Category Archives: Technology

New study on smartphone use and academic performance (spoiler: it’s bad)

This morning big news in our Belgian media about a new study by Stijn Baert and his colleagues in which they checked the impact of smartphone usage on the academic performance of the students:

In this study, we contributed to recent literature concerning the association between smartphone use and educational performance by providing the first causal estimates of the effect of the former on the latter. To this end, we analysed unique data on 696 first-year university students in Belgium. We found that a one-standard-deviation increase in their overall smartphone use yields a decrease in their average exam score of about one point (out of 20). This negative relationship is robust to the use of alternative indicators of smartphone use and academic performance. As our results add to the literature evidence for heavy smartphone use not only being associated with lower exam marks but also causing lower marks, we believe that policy-makers should at least invest in information and awareness campaigns to highlight this trade-off.

I have to admit that I do think that while the researchers have taken a lot into account, there always still can be something else maybe causing this differences. The researchers have attempted to bypass this:

This study is the first to attempt to measure the causal impact of (overall) smartphone use on educational performance. To this end, we exploit data from 696 first-year students at two Belgian universities, who were surveyed in December 2016 using multiple scales on smartphone use as well as predictors of this smartphone use and a battery of questions concerning (potential) other drivers of success at university. This information is merged with the students’ scores on their first exams, taken in January 2017. We analyse the merged data by means of instrumental variable estimation techniques. More concretely, to be able to correctly identify the influence of smartphone use on academic achievement, in a first stage, the respondents’ smartphone use is predicted by diverging sets of variables that are highly significantly associated with smartphone use, but not directly associated with educational performance. In a second stage, the exam scores are regressed on this exogenous prediction of smartphone use and the largest set of control variables used in the literature to date.

In the interview this morning on the radio, the researchers didn’t plea for a total ban of smartphones, but still think it can be a very important element for students to take into consideration.

Abstract of the study:

After a decade of correlational research, this study is the first to measure the causal impact of (general) smartphone use on educational performance. To this end, we merge survey data on general smartphone use, exogenous predictors of this use, and other drivers of academic success with the exam scores of first-year students at two Belgian universities. The resulting data are analysed with instrumental variable estimation techniques. A one-standard-deviation increase in daily smartphone use yields a decrease in average exam scores of about one point (out of 20). When relying on ordinary least squares estimations, the magnitude of this effect is substantially underestimated.

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Does VR help to learn? Well, this app doesn’t seem to.

I have to admit: despite the fact that I get sick every time I’m using virtual reality goggles, I really think VR and augmented reality (AR) is just impressive. But… does it help learning. It is too early to tell, but this study by Makransky et al that I found via a tweet by Paul Kirschner is pretty clear: in this study VR doesn’t improve learning . The study is extra interesting as it looks at some important principles for learning such as the redundancy principle (Mayer was involved in the study), and while the students did get more motivated, the learning was not better (even worse). Do note that the the amount of participants was pretty low: 52 (22 males and 30 females) students from a large European university.

Also interesting is to know what application the researchers were using:

The virtual simulation used in this experiment was on the topic of mammalian transient protein expression and was developed by the simulation development company, Labster. It was designed to facilitate learning within the field of biology at a university level by allowing the user to virtually work through the procedures in a lab by using and interacting with the relevant lab equipment and by teaching the essential content through an inquiry-based learning approach.

In short:

 

  • The consequences of adding immersive virtual reality to a simulation was examined.
  • The impact of the level of immersion on the redundancy principle was investigated.
  • EEG was used to obtain a direct measure of cognitive processing during learning.
  • Students reported higher presence but learned less in the immersive VR condition.
  • Students also had higher cognitive load based on EEG in the immersive VR condition.

Abstract of the study:

Virtual reality (VR) is predicted to create a paradigm shift in education and training, but there is little empirical evidence of its educational value. The main objectives of this study were to determine the consequences of adding immersive VR to virtual learning simulations, and to investigate whether the principles of multimedia learning generalize to immersive VR. Furthermore, electroencephalogram (EEG) was used to obtain a direct measure of cognitive processing during learning. A sample of 52 university students participated in a 2 × 2 experimental cross-panel design wherein students learned from a science simulation via a desktop display (PC) or a head-mounted display (VR); and the simulations contained on-screen text or on-screen text with narration. Across both text versions, students reported being more present in the VR condition (d = 1.30); but they learned less (d = 0.80), and had significantly higher cognitive load based on the EEG measure (d = 0.59). In spite of its motivating properties (as reflected in presence ratings), learning science in VR may overload and distract the learner (as reflected in EEG measures of cognitive load), resulting in less opportunity to build learning outcomes (as reflected in poorer learning outcome test performance).

