Category Archives: Research

Please look up? Is you’re tech behavior causing your child to misbehave?

A new study by researchers from the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Illinois State University suggests that even in low amounts, interruptions to parent-child time caused by digital technology are associated with greater child behavior problems.

About half of parents reported that technology interrupted time with their children three or more times on a typical day. Even in low amounts, interruptions to parent-child time caused by digital technology are associated with greater child behavior problems.

Feeling bad yet? I have some good news: you can argue that this study is rather small – it is. And in court the evidence would be called rather circumstantial (and correlational). Still, the study seems to be a nice starting point for further research.

Still, read the press release:

Those are often on the list of reasons parents mention if their child whines, has tantrums or acts out.

Researchers are now asking if such negative behaviors could be related to something else: parents spending too much time on their smartphones or tablets.

A small study from University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Illinois State University found that heavy digital technology use by parents could be associated with child behavior issues. The findings were published in the May 2017 online issue of Child Development.

Researchers analyzed surveys completed separately by both mothers and fathers from 170 two-parent households. Mothers and fathers were asked about their use of smartphones, tablets, laptops and other technology — and how the devices disrupted family time (a disturbance that lead author Brandon T. McDaniel coins ‘technoference.’) Interruptions could be as simple as checking phone messages during mealtime, playtime and routine activities or conversations with their children.

Might a few stolen moments used to check a couple text messages have a deeper effect?

While more research is needed, the study suggests it might: Even low or seemingly normal amounts of tech-related interruption were associated with greater child behavior problems, such as oversensitivity, hot tempers, hyperactivity and whining.

“This was a cross-sectional study, so we can’t assume a direct connection between parents’ technology use and child behavior but these findings help us better understand the relationship,” says senior author Jenny Radesky, M.D., a child behavior expert and pediatrician at Mott. “It’s also possible that parents of children with behavioral difficulties are more likely to withdraw or de-stress with technology during times with their child.”

But she adds “We know that parents’ responsiveness to their kids changes when they are using mobile technology and that their device use may be associated with less-than-ideal interactions with their children. It’s really difficult to toggle attention between all of the important and attention-grabbing information contained in these devices, with social and emotional information from our children, and process them both effectively at the same time.”

McDaniel, who designed and carried out the study, says researchers hope to learn more about the impact of increasing digital technology use on families and children.

“Research on the potential impact of this exposure lags far behind,” says McDaniel, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at Illinois State University.

“It’s too early to draw implications that could be used in clinical practice but our findings contribute to growing literature showing an association between greater digital technology use and potential relationship dysfunction between parents and their children.”

Parents in the study were asked to rate how problematic their personal device use was based on how difficult it was for them to resist checking new messages, how frequently they worried about calls and texts and if they thought they used their phones too much.

Participants also were asked how often phones, tablets, computers and other devices diverted their attention when otherwise engaged with their children.

On average, mothers and fathers both perceived about two devices interfering in their interactions with their child at least once or more on a typical day. Mothers, however, seemed to perceive their phone use as more problematic than fathers did.

About half (48 percent) of parents reported technology interruptions three or more times on a typical day while 17 percent said it occurred once and 24 percent said it happened twice a day. Only 11 percent said no interruptions occurred.

Parents then rated child behavior issues within the past two months by answering questions about how often their children whined, sulked, easily got frustrated, had tantrums or showed signs of hyperactivity or restlessness.

The researchers controlled for multiple factors, such as parenting stress, depressive symptoms, income, parent education as well as co-parenting quality (how supportive partners were of each other in parenting their child), which has been shown to predict child behavior.

The study joins other research and advocacy groups contributing to a larger debate about technology and its effect on child development.

Some professional societies, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and Zero to Three, recommend “unplugged” family time. But they haven’t tested whether lessening or changing digital technology use during parent-child activities is associated with improved child behavior.

McDaniel and Radesky advise parents to try to carve out designated times to put away the devices and focus all attention on their kids.

Reserving certain times of the day or locations as being technology-free — such as mealtime or playtime right after work — may help ease family tensions caused by the modern blurring of outside worlds with home life, they say.

“Parents may find great benefits from being connected to the outside world through mobile technology, whether that’s work, social lives or keeping up with the news. It may not be realistic, nor is it necessary, to ban technology use all together at home,” Radesky says. “But setting boundaries can help parents keep smartphones and other mobile technology from interrupting quality time with their kids.”

Abstract of the study:

 Heavy parent digital technology use has been associated with suboptimal parent–child interactions, but no studies examine associations with child behavior. This study investigates whether parental problematic technology use is associated with technology-based interruptions in parent–child interactions, termed “technoference,” and whether technoference is associated with child behavior problems. Parent reports from 170 U.S. families (child Mage = 3.04 years) and actor–partner interdependence modeling showed that maternal and paternal problematic digital technology use predicted greater technoference in mother–child and father–child interactions; then, maternal technoference predicted both mothers’ and fathers’ reports of child externalizing and internalizing behaviors. Results suggest that technological interruptions are associated with child problem behaviors, but directionality and transactional processes should be examined in future longitudinal studies.

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Learning diversity through music

A new study states that listening to music from other cultures furthers one’s pro-diversity beliefs.

I’m not that surprised as one of my own little studies I conducted showed a similar effect (check here).

From the press release:

Jake Harwood turned his lifelong hobby as a musician into a scholarly question: Could the sharing of music help ease interpersonal relations between people from different backgrounds, such as Americans and Arabs?

