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Blogs and publications

This blog is written by LEARN! academics. The contributions present our take on current issues in education and social science, and reflect some of the highlights from our extensive programme of research.

Views are our own and aim to inform, debate and shape our thinking.

Blogs and publications

  • Using online tools for peer feedback: The pros and cons - Mirella Jongsma

    Peer feedback is very effective

    Peer feedback is a very effective method of formative assessment to increase students' academic performance. Regardless of how exactly the peer feedback activity is organized, it is better than providing no feedback, and in some cases, it can even be better than providing teacher feedback (Double et al., 2020; Huisman et al., 2018). This is mainly because students also learn from giving peer feedback rather than merely receiving feedback. It is a form of active learning that can enhance the learning experience for students (Topping, 2017). The question remains how peer feedback is best implemented to optimize student learning fully.

    Nowadays, there are many different ways to implement peer feedback in an academic course. There is the option to offer it as an activity in class, or it could be done online. In the wake of the transition to more blended learning in higher education, teachers often opt for online tools. Is that also the best way to implement peer feedback? What are the advantages of online peer feedback, and are there any disadvantages to consider? Quite some research has been done to investigate the effects of peer feedback, so it only seems right to summarize the most important pros and cons of online peer feedback.

    Pros of online peer feedback

    Implementing peer feedback by using an online tool has several advantages. First of all, an online platform specifically designed for providing online (peer) feedback can be an efficient way of organizing a peer feedback activity. It allows the teacher to access all of the feedback comments that students provide each other and react to them in real-time, rather than having to walk around in class and only be able to catch small parts of what students are saying (DiGiovanni & Nagaswami, 2001). Moreover, a tool makes it easier to opt for an anonymous setting, which can be helpful when students feel pressured by peers to give primarily positive feedback (Lu & Bol, 2007). Although in the best-case scenario, students feel safe enough to provide their peers with honest feedback. Another advantage of online peer feedback is its time independence. Because students can give each other peer feedback in their own time, there is more time for other learning activities in class. On top of that, students may experience more autonomy when they are able to decide for themselves when and how they give peer feedback (Mellati & Khademi, 2014).

    Cons of online peer feedback

    Although online peer feedback definitely has multiple advantages, it also has its downsides. Perhaps the most important disadvantage of online peer feedback is the loss of a feedback dialogue. When peer feedback is asynchronous, like in most cases when it is offered online, it becomes harder for students to discuss the feedback they give and receive (Guardado & Shi, 2007; Lee & Evans, 2019). This feedback dialogue is especially important when the feedback is hard to formulate in short comments, such as feedback on behaviour in group projects. A feedback dialogue gives the opportunity to directly react to the feedback that is given and ask for clarification. Moreover, it is easier for students to nuance their feedback when they give it face-to-face rather than when they only have a limited number of words to formulate the feedback. This could, in turn, reduce negative feelings towards peer feedback. However, when a teacher can monitor the feedback comments and students have the ability to rate or react to the feedback they have received, the disadvantage of a lack of feedback dialogue can be reduced significantly (Filius et al., 2018).

    In conclusion

    The most important thing to remember when implementing peer feedback in your curriculum is that practice makes perfect. Although there are many advantages to an online peer feedback tool, eventually, the best academic outcomes result from feedback training, clear instructions, and experience with giving feedback. The validity and reliability of peer feedback can significantly improve when students receive training in how to give good feedback and are handed feedback aids such as rubrics (Falchikov & Goldfinch, 2000; van Zundert et al., 2010). Considering the advantages and disadvantages of online peer feedback, it eventually is up to the teacher to decide whether offline or online peer feedback is preferred. Online peer feedback might be more effective when the task that is assessed is an essay, whereas offline peer feedback might be better when the feedback has a more subjective nature.