 

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An antidote to a paper warning you for wifi (and other examples of junk science)

I really like science, I like the self-correcting part of science even more.

Check this paper that was published by Sage and Burgio earlier this year:

Mobile phones and other wireless devices that produce electromagnetic fields (EMF) and pulsed radiofrequency radiation (RFR) are widely documented to cause potentially harmful health impacts that can be detrimental to young people. New epigenetic studies are profiled in this review to account for some neurodevelopmental and neurobehavioral changes due to exposure to wireless technologies. Symptoms of retarded memory, learning, cognition, attention, and behavioral problems have been reported in numerous studies and are similarly manifested in autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, as a result of EMF and RFR exposures where both epigenetic drivers and genetic (DNA) damage are likely contributors. Technology benefits can be realized by adopting wired devices for education to avoid health risk and promote academic achievement.

Sounds pretty alarming, no? Should we worry? Well, no.

The respected journal Child Development recently published a commentary that attributed a number of negative health consequences to RF radiation, from cancer to infertility and even autism (Sage Burgio, 2017). It is our view that this piece has potential to cause serious harm and should never have been published. But how do we justify such damning verdict? In considering our responses, we
realized that this case raised more general issues about distinguishing scientically valid from invalid views when evaluating environmental impacts on physical and psychological health, and we offer here some more general guidelines for editors and reviewers who may be confronted with similar issues. As shown in Table 1, we identify seven questions that can be asked about causal claims, using the Sage and Burgio (2017) article to illustrate these.
That’s right David Grimes and Dorothy Bischop took a closer look to the alarming article, and well…

Abstract of the paper by David Grimes and Dorothy Bischop that can be downloaded here:

Exposure to nonionizing radiation used in wireless communication remains a contentious topic in the public mindwhile the overwhelming scientic evidence to date suggests that microwave and radio frequencies used in modern communications are safe, public apprehension remains considerable. A recent article in Child Development has caused concern by alleging a causative connection between nonionizing radiation and a host of conditions, including autism and cancer. This commentary outlines why these claims are devoid of merit, and why they should not have been given a scientic veneer of legitimacy. The commentary also outlines some hallmarks of potentially dubious science, with the hope that authors, reviewers, and editors might be better able to avoid suspect scientic claims.

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A story about iPad-schools in the Netherlands

Quite often you can see hurray-news being spread virally when discussing technology in education, when things go wrong or turn out less successful than planned news suddenly seem to go much less viral although you will always be able to find people who like a dig at technology-driven reform. I do think that sharing stories about reform-attempts that didn’t go so well is important. Not to say ‘haha’ or ‘duh’, but to learn from those cases. Think of it as a kind of air crash investigation, maybe we should have make such a team.

This weekend Dutch newspaper Het Parool brought a reconstruction how a new school ‘De Ontplooiing’ in Amsterdam went horribly wrong. This school has become famous as one of the very first Steve Jobs schools in the Netherlands, a school vision that heavily relied on the iPad. People from all over the world came to visit this flagship school and one of the people behind this O4NT-vision still sells this story around the globe.

But… this school is in bad shape. Het Parool describes a couple of things:

  • One element has nothing to do with the school in itself: some of the children who were brought to the school were children who were having trouble already in their original schools. This is difficult for any new school to handle.
  • There was strong vision on personalized learning, but… to much freedom, combined with floating hours, made it very difficult for children to learn. In the newspaper there are testimonies how children leaving this school who go back to ‘normal’ schools are way behind in math and reading as it was not that important.
  • Over the half of the other Steve Jobs schools in the Netherlands have left the original vision. Often not because they didn’t like the vision or because it didn’t work, but because it became to expensive to use the software and the vision of the organization.

