Author Archives: Pedro

Multitasking increases in online courses compared to face-to-face (and yes that is a bad thing)

We can’t multitask. But… when you are doing an online course it’s so tempting to do something else at the same time. So this Kent study won’t come as a surprise to many people, from the conclusion:

Students reported significantly greater multitasking behavior in online versus face-to-face courses (Table 2). Specifically, students were more likely to send text messages, email, visit online social networking sites, watch videos, use the Internet for purposes not related to class, play video games, listen to music, and talk with friends in online courses than in face-to-face courses (|Z| ≥ 1.95, p ≤ .05). Only doodling (i.e., scribbling absentmindedly) was a more common multitasking behavior in face-to-face courses than in online courses (|Z| = 5.54, p ≤ .001). After comparing individual items, the total online and face-to-face multitasking scales were compared (Table 2). Again, results demonstrated that students reported greater multitasking behavior in online versus face-to-face courses (t = 16.541, df = 289, p ≤ .001).

This press release gives more background information:

… (the) phenomenon of multitasking across three or four internet-connected devices simultaneously is increasingly common. Dr. Lepp and his colleagues Jacob Barkley, Ph.D., and Aryn Karpinski, Ph.D., of Kent State’s College of Education, Health and Human Services were curious to know how often this happens during online education, a method of delivering college and even high school courses entirely via an internet-connected computer as opposed to a traditional face-to-face course with a teacher physically present.

Nationwide, millions of students take online courses each year, and the trend is increasing rapidly. Dr. Lepp and his colleagues wondered if students multitask more frequently in online courses compared to face-to-face courses.

“This question is important to ask because an abundance of research demonstrates that multitasking during educational activities significantly reduces learning,” Dr. Lepp said.

Dr. Lepp, Dr. Barkley and Dr. Karpinski, along with the help of Kent State graduate student Shweta Singh, surveyed 296 college students. Each student surveyed had recently completed an online, for-credit college course and a traditional face-to-face college course. The survey asked students how often they participated in common multitasking behaviors during their previously taken online courses as well as their previous face-to-face courses. These behaviors included texting, using social networking apps, emailing, off-task internet surfing, talking, doodling and other distracting behaviors. The survey also measured students’ preference for multitasking and their belief in their ability to self-regulate their behavior.

Results of the study revealed that students’ multitasking behavior is significantly greater in online courses compared to face-to-face courses. Additionally, in online courses, the students who prefer to multitask do indeed multitask more than students with less of a preference for multitasking; however, in face-to-face courses, the students who prefer to multitask do not multitask more frequently than students with less of a preference for multitasking.

“This is likely because in face-to-face courses, a physically present teacher and the presence of conscientious students help to enforce classroom policies and behavioral norms against multitasking,” Dr. Lepp said.

Finally, students who were confident in their ability to self-regulate their behavior multitasked less in face-to-face courses when compared to students who were not so confident in their ability to self-regulate behavior. However, in online courses, even those students who believe they are good at self-regulation could not resist multitasking. Indeed, they multitasked at a similar frequency to other students.

“This suggests that how we teach students to self-regulate for learning applies well to traditional face-to-face courses, but perhaps it does not apply well to online learning,” Dr. Barkley said. “Because multitasking during educational activities has a negative impact on learning, it is important to develop methods for reducing this academically disadvantageous behavior, particularly in the increasingly common online learning environment.”

The researchers say that students can learn to be more singularly focused and to minimize multitasking.

“For example, during online learning and any other educational activity, put all distractions away, including smartphones and tablets,” Dr. Lepp said. “This should become habit. This can even be practiced during leisure. For example, when watching a favorite TV show or sporting event, focus on the show and don’t get distracted by texting friends and posting to social media.”

For students struggling with multitasking in required online courses, Dr. Karpinski suggested that students try taking the course on a computer in a quiet part of the library where there are already norms in place which discourage many distracting behaviors.

“Additionally, as universities increase their online course offerings, even for students already living on or near campus, these same universities might consider computer labs dedicated to online learning that are proctored in an effort to keep students on task,” Dr. Karpinski said.