  • Toelichting ICL voorzitterschap

    As of January ’22 I am president of the interuniversity committee for primary school teacher training (ICL PO) from the Universities of The Netherlands (UNL, previously VSNU). This committee is a collaboration between the Dutch scientific teacher training programs (RUG, RU, EUR, UvA, ULeiden, UU and VU) aiming at exchanging good practices, improving education and collaboration with the field, and developing new teacher programs. The committee lobbies on collective issues, for example the positioning and formal recognition of academic teachers in primary schools, often together with the committee for secondary school teacher training (ICL VO).

    On behalf of the committee I also take place in the National steering group of the covenant between the ministry of Education (OC&W), the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Science (VH) and UNL on flexibilization of teacher education programs (22 million euros, 2020-2023). The VU is partner in most of the covenant projects. In this role I am, together with my colleagues from the ICL VO, responsible for steering and monitoring the broad range of projects aiming at university (including applied sciences) transcending collaboration to improve quality and flexibility of initial teacher training, subsidized trajectories to switch careers and professionalization after initial teacher training. We advise the board of directors on teacher training programs in the Netherlands (consisting of rectors from the participating universities).

  • The first Master’s of Science in Primary Education (EMPO) - dr. Anne Fleur Kortekaas-Rijlaarsdam

    From September 2022 the VU, UvA and ULeiden offer a joint degree master’s program for primary education. The VU is secretary of this joint degree and within the VU prof. dr. Maartje Raijmakers and dr. Anne Fleur Kortekaas-Rijlaarsdam are responsible for the EMPO. This new master’s program is directly accessible for students with a university bachelor degree in social sciences (for an overview of all accessible programs see here). The program was developed in close collaboration with schools and schoolboards. With the EMPO, we aim to attract a new group of ambitious teachers. In the EMPO, students explicitly learn how to apply their bachelor (or master) expertise in social sciences in primary education. For example, students with a background in Pedagogical Sciences or Psychology may specialize in Learning problems while students with a bachelor or master’s degree in Sociology may prefer specialization in education at the macro level, addressing inequality and adjusting to increasing diversity. The EMPO is a full time teacher training program at a university master’s level, resulting in a Master of Science degree and full teaching qualification for primary education. The program is taught by experts from the three universities and school(boards). The purpose of the EMPO is to train adaptive experts: highly qualified, scientifically strong teachers with a broad range of effective teaching routines and the flexibility to adjust and improve strategies when needed, based on contemporary scientific evidence. Pedagogic and didactic skills are taught at the meta-level were relevant (instead of specific didactic routines for each school subject), and the ability to teach heterogeneous classes and address individual needs within those classes is central in training of effective teaching routines. Intensive internships in a primary school works towards effective action based on deep understanding in the classroom. The EMPO program is substantially different from existing teaching training for primary education. School(board)s in the metropole region of Amsterdam, Leiden and De Hague are very enthusiastic and committed to the EMPO. EMPO-alumni are eminently suitable to build bridges between scientific research and actual school practice.

    With a new program, it is always crucial to reach all potential candidates. We can use your help here. Please inform your students / student assistants and broader connections about this new Master’s program! More information (only in Dutch as the program is taught in Dutch) can be found here: https://vu.nl/nl/onderwijs/master/educatieve-master-primair-onderwijs. For questions, please e-mail to empo@vu.nl.

  • Research-practice partnerships: a promising approach to evidence-informed policy and practice - Sylvia Koeree and Rien Rouw

    As part of her internship, Sylvia Koeree is working with Rien Rouw at the Knowledge Department of the Dutch Ministry of Education, Science and Culture to progress their agenda around evidence-informed policymaking. In this blog, they talk about how the department is trying to progress evidence-informed practice in Dutch education and what they have learned from other European examples.

    Navigating the limitless amount of knowledge 

    How to navigate the vast amount of knowledge that is generated by a growing number of scientists, consultants, stakeholder organizations, non-governmental organizations etc.? And how to make this knowledge actionable for use in classrooms, school boardrooms and ministerial offices? These are some of the perennial challenges in the field of education practice – research – policy relationships.

