Science & Education News Digest: March 2017


Welcome to Learning Science’s News Digest for March 2017.

Among many other things, March has brought the UK Spring budget (the last one - although they’ve said that before!), International Women’s Day, arguments about TEF and “learning styles”, and research about dinosaurs and mistakes.

If you know of articles, case studies or events which may be of interest to us – send us the link via Twitter or email.


Higher Ed Policy / News


What Budget 2017 means for universities (Wonkhe)

Supposedly the “last ever Spring budget”, Philip Hammond’s delivery of the most recent budget, many points of which will have implications for universities.

Loans for doctoral and part-time students have been confirmed, and 1000 new PhD places are to be created, especially in areas of biotech and robotics. Lifelong learning may also be supported more in the future as £40m of funding is put towards pilot studies.

Hammond also reminded us that inflation levels are on the rise. Now that tuition fees are able to rise along with it, annual undergraduate tuition fees are creeping closer to five-figure sums than ever.


The TEF: An idiot’s guide to the arguments for and against (hepi)

TEF is happening. That much has been settled for now. But for every challenge to the framework, there has been a defence. As with any debate involving strong opinions, it’s worth hearing what the other side has to say. Here, HEPI (an institute that freely admits to being outspokenly critical of TEF in the recent past) has put forward counterpoints to its primary criticisms, offering an alternative perspective.


Education / Technology / Pedagogy

Classroom sound can be used to classify teaching practices in college science courses (PNAS)

Given the benefits of active learning, it would be useful to have a method of rapidly assessing the type of activity taking place across college and university classrooms.

In a paper published this month in PNAS, researchers have developed a system called DART: Decibel Analysis for Research in Teaching.

DART is an algorithm that uses machine-learning to analyse background classroom sounds from a range of activities including lectures, pair discussion and clicker quizzes. It has processed 1,720 hours of audio from 67 different courses and can make predictions on what kinds of activities are taking place with around 90% accuracy.


No evidence to back the idea of “learning styles” (The Guardian)

Are you a visual learner? Auditory? How about kinesthetic? If you buy into the idea of learning styles, you may have been misled by a “neuromyth”, according to top psychology and education researchers.

In a letter to the Guardian, Professor Bruce Hood, chair of developmental psychology at the University of Bristol and 29 other academics addressed the limited evidence of learning styles having any meaningful effectiveness and warned against schools or teachers spending any money or time on the concept.


Student Life

“Don’t call us lazy!” Students call for activity tracking apps to be let loose on the education sector (Jisc)

Fitness tracking apps and wearables are incredibly popular at the moment, but what about tracking learning activity? According to a recent survey by Jisc, 85% of FE students think learning and teaching tracking apps would be helpful, and 80% would be happy to use them if it boosted their grades.

The function of these trackers will need careful consideration. It might be naive to think they will make students work harder by themselves, given recent studies on fitness trackers showing they don’t actually improve fitness. However as evidence of effort, or as part of a pedagogical study, activity tracking apps for students could be used in many interesting ways.


THE Student Experience Survey 2017 results (Times Higher Education)

The results of the Student Experience Survey from Times Higher Educational came out this month.  

Independent of the NSS, this survey of 15,000 students allots points based on 21 different attributes within seven composite groups: academic experience, university facilities, societal experience, student welfare, accommodation, industry connections and security.

This year the three top scoring institutions are Harper Adams University, Loughborough University, and the University of Sheffield.


Guest Topic: International Women’s Day

Wednesday March 8th was International Women’s Day, and many outlets took this as an opportunity to both celebrate and ask questions about the representation of women in STEM and higher education.

There are many STEM initiatives that focus on the inclusion of women and working towards full representation. Here are three UK-based ones:

  • Trowelblazers - celebrating and promoting women in geology, archeology and palaeontology.
  • Code First: Girls - advocates and masterclasses for women in tech and entrepreneurship
  • Soapbox Science - summer events across the UK (and now elsewhere) where female scientists get on a soapbox and share their science with the city.


Cool new science!

Dinosaur family tree poised for colossal shake-up (Nature News)

The fundamental arrangement of the dinosaur family tree has been in place for 130 years. The “bird-hipped” species (Stegosaurus, Triceratops et al) on one side, and “lizard-hipped” species (featuring theropods like T. rex, and sauropods like Brachiosaurus) on the other.

But no more, it seems. A new study, published in Nature, has reassessed the whole structure of the relationships, putting theropods besides the bird-hipped dinosaurs, and placing an enigmatic group called Herrerasauridae besides the sauropods instead.

The change is likely to generate a lot of debate, with many questions to settle. But if this shift is accepted by the scientific community, there’s going to be a lot of textbooks set for rewriting!


Making a mistake can put your brain on “pause” (Science News)

Mistakes are an important part of learning. But if you’re given too much to do in quick succession, one mistake can create another, according to research published this month in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The tasks involved assessing subtle colour changes in concentric circles. Participants recovered fine from mistakes if the next trial came a second or two afterwards. But if a set appeared hot on the heels of a mistake, they were around 10% less likely to get it right. So it seems people can detect and deal with their mistakes, but only if they’re given a chance to think about them!


Hope you enjoyed March's News Digest. If you know of articles, case studies or events which may be of interest to us – send us the link via Twitter or email.