This study is very relevant, but would have been even better if they had examined the results. To be expected next time, I guess.

Oh btw, did you multitask during the read of this post?

Abstract of the study:

This study compared college students’ multitasking in online courses with their multitasking in face-to-face courses and explored the significance of potential predictors of multitasking in each setting. Students taking both online and face-to-face courses completed surveys assessing multitasking in each setting, self-efficacy for self-regulated learning (SE:SRL), Internet addiction, multitasking tendency, age, and sex. Multitasking was significantly greater in online than face-to-face courses. Internet addiction was positively associated with multitasking in online and face-to-face courses. Multitasking tendency was positively and age was negatively associated with multitasking during online courses only; SE:SRL was negatively associated with multitasking during face-to-face courses only. In conclusion, multitasking was greatest during online courses. Furthermore, there were different sets of predictors for students’ multitasking in online courses compared with face-to-face courses. This implies that multitasking in online and face-to-face courses are different phenomena and therefore may require different pedagogical methods to successfully minimize multitasking behaviors.

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A short video on surveys: Why do respondents’ answers sometimes differ by mode? (e.g. phone vs online)

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The Grand Scam: The Economy’s Turned Around But Where Is the Praise for Schools?*

It’s hard to believe this post is that old…

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

Why is it that now with a bustling economy, rising productivity, and shrinking unemployment American public schools are not receiving credit for the turnaround? In light of scathing criticism of poorly performing public schools, the question sounds foolish. It isn’t if you consider the Great School Scam of the 1980’s.

For the last decade, U.S. Presidents, corporate leaders, and critics blasted public schools for a globally less competitive economy, sinking productivity, and jobs lost to other nations. The United States, as one highly popular report put it in 1983, had educationally disarmed itself in a hostile economic war. “If only to keep and improve on the slim competitive edge we still retain in world markets,” the report said, “we must dedicate ourselves to the reform of our educational system.”

And school reforms have spilled over the country since the early 1980’s. States legislated higher graduation requirements, a longer school year…

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Funny on Sunday: the best guitar sketch ever

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25 ways to stimulate learning

Found this via Tim Surma (do follow him!), check the source here.

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A week in replication, some failed, some successful: Big Five, note taking and stereotype threats

The past week I read several replication studies with mixed results:

First, although direct replications (using methods from Mueller and Oppenheimer 2014) yielded longhand-superiority effects, the effects relevant to the encoding function of note-taking were small and did not reach conventional levels of significance. Such outcomes do not support strong recommendations about whether students should take notes longhand or by laptop in class. Second, based on their evidence, Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014) hypothesized that the higher word count and verbatim overlap for laptop groups were in part responsible for diminished performance for laptop users. However, when combining results across the direct replications, differences in word count and verbatim overlap were large, whereas differences in performance were small (and not statistically significant). Thus, differences in word count and verbatim overlap do not appear sufficient to produce performance differences between longhand and laptop groups.

The effects of gender stereotype threat on mathematical test performance in the classroom have been extensively studied in several cultural contexts. Theory predicts that stereotype threat lowers girls’ performance on mathematics tests, while leaving boys’ math performance unaffected. We conducted a large-scale stereotype threat experiment in Dutch high schools (N = 2064) to study the generalizability of the effect. In this registered report, we set out to replicate the overall effect among female high school students and to study four core theoretical moderators, namely domain identification, gender identification, math anxiety, and test difficulty. Among the girls, we found neither an overall effect of stereotype threat on math performance, nor any moderated stereotype threat effects. Most variance in math performance was explained by gender, domain identification, and math identification. We discuss several theoretical and statistical explanations for these findings. Our results are limited to the studied population (i.e. Dutch high school students, age 13–14) and the studied domain (mathematics).

In both examples of failed replication it’s not the case that we should abolish the theories as such straightaway. It’s rather that these new studies show that it’s more complicated than thought maybe due to regional and age differences (stereotype threat), maybe due to maybe differences in personal experiences (note taking).

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Stop using long words to look smart or thrustworthy

I have been reading a lot lately and there is something I need to share. It’s an older study by Daniel Oppenheimer, but it seems a lot of the authors didn’t hear about it yet. The title of the study? Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity.