    A shift from linear relations to ecosystems and the role of government

    How to deal with these challenges? In the thinking about evidence-informed practice and policy, a shift has taken place from linear to relationship-based approaches and ecosystems perspectives. A linear way of working is focused on dissemination in targeted formats and high accessibility of research. The point of departure is research. relational and ecosystems-approaches are built on professional partnerships between practitioners and researchers, empathy and relationship skills, leadership and sustainable infrastructures. The starting point is the actual decision making taking place in classrooms, school boardrooms and ministries, and looking for windows to feed knowledge into these decision making processes. Continuous interaction between practitioners, researchers and policymakers is the key to build trust and knowledgeability about each other’s worlds.

    In the realm of education policy, interaction between policy makers and researchers takes place in a variety of ways, mostly in the context of research for policy. The Knowledge Department at the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science actively promotes this interaction. However, in a way it is fragmented, organized around specific research projects or bigger research programs. What is currently lacking, is a central place where knowledge is collected, systematized and validated in an authoritative way. We are currently exploring how this could be organized on a national level. The Expert Committee on Accessibility in Higher Education is one of the examples. It was established in 2021 by the Ministry together with the National Initiative for Education Research (NRO), the Dutch education research funding organization. The Expert Committee aims to unlock both evidence-based and practice-based knowledge about effective accessibility practices and to make it applicable for institutions and policymakers.

    In the realm of education practice, we have been investing a lot in creating practice-research collaborations, together with our partners in the field and researchers. Although many collaborations have been established in the last ten years, overall it is still a drop in the ocean. The big challenge is to organize practice-research networks at scale.

    Examples from across Europe

    We have been looking for examples in several European countries, and we have learnt some lessons we would like to share.

    Based on research and discussions, several principles for a well-working research-practice partnership have been drawn up. First of all, it is important that all parties concerned are equal partners and actively share, spread and create knowledge. All the parties have their own knowledge and experiences to bring into the network, both research-based and practice-based. Secondly, practice issues are the starting point of scientific research. The partnerships take place on both the regional and the national level, and are connected to a knowledge centre. This centre makes sure the collaboration and research run smoothly and provides a research database, including translation into practice. Lastly, the partnership contributes to the professionalization of teachers and school leaders and to promoting a research culture in schools.

    We have also seen some fine examples of research-practice partnerships in Europe. Below, we present only a few models from a much richer collection.   

    Research Schools in England, Flanders and The Netherlands

    One interesting example are the English Research Schools of the Education Endowment Foundation. These Research Schools form a regional or local network and play a role as ambassadors for the use of evidence-informed interventions in schools. Professionalization of teachers, focused on the use of evidence in the schools, is also an important part of the Research Schools. Flanders has recently started a pilot with so called ’model schools’. In The Netherlands, the idea of research schools is still being developed to make it fit for the Dutch context.  

    Networks in Estonia, Ireland, Norway, England and Belgium

    Other examples are different networks from Estonia, Ireland, Norway, England and Belgium. The Norwegian New Competence Model focuses on the professionalization of educational professionals by working on training programs to improve education, based on practice issues. The Irish national forum, Belgian EAPRIL and Estonian Education Forum offer a platform for teachers, researchers, and policymakers to work together, share knowledge and experiences, and work on the professionalization and the purpose of improving education. In England, both the Coalition for Evidence-based Education and the What Works Network try to support evidence-informed working in practice and policy by providing an overview of what works, according to scientific evidence.

    As already stated, the big challenge is not only to translate these models to the Dutch context, but even more to realize practice-research partnerships as a routine throughout the education system. Currently, the Ministry is establishing a so called knowledge community as part of the National Program for Education, i.e. the Covid recovery strategy. The knowledge community is a collaborative effort of representative organisations of teachers, school leaders, school boards, and the Ministry. It will build on existing structures and networks. The aim is to create a knowledge infrastructure that is sustainable in the long run.  

