Highway to the educational danger-zone (week 11)

In Uncategorized on April 11, 2011 at 9:57 PM

Having read my previous blogs, a reoccurring theme has (unsurprisingly) prevailed throughout: cognition

From my blogs I have highlighted a few main points about cognition I believe to be important…
1) Do not underestimate the cognitive power/ability of learners:

Research by Sugata Mitra is the perfect example of this. He showed that given the tools, children can become masters of their own education….

This by no means implies that teachers are invaluable, but the reality is that there will always be places where teachers aren’t available or will not go. So it is crucial to have programmes that foster learning without the aid of teachers.

I was thinking about materials or methods mentioned in other blogs and talks that could help this process:

Khan Academy is the perfect example of teaching without the teacher. I would like to think that the videos could be implemented within it/linked to the computer.

Khan did note that the videos should be supplemented with teaching time and that all subjects cannot be taught using the educational videos. Mitra used an older observer to motivate the children, so it may be possible for those individuals to provide some feedback if a teacher guide was available…

This brings me to Open source learning. Free and peer reviewed course materials which could be accessed at anytime with a relatively high quality. A teachers guide could be placed on this resource.

2)The teacher knows best?

A quote from Shulman & Elstein (1975) highlights the problem (in my opinion) with some educational research:

‘research typically sights the problem of how teachers think about their pupils and instructional problems; it concentrates instead on how teachers act or perform in the classroom’ (pg 3)

This is highlighted in teacher cognition research (outlined by Simon Borg). the research stated that teachers cognitions are hard to alter, and effect the way they approach and carry out educational practices.

So in reference to does a teacher know best, not necessarily and therefore teacher training is crucial.

3)Learner-centered cognition (metacognition)

I know I have advocated for the use of metacognition research throughout the semester so I will try to be brief.

The ability to understand your own cognitive processes is a crucial skill. As consumers of the educational product, students need to be able to assess the way they learn and give feedback to teachers to improve practices and techniques.

4)Creative cognition

For the problem Ken Robinson outlined to be addressed we need to fully understand the creative process.

Research on creative cognition is scarce, and I am unsure whether we can truly understand the creative process as a function of cognitive steps…

(It is also important to remember that the cognitive process is a creative process in itself.)

In summary:

The past twelve weeks have been thought provoking for me, and this module has, for want of better words, allowed me to ‘stretch my academic legs’.

My standpoint is that cognition research should provide the basis for educational practices and hopefully (using this a start point) I can promote the use of this research in my future career!

Seeing is Believing (week 10)

In Uncategorized on April 4, 2011 at 6:18 PM

Throughout this module we have been advocating that, in terms of education, scientific research should play a crucial role in how we implement and design our curriculum(s). This has led to many new and interesting techniques being brought forward, and hundreds of supporting papers have been referenced.

In previous blogs I have talked about Teacher Cognition, the concept that individual self-reflection, beliefs and knowledge about teaching changes perception of educational techniques and practices. I was thinking about the way in which our own self-reflection, beliefs and knowledge would effect the way we interpret the research & techniques we encounter in this module. (I would like to believe that although we will have preferences to certain areas, we understand the data presented and have the ability to critically evaluate the work we read.)

This made me wonder, how do scientific novices interpret research? Through the development of highly complex neuropsychological techniques (such as PET & fMRI) and their ability to provide images of the brain, the media has begun to report research much more frequently.

Weisberg et al (2008) carried out 3 experiments into the perception of research.

Experiment 1

81 participants completed the study. They were asked to read a one-paragraph description of a phenomenon followed by an explanation (a total of 18 phenomena were used). The explanation they viewed either always did or always did not contain neuroscience information.  Quality was also manipulated, a good and bad version was created for each stimuli and randomly allocated through the trials. Participants then rated how satisfying they found each explanation on a 7-point scale from -3  to +3.

A significant main effect of explanation was found (good explanation text rated higher than bad). As well the research showed a significant main effect of neuroscience (neuroscience texts were rated higher than non-neuroscience) and a significant interaction of explanation and neuroscience (no significant difference between good, but significant difference between bad)

My Thoughts: If the participants were novices would they understand the terminology? I don’t think so, and because of this it doesn’t surprise me that the bad responses were modulated by the use of neuroscience info.