When you look at the first element, this is something the school or the O4NT-vision couldn’t help, but the second and third element is something different. A air crash investigation team would mention probably how some of the school leaders involved were lacking experience. They would maybe also mention that the for profit-idea in education maybe didn’t help. “Lack of vision” wouldn’t be mentioned as there was truly a vision that was more than ‘use an iPad’. Some of the educational scientists in the team would point out that parts of this vision was doomed from the start, but this would probably remain a discussion, as it has been for over decades – long before the iPad was made. There are more school approaches with a lot of freedom, with strong defenders and as strong opponents.

The sad thing is – as Paul Kirschner pointed out on Twitter – that this has been experiment that went wrong for a lot of children. An experiment that never would have been possible if it were a real scientific experiment as it would never would have passed an ethical committee. Maybe the air crash investigation team could write up what not to do when trying new experiments like this. Not to make experimenting impossible, but just to make sure the changes for a next plain crashing (think Altschool, think Carpe Diem) would diminish.

(I’ve written quite a lot about these schools in the past, but most of it in Dutch. Check here and here. There is a translate button on the blog).

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Good read: Silicon Valley Tried to Reinvent Schools. Now It’s Rebooting

Found this non-surprising Bloomberg-article via Tom Bennett. Why am I not surprised, well because I’ve written about this before: the technology often overlooks the old roots of what they are saying. Many of the ideas have been tried before… But also because of what Morozov has coined as solutionism, the naive idea that there are easy – often technological – solutions for complex problems.

But read the article for yourself, this is an excerpt:

The education system is one of the few industries that has resisted technological reinvention. It’s not for a lack of capital. Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Netflix Inc.’s Reed Hastings, Salesforce.com Inc.’s Marc Benioff and many others have poured money into reform efforts, with mixed results. Zuckerberg backed a program similar to AltSchool at Summit Public Schools, a U.S. charter school network that uses Facebook technology.

I’m suddenly wondering, is education that last one small village in Armorica that isn’t under control of the Roman Facebook Empire?

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A new form of self-harm: cyberbullying yourself

I hadn’t heard this one before, according to this new paper a new form of self-harm in youth has emerged and is cause for concern. The behavior: ‘digital self-harm’ or ‘self-trolling,’ where adolescents post, send or share mean things about themselves anonymously online. The concern: it is happening at alarming rates and could be a cry for help. This new FAU study is the first to examine the extent of this behavior and is the most comprehensive investigation of this understudied problem and I was quite surprised to see that in a big sample 6% actually did this kind of self-harm.

From the press release:

Adolescents harming themselves with cuts, scratches or burns has gained a lot of attention over the years not just because of the physical damage and internal turmoil, but also because it has been linked to suicide. More recently, a new form of self-harm in youth has emerged and is cause for concern, warns a researcher and bullying expert from Florida Atlantic University.

The behavior: “digital self-harm,” “self-trolling,” or “self-cyberbullying,” where adolescents post, send or share mean things about themselves anonymously online. The concern: it is happening at alarming rates and could be a cry for help.

A new FAU study is the first to examine the extent of this behavior and is the most comprehensive investigation of this understudied problem.

“The idea that someone would cyberbully themselves first gained public attention with the tragic suicide of 14-year-old Hannah Smith in 2013 after she anonymously sent herself hurtful messages on a social media platform just weeks before she took her own life,” said Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., study author, a professor in FAU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice in the College for Design and Social Inquiry, and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center. “We knew we had to study this empirically, and I was stunned to discover that about 1 in 20 middle- and high-school-age students have bullied themselves online. This finding was totally unexpected, even though I’ve been studying cyberbullying for almost 15 years.”

Hinduja and his collaborator from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D., recently published results of their study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

They used a nationally representative sample of 5,593 middle and high school students between the ages of 12 and 17 years old living in the United States to find out how many youth participated in digital self-harm, as well as their motivations for such behavior. They also examined if certain correlates of offline self-harm also applied to digital forms of self-harm.

Results of the study show that nearly 6 percent of the teens reported that they had anonymously posted something mean about themselves online. Among these, about half (51.3 percent) said they did it just once, about one-third (35.5 percent) said they did it a few times, while 13.2 percent said they had done it many times.

Boys were more likely to participate in this behavior (7 percent) compared to girls (5 percent). Their reasons, however, varied dramatically. Boys described their behavior as a joke or a way to get attention while girls said they did it because they were depressed or psychologically hurt. This finding is especially worrisome for the researchers as there may be more of a possibility that this behavior among girls leads to attempted or completed suicide.