  • Abolishing Policy-Induced Dropout in Dutch Higher Education. Exploring Trends in Future Academic Performance – Melvin Vooren

    It is a well-established fact that too many students leave university programmes before completion. Within the member states of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the average dropout rate in higher education amounts to 31 per cent. Countries like the United States and Italy have higher rates of around 50 per cent, where Belgium and Denmark are at the lower end of the spectrum, at around 15 per cent. The Netherlands sits around the OECD average.

    Because dropout is such a widespread phenomenon, policymakers have used a lot of different programmes to reduce dropout. According to the literature most of these remediation programmes are found to have no impact, or a negative impact, worsening dropout figures instead of improving them. Financial aid programmes, aimed at providing extra funds to extend the study duration are found to have a positive impact. However, it has been largely ignored that a sizable proportion of dropout can be policy-induced.

    What are policy-induced dropouts?

    In countries where academic dismissal policies are enforced, students are required to leave the programme in case of poor academic performance at the end of their freshman year. In the context of Dutch academic dismissal policies, poor academic performance is generally defined as having accumulated less than 70 per cent of the credits in the first year, i.e. 42 ECTS. As a result, the policy increases first-year dropout rates. The students who are forced to drop out as a result of academic dismissal are referred to as policy-induced dropouts (PIDs).

    Previous research has found that the policy increases graduation rates for the remaining students (Sneyers and De Witte, 2017). However, other research by Cornelisz et al. (2019) has found that those students who are forced to leave the programme due to academic dismissal actually switch to a similar programme at the same university, or the same programme at a different university. Considering this, we can conclude that academic dismissal policies are quite costly because switching to a similar programme elsewhere usually implies moving to a different town and starting all over again.

    Our research objectives

    In the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Dutch government abolished first-year academic dismissal in the beginning of the second semester, on March 19, 2020. As a result of this, students who would otherwise have been academically dismissed were allowed to continue their studies in year 2. This circumstance provides a unique opportunity to monitor the performance of PIDs in the second year of the programme. However, the Covid-19 crisis also comes with a methodological challenge, because semester 2 performance could have been affected by other factors induced by the Covid-19 pandemic, such as grading leniency, online learning, or mental health effects.

    In order to address this, our research addresses three objectives: 1) determining the number of students who drop out due to academic dismissal, i.e. the PIDs; 2) examining second-year performance of PIDs who were allowed to continue as a result of Covid-19; 3) calculating the average study duration for PIDs until obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

    Our findings

    The main challenge in identifying PIDs in the Covid-19 cohort is that you cannot compare achieved credits at the end of the programme with achieved credits in earlier cohorts, due to the aforementioned Covid-19 effects on student performance, including mental health effects. To address this, we use a machine learning model to predict expected credits at the end of year 1 based on only pre-covid-19 characteristics, i.e. performance in semester 1 of year 1 and individual background characteristics.

    Because the first semester was not affected by the Covid-19 crisis, we can compare the expected credits of students in the Covid-19 cohort with the expected credits of those in earlier cohorts. Doing so, we can identify the PIDs and observe their performance in year 2. We find that within the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, 22.4 per cent of all dropouts in year 1 are PIDs.

    As a next step, we examine second-year performance of PIDs. In the earlier cohorts, we can see that there is a substantial share of students below the academic dismissal threshold who are allowed to continue in year 2, despite the fact that they should have been dismissed based on their performance. In other words, these students got a waiver for the academic dismissal policy. We then compare the second-year performance of the students below the academic dismissal threshold in those earlier cohorts (i.e., those with a waiver) with the students below the threshold in the Covid-19 cohorts. We see that the performance of PIDs and students who got a waiver is not significantly different. Because the second-year performance of students with a waiver is the same as the performance of the PIDs, we assume that this remains the same in later years as well.

