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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Project-Based Learning: “promising but not proven” (Best Evidence in Brief)

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief (they have a blog now too) and this working paper will be of interest to a lot of people:

A working paper from MDRC builds on and updates a literature review of project-based learning (PBL) published in 2000. Focused primarily on articles and studies that have emerged in the last 17 years, the working paper discusses the principles of PBL, how PBL has been used in K-12 settings, the challenges teachers face in implementing it, how school and local factors influence its implementation, and what is known about its effectiveness in improving learning outcomes.
The report suggests that the evidence for PBL’s effectiveness in improving student outcomes is “promising, but not proven.”  The biggest challenge to evaluating the effectiveness of PBL, the researchers suggest, is a lack of consensus about the design of PBL and how it fits in with other teaching methods. Some studies have found positive effects associated with the use of PBL. However, without a clear vision of what a PBL approach should look like, it is difficult for teachers and schools to assess the quality of their own implementation and know how to improve their approach. They  also suggest that PBL implementation is particularly challenging because it changes student-teacher interactions and requires a shift from teacher-directed to student-directed inquiry, and requires non-traditional methods of assessment.
The paper concludes with recommendations for advancing the PBL research literature in ways that will improve PBL knowledge and practice.

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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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Funny on Sunday: just read this application letter.

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The present generation students is… slightly less narcissistic

Remember this magazine cover?

Looks pretty similar to this cover from 1976:

Or this one from 1985?

Or do you remember this picture?

Yeah, I debunked this story already here but these pictures suit the image of the egocentric, smartphone obsesses youth, and for sure this selfie-taking generation will be more narcissistic for sure? Well… no.

We already knew from 2012 research by Twenge et al that the narcissistic turn actually could have happened in the eighties, but now there is a new study by Wetzel et al stating that the present group of students… is probably less narcissistic than generations before them and there never has been a epidemic of narcissism at all, as this conclusion sums it up:

In contrast to popular opinion, our findings did not show that today’s college students are more narcissistic than college students in the 1990s or the 2000s, at least in the three universities examined in the present study. In fact, we found small decreases both in overall narcissism and in its leadership, vanity, and entitlement facets. Importantly, these decreases already started between the 1990s and the 2000s and continued more strongly in the late 2000s and 2010s. Our study suggests that today’s college students are less narcissistic than their predecessors and that there may never have been an epidemic of narcissism.

Abstract of the study:

Are recent cohorts of college students more narcissistic than their predecessors? To address debates about the so-called “narcissism epidemic,” we used data from three cohorts of students (1990s: N = 1,166; 2000s: N = 33,647; 2010s: N = 25,412) to test whether narcissism levels (overall and specific facets) have increased across generations. We also tested whether our measure, the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI), showed measurement equivalence across the three cohorts, a critical analysis that had been overlooked in prior research. We found that several NPI items were not equivalent across cohorts. Models accounting for nonequivalence of these items indicated a small decline in overall narcissism levels from the 1990s to the 2010s (d = −0.27). At the facet level, leadership (d = −0.20), vanity (d = −0.16), and entitlement (d = −0.28) all showed decreases. Our results contradict the claim that recent cohorts of college students are more narcissistic than earlier generations of college students.

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Sometimes you’d better don’t believe the press release

I read a lot of different studies and press releases about studies and some end up on this blog. Yesterday I read one press release and when I than read the actual study, I ended up not writing a blog post but tweeting this:

Sadly enough other people did go with the hurray-feel of the press release, as you can take from the title of this NPR-post.

I received these 2 great replies:

But if you want to check for yourself, here you can find the press release and here you can find the actual study.

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How to predict dropouts? New study looks at different elements

Young people dropping out of college, leaving education without a degree is a story of shattered dreams and possibilities. How can we predict who needs that bit of extra help to succeed? A new UK study using US data shows that teenagers who do not access healthcare when needed are at greater risk of dropping out of high school.

The study in short:

  • We explore the relationship between personality traits and school dropout.
  • We employ multiple treatment propensity score matching.
  • We use forgone health care as a proxy for psychological maturity of judgement.
  • Forgone health care is a consistently significant predictor of dropout.
  • Specific combinations of traits are associated with an increase in school dropout.

