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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Teaching STEM at university is most of the time still giving lectures

There is a new study which consists of an analysis of more than 2,000 college classes in science, technology, engineering and math. What this study published in Science has found is that 55 percent of STEM classroom interactions consisted mostly of conventional lecturing.Another 27 percent featured interactive lectures that had students participating in some group activities or answering multiple-choice questions with handheld clickers. But well, that is again a form of lecture. Only 18 procent was labeled by the authors as student-centered. This contradicts earlier studies, but there is an easy explanation says the press release:

Much of the previous research into STEM instruction has relied on surveying faculty about their practices. Though the resulting data has proven valuable, Stains said, the flaws of human memory and perception inevitably find their way into that data.

“Surveys and self-reports are useful to get people’s perceptions of what they are doing,” she said. “If you ask me about how I teach, I might tell you, ‘I spend 50 percent of my class having students talk to each other.’ But when you actually come to my class and observe, you may find that it’s more like 30 percent. Our perception is not always accurate.”

So the research team decided to monitor STEM classroom practices with a commonly used protocol that involved documenting many types of student and instructor behavior during every two-minute interval throughout a class. An analysis that accounted for the prevalence of those behaviors allowed the team to identify seven instructional profiles, which were then categorized into three broad teaching styles.

Those efforts also led to the development of an app that runs essentially the same analyses conducted in the study.

“People can do their own measurements and see how they compare to this large dataset — see how either their department or college is doing — and say, ‘This is where we stand. This is where we want to go.'”

In the meantime, the study’s scale and interdisciplinary nature make it a “reliable snapshot” of how STEM gets taught to undergraduate students in North America, its authors said.

The researchers with leading author Marilyne Stains aren’t really pleased with this result and plea for a more student-centered approach. I’m a bit reluctant to follow this lead. It is true that lecturing can most of the time be rather cost-effective than learning-effective. I do think the cost-effectiveness is an important reason why lectures are still very popular. But at the same time a broad categorization as ‘student-centered’ used in this study can also include approaches who are not necessarily effective. I do subscribe to the plea for a more evidence-based approach, or even better an evidence-informed approach.

Abstract of the study:

A large body of evidence demonstrates that strategies that promote student interactions and cognitively engage students with content (1) lead to gains in learning and attitudinal outcomes for students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses (12). Many educational and governmental bodies have called for and supported adoption of these student-centered strategies throughout the undergraduate STEM curriculum. But to the extent that we have pictures of the STEM undergraduate instructional landscape, it has mostly been provided through self-report surveys of faculty members, within a particular STEM discipline [e.g., (36)]. Such surveys are prone to reliability threats and can underestimate the complexity of classroom environments, and few are implemented nationally to provide valid and reliable data (7). Reflecting the limited state of these data, a report from the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine called for improved data collection to understand the use of evidence-based instructional practices (8). We report here a major step toward a characterization of STEM teaching practices in North American universities based on classroom observations from over 2000 classes taught by more than 500 STEM faculty members across 25 institutions.

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A research question suggestion about that study on music and executive functions

The past few days a lot of people have tweeted about the study I blogged about last week on the positive effect on far transfer of music classes. My wife – a great researcher btw – and myself also discussed this study a bit during the Eastern-weekend and she came up with a great element to research in possible replications. Some other studies on executive functions I blogged about last year where showing a positive effect of having rituals (check the study here), doing things together. Now, singing is also something you often do together in group. So… maybe it’s good that in a new study one should look if the element of singing/studying music together or rather alone has the same effect?

Would love to examine this further, sadly I’m much involved in two other research projects at the moment. So, it’s a suggestion for other researchers (and do keep me posted!)

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Funny on Easter: I feel a bit hollow

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by | April 1, 2018 · 7:51 am

Stephen Hurley interviewed me about my new book and more

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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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12 Things Everyone Should Understand About Tech (Anil Dash)

This is a very relevant post. Some stuff I recognize e.g. Kranzberg’s first law or the little knowledge people in and around tech have about e.g. the important role governments have had in development of some of the stuff these companies are selling.