    Conclusion

    In other words, we can conclude that 22.4 per cent of first-year dropouts at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam are policy-induced (PIDs). These PIDs do not perform significantly different compared to students who got a waiver for the academic dismissal programme. It seems that students have a constant individual study pace, and from a student perspective, there does not seem to be a strict “unsuitability” threshold in terms of year-one performance. In terms of educational inequality, this brings up an important issue as well. Why do we dismiss PIDs based on an arbitrary academic dismissal threshold if they perform equally well as students who got a waiver?

    This blog is based on research by Melvin Vooren, Ilja Cornelisz, Martijn Meeter, and Chris van Klaveren

    Contact details

    Melvin Vooren
    FGB ACLA
    M.Vooren@vu.nl

  • Bruno Sauce - Genetic studies can tell us how well education is doing as the “great equalizer”

    "Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of men – the balance wheel of the social machinery."

    I believe the 1848 quote by educator Horace Mann still echoes our hopes today. Modern democratic societies reject systems of caste and birth privilege in favor of equal opportunities and fair social mobility. And we want these seeds to start early at school. In my experience, such views are shared by most across the political spectrum – from left-wing Marxists to right-wing libertarians.

    What is education supposed to be equalizing? A big one is our starting wealth. It doesn’t feel right to give more merit (and rewards) to a person simply because she was born with millions of Euros in a bank account or inherited the family business. We are all undeservingly born with differences in wealth, and education should equalize that playing field. But does it? For decades, economists, sociologists, and education scientists have addressed this question and voiced doubt: Studies reveal that the great equalizer  is not keeping up with growing wealth inequalities, and the market makes matters worse by tailoring schools to their rich and poor customers (Athur, 2004; Feinstein, 2003; Growe & Montgomery, 2004).

    Genetic research is relevant for policies in education

    What else should education be equalizing? Another huge source of undeserving differences is the biology we are born with: our inherited DNA. However, for that source, there are almost no empirical studies. Research using genetics is even frowned upon in some educational circles – I believe because people have the wrong impression that the impact of genetics can’t be changed. (It can, and sometimes is easier than the impact of our experiences during upbringing. Think how hard it is to change a racist view or a smoking habit!) Genetic research can inform us about potentially vulnerable students, schools that need more investment, and which educational interventions work best (by taking genetic diversity into account, as already done in clinical trials for a new therapy or vaccine) (Harden & Koellinger, 2020). And, as I will show here, genetic studies can also tell us about how well the great equalizer is doing.

    We probably all agree that, for example, a child born blind should be able to get special education on braille and expand their opportunities in society. Eyesight is not the only trait influenced by genes. One especially important trait is intelligence: the ability to think rationally, understand complex ideas, and adapt to new situations. Intelligence encompasses multiple cognitive processes that we care about in our societies: attention, spatial navigation, quantitative/math reasoning, reading comprehension, working memory, and long-term memory (Nisbett et al., 2012). And scores in measures of intelligence (although obviously limited) are highly predictive of a person’s future, including income, employment, happiness, and longevity (Deary et al., 2021).

    My main research area is the gene-environment interplay in cognitive abilities – in other words, I want to know the impact of certain lived experiences on the way we think and learn, and how much this depends on our different genetic backgrounds. On multiple studies, I and others have shown that intelligence is highly influenced by genes and, at the same time, malleable to experiences (Sauce & Matzel, 2018). And formal education is an important type of experience; over the years, it brings large gains to children’s  intelligence (Ritchie & Tucker-Drob, 2018). However, these gains are not necessarily the same for everyone. 

    A tricky obstacle in my research area is that children are also developing from brain maturation and from experiences outside of schools. If we want to evaluate the great equalizer, we need to isolate the effect from schools.

    Do the cognitive gains from schooling depend on differences in genetic predispositions?