From the press release:

Teenagers who do not access healthcare when needed are at greater risk of dropping out of high school say researchers from Lancaster University in the UK.

More than one in five young people in the developed world drop out of high school, which leads to a higher risk of unemployment, ill health and crime.

The study in the Journal of Economic Psychology examined data from the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescents to Adult Health, a nationally representative sample of 90,000 students in grades 7 to 12 at 132 schools.

The authors, Dr Eugenio Zucchelli and Dr. Giuseppe Migali, from Lancaster University said : “Forgone healthcare is a consistently significant predictor” and could be used to identify teenagers at risk of leaving before the age of 18.

Over a third of dropouts do not seek healthcare when needed compared with only over a quarter of other high school students.

Not using healthcare includes not choosing to access healthcare for reasons including “did not know who to see” and “I thought the problem will go away”; this was used as a marker of the ability to assess the long-term consequences of actions.

The researchers excluded teenagers who could not pay or did not have transport to visit the doctor and the ones with chronic conditions.

A risky attitude towards health is also common among more than half of dropouts, who are more likely to smoke, drink and take drugs.

High school graduates and dropouts differ on the Big Five personality traits used by psychologists.

Dropouts are more likely to have combinations of the following traits:

  • low conscientiousness
  • neuroticism
  • introversion

Researchers say “Individuals who forgo their healthcare and present low conscientiousness and introversion have the highest risk of dropout.”

Do note: correlation, not necessarily causal relation, still very relevant information.

Abstract of the study:

There is sparse evidence on the effects of personality traits on high school dropout, especially on whether combinations of different traits may uniquely influence dropout decisions. We employ single and multiple treatment matching together with rich data on US adolescents to explore the relationship between personality traits and their combinations on school attrition. Using the Big Five inventory, we find that introversion, and to a lesser extent neuroticism, are individually associated with higher probabilities of dropping out from school. Multiple treatment estimates show that blends of low levels of conscientiousness and neuroticism present higher likelihoods of an early exit. Furthermore, we exploit information on forgone health care and explore its role as a predictor of dropout, potentially proxying relevant traits associated with psychological maturity of judgement such as responsibility, perspective and temperance. These traits refer to the capacity of assessing the long-term consequences of actions and may influence an individual’s decision-making process, including dropout choices. Forgone health care appears to be a statistically significant predictor of dropout throughout our models. Individuals who forgo their health care and present low conscientiousness and introversion have the highest risk of dropout. Overall, our results are robust to alternative specifications and increasing levels of selection on unobservables. We suggest that given its predictive power, forgone health care could be used as a signalling device to help identifying individuals at higher risk of school dropout.

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New study shows – again – the importance of metacognition

In my forthcoming book on Ingredients for Great Teaching (due March 2018) I also have a chapter on metacognition. This study confirms a lot that I write in that chapter – lucky me! – by looking at it in a very specific context.

From the press release:

Students, and people in general, can tend to overestimate their own abilities. But University of Utah research shows that students who overcome this tendency score better on final exams. The boost is strongest for students in the lower 25 percent of the class. By thinking about their thinking, a practice called metacognition, these students raised their final exam scores by 10 percent on average – a full letter grade.

The study, published today in the Journal of Chemical Education, is authored by University of Utah doctoral student Brock Casselman and professor Charles Atwood.

“The goal was to create a system that would help the student to better understand their ability,” says Casselman, “so that by the time they get to the test, they will be ready.”

Errors in estimation

General chemistry at the University of Utah is a rigorous course. In 2010 only two-thirds of the students who took the course passed it – and of those who didn’t, only a quarter ever retook and passed the class.

“We’re trying to stop that,” Atwood says. “We always want our students to do better, particularly on more difficult, higher-level cognitive tasks, and we want them to be successful and competitive with any other school in the country.”

Part of the problem may lie in how students view their own abilities. When asked to predict their scores on a midterm pretest near the beginning of the school year, students of all performance levels overestimated their scores by an average of 11 percent over the whole class. The students in the lower 25 percent of class scores, also called the “bottom quartile,” overestimated by around 22 percent.