To explore the issue, and building on his years of research on intergroup communication, Harwood began collaborating two to three years ago with his graduate students and other researchers on a number of studies, finding that music is not merely a universal language. It appears to produce a humanizing effect for members of groups experiencing social and political opposition.

“Music would not have developed in our civilizations if it did not do very important things to us,” said Harwood, a professor in the University of Arizona Department of Communication. “Music allows us to communicate common humanity to each other. It models the value of diversity in ways you don’t readily see in other parts of our lives.”

Harwood is presenting his team’s research during the International Communication Association’s 67th annual conference, to be held May 25-29 in San Diego.

In one study, Harwood worked with UA graduate researchers Farah Qadar and Chien-Yu Chen to record a mock news story featuring an Arab and an American actor playing music together. The researchers showed the video clip to U.S. participants who were not Arab. The team found that when viewing the two cultures collaborating on music, individuals in the study were prone to report more positive perceptions — less of a prejudiced view — of Arabs.

“The act of merging music is a metaphor for what we are trying to do: Merging two perspectives in music, you can see an emotional connection, and its effect is universal,” said Qadar, who graduated from the UA in 2016 with a master’s degree in communication.

The team published those findings in an article, “Harmonious Contact: Stories About Intergroup Musical Collaboration Improve Intergroup Attitudes.” The article appeared in a fall issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of Communication.

Another major finding: The benefits were notable, even when individuals did not play musical instruments themselves. Merely listening to music produced by outgroup members helped reduce negative feelings about outgroup members, Harwood said.

“It’s not just about playing Arab music. But if you see an Arab person playing music that merges the boundary between mainstream U.S. and Arab, then you start connecting the two groups,” Harwood said.

As part of his ongoing research in a different study, which he will present during the International Communication Association conference, Harwood and Stefania Paolini, a senior lecturer at the University of Newcastle’s School of Psychology, measured people’s appreciation for diversity, gauging how they felt about members of other groups. After doing so, the team asked people to listen to music from other cultures and then report how much they enjoyed the music and what they perceived of the people the music represented.

The team found that people who value diversity are more likely to enjoy listening to music from other cultures, and that act of listening furthers one’s pro-diversity beliefs.

“It has this sort of spiral effect. If you value diversity, you are going to listen to more music from other cultures,” Harwood said, noting that that research is continuing. “If all you are doing is listening to the same type of music all the time, there is homogeneity that is not doing a lot to help people to increase their value for diversity.”

For Harwood and his collaborators, these findings are affirming given the decades-old world music explosion and more recent examples of performers around the world who regularly sample and cross-reference outgroup musical traditions and elements.

Harwood pointed to Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album as an early and notable example. Released in 1986, the album drew influence from South African instrumentation and rhythms.

“It was the start of the world music phenomena,” Harwood said. “Suddenly, everyone wanted to listen to African music. Then Indonesian, then Algerian music. Then you see this modeling of new music with different musical cultures and different people collaborating with each other.”

Harwood also said artists such as Eminem and Rihanna are among those who are experimenting with music that crosses cultural boundaries. “This whole new type of music is emerging that would not exist if you did not have that kind of cross-collaboration.”

Harwood also said his team’s findings build on earlier research and emergent models of intergroup dialogue that encourage direct contact and conversation to help build cross-cultural understanding and cohesion.

“We must think about music as a human, social activity rather than a sort of beautiful, aesthetic hobby and appreciate how fundamental it is to us all,” he said. “We can then begin to see people from other groups as more human and begin to recategorize one another as members as the same group.”

Abstract of one of the studies mentioned in the press release:

Watching contact between members of one’s ingroup and members of an outgroup in the media (mediated vicarious contact) improves intergroup attitudes. We compare mediated vicarious contact with observing only members of the outgroup (parasocial contact), and examine whether the activity of the portrayed contact matters. Building on theory, we predict that watching outgroup members playing music should reduce prejudice more than watching them engaged in nonmusical activities, particularly with vicarious (vs. parasocial) contact. Results show that vicarious musical contact enhances perceptions of synchronization, liking, and honesty between ingroup and outgroup actors in a video, which in turn results in more positive attitudes toward the outgroup. Counter to predictions, parasocial musical contact results in less positive outcomes than parasocial nonmusical contact.

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How do kids and parents worry about privacy with internet-connected toys

Your daughters’ Barbie can be hacked to spy on your children. So, got you worried? Researchers have now conducted a new study that explores the attitudes and concerns of both parents and children who play with internet-connected toys. Through a series of in-depth interviews and observations, the researchers found that kids didn’t know their toys were recording their conversations, and parents generally worried about their children’s privacy when they played with the toys.

From the press release:

University of Washington researchers have conducted a new study that explores the attitudes and concerns of both parents and children who play with internet-connected toys. Through a series of in-depth interviews and observations, the researchers found that kids didn’t know their toys were recording their conversations, and parents generally worried about their children’s privacy when they played with the toys.

“These toys that can record and transmit are coming into a place that’s historically legally very well-protected ? the home,” said co-lead author Emily McReynolds, associate director of the UW’s Tech Policy Lab. “People have different perspectives about their own privacy, but it’s crystalized when you give a toy to a child.”

The researchers presented their paper May 10 at the CHI 2017 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

Though internet-connected toys have taken off commercially, their growth in the market has not been without security breaches and public scrutiny. VTech, a company that produces tablets for children, was storing personal data of more than 200,000 children when its database was hacked in 2015. Earlier this year, Germany banned the Cayla toy over fears that personal data could be stolen.

It’s within this landscape that the UW team sought to understand the privacy concerns and expectations kids and parents have for these types of toys.