    In a study (still in preprint) with my colleagues Nicholas Judd and Torkel Klingberg, we isolated the effect of schooling by using a neat statistical technique: the regression discontinuity design. It makes use of the “natural experiment” that is the arbitrary age cut-off for school grades. Think about it: children who are one day younger than the cut-off have (comparatively) one full year less of schooling but only one day less of brain maturation and learning experiences outside of school. For children two days younger, one full year less of school but two days less of everything else, and so on. So, we can compare these children to estimate the impact of schooling by itself.

    We used a large sample of 6500 children representative of the United States in sex, race, ethnicity, SES, and urbanicity. (The sample comes from the ABCD initiative funded by the NIH). These children took multiple cognitive tests for intelligence measures. To look at genetic effects, children were genotyped and we calculated their polygenic scores. It’s an index that puts together thousands of DNA regions associated with differences in cognitive performance, educational attainment, and mathematical ability (Lee et al., 2018). This allowed us to give a score to each of our participants, which represents their genetic propensity for higher or lower intelligence.

    With all of that in place, my colleagues and I could test potential interactions of schooling and the polygenic scores for intelligence – in other words, check if schooling gains in intelligence depended on children’s genetic predispositions. The bad news is that schooling is not narrowing the gap that arises from preexisting genetic inequality (though at least it’s not widening the gap either). We found evidence of zero genetic interactions with schooling. The good news is that we also found the average impact on intelligence from two years of schooling to be larger than the average impact from genetic predispositions for intelligence or socioeconomic status. That impact of schooling was about the same as the combined effect of brain maturation and every other experience that the children had. That’s huge! These results imply that education has the power and potential to close gaps between children (even though it’s not right now). It has the power to be the great equalizer.

    Keep in mind that our study was in children from the US under the American school system. Would the same results generalize to Europe? We don’t know yet. The European system certainly has some distinct features – some in favor of the equalizer (such as lower inequalities) and some potentially against the equalizer (such as splinting children earlier into different educational paths based on test scores).

    My take-home message is: The evidence so far  tells us that education is not a great equalizer for genetic predispositions in intelligence. Similar to what other fields of research found out for starting wealth. If we want education to be a better force of equity, then more attention should be paid to children struggling due to their genetic differences. Our school systems can and must do better.

  • Interview with Prof. Iroise Dumontheil

    Your research interest lies in executive functions. What is the role of executive functions, and why is it important to study them in childhood and adolescence? 

    Like many concepts in cognitive neuroscience or psychology, there is no fixed definition of executive functions. They broadly refer to a set of cognitive processes that allow us to interact with the world in a goal-directed manner and that are called on when we are faced with situations where routine behaviours or automatic thoughts are not sufficient. Within this umbrella can be found cognitive processes such as working memory, which corresponds to the maintenance and manipulation of information in a mental workspace – in the spotlight of thoughts – and inhibitory control, which allow us to stop a dominant, automatic response or ignore distraction. Executive functions rely predominantly on fronto-parietal brain networks, which exist already in infancy, but continue to mature throughout childhood and adolescence, and lead to improvement in performance on executive functions task. For example, on average, children go from being able to repeat two numbers backwards at age five years old to 4 or 5 numbers at age 14/15 years old. Individual differences in executive functions associate with a whole range of outcomes, including academic outcomes, and executive functions are impaired in a number of neurodevelopmental disorders. There has been, therefore, a lot of interest in better understanding executive functions development and how it may be fostered. 

    What is the role played by the rostral prefrontal cortex in executive function development? 

    The precise function of the rostral prefrontal cortex (RLPFC) is still unclear. During my PhD, working with my supervisor Prof. Paul Burgess at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, we were interested in further studying the function of this brain region, which lies right at the front of the frontal cortex, behind the forehead. In terms of cytoarchitecture, this brain region seems to have low neuronal cell density and high connectivity, and it has been proposed that this may allow it to process more abstract information, somewhat disconnected from the environment and from the present time. Increased activation (measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging) in RPFC has been observed when we are retrieving information from the past (episodic memory) or remembering to do something in the future (prospective memory), but also when we reason about relations, which is a key element of tasks that measure “fluid intelligence.” So, the maturation of this brain region and its interaction with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and parietal cortex likely support the maturation of these aspects of higher cognition into adolescence and early adulthood.