To ascertain motivations behind the behavior, the researchers included an open-ended question asking respondents to tell them why they had engaged in digital self-harm. Most comments centered around certain themes: self-hate; attention seeking; depressive symptoms; feeling suicidal; to be funny; and to see if anyone would react. Qualitative data from the study showed that many who had participated in digital self-harm were looking for a response.

Age and race of the respondents did not differentiate participation in digital self-harm, but other factors did. Teens who identified as non-heterosexual were three times more likely to bully themselves online. In addition, victims of cyberbullying were nearly 12 times as likely to have cyberbullied themselves compared to those who were not victims. Those who reported using drugs or participating in deviance, had depressive symptoms, or had previously engaged in self-harm behaviors offline were all significantly more likely to have engaged in digital self-harm.

“Prior research has shown that self-harm and depression are linked to increased risk for suicide and so, like physical self-harm and depression, we need to closely look at the possibility that digital self-harm behaviors might precede suicide attempts,” said Hinduja. “We need to refrain from demonizing those who bully, and come to terms with the troubling fact that in certain cases the aggressor and target may be one and the same. What is more, their self-cyberbullying behavior may indicate a deep need for social and clinical support.”

Abstract of the study:

Purpose

Despite increased media and scholarly attention to digital forms of aggression directed toward adolescents by their peers (e.g., cyberbullying), very little research has explored digital aggression directed toward oneself. “Digital self-harm” is the anonymous online posting, sending, or otherwise sharing of hurtful content about oneself. The current study examined the extent of digital self-harm among adolescents.

Methods

Survey data were obtained in 2016 from a nationally representative sample of 5,593 American middle and high school students (12–17 years old). Logistic regression analysis was used to identify correlates of participation in digital self-harm. Qualitative responses were also reviewed to better understand motivations for digital self-harm.

Results

About 6% of students have anonymously posted something online about themselves that was mean. Males were significantly more likely to report participation (7.1% compared to 5.3%). Several statistically significant correlates of involvement in digital self-harm were identified, including sexual orientation, experience with school bullying and cyberbullying, drug use, participation in various forms of adolescent deviance, and depressive symptoms.

Conclusions

Digital self-harm is a new problem that demands additional scholarly attention. A deeper inquiry as to the motivations behind this behavior, and how it correlates to offline self-harm and suicidal ideation, can help direct mental health professionals toward informed prevention approaches.

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One for my students: phones keep you from concentrating during lectures

Yesterday I said to one of my students that it was pointless to sit in my class if you are so busy with your phone. He was so busy it even distracted me. I should have mentioned this new study – a combination of a meta-review and new data -, but I only read if afterwards. But let’s be honest: we’ve known this for quite a while.

The study in short:

 

  • Media use (MU) and academic performance (AP) studies omit subject area comparison.
  • Sample populations tend to be biased toward social science programs.•
  • Data show differences in the type and frequency of MU across subject areas.
  • Differences between MU and AP correlations were found for different subject areas.
  • MU is a stronger predictor of AP for students in the soft sciences.

 

From the press release (I skipped the digital native part for obvious reasons):

The researchers say it shouldn’t be surprising that university lecturers are encouraged to develop blended learning initiatives and bring tech — videos, podcasts, Facebook pages, etc. — into the classroom more and more to offer students the enhanced experiences enabled by digital media.

They warn, however, that an important effect of these initiatives has been to establish media use during university lectures as the norm.

“Studies by ourselves and researchers across the world show that students constantly use their phones when they are in class.

“But here’s the kicker: if you think they are following the lecture slides or engaging in debates about the topic you are mistaken. In fact, this is hardly ever the case. When students use their phones during lectures they do it to communicate with friends, engage in social networks, watch YouTube videos or just browse around the web to follow their interests.”

The researchers say there are two primary reasons why this form of behaviour is problematic from a cognitive control and learning perspective.

“The first is that when we engage in multitasking our performance on the primary task suffers. Making sense of lecture content is very difficult when you switch attention to your phone every five minutes. A strong body of evidence supports this, showing that media use during lectures is associated with lower academic performance.”

