Category Archives: Review

Believe the scientist or not, it also depends on the quality of the audio

It seems a detail, and actually it is. But the devil is in the details in this case for sure as this new study shows that when people listen to recordings of a scientist presenting their work, the quality of audio has a significant impact on whether people believed what they were hearing. Even worse: this was regardless of who the researcher was or what they were talking about. Blimey!

Little extra information not mentioned in both the press release nor in the abstract:

  • For experiment 1: ninety-seven Amazon Mechanical Turk workers listened and responded to both segments.
  • For experiment 2: Ninety-nine Amazon Mechanical Turk workers listened and responded to both radio segments.

From the press release:

Dr Newman, of the ANU Research School of Psychology, said the results showed when it comes to communicating science, style can triumph over substance.

“When people are assessing the credibility of information, most of the time people are making a judgement based on how something feels,” Dr Newman said.”Our results showed that when the sound quality was poor, the participants thought the researcher wasn’t as intelligent, they didn’t like them as much and found their research less important.”

The study used experiments where people viewed video clips of scientists speaking at conferences. One group of participants heard the recordings in clear high-quality audio, while the other group heard the same recordings with poor-quality audio.

Participants were then asked to evaluate the researchers and their work. Those who listened to the poorer quality audio consistently evaluated the scientists as less intelligent and their research as less important.

In a second experiment, researchers upped the ante and conducted the same experiment using renowned scientists discussing their work on the well-known US Science Friday radio program. This time the recordings included audio of the scientists being introduced with their qualifications and institutional affiliations.”It made no difference,” she said.”As soon as we reduced the audio quality, all of a sudden the scientists and their research lost credibility.”

As with the first experiments, participants thought the research was worse, the scientists were less competent and they also reported finding their work less interesting.

Dr Newman said in a time when genuine science is struggling to be heard above fake news and alternate facts, researchers need to consider not only the content of their messages, but features of the delivery.

“Another recent study showed false information travels six times faster than real information on Twitter,” she said.”Our results show that it’s not just about who you are and what you are saying, it’s about how your work is presented.”

A research paper for the study has been published in the journals Science Communication.

Abstract of the study:

Increasingly, scientific communications are recorded and made available online. While researchers carefully draft the words they use, the quality of the recording is at the mercy of technical staff. Does it make a difference? We presented identical conference talks (Experiment 1) and radio interviews from NPR’s Science Friday (Experiment 2) in high or low audio quality and asked people to evaluate the researcher and the research they presented. Despite identical content, people evaluated the research and researcher less favorably when the audio quality was low, suggesting that audio quality can influence impressions of science.

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A report of the OECD with a plea for more pedagogy in thinking about education, great but…

There is a new report by the OECD called Teachers as Designers of Learning Environments: the Importance of Innovative Pedagogies, and a Teaching In Focus summary that can be read here.

The bottom line is the following:

Identifying clusters of innovative pedagogies is the first step in developing a broad international consensus of pedagogy across the teaching profession. Such a framework needs to start with the argument that teachers are high-level professionals whose professionalism revolves around collaborative pedagogical expertise. To call for a pedagogical framework is to recognise the key role of pedagogy, not to ask policies to dictate the best teaching methods. It is a matter of widening the skills of teachers to promote more interactive, horizontal and caring relationships with students. In focusing on the role of teachers as creative professionals, a framework for pedagogies calls for a form of teaching that retains a deliberate form of lesson planning that promotes student centredness and active participation.

Finally, by starting to think about the relationships of teaching and learning around natural learning inclinations, such as play, creativity, collaboration, and inquiry, the clusters of innovative pedagogies consciously promote the engagement of learners and match the fundamentals of learning to improve the professional competences of teachers.

I know there is often a confusion between didactics and pedagogy, something the authors of the report also are a bit blurry about, but in this report there is another mistake being made imho. This report is not a plea for more pedagogy in education – which I think would have been correct – but for more of a certain vision of pedagogy in education. If you read the recent work by Biesta or Furedi, one could think that present discussion in thinking about pedagogy are already a bit further than the Rousseau-influence one still can taste in this report (I wrote an academic paper on this new line of thinking, but sadly enough I wrote it in Dutch). Recently Simons and Masschelein wrote a book (again in Dutch, I did try to convince my publisher to translate the book into English) in which they looked at what student- or pupil-centered actually means and they end up with much more questions.