    In what ways do executive functions relate to academic achievement? 

    Individual differences in working memory in particular, but also inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility, are associated with academic achievement. In a broad way, executive functions allow children and adolescents to stay still, avoid distractions, remember instructions, concentrate on the teacher in class, and do their homework at home. More specifically, working memory allows children to keep words in mind when reading a long sentence, numbers when carrying out arithmetic calculations, or imagine the possible outcomes of a science experiment.

    Is there a way to improve executive function development in children and adolescents? 

    Because of the strong association between individual differences in executive function and academic achievement, this has been a hot topic in the last two decades. The research suggests that executive functions, such as working memory, can be trained through repeated practice of, e.g., specifically designed games that get harder and harder as children progress. However, these improved executive function skills do not consistently transfer to improvement in academic outcomes or everyday functioning. In fact, children with poorer working memory to start with may not be the ones who benefit most from training, suggesting there may be some intrinsic functional constraints that have limited their working memory in the first place. These results have been disappointing, and recent research has focused on implementing training within a specific context of, e.g., maths, to facilitate transfer. Another approach has been to try to train the use of executive functions, rather than executive functions themselves, in a particular context. For example, in a Centre for Educational Neuroscience project called UnLocke with researchers from my own institution, Birkbeck, and UCL Institute of Education, we designed the Stop & Think intervention, which aims to train primary school children to stop and think when solving maths and science problems to avoid giving an intuitive, but incorrect, answer.

    What are the remaining questions in the field of executive function development today?

    So many! As I mentioned to start with, we still do not have a clear definition of executive functions. While it is an umbrella term that covers a lot of different cognitive processes, is there a “core” or “common” executive function? This relates to the proposal that a fronto-parietal multi-demand network supports performance in a range of tasks, possibly because it allows the maintenance of task rules, by my former postdoctoral supervisor, Prof. John Duncan. There are suggestions that executive functions may be less differentiated in early childhood, with a gradual specialisation observed both in terms of behaviour and brain function during the course of development. However, direct evidence is still scarce. Finally, a distinction has been made between “hot” executive function, when emotions and rewards are implicated, and “cold” executive function when they are not. Whether this distinction is meaningful and how executive function may support emotional regulation or be affected, over the course of development, by emotional reactivity and reward sensitivity is another key question.

  • Christel Klootwijk - Academic Motivation During the COVID-19 Pandemic

    Christel Klootwijk started her PhD at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in October 2021. Her PhD research will mainly focus on children’s development of prosocial behavior and is supported by the Ammodo Science Award 2020. She is supervised by Prof. Dr. Paul van Lange, Prof. Dr. Nienke van Atteveldt, Dr. Jellie Sierksma, and Dr. Nikki Lee. Before joining the VU, Christel followed the Research Master Psychology (specialization Developmental Psychology) at Leiden University and worked as a research assistant at CHANGE Leiden. One of her main projects as a research assistant focused on adolescents’ academic motivation and social and emotional well-being during the first COVID-19 school closure.

    You recently published an article on academic motivation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Could you briefly describe how the study was set up?

    I set up this study as a research assistant at Leiden University together with i.a. dr. Anna van Duijvenvoorde during the first COVID-19 school closure in the Netherlands. We decided to monitor the daily academic motivation of high school students (12-16 years) as well as their social interactions (support from and conflict with peers and parents) and mood through a daily diary study during this unprecedented situation. We collected data for a total of 20 days in May and June 2020, on both physical and online school days. 

    What were your main findings?