The researchers conducted interviews with nine parent-child pairs, asking each of them questions ? ranging from whether a child liked the toy and would tell it a secret to whether a parent would buy the toy or share what their child said to it on social media.

They also observed the children, all aged 6 to 10, playing with Hello Barbie and CogniToys Dino. These toys were chosen for the study because they are among the industry leaders for their stated privacy measures. Hello Barbie, for example, has an extensive permissions process for parents when setting up the toy, and it has been complimented for its strong encryption practices.

The resulting paper highlights a wide selection of comments from kids and parents, then makes recommendations for toy designers and policymakers.

Most of the children participating in the study did not know the toys were recording their conversations. Additionally, the toys’ lifelike exteriors probably fueled the perception that they are trustworthy, the researchers said, whereas kids might not have the tendency to share secrets and personal information when communicating with similar tools not intended as toys, such as Siri and Alexa.

“The toys are a social agent where you might feel compelled to disclose things that you wouldn’t otherwise to a computer or cell phone. A toy has that social exterior which might fool you into being less secure on what you tell it,” said co-lead author Maya Cakmak, an assistant professor at the Allen School. “We have this concern for adults, and with children, they’re even more vulnerable.”

Some kids were troubled by the idea of their conversations being recorded. When one parent explained how the child’s conversation with the doll could end up being shared widely on the computer, the child responded: “That’s pretty scary.”

At minimum, toy designers should create a way for the devices to notify children when they are recording, the researchers said. Designers could consider recording notifications that are more humanlike, such as having Hello Barbie say, “I’ll remember everything you say to me” instead of a red recording light that might not make sense to a child in that context.

The study found that most parents were concerned about their child’s privacy when playing with the toys. They universally wanted parental controls such as the ability to disconnect Barbie from the internet or control the types of questions to which the toys will respond. The researchers recommend toy designers delete recordings after a week’s time, or give parents the ability to delete conversations permanently.

A recent UW study demonstrated that video recordings that are filtered to preserve privacy can still allow a tele-operated robot to perform useful tasks, such as organize objects on a table. This study also revealed that people are much less concerned about privacy ? even for sensitive items that could reveal financial or medical information ? when such filters are in place. Speech recordings on connected toys could similarly be filtered to remove identity information and encode the content of speech in less human-interpretable formats to preserve privacy, while still allowing the toy to respond intelligibly.

The researchers hope this initial look into the privacy concerns of parents and kids will continue to inform both privacy laws and toy designers, given that such devices will only continue to fill the market and home.

“It’s inevitable that kids’ toys, as with everything else in society, will have computers in them, so it’s important to design them with security measures in mind,” said co-lead author Franziska Roesner, a UW assistant professor at the Allen School. “I hope the security research community continues to study these specific user groups, like children, that we don’t necessarily study in-depth.”

Abstract of the study:

Hello Barbie, CogniToys Dino, and Amazon Echo are part of a new wave of connected toys and gadgets for the home that listen. Unlike the smartphone, these devices are always on, blending into the background until needed. We conducted interviews with parent-child pairs in which they interacted with Hello Barbie and CogniToys Dino, shedding light on children’s expectations of the toys’ “intelligence” and parents’ privacy concerns and expectations for parental controls. We find that children were often unaware that others might be able to hear what was said to the toy, and that some parents draw connections between the toys and similar tools not intended as toys (e.g., Siri, Alexa) with which their children already interact. Our findings illuminate people’s mental models and experiences with these emerging technologies and will help inform the future designs of interactive, connected toys and gadgets. We conclude with recommendations for designers and policy makers.

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Surprising: Early English language lessons less effective than expected

Get them while they’re young seems to be a popular adagio for language learning. That’s why many educational systems now opt to introduce a second or third language early in the curriculum. A new study conducted in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, with longitudinal data gathered between 2010 and 2014, puts a bit of rain on this parade. Seven years later, children who start learning English in the first grade achieve poorer results in this subject than children whose first English lesson isn’t until the third grade. But for people promoting CLIL, read carefully, because you might be positively surprised and for all promoting multilingualism: no the study isn’t against learning more languages in school. At all.

From the press release (bold by me):

Highly recommended, yet not scientifically proven

“Starting foreign-language lessons at an early age is often very much commended, even though hardly any research exists that would support this myth,” says Nils Jäkel from the Chair of English Language Teaching in Bochum. Together with his colleagues from Bochum and from the Technical University Dortmund, they analysed data of 5,130 students from 31 secondary schools of the Gymnasium type in North Rhine-Westphalia. The researchers compared two student cohorts, one of which started learning English in the first grade, the other in the third grade. They evaluated the children’s reading and hearing proficiency in English in the fifth and seventh grade respectively.

In the fifth grade, children who had their first English lessons very early in elementary school achieved better results with respect to reading and hearing proficiency. This changed by the seventh grade. By then, the latecomers, i.e. children who didn’t start to learn English until the third grade, were better.

Results from other countries confirmed

“Our study confirmed results from other countries, for example Spain, that show that early English lessons with one or two hours per week in elementary school aren’t very conductive to attaining language competence in the long term,” says Jäkel. In the next months, he and his colleagues are going to analyse additional data to investigate if the results can be confirmed for the ninth grade.

A possible interpretation of the results: “Early English-language lessons in elementary school take place at a time when deep immersion would be necessary to achieve sustainable effects,” describes Nils Jäkel. “Instead, the children attend English lessons that amount to 90 minutes per week at most.”

Critical transition from elementary school school to grammar school

Moreover, the authors point out a rupture that takes place during the transition period from elementary school to grammar school. “Broadly speaking, the predominantly playful, holistically structured elementary-school lessons make way for rather more cognitive, intellectualised grammar-school methodology,” says Jäkel.