But there is more. Again in my personal opinion, I do think that pedagogy and pedagogical innovations shouldn’t be blind for insights from didactical – evidence-informed – and cognitive psychological or epistemological research – the distinction between primary and secondary learning processes – , or even research by the OECD themselves showing that inquiry based learning does have issues.

I know there seems to be a polarization – again – in thinking about education, but everybody who thinks that it is centered around two poles, is making a mistake. E.g. an author such as Biesta has questioned both PISA and the OECD as evidence-based education that has been adapted by people who are at least regarded by some as more conservative. I do think there is an interesting but broad field of thinking about education, and while I’m certainly pro evidence-informed, I also see the need for relationship and subscribe the importance of thinking about the why of education.  That’s why I do think this report is too one-dimensional in its approach. Btw, I also read the working paper related to this report and blimey couldn’t find a Hattie, Biesta, or other Furedis being mentioned at all. They do refer to a lot of work on ICT in education.

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Are multi-age classes a bad idea for our youngest children?

My wife discussed this new study past weekend with me and it’s quite fascinating. To be clear: the title of this post is something the researchers Ansari and Pianta published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly don’t actually state in their paper, but based on their research it is a question one could ask.

What is their research in brief:

  • This study examined heterogeneity in treatment effects of a coaching intervention.
  • We focus on the classroom age diversity as a potential moderator of treatment.
  • Coaching effects for children were greatest in classrooms with less age diversity.
  • The intervention had no benefits for children in classrooms with greater age diversity.
  • These differences were attributed largely to the role of classroom instructional quality.

So: coaching teachers to have better results worked, unless there was classroom age diversity? To be clear: this doesn’t say as such that multi-age groups in preschool are a bad idea as such. The study discusses a specific coaching intervention MyTeachingPartner and noticed that the effects of this intervention differed based on the differences in the age-composition of classes. And even if you look a bit closer there are is still one positive effect noticeable for the language (more specific the vocabulary) of four-year olds if they are in the same group as five-year olds, but this seems to be an exception to the rule that on average multi-age groups less good. The only way it can be compensated seems to be when the teachers are well-trained. I wrote compensated, not to have a positive effect. So, to conclude, read this excerpt from the conclusion:

Regardless of the underlying reasons for the lack of MTP impacts for children in age-diverse settings, these aforementioned findings are particularly important in light of emerging studies done in preschool programs that serve children of different ages, which have documented only small associations between classroom quality and children’s school success (e.g., Keys et al., 2013; McCoy et al., 2015; Weiland et al., 2013). That is, one potential explanation for the smaller than expected benefits of classroom quality in the existing literature is the age composition of classrooms, which requires continued empirical attention given the rising number of 3-year-olds attending preschool programs across the country. When taken together, what these results suggest is that PD interventions, including the MTP program, should put greater effort in recognizing the challenges that come with teaching in classrooms with greater age diversity. Considering that the majority of schoolteachers feel ill prepared to provide children with differentiated instruction (Manship, Farber, Smith, & Drummond, 2016), one potential target is helping teachers provide children with learning opportunities that match their needs, interests, and mode of learning. An important first step, however, is developing the tools necessary to measure these practices (for further discussion, see: Burchinal, 2017).

