Category Archives: Myths

What a week: our paper in Nature and Discover Magazine

The past week I spent in Potomac for the very first CTTL-academy with a lot of great teachers, principals and other fantastic people such as Dan Willingham, Vanessa Rodriguez, David Weston, Ian Kelleher, Lauren, Glenn and the infamous many more. But the biggest surprise came while I was waiting for my flight back home. Suddenly my notifications-feed went nuts.

Last month Teaching and Teacher Education published an article about the Digital Native myth – and multitasking too – by Paul Kirschner and myself. Our paper now made it… to an editorial in Nature!

And as it often goes: one thing lead to another, so now it has also resulted in a post on Discover Magazine.

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Again: brain training has little to no effect

Yesterday I repeated this at the CTTL academy and this new study confirms it – again: brain training has no effect on decision-making or cognitive function. This is a great study, although I have to agree with Neuroskeptic that the amount of participants is a bit low.

From the press release:

During the last decade, commercial brain-training programs have risen in popularity, offering people the hope of improving their cognitive abilities through the routine performance of various “brain games” that tap cognitive functions such as memory, attention and cognitive flexibility.

But a recent study at the University of Pennsylvania found that, not only did commercial brain training with Lumosity™ have no effect on decision-making, it also had no effect on cognitive function beyond practice effects on the training tasks.

The findings were published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Seeking evidence for an intervention that could reduce the likelihood that people will engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking or overeating, a team of researchers at Penn, co-led by Joseph Kable, PhD, the Baird Term associate professor in the department of Psychology in the School of Arts & Sciences, and Caryn Lerman, PhD, the vice dean for Strategic Initiatives and the John H. Glick professor in Cancer Research in the Perelman School of Medicine, examined whether, through the claimed beneficial effect on cognitive function, commercial brain training regimes could reduce individuals’ propensity to make risky or impulsive choices.

Lerman’s prior work had shown that engagement of brain circuits involved in self-control predicts whether people can refrain from smoking. This work provided the foundation for examining whether modulating these circuits through brain training could lead to behavior change.

“Our motivation,” Kable said, “was that there are enough hints in the literature that cognitive training deserved a real, rigorous, full-scale test. Especially given the addiction angle, we’re looking for things that will help people make the changes in their lives that they want to make, one of which is being more future-oriented.”

The researchers knew that people with stronger cognitive abilities tend to make less impulsive decisions on the kinds of tasks that Kable studies, which involve giving people choices between immediate smaller rewards and delayed larger rewards. They also knew that this behavior is likely mediated by a set of brain structures in the dorsolateral prefrontal area of the brain that have been associated with performance on the executive function tasks like the ones in the Lumosity™ battery.

“The logic would be that if you can train cognitive abilities and change activity in these brain structures,” Kable said, “then that may change your likelihood of impulsive behavior.”

The researchers recruited two groups, each with 64 healthy young adults. One group was asked to follow the Lumosity™ regimen, performing the executive function games for 30 minutes a day, five days a week for 10 weeks. The other group followed the same schedule but played online video games instead. Both groups were told that the study was investigating whether playing online video games improves cognition and changes one’s decision-making.

The researchers had two assessments of decision-making that participants completed before and after the training regimen. To assess impulsive decision-making, the participants were asked to choose between smaller rewards now and larger rewards later. To assess risky decision-making, they were asked to choose between larger rewards at a lower probability versus smaller rewards at a higher probability.

The researchers found that the training didn’t induce any changes in brain activity or decision-making during these tasks.

The participants were also asked to complete a series of cognitive tests that were not part of the training to see if the program had any effect on their general cognitive abilities. While both groups showed improvement, the researchers found that commercial brain training didn’t lead to any more improvement than online video games. Furthermore, when they asked a no-contact group, which didn’t complete commercial brain training or video games, to complete the tests, the researchers found that the participants showed the same level of improvement as the first two groups, indicating that neither brain training nor online video games led to cognitive improvements beyond likely practice effects.