In elementary school, English is taught through child-appropriate, casual immersion in and experience of the foreign language through rhymes, songs, movement and stories. Secondary schools focus primarily on prescribed grammar and vocabulary lessons. This would explain why the early advantages in listening proficiency that are identified in the fifth grade are partially forfeit by the seventh grade, as the authors elaborate; this is possibly due to a lapse in motivation, as students feel the rupture more keenly after experiencing four years of English lessons in elementary school.

It is also possible that the potential of English lessons at an early stage had not been fully exploited, as they had been rather hastily adapted for the first grade. “When English lessons were introduced in elementary school, many teachers had to qualify for lateral entry on short notice,” explains Jäkel.

Consequences and recommendations

With their findings, the researchers do not question early English lessons as such. On the contrary, it is an important factor contributing to the European multilingualism we aspire to, as it paves the way for further language acquisition in secondary schools. Early English lessons might help make the children aware of linguistic and cultural diversity. “But it would be wrong to have unreasonably high expectations,” says Jäkel. “A reasonable compromise might be the introduction of English in the third grade, with more lessons per week.” And it is just as important to better coordinate the didactical approaches on elementary and grammar school levels. Here, teachers at these two different types of school could learn from each other.

Abstract of the study:

Foreign language education has now been implemented at the elementary school level across Europe, and early foreign language education has gained traction following language policies set by the European Commission. The long-term effects of an early start, however, have not received ample scientific scrutiny. The present study assessed early receptive skills of two cohorts of English language learners in Year 5 (beginning of secondary education in Germany) and two years later in Year 7. The factors distinguishing between these two cohorts were onset of foreign language education and the amount of language exposure. The effects of the earlier start were found in the results for Year 5, when the early cohort outperformed peers with less and later exposure to English. However, in Year 7, the late starters surpassed their early starting peers.

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What’s the effect of code clubs on computational thinking and more? (Best Evidence in Brief)

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and this study will be of interest to many…

The National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) in the UK has published the results of a randomized controlled trial and process evaluation of Code Clubs – a UK network of after-school clubs where children aged 9-11 learn to program by making games, animations, websites, and applications. Code Club UK produces material and projects that support the teaching of Scratch, HTML/CSS, and Python. The clubs, which are supported by volunteers, usually run for one hour a week after school during term time.

The evaluation, conducted by Suzanne Straw and colleagues, assessed the impact of Code Clubs on Year 5 (4th grade in the U.S.) students’ computational thinking, programming skills, and attitudes toward computers and coding. Twenty-one schools in the UK took part in the trial which used a student-randomized design to compare student outcomes in the intervention and control groups. Intervention group students attended Code Club during the 2015/16 academic year, while control group students continued as they would do normally.

The results of the evaluation showed that attending Code Club for a year did not impact students’ computational thinking any more than might have occurred anyway, but did significantly improve their coding skills in Scratch, HTML/CSS, and Python. This was true even when control children learned Scratch as part of the computing curriculum in school. Code Club students reported increased usage of all three programming languages – and of computers more generally. However, the evaluation data suggests that attending Code Club for a year does not affect how students view their abilities in a range of transferable skills, such as following instructions, problem solving, learning about new things, and working with others.
Or in short: transfer is a bitch.

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What drives rejection amongst children? Not what a child does, but how other children feel about it

Feeling rejected at school? Don’t start me talkin’! A new study asked the children doing the rejecting, the ‘rejecters,’ for the reasons they disliked certain children. The study revealed the act of rejection is complex — the behavior of the rejected child is only partly, or not at all, to blame.

Abstract of the study:

Children learn how to make friends and interact with others in the first few years of school. Unfortunately, rejection is part of daily life in a classroom and we can all remember the bitter feeling of being left out by classmates. Some children suffer widespread rejection at school and this can this can have a long-term effect.

In an effort to reduce negative relationships, research has traditionally focused on the behaviour of the disliked child, asking, ‘What did they do to warrant rejection?’ Blaming rejection on a child’s behaviour, however, does not explain why an aggressive child might sometimes be a popular classmate. In addition, the bad behaviour of a rejected child may not actually be the cause, but rather the consequence, of being rejected.

New research, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology, approaches this subject in a different way. It asked the children doing the rejecting, the ‘rejecters’, for the reasons they disliked certain children. The study revealed the act of rejection is complex – the behaviour of the rejected child is only partly, or not at all, to blame.

“We find that the rejected child’s behaviour does not lead directly or inevitably to rejection”, says Francisco Juan García Bacete, a Professor in the Department of Developmental, Educational and Social Psychology and Methodology, at the Jaume I University, Spain. “Instead, what actually leads to rejection are the rejecters’ interpretations of the child’s behaviour, and whether they think it will have a negative impact on themselves or their social group.”

Professor Garcia Bacete and his co-authors interviewed hundreds of 5- to 7-year olds and asked them to describe who, in their class, they liked least and why. The researchers were left with a long list of reasons, such as “I don’t like playing football”, “He’s boring”, “He’s new”, and “She cheats”, to sort through to find common themes. To do this, they used a method called ‘Grounded Theory’.

“Grounded Theory starts from the reasons provided by the children and, by constantly comparing them, categories emerge that explain differences between the motives for rejection”, describes Professor Garcia Bacete. “So rather than forcing the data to be grouped under preconceived headings, we let the data speak for itself.”

