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Students don’t know how to study

14 Dec

A post in The Conversation tells us:

“Universities and governments around the world rely on student evaluations to assess university teachers and degrees. Likewise, potential students check online ratings when deciding where to study. These evaluations are based on the logic that students must know best what helps them learn. So it’s surprising to discover that students may be the worst people to ask about the quality of education.”

The article also highlights the problem with student evaluations of instructors:

“Many educators worry that students are more positive about teachers who give better marks regardless of what the students learn, and are more negative about teachers who make students work hard in order to learn. If this is true, it means the simplest way for a teacher to get a good evaluation is to make it easy for students to get good marks.

As it happens, students who rated their current teacher most highly got better marks in their current course but did much worse in later courses. This confirms the fears of educators: students’ evaluations are linked with current grades, but also with students’ failure to learn things they need for the future. So, a student who is happy with their grade and teacher should worry — they may not have learnt that much.”

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Richard Wiseman on self-help

9 Nov

Temptation bundling and the fresh start effect

20 Jan

I listened to a most amazing Blogginheads this morning while walking on the treadmill. Laurie Santos interviews Katherine Milkman of the Wharton School describing her research on self control.

The fresh start effect is the tendency of people to take on new self control projects, such as exercise or better diet, at meaningful calendar transitions. The most obvious example of this is the New Year’s resolution, we tend to feel that the advent of a new year marks a fresh start when we can and should resolve to change our lives for the better.

It turns out that the fresh start effect is not limited to New Years. Milkman’s work suggests that people are more likely to make changes at the beginning of a week or a month, or on their birthdays. From the abstract of a paper she co-authored:

“We propose that these landmarks demarcate the passage of time, creating many new mental accounting periods each year, which relegate past imperfections to a previous period, induce people to take a big-picture view of their lives, and thus motivate aspirational behaviors.”

This reminds me of the message in the self help classic Small Change by Susan and Larry Terkel.

Cover of "Small Change: It's the Little T...

Cover via Amazon

Temptation bundling is a technique for harnessing the power of temptation for productive ends. In this study Milkman and colleagues allowed participants to  listen to audio books of trashy novels (her description not mine) only while working out in the gym.  This had the effect of increasing gym attendance by 50%.

I am an advocate of exercising in ways that make the time more  productive. I use my daily workout on the treadmill as time to study foreign languages. The first half of the workout I listen to language tapes and review flash cards. During the second half, however, I often listen to podcasts, just like this morning.

Here is a video of Milkman explaining her work.

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Generating Alternative Thoughts

6 Oct

One of the goals of cognitive behavior therapy is to help us move away from maladaptive thinking. Sometimes our beliefs keep us in a state of paralysis and prevent us from adopting new behaviors.

Here is an abstract for a paper about a technique for  generate alternative thoughts as a means to break the out of our self limiting beliefs. Unfortunately, the paper itself is in Turkish and I yet have not been able to locate an English translation.

“Introduction: One of the basic techniques of cognitive therapy is examination of automatic thoughts and reducing the belief in them. By employing this, we can overcome the cognitive bias apparent in mental disorders. Despite this view, according to another cognitive perspective in a given situation, there are distinct cognitive representations competing for retrieval from memory just like positive and negative schemas. In this sense generating or strengthening alternative explanations or balanced thoughts that explain the situation better than negative automatic thoughts is one of the important process goals of cognitive therapy.

Objective: Aim of this review is to describe methods used to generate alternative/balanced thoughts that are used in examining automatic thoughts and also a part of automatic thought records. Alternative/balanced thoughts are the summary and end point of automatic thought work. In this text different ways including listing alternative thoughts, using examining the evidence for generating balanced thoughts, decatastrophizing in anxiety and a meta-cognitive method named two explanations are discussed. Different ways to use this technique as a homework assignment is also reviewed. Remarkable aspects of generating alternative explanations and realistic/balanced thoughts are also reviewed and exemplified using therapy transcripts.

Conclusion: Generating alternative explanations and balanced thoughts are the end point and important part of therapy work on automatic thoughts. When applied properly and rehearsed as homework between sessions, these methods may lead to improvement in many mental disorders.” (source)

Lifelong impact of early self-control

27 Sep

From a paper published in American Scientist. The data are from The Dunedin Study that followed 1037 children born at the Queen Mary Maternity Hospital in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1972 and 1973 into adulthood.

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The take home message:

“preschool education promoting self-control could have remarkable social impacts.”

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