Oh you, didn’t get that? The subtitle will make it much more clear: problems with using long words needlessly.

I summarized this also in The Ingredients for Great Teaching:

If you are a speaker, it is obviously of vital importance that the people listening to you can understand what you are saying. There is no point in blinding your audience with the eloquence of your words. Nowhere is this truer than in the classroom, otherwise you run the risk that the pupils will stop listening. While research has shown that intelligent people are more inclined to use difficult words, it is ironic to note that other research suggests that the use of difficult words makes you seem less intelligent (Pennebakern, & King, 1999)! In three simple experiments, Daniel Oppenheimer (2006) has demonstrated that fluent texts with simple language are more positively assessed by readers. This does not mean that you should never learn jargon or must eliminate difficult words from your vocabulary. But the more easily a reader or listener is able to digest your message, the more highly you will be regarded as a speaker or writer.


  • Pennebaker, J.W., & King, L.A. (1999). Linguistic styles: language use as an individual diffe- rence. Journal of personality and social psychology, 77(6), 1296.
  • Oppenheimer, D.M. (2006). Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: Problems with using long words needlessly. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20(2), 139-156.

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What we sometimes tend to forget: we are all only human, children included (on distributed practice)

Tim Surma tweeted this study on distributed practice and while what the study describes is as logical as it can be for any parent, still it’s often overlooked: distributed practice is rarely realized in self-regulated mathematical learning. Or to be put in simple words: a lot of students won’t do it by themselves, because, well, they’re human.

The clear written abstract describes the study by Katharina Barzagar Nazari and Mirjam Ebersbach:

The purpose of the present study was to investigate the effect and use of distributed practice in the context of self-regulated mathematical learning in high school. With distributed practice, a fixed learning duration is spread over several sessions, whereas with massed practice, the same time is spent learning in one session. Distributed practice has been proven to be an effective tool for improving long-term retention of verbal material and simple procedural knowledge in mathematics, at least when the practice schedule is externally guided. In the present study, distributed practice was investigated in a context that required a higher degree of self-regulation. In total, 158 secondary school students were invited to participate. After motivational and cognitive characteristics of the students were assessed, the students were introduced to basic statistics, a topic of their regular curriculum. At the end of the introduction, the students could sign up for the study to further practice this content. Eighty-seven students did so and were randomly assigned either to the distributed or to the massed practice condition. In the distributed practice condition, they received three practice sets on three different days. In the massed practice condition, they received the same three sets, but all on one day. All exercises were worked in the context of self-regulated learning at home. Performance was tested 2 weeks after the last practice set. Only 44 students finished the study, which hampered the analysis of the effect of distributed practice. The characteristics of the students who completed the exercises were analyzed exploratory: The proportion of students who finished all exercises was significantly higher in the massed than in the distributed practice condition. Within the distributed practice condition, a significantly larger proportion of female students completed the exercises compared to male students. Additionally, among these female students, a larger proportion showed lower concentration difficulty. No such differential effects were revealed in the massed practice condition. Our results suggest that the use of distributed practice in the context of self-regulated learning might depend on learner characteristics. Accordingly, distributed practice might obtain more reliable effects in more externally guided learning contexts.

So the study seems to be a failure, but the fact that many students dropped out of the experiment is an interesting result in itself:

One of the main purposes of the present study was to investigate the effect of distributed practice on the mathematical performance of high school students using curriculum-relevant material. However, due to a severe dropout rate over the course of the study as a consequence of the study relying on self-regulated-learning, the effect of practice condition on final test performance has a low validity.

But there is more:

First of all, the proportion of students who finished the study was significantly higher in the massed practice condition than in the distributed practice condition. Furthermore, within the distributed practice condition, additional differential effects were found: The proportion of students who finished their exercises was significantly higher among female students than among male students. In addition, within female students who practiced in a distributed manner, the proportion of students who finished the study was significantly higher for girls with low concentration difficulty than for girls with high concentration difficulty. None of these differential effects were found for the massed practice condition. That is, not only did the students complete their exercises more often in the massed practice condition, but for the distributed practicing students, personal characteristics had an additional influence on the completion of the exercises. Taken together, these results imply that distributed practice in self-regulated learning, contrary to massed practice, favors specific students in terms of their willingness to realize this strategy, while others are at a disadvantage.