He continues, “Most of the reasons could be grouped under what the rejected child does, says or tries, such as aggression, dominance, problematic social and school behaviours, and disturbance of wellbeing. However, we also noticed that these reasons came with context – specifically, which classmates or groups were involved in the rejection and the frequency it happened.”

It became clear they had discovered that rejection does not appear to be the direct result of the behaviour of the disliked child, but whether the rejecters saw this behaviour as harmful to the needs of themselves or their friends.

The Grounded Theory method also revealed two new categories of reasons that do not usually appear in traditional rejection studies – preference and unfamiliarity. Professor Garcia Bacete explains, “Preference highlights the power of particular likes and dislikes in that it strengthens personal identities. Sometimes it manifests in a negative context, for example, when prejudices are shared, which reinforces the feeling of belonging to a group.” He continues, “Reasons governed by unfamiliarity highlight our tendency towards choosing and doing what has already been preferred and done, or the fear and mistrust to what is unknown or unfamiliar.”

The authors hope this study will provide a solid framework for developing programs to tackle rejection. “This research highlights the importance of teaching children how to be aware of and tackle negative reputations, stereotypes and prejudices, as well as understanding the consequences of their behaviour on themselves and others. Positive relationships should be encouraged – you should respect others, not just your friends.” concludes Professor García Bacete.

Further research hopes to delve deeper and examine if there are particular reasons that lead to persistent rejection. Additionally, research should focus on the relationship between the rejecter and rejected child, examining how other children may influence the reasons for rejecting a peer.

Abstract of the study:

Objective: The aim of this research was to obtain the views of young children regarding their reasons for rejecting a peer.

Method: To achieve this goal, we conducted a qualitative study in the context of theory building research using an analysis methodology based on Grounded Theory. The collected information was extracted through semi-structured individual interviews from a sample of 853 children aged 6 from 13 urban public schools in Spain.

Results: The children provided 3,009 rejection nominations and 2,934 reasons for disliking the rejected peers. Seven reason categories emerged from the analysis. Four categories refer to behaviors of the rejected children that have a cost for individual peers or peer group such as: direct aggression, disturbance of wellbeing, problematic social and school behaviors and dominance behaviors. A further two categories refer to the identities arising from the preferences and choices of rejected and rejecter children and their peers: personal identity expressed through preferences and disliking, and social identity expressed through outgroup prejudices. The “no-behavior or no-choice” reasons were covered by one category, unfamiliarity. In addition, three context categories were found indicating the participants (interpersonal–group), the impact (low–high), and the subjectivity (subjective–objective) of the reason.

Conclusion: This study provides researchers and practitioners with a comprehensive taxonomy of reasons for rejection that contributes to enrich the theoretical knowledge and improve interventions for preventing and reducing peer rejection.

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A study about Learning Styles in the UK

Takeaways?

  • The amount of academics in UK higher education who belief in Learning Styles is getting smaller it seems, but 58% still does.
  • Most of those believers actually never use them.
  • 32% stated that they would continue to use Learning Styles despite being presented with the lack of an evidence base to support them.

While the original authors claim that ‘debunking’ learning styles doesn’t work, I actually think it does – surprise – as the numbers of ‘believers’ seem to going down in comparison to other studies. I do agree with them that promoting evidence-based approaches to education is also needed.

I only have one extra question: how can you be an academic and continue despite being presented with the lack of any evidence?

From the press release:

What is the best way for teachers to teach so students will really learn? That’s an age-old question.

Since the 1970s, one theory that has been popular among schoolteachers and pervasive in education research literature in the United Kingdom and the United States is the idea of “Learning Styles,” the notion that people can be categorized into one or more ‘styles’ of learning (e.g., Visual, Auditory, Converger) and that teachers can and should tailor their curriculum to suit individual students. The idea is that students will learn more if they are exposed to material through approaches that specifically match their Learning Style.

But in recent years, many academicians have criticized Learning Styles saying there is no evidence it improves student understanding.

Now comes a newly published study of 114 academics in higher education in the United Kingdom, led by education researchers Philip M. Newton, Ph.D., and Mahallad Miah, both of the Swansea University Medical School in Swansea, UK. Their study “Evidence-Based Higher Education – Is the Learning Styles ‘Myth’ Important?” was published March 27, 2017, in Frontiers in Psychology.

Their findings are very interesting. Newton and Miah found while 58% of the academics surveyed believe Learning Styles to be beneficial – only 33% actually used the pedagogical tool.

In other words, there is something about the idea of individualized education that appeals, but actually administering a Learning Styles questionnaire to students and then tailoring the class curriculum to suit individual students’ personal learning styles is only done by a handful of faculty.

“There is a mismatch between the empirical evidence and the belief in Learning Styles,” said Newton. “Among those who participated in our study far more reported using a number of techniques that are demonstrably evidence-based.”

These techniques include: assigning formative assessments (i.e., practice tests), peer teaching (i.e., having students teach each other), working problems and examples aloud, and microteaching (i.e., taking video footage of teachers in training so they can reflect on and adjust how they explain material and interact with students).

Furthermore, 90% of the faculty surveyed said that Learning Styles as an approach is fundamentally flawed.

“Learning Styles does not account for the complexity of ‘understanding,'” said Newton. “It is not possible to teach complex concepts such as mathematics or languages by presenting these subjects in only one style. This would be like trying to teach medical students to recognize different heart sounds using visual methods, or teaching them how to recognize different skin rashes using auditory methods.”

Newton and Miah say those faculty who use Learning Styles may in fact represent certain disciplines or subject areas and that to truly evaluate the usefulness of this teaching method would require demographic studies of faculty. But that may not be worth the investment, they say.