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

“Anil Dash is an entrepreneur, activist and writer recognized as one of the most prominent voices advocating for a more humane, inclusive and ethical technology industry. He is the CEO of Fog Creek Software, the renowned independent tech company behind Glitch, the friendly new community that helps anyone make the app of their dreams, as well as its past landmark products like Trello and Stack Overflow.

Dash was an advisor to the Obama White House’s Office of Digital Strategy, and today advises major startups and non-profits including Medium and DonorsChoose. He also serves as a board member for companies like Stack Overflow, the world’s largest community for computer programmers, and non-profits like the Data & Society Research Institute, whose research examines the impact of tech on society and culture; the NY Tech Alliance, America’s largest tech trade organization; and the Lower East Side Girls…

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Far transfer through music? This longitudinal study suggests it works!

I’m a musician as some of you might know and very much in favor of music and music lessons, but I’m a bit hesitant about this new study. It sounds like great news: cognitive skills developed from music lessons appear to transfer to unrelated subjects, leading to improved academic performance.

Why I’m not so sure? Well, this kind of far transfer is not something easy to achieve and I don’t want to get my hopes up too high. So, let’s have a look at the press release:

Structured music lessons significantly enhance children’s cognitive abilities — including language-based reasoning, short-term memory, planning and inhibition — which lead to improved academic performance. Published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, the research is the first large-scale, longitudinal study to be adapted into the regular school curriculum. Visual arts lessons were also found to significantly improve children’s visual and spatial memory.

Music education has been decimated in schools around the globe, due to competition with academic subjects and an increasing lack of funding. These days, the opportunity to learn an instrument is seen as more of a luxury than a necessary part of education.

“Despite indications that music has beneficial effects on cognition, music is disappearing from general education curricula,” says Dr Artur Jaschke, from VU University of Amsterdam, who led the study with Dr Henkjan Honing and Dr Erik Scherder. “This inspired us to initiate a long-term study on the possible effects of music education on cognitive skills that may underlie academic achievement.”

The researchers conducted the study with 147 children across multiple Dutch schools, using a structured musical method developed by the Ministry of Research and Education in the Netherlands together with an expert centre for arts education. All schools followed the regular primary school curriculum, with some providing supplementary music or visual arts classes. In these, the children were given both theoretical and practical lessons.

After 2.5 years, the children’s academic performance was assessed, as well as various cognitive skills including planning, inhibition and memory skills.

The researchers found that children who received music lessons had significant cognitive improvements compared to all other children in the study. Visual arts classes also showed a benefit: children in these classes had significantly improved visual and spatial short-term memory compared to students who had not received any supplementary lessons.

“Children who received music lessons showed improved language-based reasoning and the ability to plan, organize and complete tasks, as well as improved academic achievement,” says Dr Jaschke. “This suggests that the cognitive skills developed during music lessons can influence children’s cognitive abilities in completely unrelated subjects, leading to overall improved academic performance.

The researchers hope their work will contribute to highlighting the importance of the music and arts in human culture and cognitive development.

“Both music and arts classes are supposed to be applied throughout all Dutch primary schools by the year 2020,” says Dr Jaschke. “But considering our results, we hope that this study will support political developments to reintegrate music and arts education into schools around the world.”

Wait a minute. This study does tick a lot of boxes:

  • large scale
  • longitudinal
  • A randomized setup with a control group
  • They checked really a lot of stuff (IQ, problem solving, etc…)

The only thing one could say is that the group of respondents is relatively small.

So maybe, they are really on to something… I do hope for a positive replication and if that’s the case: let’s turn up the music!

Oh, and I really like their final conclusion:

Executive functions are usually researched as lump sum cognitive functions and structured investigation of sub-functions in longitudinal designs are still rare. The here presented results show a possible far transfer effect from a structured music education program to academic achievement, mediated through executive sub-functions. Nevertheless, analyzing the longitudinal effects of music education embedded into the regular school curriculum, throughout different cultural settings, will further strengthen our understanding of the effects music can have on the developing brain.

In the end, it is not the justification of music or arts education in light of far transfer to academic achievement that is the objective. It is the necessity of combining music, visual and general arts toward a mixed-art education model. This will emphasize the importance of the arts in human culture, and enduringly support the positive influence of the arts on cognitive development.