Therefore this conclusion, which probably wasn’t the thing the researchers were looking for:

The main finding here was that – in contrast to massed practice – distributed practice in semi-self-regulated learning (as the schedule was externally given and not chosen by the students themselves) seems to favor students with particular characteristics: in the current study, female students with lower concentration difficulty. Because self-regulated learning plays an important role especially in high school and at university, these differential effects concerning the application of distributed practice may be problematic if they result in performance improvements of a particular group of students while disfavoring others. Teachers may prefer strategies that improve the performance of all students equally. Therefore, it is vital to know whether and which learners are capable of successfully implementing distributed practice into their own learning schedule.


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This post may cause stress for many parents, do be warned

Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you but a new study shows that the time parents spend with children can be key to academic success. But wait… it can be more complicated than that because they found a quite distinct way to measure this: the researchers analyzed data on children in Israel who lost a parent through death or divorce and looked at the remaining parent (quotes from the press release):

They found that when it came to one measure of a child’s academic success, the educational attainment of the surviving or custodial parent had more impact than the educational level of the parent who died or left the home.

And the longer the absence of a parent, the less impact his or her education had on the child’s success and the greater the impact of the remaining parent.

The study is quite large, to say the least, as it involved more than 22,000 children in Israel who lost a parent before age 18, more than 77,000 whose parents divorced and more than 600,000 who did not experience parental death or divorce. But what do we learn from this?

“We found that if a mother dies, her education becomes less important for whether her child passes the test, while at the same time the father’s education becomes more important. If a father dies, the reverse happens,” he (Gould, one of the main authors) said.

“These relationships are stronger when the parent dies when the child is younger.”

In other words, Gould said, parenting matters.

“Student success is not coming just from smart parents having smart kids,” he said.

Study results rejected the argument that the parents’ income is really what helps the children of the highly educated succeed academically.

And now it gets really interesting:

If that were so, then losing a father should hurt children academically more than losing a mother because fathers tend to earn more.

“That’s not what we found. The loss of a mother – who tends to spend more time than the father with her children – had a bigger effect than loss of a father in our study,” Weinberg said.

But what about parents who remarry after losing a spouse? The study found that the negative effect on academic success of losing a mother can at least be partially minimized if the child gains a stepmother. If the father does not remarry, the effect of the loss is more acute: No one can compensate for the loss of the mother except for the father.

The study didn’t find any differences in academic success for children whose mothers remarried after their father died, versus those who did not. That may be because mothers’ education levels generally had more impact on their children’s success than that of fathers because of the more time moms spend with their kids.

Results also showed that mothers’ education was more closely linked to children’s academic success in larger families. The researchers believe that was because women with more children spent more time with their kids and less time working outside the home, according to findings.

Overall, the effects of losing a parent were stronger on girls than on boys, the study showed.

Similar results were also found with children whose parents had divorced. The educational level of the mother – whom the child typically lived with – had a larger effect on academic success than did the education of the other parent, Weinberg said.

“We found similar results in those children who experienced parental death and parental divorce. That provides strong evidence that our results are more general than just for children who suffered a parental death,” Weinberg said.

“Other studies show that highly educated parents tend to spend more time with their children. Our results may suggest one reason why they do: It has a strong impact on academic success.”

And… the importance of mothers.

Abstract of the study by Gould et al.:

This paper examines the transmission of human capital from parents to children using variation in parental influence due to parental death, divorce, and the increasing specialization of parental roles in larger families. All three sources of variation yield strikingly similar patterns which show that the strong parent-child correlation in human capital is largely causal. In each case, the parent-child correlation in education is stronger with the parent that spends more time with the child, and weaker with the parent that spends relatively less time parenting. These findings help us understand why educated parents spend more time with their children.

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Funny on Sunday: When the phone was tied with a wire

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by | February 3, 2019 · 7:04 am