Part of the issue seems to lie in the fact that many respondents embrace a “looser definition” of Learning Styles, preferring to think of it as an overarching theme or general trend rather than a pedagogical tool. In other words: they operate from the standpoint that individual students have different ‘styles of learning’ — lowercase — but don’t formally change their teaching techniques. This philosophical leaning may also explain why some dedicated faculty continue to ‘believe in’ Learning Styles even when presented with the evidence that it doesn’t work.

It appears Learning Styles has become more a point of awareness or point of view rather than a teaching tool. Thus, say Newton and Miah, rather than debunking Learning Styles — capital letters — a far better focus for education research would be to promote those evidence-based techniques that survey participants indicated they actually use and that are demonstrably effective.

Abstract of the study:

The basic idea behind the use of ‘Learning Styles’ is that learners can be categorized into one or more ‘styles’ (e.g., Visual, Auditory, Converger) and that teaching students according to their style will result in improved learning. This idea has been repeatedly tested and there is currently no evidence to support it. Despite this, belief in the use of Learning Styles appears to be widespread amongst schoolteachers and persists in the research literature. This mismatch between evidence and practice has provoked controversy, and some have labeled Learning Styles a ‘myth.’ In this study, we used a survey of academics in UK Higher Education (n = 114) to try and go beyond the controversy by quantifying belief and, crucially, actual use of Learning Styles. We also attempted to understand how academics view the potential harms associated with the use of Learning Styles. We found that general belief in the use of Learning Styles was high (58%), but lower than in similar previous studies, continuing an overall downward trend in recent years. Critically the percentage of respondents who reported actually using Learning Styles (33%) was much lower than those who reported believing in their use. Far more reported using a number of techniques that are demonstrably evidence-based. Academics agreed with all the posited weaknesses and harms of Learning Styles theory, agreeing most strongly that the basic theory of Learning Styles is conceptually flawed. However, a substantial number of participants (32%) stated that they would continue to use Learning Styles despite being presented with the lack of an evidence base to support them, suggesting that ‘debunking’ Learning Styles may not be effective. We argue that the interests of all may be better served by promoting evidence-based approaches to Higher Education.

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Again: the lasting effects of bullying

We’ve been here before. I know this. You know this. But there is a new study showing it again. And it’s worth repeating. So here it goes: A new study led by the University of Delaware found that kids who are bullied in fifth grade are more likely to suffer from depression in seventh grade; and have a greater likelihood of using alcohol, marijuana or tobacco in tenth grade.

From the press release:

“Students who experienced more frequent peer victimization in fifth grade were more likely to have greater symptoms of depression in seventh grade, and a greater likelihood of using alcohol, marijuana or tobacco in tenth grade,” said the study’s leader, Valerie Earnshaw, a social psychologist and assistant professor in UD’s College of Education and Human Development.

The study involved researchers from universities and hospitals in six states, who analyzed data collected between 2004 and 2011 from 4,297 students on their journey from fifth through tenth grade. The findings were published online in the medical journal Pediatrics.

The students were from Birmingham, Alabama; Houston, Texas; and Los Angeles County, California. Forty-four percent were Latino, 29 percent were African American and 22 percent were white.

Although peer victimization is common during late childhood and early adolescence and appears to be associated with increased substance use, few studies have examined these associations longitudinally — meaning that data is gathered from the same subjects repeatedly over several years — or point to the psychological processes whereby peer victimization leads to substance use.

“We show that peer victimization in fifth grade has lasting effects on substance use five years later. We also show that depressive symptoms help to explain why peer victimization is associated with substance use, suggesting that youth may be self-medicating by using substances to relieve these negative emotions,” Earnshaw said.

Impacts and interventions

Peer victimization leads to substance use, and substance use can harm adolescent development with implications for health throughout the lifespan, Earnshaw said. Alcohol and marijuana use may interfere with brain development and can lead to injuries. Tobacco use may lead to respiratory illness, cancer and early death.

“Youth who develop substance use disorders are at risk of many mental and physical illnesses throughout life,” Earnshaw said. “So, the substance use that results from peer victimization can affect young people throughout their lives.”

Among the study’s findings, boys, sexual minority youth and youth living with chronic illness reported more frequent peer victimization in fifth grade. Age, obesity, race/ethnicity, household educational achievement and family income were not related to more frequent peer victimization.

Twenty-four percent of tenth graders in the study reported recent alcohol use, 15.2 percent reported marijuana use, and 11.7 percent reported tobacco use. Sexual minority status was more strongly related to alcohol use among girls than boys; it was also related to marijuana and tobacco use among girls but not boys.

Earnshaw used structural equation modeling — a form of statistical analysis — to examine the multiple variables across time and to test if there were relationships among them. She started working with the data in summer 2015 and finalized the model in fall 2016 in her office in UD’s Alison Hall.

An expert in stigma research, Earnshaw wants to understand why people treat other people poorly and how this poor treatment leads to poor health, including through substance use behaviors. She hopes this latest study will enlighten pediatricians, teachers, parents — anyone in a position to help students facing peer aggression.

“We urge pediatricians to screen youth for peer victimization, symptoms of depression and substance use,” says Earnshaw. “These doctors can offer counsel to youth and recommendations to parents and youth for approaching teachers and school staff for support. Moreover, youth experiencing depressive symptoms and substance use should be offered treatment when needed.”

The research team’s messages also extend to teachers.

“Peer victimization really matters, and we need to take it seriously — this echoes the messages educators already have been receiving,” Earnshaw says. “This study gives some additional evidence as to why it’s important to intervene. It also may give teachers insight into why students are depressed or using substances in middle and high school.”