“The second reason is that it harms students’ ability to concentrate on any particular thing for an extended period of time. They become accustomed to switching to alternative streams of stimuli at increasingly short intervals. The moment the lecture fails to engage or becomes difficult to follow, the phones come out.”

The researchers say awareness of this trend has prompted some lecturers, even at leading tech-oriented universities like MIT in the United States, to declare their lectures device-free in an attempt to cultivate engagement, attentiveness and, ultimately, critical thinking skills among their students.

“No one can deny that mobile computing devices make our lives easier and more fun in a myriad of ways. But, in the face of all the connectedness and entertainment they offer, we should be mindful of the costs.”

The researchers encourage educational policy makers and lecturers, in particular, to consider the implications of their decisions with a much deeper awareness of the dynamics between technology use and the cognitive functions which enable us to learn.

Abstract of the paper:

The current generation of university students display an increasing propensity for media multitasking behaviour with digital devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones. A growing body of empirical evidence has shown that this behaviour is associated with reduced academic performance. In this study it is proposed that the subject area within which an individual is situated may influence the relationship between media multitasking and academic performance. This proposition is evaluated, firstly, by means of a meta-review of prior studies in this area and, secondly, through a survey-based study of 1678 students at a large university in South Africa. Our findings suggest that little or no attention has been paid to variations between students from different subject areas in previous work and, based on our data, that subject area does influence the relationship between media use and academic performance. The study found that while a significant negative correlation exists between in-lecture media use and academic performance for students in the Arts and Social Sciences, the same pattern is not observable for students in the faculties of Engineering, Economic and Management Sciences, and Medical and Health Sciences.

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Udacity isn’t about education but about job training

Past week I had the pleasure to attend a talk by Eric Schmidt, top leader from Alphabet/Google in the Netherlands. One of the more interesting things he said was a seemingly contradiction: after several pleas for teaching how to code in school, he ended his talk by saying that soon AI would make coding obsolete.

There was also another talk at the event by Clarissa Shen from Udacity. Her talk gave me an important insight: the present courses delivered by the platform aren’t about education, it’s all about job training.

What is the difference? Biesta has described 3 goals of education: subjectification (personal development), qualification and socialisation. If you go to a school or university you’ll get elements that lead to qualification. Good, but most of the time even when discussing qualification in regular education., it will be more than learning only stuff that is related to a particular job.

What Shen described was only a narrow part of what can be regarded as qualification from the three tasks by Biesta, so don’t call Udacity and it’s nano-degrees education, call it what it is: job training.

Oh, btw, I enjoyed reading this related post at Inside Higher Ed.

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What does the evidence say about technology use? (Best Evidence in Brief)

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief (they have a blog now too) and this study I picked will interest a lot of the readers of this blog:

New educational technology programs are being released faster than researchers can evaluate them. The National Bureau of Economic Research has written a working paper, Education Technology: An Evidence-Based Review, which discusses the evidence to date on the use of technology in the classroom, with the goal of finding decision-relevant patterns.
Maya Escueta and colleagues compiled publicly available quantitative research that used either randomized controlled trials or regression discontinuity designs (where students qualify for inclusion in a program based on a cut-off score at pretest). All studies had to examine the effects of an ed-tech intervention on any education-related outcome. Therefore, the paper included not only the areas of technology access, computer-assisted learning, and online courses, but also the less-often-studied technology-based behavioral interventions.
Authors found that:
  • Access to technology may or may not improve academic achievement at the K-12 level, but does have a positive impact on the academic achievement of college students (ES=+0.14).
  • Computer-assisted learning, when equipped with personalization features, was an effective strategy, especially in math.
  • Behavioral intervention software, such as text-message reminders or e-messages instructing parents how to practice reading with their children, showed positive effects at all levels of education, plus were a cost-effective approach. Four main uses for behavioral intervention software emerged: encouraging parental involvement in early learning activities, communication between the school and parents, successfully transitioning into and through college, and creating mindset interventions. Research is recommended to determine the areas where behavioral intervention software is most impactful.
  • Online learning courses had the least amount of research to examine and showed the least promise of the four areas. However, when online courses were accompanied by in-person teaching, the effect sizes increased to scores comparable to fully in-person courses.

 

 

 

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Interesting presentation: The digital transformation of education (Dirk Van Damme, OECD)

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