Although the cognitive training by itself did not produce the desired benefits, initial findings from Lerman’s laboratory show that combining cognitive exercises with non-invasive brain stimulation enhances self-control over smoking behavior. This group is now conducting clinical trials to learn whether this combination approach can alter other risky behaviors such as unhealthy eating or improve attention and impulse control in persons with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“Habitual behaviors such as tobacco use and overeating,” said Mary Falcone, a senior research investigator at Penn and coauthor on the study, “contribute to preventable deaths from cancer, cardiovascular disease and other public health problems.”

Lerman said, “As currently available behavioral and medical treatments for these habitual behaviors are ineffective for most people, there is a critical need to develop innovative approaches to behavior change. Changing the brain to change behavior is the approach that we are taking.”

Kable hopes to use some of the data collected in this study to better understand both within-person differences in decision-making over time, why one person might be more patient at some times and more impulsive at others, and across-person differences, why some people tend to take the immediate reward and others tend to take the delayed reward.

If they can better understand the neural basis for those differences, Kable said, it might provide some clues about what kinds of cognitive or neural interventions would be useful to try to intervene and push people to be less or more impulsive.

Although, in this study, the researchers found that commercial cognitive training alone would not have an influence on one’s decision-making process or cognitive abilities, they believe that it was still an avenue worthy of rigorous investigation.

“I think we’d all like to have better cognitive abilities,” Kable said. “And we all see ways in which the vagaries of where we grew up and what school we went to and who our parents were had these effects on learning at an early age. The notion that you could do something now that would remediate it was very exciting. I think it was just an idea that really needed to be tested.”

Abstract of the study:

Increased preference for immediate over delayed and for risky over certain rewards has been associated with unhealthy behavioral choices. Motivated by evidence that enhanced cognitive control can shift choice behavior away from immediate and risky rewards, we tested whether training executive cognitive function could influence choice behavior and brain responses. In this randomized controlled trial, 128 young adults (71 male, 57 female) participated in 10 weeks of training with either a commercial web-based cognitive training program or web-based video games that do not specifically target executive function or adapt the level of difficulty throughout training. Pre- and post-training, participants completed cognitive assessments and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during performance of validated decision-making tasks: delay discounting (choices between smaller rewards now vs. larger rewards in the future) and risk sensitivity (choices between larger riskier rewards vs. smaller certain rewards). Contrary to our hypothesis, we found no evidence that cognitive training influences neural activity during decision-making, nor did we find effects of cognitive training on measures of delay discounting or risk sensitivity. Participants in the commercial training condition improved with practice on the specific tasks they performed during training, but participants in both conditions showed similar improvement on standardized cognitive measures over time. Moreover, the degree of improvement was comparable to that observed in individuals who were reassessed without any training whatsoever. Commercial adaptive cognitive training appears to have no benefits in healthy young adults above those of standard video games for measures of brain activity, choice behavior, or cognitive performance.

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Depressing read: Oh dear, even people with neuroscience training believe an awful lot of brain myths

It’s a bright sunny day. My kids are having fun. Tomorrow I’ll be leaving for DC to be part of the CTTL summer course. Life is great, but this article in BPS Digest about this new survey is making me depressed.

Do read the full article by Christian Jarrett but the results of the survey can make you cry:

Is there any silver lining? Yes: teachers are doing a better job than the general public, but the fact that even people involved in neuroscience are believing some of this stuff?

(Btw, remember this post?)

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Tired of myths in education or HR? Wait, try sports…

I’ve been discussing myths in education for ages. Sometimes I have the feeling that HR is even more hurt by wrong ideas than education. But lately I noticed that there is another field were (psychology) myths are gaining popularity: sports. I’ve seen versions of MBTI or similar developed for sportsmen, I’ve seen adaptations of learning styles, etc. But I just discovered the one myth to beat them all:

People reacted on this tweet that it’s perhaps a parody, but it’s not, it’s real. Maybe it’s true and will genetics replace neurology as selling miracle.

What have education, HR and sports in common? People can become desperate and are looking for easy solutions and so willing to pay for it. The difference between education on the one side and HR and sports on the other side: the latter have big budgets. And with big budgets come even more people trying to get a bit of the cash.