Experiment 2

22 students were sampled from an introductory cognitive neuroscience class. Stimuli and procedures used was identical to that in experiment 1. Participants were tested at beginning and end of the semester. It was hypothesized that because they were being trained to critically think, the main effect of neuroscience found in experiment 1 would not occur.

A significant main effect of explanation type was found, as well as a significant main effect of neuroscience and a significant interaction of explanation and neuroscience (Ratings of bad explanations increased reliably more than good). No main effect of time was found (i.e classroom training did not affect the students’ performance).

My Thoughts: would this effect be replicated in other domains/or even with our class? does the non significant effect of time indicate that individuals in the class have not been taught to critically evaluate?

Experiment 3

48 neuroscience experts. stimuli was identical to that of experiment 1.

Findings showed a significant main effect of explanation, no main effect of neuroscience, significant interaction of explanation and neuroscience (good explanations with neuroscience rated lower than explanation without)

My Thoughts: I think that the interaction found could be explained by the fact that experts would have read a vast number of articles and would therefore would be able to notice that the neuroscience figures were irrelevant.

McCabe & Castel (2008) also researched this area, and carried out 3 experiments also

Experiment 1

156 undergraduates participated and were split into three groups based on what the articles included: brain image, bar chart or control (no image included). Participants read 3 brief articles. The articles shown made claims that were not necessitated by the data, providing the basis for some skepticism from participants. They were then were asked to rate (on a four point likert scale) if the article was well written, the title was a good description of the results, and if the scientific reasoning in the article made sense.

It was found that brain image and bar graph conditions were rated as better written than the control condition, texts accompanied by a brain image being given the highest ratings of scientific reasoning.

My thoughts: It was suggested that complexity may have been a factor in the results shown – brain images are more visually complex and thus this may have altered the judgments of individuals

Experiment 2

128 undergrads participated. The use of brain images and topographical maps was compared. (The use of images of similar complexity allowed the criticism made in the previous study to be addressed.) Two articles used as stimuli in experiment 1 were used. Participants were asked to rate the scientific reasoning of each article viewed.

Texts accompanied by a brain image were found to be given higher ratings of scientific reasoning than those accompanied by a topographical map.

My thoughts: How much exposure will participants have to topographical maps? maybe the differences were due to the fact that undergraduates had seen brain images in the vast majority of research they have been in contact with and due to this in-exposure to topographical maps rated them lower.

Also, the articles were fictitious and participants were told this. Maybe the effects seen will diminish in a more natural setting/using more natural stimuli? McCabe & Castel designed another study to address this.

Experiment 3

108 participants took part. A real news service article ‘Brain Scans Can Detect Criminals’ taken from the BBC website as the stimuli. Articles included either included brain image or no image, and either a concluding paragraph criticizing the research or no paragraph. Participants rated articles on two questions: (1) Do you agree or disagree that the title is a good summary of the results? and (2) Do you agree or disagree with the conclusion that brain imaging can be used as a lie detector?

In terms of the conclusion (Q2) a main effect of brain image was found (brain image article rated higher than no, there was a non significant effect of criticism and no interaction was recorded.

For the title question no effect of brain image was found, but significant effect of criticism  (title more appropriate when not criticized) was recorded, there was no interaction between criticism and brain image.

What does this research mean for the future?

So many questions arose from this research for me! Here are a few….please feel free to add more/debate/go crazy!

The research focuses on scientific content we meet outside of a classroom context, so how can we control it?: I don’t think it would be possible to control the content individuals are viewing, but maybe we should look to train individuals to interpret research at an earlier age? I myself did not learn to read & evaluate research papers until I was in university, if the evaluation of a paper could be fit into the curriculum even at GCSE or A Level, it would promote both deeper & critical thinking. (something heavily mentioned throughout the blogs)

Can we control the media? The media is responsible for it’s output so should it therefore provide the information and tools for individuals to fully understand the studies mentioned?

Does the media show research based on images or merit? it would be interesting to investigate if this effect would be shown in submission to the media. (i.e. if a bad article would be published if it contained images of the brain and advanced terminology)


Don’t just a article by it’s cover! Just because a paper is padded with complex terminology or images does not mean that is of higher quality!

What do y’all think?