Abstract of the study:

Heterogeneity in treatment effects of MyTeachingPartner (MTP), a professional development coaching intervention focused on improving teacher–student interactions, was examined for 1407 4-year-old preschoolers who were enrolled in classrooms that served children between the ages of 3 and 5. On average, there were no consistent impacts of MTP coaching on children’s school performance, but there was evidence of moderation in treatment effects as a function of classroom age diversity, defined as the proportion of children who were not 4 years of age. MTP coaching improved children’s expressive vocabulary, literacy skills, and inhibitory control in classrooms that served primarily 4-year-olds and were less age diverse. These effects were in large part due to MTP causing improvements in teachers’ instructional support that in turn was more predictive of children’s skills in less age-diverse classrooms. Results also indicated that the nature of age diversity did not matter; a greater number of 3- or 5-year-old classmates equally reduced the benefits of the MTP intervention for 4-year-olds. The sole exception occurred for receptive vocabulary, in which case, MTP was most effective in classrooms with a larger number of older (but not younger) children. Taken together, these results suggest that under the right circumstances, the benefits of professional development that improve early childhood educators’ teaching practices can also translate into benefits for students.


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Looking at the research on screen time (Best Evidence in Brief)

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and this time I’m picking this study from their overview:

Courtney Nugent and Lauren Supplee from Child Trends have released a research brief on five ways screen time can benefit children and families. The brief looks at guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and links to multiple sources of research on the topic, such as journal articles in the International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction and Infant and Child Development.
The five recommendations are as follows:
  • Certain kinds of digital tools can support family interactions. For example, using video chat (Skype, Facetime, etc.) allows family members to connect with one another when in-person interactions may not be possible.
  • It’s important to support children’s healthy development through co-viewing and co-playing. For example, it is important that parents answer and ask questions about the material they are co-viewing, point out important concepts, and blend the content they are viewing together into their daily lives and routines.
  • Parents can choose high-quality digital content for their child’s viewing. The brief notes that websites like Common Sense Media, PBS Kids, and Sesame Workshop can help parents decide which apps and programs are best for their children.
  • Like physical tools, digital tools can promote school readiness. According to the brief,research suggests that preschoolers can learn best from well-designed e-books with limited distracting features (such as games and sounds), and when parents’ questions focus on the stories themselves rather than the features of the electronic medium (such as pushing buttons).
  • Digital tools can support parent and child togetherness. For example, technology can elicit exciting topics for conversation and encourage family members to spend time with one another.

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Is there really a system 1 and a system 2 in our mind?

A lot of people have read the book by Kahneman Thinking fast and slow, which actually refers to the two thought-systems we as people would have one that is thinking slow, more rationally and one thinking faster, more emotionally driven.

But is this true. A new paper by Melnikoff and Bargh that I found via a tweet by Neuroskeptic collected arguments to say no. Or wait, it’s not really saying it isn’t so, the authors rather try to explain that it ain’t that simple.

I’ll share with you this part of their conclusion which makes it more clear:

We suspect that the response of many researchers when they hear ‘there are not two types of processes’ will be to dismiss the claim out of hand. ‘Of course there are two types of processes. There are unconscious automatic ones, and there are conscious deliberate ones.’ However, we are asking the reader to check their work before accepting the intuitive answer.

Consider this analogy: we say that there are two types of cars, convertibles and hard-tops. No debate there. But now we say: there are two types of cars, automatic and manual transmission. Yes, those are certainly two different types of cars. And still further: there are two types of cars, gasoline and electric motors. Or: foreign and domestic. The point is that all of these are different types of cars. But we all know that there are not just two types of cars overall: convertibles that all have manual transmission, gasoline engines, and are manufactured overseas; and hard-tops that all have automatic transmission, electric engines, and are made in our own country. All around us we see counterexamples, automobiles that are some other combination of these basic features.

So, the issue is not whether mental processes differ on various dimensions – they certainly do. The issue, we argue, is that the degree of alignment between the various dimensions has not been tested. Furthermore, as outlined above, entire swaths of psychological phenomena are characterized by misalignments of these dimensions. Perhaps more troubling, the underlying dimensions themselves lack internal consistency – a problem that, if irremediable, is absolutely fatal to the dual-process typology.

It is time that we as a field come to terms with these issues. With institutions like the World Bank and Institute of Medicine now endorsing our highly speculative and frequently misleading typology, we cannot afford to wait. Luckily, the solution is straightforward: researchers should rigorously explore each feature of a given process one by one, without making assumptions or drawing conclusions about other features that are not being studied. For too long the dual-process typology has obscured the rich diversity of the human mind. Let us embrace that diversity instead.