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New article by Paul Kirschner & me: The myths of the digital native and the multitasker

Paul Kirschner and yours truly just got a new article published in Teaching and Teacher Education on 2 common myths in education: the digital native and the multitasker. You can read it for free here (until Aug. 4)

The highlights:

  • Information-savvy digital natives do not exist.
  • Learners cannot multitask; they task switch which negatively impacts learning.
  • Educational design assuming these myths hinders rather than helps learning.

The abstract of our paper:

Current discussions about educational policy and practice are often embedded in a mind-set that considers students who were born in an age of omnipresent digital media to be fundamentally different from previous generations of students. These students have been labelled digital natives and have been ascribed the ability to cognitively process multiple sources of information simultaneously (i.e., they can multitask). As a result of this thinking, they are seen by teachers, educational administrators, politicians/policy makers, and the media to require an educational approach radically different from that of previous generations. This article presents scientific evidence showing that there is no such thing as a digital native who is information-skilled simply because (s)he has never known a world that was not digital. It then proceeds to present evidence that one of the alleged abilities of students in this generation, the ability to multitask, does not exist and that designing education that assumes the presence of this ability hinders rather than helps learning. The article concludes by elaborating on possible implications of this for education/educational policy.

 

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A very interesting article on Google: How Google Took Over the Classroom

This is an interesting NY Times article with a lot of stuff to be both thrilled and alarmed about.

Some excerpts:

  • [M]ore than half the nation’s primary- and secondary-school students — more than 30 million children — use Google education apps like Gmail and Docs … Chromebooks, Google-powered laptops that initially struggled to find a purpose, … account for more than half the mobile devices shipped to schools.”
  • Why it matters: “Google is helping to drive a philosophical change in public education — prioritizing training children in skills like teamwork and problem-solving while de-emphasizing the teaching of traditional academic knowledge, like math formulas.”
  • 50,000 feet: “It puts Google, and the tech economy, at the center of one of the great debates that has raged in American education for more than a century: whether the purpose of public schools is to turn out knowledgeable citizens or skilled workers.”
  • “Every year, several million American students graduate from high school. And not only does Google make it easy for those who have school Google accounts to upload their trove of school Gmail, Docs and other files to regular Google consumer accounts — but schools encourage them to do so.”
  • “[S]ome parents ... warn that Google could profit by using personal details from their children’s school email to build more powerful marketing profiles of them as young adults.”

But this excerpt shows another, big problem:

The director of Google’s education apps group, Jonathan Rochelle, touched on that idea in a speech at an industry conference last year. Referring to his own children, he said: “I cannot answer for them what they are going to do with the quadratic equation. I don’t know why they are learning it.” He added, “And I don’t know why they can’t ask Google for the answer if the answer is right there.”

Really? Because you can’t download creativity? Because you need a point of reference to check if Google is correct – and we know this is often not the case. Because you still need knowledge if you want to do things without being dependent of a big tech company. That and more is why. But if a director of Google’s education apps group knows so little about learning and education? Well, that’s scary.

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Learning styles, it’s an United Nations-thingy

This morning professor Wim Van den Broeck pointed me to a text from the United nations mentioning learning styles. I had heard this before, but Wim gave me the direct link.

To be concrete, in the General comment No. 4 (2016) on the right to inclusive education, you can read the following:

On page 4 as one of the core features of inclusive education:

A “whole person” approach: recognition is given to the capacity of every person to learn, and high expectations are established for all learners, including learners with disabilities. Inclusive education offers flexible curricula and teaching and learning methods adapted to different strengths, requirements and learning styles. This approach implies the provision of support, reasonable accommodation and early intervention so that all learners are able to fulfil their potential. The focus is on learners’ capacities and aspirations rather than on content when planning teaching activities. The “whole person” approach aims at ending segregation within educational settings by ensuring inclusive classroom teaching in accessible learning environments with appropriate supports. The education system must provide a personalized educational response, rather than expect students to fit the system;

And again on page 19, when discussing the implementation at the national level:

A process of educating all teachers at preschool, primary, secondary, tertiary and vocational education levels must be initiated to provide them with the core competencies and values necessary to work in inclusive educational environments. Such a process requires adaptations to both pre- and in-service training to achieve the appropriate skill levels in the shortest time possible, to facilitate the transition to an inclusive education system. All teachers must be provided with dedicated units/modules to prepare them to work in inclusive settings, as well as practical experiential learning settings where they can build the skills and confidence to solve problems through diverse inclusion challenges. The core content of teacher education must address a basic understanding of human diversity, growth and development, the human rights model of disability and inclusive pedagogy that enables teachers to identify students’ functional abilities (strengths, abilities and learning styles) to ensure their participation in inclusive educational environments. Teacher education should include learning about the use of appropriate augmentative and alternative modes, means and formats of communication such as Braille, large print, accessible multimedia, easyread, plain language, sign language and deaf culture, educational techniques and materials to support persons with disabilities. In addition, teachers need practical guidance and support in, among others: the provision of individualized instruction; teaching the same content using varied teaching methods to respond to the learning styles and unique abilities of each person; the development and use of individual educational plans to support specific learning requirements; and the introduction of a pedagogy centred on students’ educational objectives.

Can please someone inform the UN, please? And point out that learning styles are one of the most stubborn myths in education and we don’t need them to spread these kinds of myths or even worse: urge countries to implement these kinds of myths?

If you still think learning styles are real and you don’t want to read our book or any other stuff, just take this challenge and earn 5000 dollars. Or better: try to earn 5000 dollars.

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Jordan Peterson puts it quite bluntly: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences Is Rubbish!

Well, maybe you’ll be surprised, but than you haven’t read this (or our book). H/t Carl Hendrick

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Myths in Music Education

I found this article by Düvel et al via Jelle Jolles. It measures how popular certain myths are in music education for both teachers and students. The authors call it neuromyths, although I would rather call some of them educational myths. But guess what? Well, it seems not that depressing, as both teachers and students correctly rejected 60% and 59%, respectively, of the seven neuromyths as scientifically unsubstantiated statements. It’s way better than earlier results. Still, it’s far from perfect. The L-R brain myth seems still very popular.

More concrete:

Abstract of the study:

In the last decade, educational neuroscience has become increasingly important in the context of instruction, and its applications have been transformed into new teaching methods. Although teachers are interested in educational neuroscience, communication between scientists and teachers is not always straightforward. Thus, misunderstandings of neuroscientific research results can evolve into so-called neuromyths. The aim of the present study was to investigate the prevalence of such music-related neuromyths among music teachers and music students. Based on an extensive literature research, 26 theses were compiled and subsequently evaluated by four experts. Fourteen theses were selected, of which seven were designated as scientifically substantiated and seven as scientifically unsubstantiated (hereafter labelled as “neuromyths”). One group of adult music teachers (n = 91) and one group of music education students (n = 125) evaluated the theses (forced-choice discrimination task) in two separate online surveys. Additionally, in both surveys person-characteristic variables were gathered to determine possible predictors for the discrimination performance. As a result, identification rates of the seven scientifically substantiated theses were similar for teachers (76%) and students (78%). Teachers and students correctly rejected 60% and 59%, respectively, of the seven neuromyths as scientifically unsubstantiated statements. Sensitivity analysis by signal detection theory revealed a discrimination performance of d’ = 1.25 (SD = 1.12) for the group of teachers and d’ = 1.48 (SD = 1.22) for the students. Both groups showed a general tendency to evaluate the theses as scientifically substantiated (teachers: c = -0.35, students: c = -0.41). Specifically, buzz words such as “brain hemisphere” or “cognitive enhancement” were often classified as correct. For the group of teachers, the best predictor of discrimination performance was having read a large number of media about educational neuroscience and related topics (R² = .06). For the group of students, the best predictors for discrimination performance were a high number of read media and the hitherto completed number of semesters (R² = .14). Our findings make clear that both teachers and students are far from being experts on topics related to educational neuroscience in music and would therefore benefit from current education-related research in psychology and neuroscience.