Open Source Learning (week 9)

In Uncategorized on March 29, 2011 at 12:33 AM

In a recent talk on the TED website Richard Baraniuk introduced the topic of open source learning.

Open source learning comes from the recent movement within education towards open education. Baraniuk (2007) defined this as the idea that

“knowledge should be free and open to use and re-use; that collaboration should be easier, not harder; that people should receive credit and kudos for contributing to education and research; and that concepts and ideas are linked in unusual and surprising ways and not the simple linear forms that today’s textbooks present”

In the paper Baraniuk also outlined the broad set of goals of open education as:

  • bringing people back into the educational equation, particularly those who have been “shut out” of the traditional publishing world,

(e.g. those who do not read & write in English.)

  • reducing the high cost of teaching materials.

(The average community college student in America spends almost as much on textbooks as on tuition. Many schools in the United States get by with less than one textbook per child in many classes)

  • reducing the time lag between producing learning materials and getting them into students’ hands.

(Many books are already out-of-date by the time they are printed.)

  • enabling re-use, re-contextualization, and customization such as translation and localization of course materials into myriad different languages and cultures.

(As this module has clearly shown, “one size does not fit all” for education.)

How does open education aim to do this?

The whole concept hinges on the idea that individuals license their work under ‘creative commons‘ rather than copyright. Creative commons gives four licenses that can be combined depending on the authors wishes:

Attribution Attribution (by) Licensees may copy, distribute, display and perform the work and make derivative works based on it only if they give the author or licensor the credits in the manner specified by these.
Non-commercial Noncommercial(nc) Licensees may copy, distribute, display, and perform the work and make derivative works based on it only for noncommercial purposes.
Non-derivative No Derivative Works (nd) Licensees may copy, distribute, display and perform only verbatim copies of the work, not derivative works based on it.
Share-alike Share-alike (sa) Licensees may distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs the original work

For more info see the following video.

The benefits of creative commons

1) The use of creative commons allows for the information to be databased and used on mass without individuals needing to seek the authors permission.

2) It also allows individuals to manipulate the information – this is being used in order to help those who are ‘shutout’ by the current system gain the tools they need. Individuals have been working on translating texts into languages not commonly published in.

3) It lowers production costs as modules or texts made can be viewed online for free, and textbooks versions can be produced on a JIT process, slashing publication costs.

4) Publications can be updated immediately, reducing the time difference between writing and publishing texts.

Websites that promote & use this approach:

Open Courseware Consortium

MIT Open Courseware


Cynical viewpoint – How will anyone make any money?

Publishers, lecturers and researchers need money. A successful textbook seen as a core text can make a obscene amount and place an individual in a high position within a field. So, if an individual used creative commons would this all disappear?

I do not think so.

Making a name for yourself -the act of creative commons means that an individual is attributed for their work whenever it is used.

Earning the big bucks – creative commons does not stop you from signing a commercial deal with a publisher for your work.

(However, I believe it to be a naive view to expect those who lead the industry to change if they believe that the process of creative commons will reduce profit)

Psychological perspective

One thing that I asked myself when thinking about the idea of creative commons is:

If a textbook is classed as an instructional tool, then is picking at and piecing together different sources diluting a (original) texts effectiveness?

This most closely related  to Snider (2006) myth of eclectic instruction. The myth refers to when teachers use a variety of methods and instructional materials instead on relying on a single instructional approach. Snider argues that this can be dangerous for the learner. If teachers mix in their own non-validated thoughts into their design then this destroys the credibility of any validated texts used.

This being said, I have often found (in university) that lecturers pick apart core texts, only teaching a random selection of segments due to it being insufficient to their needs.

If they were able to use one of the websites listed above, they could design a text for their specific module. The websites offer peer reviews of information posted, so pages would be validated by experts. Also sections used could be edited in order to match the instructional design they wish to follow, so a similar format would be taught throughout.

(Snider even states in her book that ‘sometimes teachers design their own curriculum to meet standards and these programs are necessarily eclectic’ pg 60)


Creative commons and open source learning seems like a great concept. It is used at the moment in very specific fields (e.g. the design of optimal FIR filters), and the websites I found linked to this topic were based in the US. I think that it still needs time to develop in order for more ‘main stream’ subjects to benefit.

Any thoughts?