This phenomenon isn’t unknown – in 1999 psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger published a paper stating that people who perform poorly at a task tend to overestimate their performance ability, while those who excel at the task may slightly underestimate their competence. This beginning-of-year survey showed that general chemistry students are not exempt.

“They convince themselves that they know what they’re doing when in fact they really don’t,” Atwood says.

The antidote to such a tendency is engagement in metacognition, or thinking about and recognizing one’s own strengths and limitations. Atwood says that scientists employ metacognition skills to evaluate the course of their research.

“Once they have got some chunk figured out and realize ‘I don’t understand this as well as I thought I did,’ they will adjust their learning pattern,” he says. After reviewing previous research on metacognition in education, Atwood and Casselman set out to design a system to help chemistry students accurately estimate their performance and make adjustments as necessary.

Accurate estimation

In collaboration with Madra Learning, an online homework and learning assessment platform, Casselman and Atwood put together practice materials that would present a realistic test, and asked students to predict their scores on the practice test before taking it. They also implemented a feedback system that would identify the topics the students were struggling with so they could make a personal study plan.

After a few years of tweaking the feedback system, they added the element of weekly quizzes into the experimental metacognition training to provide students more frequent feedback. By the first midterm exam of the 2016 class, Casselman and Atwood could see that the experimental course section’s scores were significantly higher than a control section’s that did not receive metacognition training. “I was ecstatic!” Casselman says.

By the final exam, students’ predictions of their scores were about right on, or a little underpredicted. Overall, the researchers report, students who learned metacognition skills scored around 4 percent higher on the final exam than their peers in the control section. But the strongest improvement was in the bottom quartile of students, who scored a full 10 percent better, on average, than the bottom quartile of the control section.

“This will take D and F students and turn them into C students,” Atwood says. “We also see it taking higher-end C students and making them into B students. Higher-end B students become A students.”

Atwood adds that the students took a nationally standardized test as their final exam. That means that the researchers can compare the U students’ performance to other students nationwide. The bottom quartile of students at the U who received metacognition training scored in the 54th percentile. “So, our bottom students are now performing better than the national average,” Atwood says.

“They’re not going to be overpredicting their ability,” Casselman says. “They’re going to go in knowing exactly how well they’re going to do and they will have prepared in the areas they knew they were weakest.”

A cumulative effect

This study covered students in the first semester of general chemistry. Casselman has now expanded the study into the second semester, meaning some students have had no semesters of metacognition training, some have had one and some have had two. Preliminary analysis suggests that the training may have a cumulative effect across semesters.

“The students who are successful will ask themselves — what is this question asking me to do?” Atwood says. “How does that relate to what we’re doing in class? Why are they giving me this question? If there’s an equation, why does this equation work? That’s the metacognitive part. If they will kick that in, they will see their grades go straight through the roof.”

Both Atwood and Casselman say this principle is not limited to chemistry and could be applied throughout campus. It’s a principle universally applicable to learning, and has been hinted at for centuries, including in a Confucian proverb:

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”

Abstract of the study:

In a first-semester general chemistry course, metacognitive training was implemented as part of an online homework system. Students completed weekly quizzes and multiple practice tests to regularly assess their abilities on the chemistry principles. Before taking these assessments, students predicted their score, receiving feedback after completing the assessment on their prediction accuracy. They also received detailed information regarding their ability for each assessment topic and used this information to create a future study plan. During this study plan, students indicated their general ability by chemistry topic and selected areas they would focus their studying upon. A control section completed the same assessments and received the same feedback of ability by topic, but students did not predict scores or create study plans. Results indicate identical initial assessment performance between the two chemistry course sections. However, metacognitive training resulted in improved assessment performance on each subsequent midterm exam and on the American Chemical Society (ACS) general chemistry final exam. After factoring out the effect of teacher differences, metacognitive training improved student ACS final exam average performance by approximately 4% when compared to the control section. Additionally, metacognitive training targeted the bottom quartile of the course by improving their ACS final exam average performance by approximately 10% when compared to the control section.

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Funny on Sunday: What students say to teachers versus what they want to say…

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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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