Abstract of the paper:

It is often said that there are two types of psychological processes: one that is intentional, controllable, conscious, and inefficient, and another that is unintentional, uncontrollable, unconscious, and efficient. Yet, there have been persistent and increasing objections to this widely influential dual-process typology. Critics point out that the ‘two types’ framework lacks empirical support, contradicts well-established findings, and is internally incoherent. Moreover, the untested and untenable assumption that psychological phenomena can be partitioned into two types, we argue, has the consequence of systematically thwarting scientific progress. It is time that we as a field come to terms with these issues. In short, the dual-process typology is a convenient and seductive myth, and we think cognitive science can do better.


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A new study on learning styles and guess what?

It’s not really the test that Pashler et al suggested, but still. Well, just read the abstract:

The concept and existence of learning styles has been fraught with controversy, and recent studies have thrown their existence into doubt. Yet, many students still hold to the conventional wisdom that learning styles are legitimate, and may adapt their outside of class study strategies to match these learning styles. Thus, this study aims to assess if undergraduate anatomy students are more likely to utilize study strategies that align with their hypothetical learning styles (using the VARK analysis from Fleming and Mills, 1992, Improve Acad. 11:137–155) and, if so, does this alignment correlate with their outcome in an anatomy course. Relatedly, this study examines whether students’ VARK learning styles are correlated with course outcomes regardless of the students’ study strategies, and whether any study strategies are correlated with course outcomes, regardless of student‐specific VARK results. A total of 426 anatomy students from the 2015 and 2016 Fall semesters completed a study strategies survey and an online VARK questionnaire. Results demonstrated that most students did not report study strategies that correlated with their VARK assessment, and that student performance in anatomy was not correlated with their score in any VARK categories. Rather, some specific study strategies (irrespective of VARK results), such as use of the virtual microscope, were found to be positively correlated with final class grade. However, the alignment of these study strategies with VARK results had no correlation with anatomy course outcomes. Thus, this research provides further evidence that the conventional wisdom about learning styles should be rejected by educators and students alike.

Oh, the title of the study by Polly R. Husmann and Valerie Dean O’Loughlin: Another nail in the coffin for learning styles? Disparities among undergraduate anatomy students’ study strategies, class performance, and reported VARK learning styles

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There is something strange with most studies on the effects of meditation

Yesterday I found out about this new review study and meta-analysis on meditation via a tweet by Neuroskeptic. What did the researchers find? Well, read on…

First the good news:

Despite these high hopes, our analysis suggests that meditating is likely to have a positive, but still relatively limited effect in making individuals feel or act in a substantially more socially connected, or less aggressive and prejudiced way. Compared to doing no new emotionally engaging activity, it might make one feel moderately more compassionate or empathic…

Well, that’s not that bad, there is an effect but it’s moderate.

But there is more:

…but our findings suggest that these effects may be, at least in part, the result of methodological frailties, such as biases introduced by the meditation teacher, the type of control group used and the beliefs and expectations of participants about the power of meditation.

To make it more concrete:

…compassion levels only increased under two conditions: when the teacher in the meditation intervention was a co-author in the published study; and when the study employed a passive (waiting list) control group but not an active one.

The researchers aren’t saying there isn’t an effect, what they are saying is:

…the adaptation of spiritual practices into the lab suffers from methodological weaknesses and is partly immersed in theoretical mist. Before good research can be conducted on the prosocial effects of meditation, these problems need to be addressed.

Abstract of the report:

Many individuals believe that meditation has the capacity to not only alleviate mental-illness but to improve prosociality. This article systematically reviewed and meta-analysed the effects of meditation interventions on prosociality in randomized controlled trials of healthy adults. Five types of social behaviours were identified: compassion, empathy, aggression, connectedness and prejudice. Although we found a moderate increase in prosociality following meditation, further analysis indicated that this effect was qualified by two factors: type of prosociality and methodological quality. Meditation interventions had an effect on compassion and empathy, but not on aggression, connectedness or prejudice. We further found that compassion levels only increased under two conditions: when the teacher in the meditation intervention was a co-author in the published study; and when the study employed a passive (waiting list) control group but not an active one. Contrary to popular beliefs that meditation will lead to prosocial changes, the results of this meta-analysis showed that the effects of meditation on prosociality were qualified by the type of prosociality and methodological quality of the study. We conclude by highlighting a number of biases and theoretical problems that need addressing to improve quality of research in this area.