Abstract of the study:

Background: Research on the effects of music education on cognitive abilities has generated increasing interest across the scientific community. Nonetheless, longitudinal studies investigating the effects of structured music education on cognitive sub-functions are still rare. Prime candidates for investigating a relationship between academic achievement and music education appear to be executive functions such as planning, working memory, and inhibition.

Methods: One hundred and forty-seven primary school children, Mage = 6.4 years, SD = 0.65 were followed for 2.5 years. Participants were randomized into four groups: two music intervention groups, one active visual arts group, and a no arts control group. Neuropsychological tests assessed verbal intelligence and executive functions. Additionally, a national pupil monitor provided data on academic performance.

Results: Children in the visual arts group perform better on visuospatial memory tasks as compared to the three other conditions. However, the test scores on inhibition, planning and verbal intelligence increased significantly in the two music groups over time as compared to the visual art and no arts controls. Mediation analysis with executive functions and verbal IQ as mediator for academic performance have shown a possible far transfer effect from executive sub-function to academic performance scores.

Discussion: The present results indicate a positive influence of long-term music education on cognitive abilities such as inhibition and planning. Of note, following a two-and-a-half year long visual arts program significantly improves scores on a visuospatial memory task. All results combined, this study supports a far transfer effect from music education to academic achievement mediated by executive sub-functions.

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No big surprise:? Kids from wealthier families feel more control over their lives

How do you experience socio-economic status? This new study – although based on rather old but very complete data from the eighties and beginning of the nineties – examined which measures of socioeconomic status — parents’ education, family income, race and parents’ occupation — have the greatest influence over a child’s locus of control and more importantly: why.

From the press release:

Building on previous research that has shown that kids who feel more control experience better academic, health and even occupational outcomes, the findings underscore how the kids who most need this psychological resource may be the least likely to experience it.

The study by Dara Shifrer, a sociology professor in PSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was published online this month in the journal Society and Mental Health. It’s titled, “The Contributions of Parental, Academic, School, and Peer Factors to Differences by Socioeconomic Status in Adolescents’ Locus of Control.”

Using data from 16,450 U.S. eighth graders surveyed for the National Education Longitudinal Study in 1988 and 1990, Shifrer examined which measures of socioeconomic status — parents’ education, family income, race and parents’ occupation — have the greatest influence over a child’s locus of control and why.

Locus of control describes the degree to which people feel control over their lives. People at one end of the scale, with external control, believe they are powerless and credit their successes and failures to other people, luck or fate. On the other end, people with internal control see their destiny as largely in their own hands.

Shifrer concluded that kids with higher socioeconomic status were more likely to have an internal locus of control, in large part because their parents discuss school more often with them, their homes have more books and other resources, they receive higher grades, they are more likely to attend a private school, their friends are more academically oriented, and they feel safer at school.

“We know income shapes the way people parent, shapes the peers that kids have, shapes the schools they attend,” she said. “It’s not just kids’ perception — their lives are a little bit more out of control when they’re poor.”

Shifrer said the study gives social scientists a better understanding by which family income influences child development.

Shifrer does acknowledge that there are some limitations to her study, which uses data from the early 1990s.

However, the data is one of the few large national datasets that measures adolescents’ locus of control, according to Shifrer. She said it is unlikely that its measure of locus of control is outdated, but suggests that the disparities in internal control could be even more stark today with increasing inequality and shifts in parenting norms and social media use.

Abstract of the study:

An internal locus of control may be particularly valuable for youth with low socioeconomic status (SES), yet the mechanisms that externalize their control remain unclear. This study uses data on 16,450 U.S. eighth graders surveyed for the National Education Longitudinal Study in 1988 and 1990. Results indicate family income is more closely associated with adolescents’ locus of control than parents’ occupations and educational attainment and that race does not independently affect adolescents’ locus of control net of these other components of SES. Findings also indicate higher SES adolescents feel more internal locus of control in largest part because their parents discuss school more often with them, their homes have more books and other cognitive resources, they receive higher grades in middle school science and social studies, they are more likely to attend a private rather than public school, their friends are more academically oriented, and they feel safer at school.

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Funny on Sunday: most presentations look like this…

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