Innovation in education and medicine

“Education research is as likely as medical research to lead to profound breakthroughs in practice and outcomes in the coming years.” That is the conclusion of the latest blog post from Robert Slavin, professor in the IEE and director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education, in which he discusses similarities and differences in the way evidence affects, or could affect, education and medicine.

To support his conclusion, Slavin offers several reasons why, with greater support, education research could have at least as profound an impact on education outcomes as medicine or public health do on health outcomes. For example, he says, “Education research is easier to do than medical research. The unlikelihood of serious negative side effects is one reason. Another is that because pretests in education are so highly correlated with post-tests, we can accurately predict what students would have achieved without treatment, making it easier to do studies.” Ultimately, Slavin says, “When we build up a stock of proven programs and have the support of government for using them, watch out. Education could show medicine a thing or two about how to improve outcomes on a national scale using rigorous research and innovation.”

A computer is not enough

Researchers from the US National Bureau of Economic Research have published a new working paper that explores how important access to a home computer is to the educational achievement of children. They found no effects, either positive or negative, on a range of outcomes.

The authors conducted a randomised controlled trial with 1,123 pupils aged 11–16 without home computers from 15 schools across California. In the largest ever experiment involving the provision of free home computers, half of the pupils were randomly selected to receive free computers, while the other half served as the control group. The goal of the study was to evaluate the effects of home computers alone, so no training or other assistance was provided to the pupils who received the free computers.

At the end of the school year, data from the schools was used to measure the impact of the home computers on numerous educational outcomes. Findings showed that, although computer ownership and use increased substantially, there were no effects on grades, test scores, credits earned, attendance, or disciplinary actions in the experimental group.

Robert Slavin, Professor at the IEE, discussed a similar topic in a March blog post about Sugata Mitra’s “hole in the wall” experiment, in which he made a computer freely available to children in a Delhi slum. In his post, Slavin says, “If access to computers were decisive, middle-class children, at least, would be gaining rapidly. Admittedly, the technology itself keeps getting better and faster and easier to use, but from thirty years of experience in the developed world, it seems unlikely that access alone will lead children to become wise and capable.”

Source: Experimental Evidence on the Effects of Home Computers on Academic Achievement among Schoolchildren (2013), NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research).

Do evidence-based programmes work in every context?

Researchers from The Social Research Unit at Dartington, along with the Universities of Exeter and York, have analysed the impact of three evidence-based programmes implemented in Birmingham as part of the city’s “Brighter Futures” strategy. A new article describing their findings illustrates that context matters.

The three programmes evaluated were the Incredible Years BASIC parenting programme, PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies), and the Triple-P parenting programme. In each case, a randomised controlled trial was conducted with validated standardised measures. The findings were as follows:

  • Incredible Years yielded reductions in negative parenting behaviours among parents, reductions in child behaviour problems, and improvements in children’s relationships.
  • In the PATHS trial, modest improvements in emotional health and behavioural development after one year disappeared by the end of year two.
  • There were no effects for Triple-P.

The authors suggest that much can be learned from the strengths and limitations of the Birmingham experience.

Source: The impact of three evidence-based programmes delivered in public systems in Birmingham, UK (2012), International Journal of Conflict and Violence, 6(2).

Clicking our way to great teaching

The latest blogpost by the IEE’s Robert Slavin looks at electronic response devices, and the recent studies of Questions for Learning (QfL) conducted by the IEE. He concludes: “The classroom of the future will surely have some means of giving teachers and students immediate feedback on students’ learning, and quick means of accommodating differences in student proficiency. QfL seems like a major step in this direction. The findings of the early research are encouraging, and as clickers get ever smarter, the possibilities seem exciting.”

Source: Clicking our way to great teaching (2012), Education Week (Sputnik Blog)

New study finds technology improves grammar learning

Hand-held technology can help to improve primary pupils’ learning of grammar, according to a new study by researchers at the Institute for Effective Education (IEE). A randomised evaluation of the use of Questions for Learning (QfL), a technology-enhanced, self-paced learning tool, was conducted in more than 40 primary schools. In QfL, each pupil responds to progressively more difficult questions that are presented on wireless hand-held devices at the rate that the pupil answers them. This allows both more advanced and weaker pupils to answer in a private way at a pace appropriate to them.

Pupils in classes who used QfL showed significant gains in grammar compared with pupils in the control group. This improvement was greater in schools that used QfL at least three days each week, and for low- and average-achieving pupils. If these results held over a school year, these pupils would make between three and four months of additional progress. Both teachers and pupils enjoyed using the strategy for formative assessment, believed it improved pupil achievement in grammar, and would recommend its use for other pupils and for other subjects.

Source: Effects of technology-enhanced formative assessment on achievement in primary grammar (2012), Institute for Effective Education

Traditional teaching methods may be putting off maths pupils

Traditional teaching methods, where the teacher stands at the front and dictates to the class, may be affecting pupils’ attitudes toward maths, suggest researchers at the University of Manchester. The initial findings of the Economics and Social Research Council-funded study were presented at the British Educational Research Association’s annual conference.

More than 13,000 11- to 16-year-old pupils and 128 teachers at 40 secondary schools across England were asked to complete questionnaires detailing the kind of activities they experienced in maths lessons. Traditional activities such as copying the teacher’s notes from the board and being asked questions by the teacher were most frequently cited, ahead of alternative learning approaches such as using media, like magazines and videos, in class. Pupils who reported a more traditional teaching experience in their lessons also named maths as their least favourite subject.

The results of a 2009 review from the Institute for Effective Education,Effective programmes in secondary mathematics, found that the most successful programmes for teaching maths focus on changing daily teaching practices, particularly the use of co-operative learning methods, and encourage pupil interaction.

Sources: What works in teaching maths? (2009), Institute for Effective Education

Teaching and learning practices in secondary mathematics: measuring teaching from teachers’ and students perspectives (2012), Pampaka M, Wo L, Kalambouka A, Qasim S, and Swanson D, presentation at BERA Conference 2012