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Effective reading programs for secondary students (Best evidence in brief)

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and this time I’m picking this study from their overview:

Ariane Baye from the University of Liege and Cynthia Lake, Amanda Inns, and Robert Slavin from our Center for Research and Reform in Education have completed an update to their report on effective secondary reading programs. The paper, A Synthesis of Quantitative Research on Reading Programs for Secondary Students, focuses on 69 studies that used random assignment (n=62) or high-quality quasi-experiments (n=7) to evaluate outcomes of 51 programs on widely accepted measures of reading.
The authors found that categories of programs using one-to-one and small-group tutoring, cooperative learning, whole-school approaches including organizational reforms such as teacher teams, and writing-focused approaches showed positive outcomes. Individual approaches in a few other categories also showed positive impacts. These approaches included programs emphasizing social studies/science, structured strategies, and personalized and group/personalization rotation approaches for struggling readers. Programs that provide a daily extra period of reading and those utilizing technology were no more effective, on average, than programs that did not provide these resources.
The findings suggest that secondary readers benefit more from socially and cognitively engaging instruction than from additional reading periods or technology.

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A preregistered test of Growth mindset produces a .03 improvement in GPA (and sets a gold standard)

I have had a couple of people tweeting this study today and I can understand why:

  • This study is a preregistered test which means that the researchers give their plans free beforehand so they can’t alter anything afterwards.
  • The study has a huge sample (12,542),
  • There was a field setting (65 U.S. public schools),
  • They also used independent research consultancy for many aspects of the research process,

To sum it up:

But what are the results?

The good:

While this may seem small, do note, this is actually not bad for a very low-cost intervention. But it’s more nuanced as the researchers state:

…the growth mindset intervention effect was heterogeneous in predictable ways. Some sub-groups of students (lower-achievers) and schools (those with supportive behavioral norms) showed appreciably larger increases in grades.

But what do we learn from this, another favorite tweep sums it up as follows:

And also this question remains:

You can check the preprint here from which this is the abstract:

A pressing global challenge is to identify interventions that improve adolescents’ developmental trajectories. But no intervention will work for all young people everywhere. It is critical then to study the heterogeneity of intervention effects in a way that is generalizable and replicable. In the National Study of Learning Mindsets (N = 12,542) researchers randomly assigned 9th grade students in a representative sample of 65 U.S. public schools to a growth mindset intervention, which conveyed that intellectual abilities are not fixed but can be developed. The brief (~50-minute), scalable and low-cost intervention reduced by 3 percentage points the rate at which adolescents in the U.S. were off-track for graduation at the end of the year, corresponding to an estimated benefit of approximately 100,000 adolescents per year. This is the first experimental evidence that an intervention can improve adolescents’ educational trajectories in a national probability sample. Yet the growth mindset intervention effect was heterogeneous in predictable ways. Some sub-groups of students (lower-achievers) and schools (those with supportive behavioral norms) showed appreciably larger increases in grades. Heterogeneity findings were reproduced in a conservative Bayesian “sum-of-regression-trees” analysis, which guards against false discoveries. These findings lead to novel hypotheses about ways to enhance intervention effects and target public policies. Findings also illustrate the power of even slight adjustments in motivational priorities to create enduring change during adolescence.



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The importance of conscientiousness, responsibility, aspiration as a student for later life (study)

This morning I found this study via Larry Ferlazzo and Dirk Van Damme shared the study also on twitter. Larry stated that this won’t come as a surprise for many teachers, but still. New research by Marion Spengler and her colleagues show that being a responsible student, maintaining an interest in school and having good reading and writing skills will not only help a teenager get good grades in high school – no surprise there – but they could also be predictors of educational and occupational success decades later. And before you start shouting anything, more important: regardless of IQ, parental socioeconomic status or other personality factors!