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Some good news? “Critical thinking instruction in humanities reduces belief in pseudoscience”

Sometimes it’s quite difficult for (educational) mythbusters: what if you only make it worse. There are some studies – also mentioned in our book – who say so. But this new study – although with a very specific group and with a rather small amount of participants – at least suggests there are opportunities to battle pseudoscience…

From the press release:

A recent study by North Carolina State University researchers finds that teaching critical thinking skills in a humanities course significantly reduces student beliefs in “pseudoscience” that is unsupported by facts.

“Given the national discussion of ‘fake news,’ it’s clear that critical thinking – and classes that teach critical thinking – are more important than ever,” says Anne McLaughlin, an associate professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the work.

“Fundamentally, we wanted to assess how intentional you have to be when teaching students critical thinking,” says Alicia McGill, an assistant professor of history at NC State and co-author of the paper. “We also wanted to explore how humanities classes can play a role and whether one can assess the extent to which critical thinking instruction actually results in improved critical thinking by students.

“This may be especially timely, because humanities courses give students tools they can use to assess qualitative data and sort through political rhetoric,” McGill says. “Humanities also offer us historical and cultural perspective that allow us to put current events into context.”

For this study, the researchers worked with 117 students in three different classes. Fifty-nine students were enrolled in a psychology research methods course, which taught statistics and study design, but did not specifically address critical thinking. The other 58 students were enrolled in one of two courses on historical frauds and mysteries – one of which included honors students, many of whom were majors in science, engineering and mathematics disciplines.

The psychology class served as a control group. The two history courses incorporated instruction explicitly designed to cultivate critical thinking skills. For example, students in the history courses were taught how to identify logical fallacies – statements that violate logical arguments, such as non sequiturs.

At the beginning of the semester, students in all three courses took a baseline assessment of their beliefs in pseudoscientific claims. The assessment used a scale from 1 (“I don’t believe at all.”) to 7 (“I strongly believe.”).

Some of the topics in the assessment, such as belief in Atlantis, were later addressed in the “historical frauds” course. Other topics, such as the belief that 9/11 was an “inside job,” were never addressed in the course. This allowed the researchers to determine the extent to which changes in student beliefs stemmed from specific facts discussed in class, versus changes in a student’s critical thinking skills.

At the end of the semester, students took the pseudoscience assessment again.

The control group students did not change their beliefs – but students in both history courses had lower beliefs in pseudoscience by the end of the semester.

Students in the history course for honors students decreased the most in their pseudoscientific beliefs; on average, student beliefs dropped an entire point on the belief scale for topics covered in class, and by 0.5 points on topics not covered in class. There were similar, but less pronounced, changes in the non-honors course.

“The change we see in these students is important, because beliefs are notoriously hard to change,” says McLaughlin. “And seeing students apply critical thinking skills to areas not covered in class is particularly significant and heartening.”

“It’s also important to note that these results stem from taking only one class,” McGill says. “Consistent efforts to teach critical thinking across multiple classes may well have more pronounced effects.

“This drives home the importance of teaching critical thinking, and the essential role that humanities can play in that process,” McGill says. “This is something that NC State is actively promoting as part of a universitywide focus on critical thinking development.”

The paper, “Explicitly teaching critical thinking skills in a history course,” was published March 20 in the journal Science & Education.

Abstract of the study:

Critical thinking skills are often assessed via student beliefs in non-scientific ways of thinking, (e.g, pseudoscience). Courses aimed at reducing such beliefs have been studied in the STEM fields with the most successful focusing on skeptical thinking. However, critical thinking is not unique to the sciences; it is crucial in the humanities and to historical thinking and analysis. We investigated the effects of a history course on epistemically unwarranted beliefs in two class sections. Beliefs were measured pre- and post-semester. Beliefs declined for history students compared to a control class and the effect was strongest for the honors section. This study provides evidence that a humanities education engenders critical thinking. Further, there may be individual differences in ability or preparedness in developing such skills, suggesting different foci for critical thinking coursework.

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