chart should be avoided in the debate on the value of lectures before it has a chance to follow a pattern in medical education set by other myths.