Abstract of the study:

BACKGROUND: Peer victimization is common among youth and associated with substance use. Yet, few studies have examined these associations longitudinally or the psychological processes whereby peer victimization leads to substance use. The current study examined whether peer victimization in early adolescence is associated with alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco use in mid- to late adolescence, as well as the role of depressive symptoms in these associations.

METHODS: Longitudinal data were collected between 2004 and 2011 from 4297 youth in Birmingham, Alabama; Houston, Texas; and Los Angeles County, California. Data were analyzed by using structural equation modeling.

RESULTS: The hypothesized model fit the data well (Root Mean Square Error of Approximation [RMSEA] = 0.02; Comparative Fit Index [CFI] = 0.95). More frequent experiences of peer victimization in the fifth grade were associated with greater depressive symptoms in the seventh grade (B[SE] = 0.03[0.01]; P < .001), which, in turn, were associated with a greater likelihood of alcohol use (B[SE] = 0.03[0.01]; P = .003), marijuana use (B[SE] = 0.05[0.01]; P < .001), and tobacco use (B[SE] = 0.05[0.01]; P < .001) in the tenth grade. Moreover, fifth-grade peer victimization was indirectly associated with tenth-grade substance use via the mediator of seventh-grade depressive symptoms, including alcohol use (B[SE] = 0.01[0.01]; P = .006), marijuana use (B[SE] = 0.01[0.01]; P < .001), and tobacco use (B[SE] = 0.02[0.01]; P < .001).

CONCLUSIONS: Youth who experienced more frequent peer victimization in the fifth grade were more likely to use substances in the tenth grade, showing that experiences of peer victimization in early adolescence may have a lasting impact by affecting substance use behaviors during mid- to late adolescence. Interventions are needed to reduce peer victimization among youth and to support youth who have experienced victimization.

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Oops… No evidence that enrichment activities encourage pupils to study STEM A-levels

It’s a theme in many countries: how can we get more pupils to choose for STEM-subjects in education. This new study from the University of Exeter shows that there is no evidence to suggest enrichment activities run to interest pupils in science, technology, engineering and maths results in significantly higher numbers of teenagers studying these subjects at A-level: “While these enrichment and engagement activities may have been enjoyable and memorable for children, there is no evidence they encouraged them to keep on studying STEM subjects. There is also no evidence that these activities increased the numbers of children from poorer homes or from ethnic minority backgrounds studying technology, engineering, science or maths.”

My own kids did like it, and I know a lot of people involved in these kinds of activities. I wouldn’t quit them yet, as the authors suggest there are maybe other benefits, but this result can be a kind of a depressing shocker for many. On the other hand: maybe it’s a bit naive to think that small time investments – from the look of the participants – could have a big impact?

From the press release:

There is no evidence to suggest enrichment activities run to interest pupils in science, technology, engineering and maths results in significantly higher numbers of teenagers studying these subjects at A-level.

Research shows there is nothing to show offering trips to laboratories or special practical lessons alone helps increase participation in science, technology or mathematics qualifications after 16.

A new study shows that, despite these activities being embraced by individual schools and the Government and being enjoyable and providing opportunities, they have not had a direct impact on the numbers choosing to study AS or A-levels in these subjects.

The enrichment activities, which also include the work of STEM centres, support by higher education institutions and visits to schools by inspirational role models, are run to tackle a skills shortage in the UK and to improve understanding and enjoyment of these subjects.

Dr Pallavi Amitava Banerjee, from theGraduate School of Education at the University of Exeter, tracked the educational progress of children in Key Stage 3, when they are aged 11 or 12, in 2007 until they reached the end of Key Stage 5, when they are 18, using information from the official National Pupil Database. She was able to single out pupils who had participated in STEM enrichment activities thanks to data given to her by activity providers, and then see the A-level subjects they ended up choosing. Dr Banerjee did not find a clear link between subject choice and STEM A-level participation.

Dr Banerjee examined data from around 600,000 teenagers for the study – all those in Year 7 in 2007 in English state secondary schools. She was able to divide them into five groups – those who had taken part in STEM enrichment activities from the age of 11 to 16; those who had only taken part when aged 11 to 14; those who had only taken part from 14 to 16; those who took part irregularly, and those for which this information was not known. Dr Banerjee was then able to track if these students had taken STEM subjects when aged 16 to 18 by looking at the National Pupil Database.

A total of 8.7 per cent of all those who had taken part in STEM activities during school went on to take biology A-level, 7.5 per cent for chemistry, 5 per cent for physics and 12 per cent for maths. The number of students who went on to study STEM A-levels having not taken part in STEM enrichment activities were very similar – 7.3 per cent for biology, 6.1 per cent for chemistry, 4.3 per cent for physics and 10 per cent for mathematics.

Students who only took part in STEM enrichment activities during only Key Stage 4, when aged 14 to 16,had the lowest STEM participation rates. Those who participated in interventions only during KS3, but never in KS4, were found to be slightly more likely to opt to take STEM subjects.

Students who qualified for free school meals, irrespective of their participation in STEM activities were the least likely to keep studying STEM subjects.

Dr Banerjee said: “While these enrichment and engagement activities may have been enjoyable and memorable for children, there is no evidence they encouraged them to keep on studying STEM subjects. There is also no evidence that these activities increased the numbers of children from poorer homes or from ethnic minority backgrounds studying technology, engineering, science or maths.

“Of course there are many factors which can affect the decisions young people make about the subjects they choose to continue studying at age 16, but it is hard to say STEM enrichment activities have a direct impact. They are one aspect which can help.