These personality factors got me a bit confused at first, but the researchers explain the differences with what they wanted to single out in relation to school behavior:

Personality traits and student characteristics can both be considered part of the domain of personality. Prototypical student characteristics include factors such as self-concept of ability, self- efficacy, academic persistence, test anxiety, and interest in school and specific school topics. The narrower constructs that emerge out of contextualized assessment systems are typically thought of as social–cognitive or motivational constructs (see Rieger et al., 2017). Traits, in contrast encompass constructs like conscientious- ness and grit, and are presumed to be more stable and lead to a consistent response and behavior across different situations (e.g., Mischel, 2004). Social–cognitive constructs are presumed to be less stable and are often constrained to specific contexts, such as school or even a topic within school (e.g., math self-efficacy).

And so the researchers state:

It highlights the potential importance of what students do in school and how they react to their experiences during that time. It also highlights the possibility that things that happen in specific periods of one’s life may play out in ways far more significant than we expect.

While this quote from the conclusion hints an important element of nurture, I do think the most important question actually remains: what is the influence of the schools themselves in this and what is the influence of the students, aka nature-nurture. In their introduction the researchers mention a lot of elements such as perseverance and impulse control that we’ve known already from executive-function research. How these functions can be trained with a long standing effect has still to be proven without any doubt.

Still I think this study will deliver a lot of food for further thoughts!

From the press release:

“Educational researchers, political scientists and economists are increasingly interested in the traits and skills that parents, teachers and schools should foster in children to enhance chances of success later in life,” said lead author Marion Spengler, PhD, of the University of Tübingen. “Our research found that specific behaviors in high school have long-lasting effects for one’s later life.”

The research was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Spengler and her coauthors analyzed data collected by the American Institutes for Research from 346,660 U.S. high school students in 1960, along with follow-up data from 81,912 of those students 11 years later and 1,952 of them 50 years later. The initial high school phase measured a variety of student behaviors and attitudes as well as personality traits, cognitive abilities, parental socioeconomic status and demographic factors. The follow-up surveys measured overall educational attainment, income and occupational prestige.

Being a responsible student, showing an interest in school and having fewer problems with reading and writing were all significantly associated with greater educational attainment and finding a more prestigious job both 11 years and 50 years after high school. These factors were also all associated with higher income at the 50-year mark. Most effects remained even when researchers controlled for parental socioeconomic status, cognitive ability and other broad personality traits such as conscientiousness.

While the findings weren’t necessarily surprising, Spengler noted how reliably specific behaviors people showed in school were able to predict later success.

Further analysis of the data suggested that much of the effect could be explained by overall educational achievement, according to Spengler.

“Student characteristics and behaviors were rewarded in high school and led to higher educational attainment, which in turn was related to greater occupational prestige and income later in life,” she said. “This study highlights the possibility that certain behaviors at crucial periods could have long-term consequences for a person’s life.”

Abstract of the study:

In this study, we investigated the role of student characteristics and behaviors in a longitudinal study over a 50-year timespan (using a large U.S. representative sample of high school students). We addressed the question of whether behaviors in school have any long-lasting effects for one‘s later life. Specifically, we investigated the role of being a responsible student, interest in school, writing skills, and reading skills in predicting educational attainment, occupational prestige, and income 11 years (N 81,912) and 50 years (N 1,952) after high school. We controlled for parental socioeconomic status, IQ, and broad personality traits in all analyses. We found that student characteristics and behaviors in adolescence predicted later educational and occupational success above and beyond parental socioeconomic status, IQ, and broad personality traits. Having higher interest in school was related to higher educational attainment at years 11 and 50, higher occupational prestige at year 11, and higher income at year 50. Higher levels of being a responsible student were related to higher educational attainment and higher occupational prestige at years 11 and 50. This was the first longitudinal study to test the role of student characteristics and behaviors over and above broad personality traits. It highlights the potential importance of what students do in school and how they react to their experiences during that time. It also highlights the possibility that things that happen in specific periods of one’s life may play out in ways far more significant than we expect.

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