“It is essential for policymakers to consider ifwhether, if these schemes are not working, perhaps the money could be spent elsewhere. Giventhe range of schemes being run it is also crucial to understand if any workbetter than others. Knowing the answer to this could help ensure money is spent on only the highest quality activities.

“It would also be useful to measure or investigate the other benefits – apart from continuation to AS and A-level study – of the STEM enrichment activities.”

Abstract of the study:

This paper summarises research findings from a longitudinal national evaluation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) ‘enrichment and enhancement activities’. The activities included science practical lessons, supported by ambassador visits, trips to laboratories, STEM centres and higher education institutions. The common theme for these activities was their aim to improve understanding and enjoyment of science in the short term and encourage STEM participation in the long term. The 2007 cohort across all state maintained secondary schools in England was followed up from the beginning of key stage 3 to the end of key stage 5 making use of school and pupil level datasets from the national pupil database. The study investigated whether engaging in these STEM programmes, run for 11–16 year olds, in secondary school is likely to affect subject choices during post-compulsory education? Do young people sparsely represented in STEM courses such as those from a lower socio-economic class and black ethnic minority engage better with STEM subjects because of actively participating in these activities? A direct noticeable impact of these activities was not seen on STEM take-up. The analysis presented here concludes there is no evidence to suggest continued engagement in these activities is manifested in terms of increasing or widening STEM participation.

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Educational apps for kids? Interactivity can either help or hinder learning.

It’s funny how I received a question today from someone in the audience and in the way back home I discover a new study on the same topic. This new study looks at the influence of touchscreens for learning, more specific for toddlers. And it’s a bit more complicated than iPads are good or bad. This study published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that Educational apps for kids can be valuable learning tools, but there’s still a lot left to understand about how to best design them.

From the press release:

“Our experiments are a reminder that just because touchscreens allow for physical interaction, it doesn’t mean that it’s always beneficial,” says Dr. Colleen Russo-Johnson, lead author of the study and who completed this work as a graduate student at Vanderbilt University.

Smartphones and tablets have become so pervasive that, even in lower-income households, 90% of American children have used a touchscreen by the age of 2. Eighty percent of educational apps in the iTunes store are designed for children–especially toddlers and preschoolers. But recent research has shown that sometimes all those chimes and animations hinder learning, prompting the question, how well do we understand what it takes to make a truly beneficial learning app?

“Children interact with touch screens and the embedded media content in vastly different ways and this impacts their ability to learn from the content,” says Russo-Johnson. “Our experiment focused on how children interacted with touchscreen devices–on a more basic level–by stripping away fancy design features that vary from app to app and that are not always beneficial.”

Using a custom-made, streamlined learning app, Russo-Johnson and her colleagues showed that children as young as 2 could use the app to learn new words such as the fictional names of a variety of newly-introduced toys (designed specifically for the study). Unsurprisingly, slightly older children (age 4 to 5) were able to learn more than the younger ones (age 2 to 3) and they were also able to follow directions better–such as only tapping when instructed to do so.

The researchers went on to show that the excessive tapping by younger children seemed to go hand-in-hand with lower scores of a trait called self-regulation. As in this study, self-regulation is commonly measured by seeing how long children can keep themselves from eating a cracker that is placed in front of them–after they’ve been told to wait until they hear a signal that it’s ok to eat the cracker.

To complement this first study (which included 77 children), Russo-Johnson and her colleagues designed a second app to see which interactions–tapping, dragging, or simply watching–were better for learning new words.

Somewhat surprisingly, across this next group of 170 2- to 4-year olds, no single type of interaction proved to consistently be the best. But there were differences depending on age, gender, and the extent of prior exposure to touchscreens at home. Boys appeared to benefit more from watching, whereas dragging seemed best for girls and children with the most touchscreen experience.

These results complement the growing body of research on identifying effective interactive features, as well as providing insight into how apps might be tailored to fit the learning needs of different children.

“I hope that this research will inform academics and app developers alike,” says Russo-Johnson. “Educational app developers should be mindful of utilizing interactivity in meaningful ways that don’t distract from the intended educational benefits, and, when possible, allow for customization so parents and educators can determine the best settings for their children.”

This study is part of a broader Frontiers collection of articles on the influence of touch screen tablets on children’s lives.

Abstract of the report:

Touchscreen devices differ from passive screen media in promoting physical interaction with events on the screen. Two studies examined how young children’s screen-directed actions related to self-regulation (Study 1) and word learning (Study 2). In Study 1, 30 2-year-old children’s tapping behaviors during game play were related to their self-regulation, measured using Carlson’s snack task: girls and children with high self-regulation tapped significantly less during instruction portions of an app (including object labeling events) than did boys and children with low self-regulation. Older preschoolers (N = 47, aged 4–6 years) tapped significantly less during instruction than 2-year-olds did. Study 2 explored whether the particular way in which 170 children (2–4 years of age) interacted with a touchscreen app affected their learning of novel object labels. Conditions in which children tapped or dragged a named object to move it across the screen required different amounts of effort and focus, compared to a non-interactive (watching) condition. Age by sex interactions revealed a particular benefit of dragging (a motorically challenging behavior) for preschool girls’ learning compared to that of boys, especially for girls older than age 2. Boys benefited more from watching than dragging. Children from low socioeconomic status families learned more object names when dragging objects versus tapping them, possibly because tapping is a prepotent response that does not require thoughtful attention. Parents and industry experts should consider age, sex, self-regulation, and the physical requirements of children’s engagement with touchscreens when designing and using educational content.

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