    We found that adolescents reported lower academic motivation on online as compared to physical school days. However, when taking perceived parental support into account, we saw that this pattern was especially evident for adolescents with lower mean levels of parental support. Additionally, we found that, in general, positive mood was positively related to their academic motivation. This held for both within-subject and between-subjects positive mood, i.e., adolescents were more motivated for school on days that they reported higher levels of positive mood compared to their own average level, and adolescents with higher mean levels of positive mood than the sample’s average were also on average more motivated for school.

    How do you explain the role of parental support in academic motivation?

    Our study suggests a buffering factor of parental support for the overall negative association between online education and academic motivation. Speculatively, parental support is especially important for adolescents’ academic motivation during online education as they may need more parental help compared to a situation of regular education. Parental support may positively affect adolescents’ academic motivation by stimulating feelings of relatedness and competence in their school work, but it may also indirectly influence motivation by positively affecting mood and mental health. Although examining these relationships was beyond the scope of this study, future studies should further investigate this potentially essential role of parental support in online education.

    Based on your findings, how do you think school closures should be treated in the future to maximize student well-being and academic motivation?

    Our findings shed light on the potential consequences of school closure on academic motivation, especially for adolescents who feel less supported by their parents. Therefore, when making decisions about potential future school closures, these consequences should not be overlooked. Additionally, as we show the important role of positive mood for academic motivation, promoting mental well-being may help adolescents who are struggling with their academic motivation during online education.

    Do you have any suggestions for how future research should approach the study of academic motivation during the Covid-19 pandemic?

    Future research should further explore mediation and bidirectional relationships between academic motivation, social interactions, and mood. Additionally, our study showed some first potential consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, but future studies should also assess the possible long-term effects of school closure.

  • Prof. Nienke Van Atteveldt - How Learning Essentially Changes the Brain and Why this is a Good Thing

    (Disclaimer: This piece was originally published in Unesco MGIEP’s Blue Dot magazine and is published here with their permission)

    One important feature of learning is that it changes the brain. Whenever a child (or an adult) learns something new, some slight changes occur in the chemical and physical properties within the responsible neural networks. This is also called brain plasticity, as the brain’s organisation is not fixed but malleable.  Which changes occur exactly depends on which neural networks are being used. Connections between neurons that are used a lot become stronger and faster, and this is how we learn. Following from this, teaching can be seen as evoking such changes in the brain. Now, while working in the interdisciplinary team of UNESCO MGIEP’s International Science and Evidence based Education Assessment (Duraiappah et al., 2021), I have come to realise that this feature of learning – its material basis if you will – is not as straightforward as I assumed with my neuroscience-mindset.. In fact, framing learning in this way can be perceived as concerning, and this makes the dialogue between educational neuroscientists and the ‘critical neuroscience’ perspective extremely important. In this article, I will try to explain how understanding the neuroscience of learning can be useful for teachers and learners, either directly or more indirectly, and I hope to take away some misunderstandings, to facilitate this constructive dialogue. 

    A clear example of how learning changes the brain comes from the work of Stan Dehaene and colleagues on how learning to read transforms the brain. By comparing the brains of literate and illiterate people, they showed how profoundly the brain changes with reading instruction, both in visual and in language-related neural mechanisms (Dehaene et al., 2015). A relevant question is how such insights can be used to improve learning and teaching, and foster child development towards flourishing. 

    An example of neuroscience studies useful for education are neuroimaging studies that show a better prediction of learning difficulties, and of which treatment is effective for whom, over and above behavioural indicators (Gabrieli, 2016). Moreover, neuroscience can contribute to our knowledge about what are optimal learning conditions, for example in terms of sleep, nutrition, etcetera (Thomas et al., 2020). More indirectly, insights in how the brain learns and develops can influence beliefs and attitudes. For example, a better understanding of protracted adolescent brain development may stimulate teachers to provide more guidance with planning or simply to be more patient and understanding. Similarly, a better understanding of individual differences (i.e., diversity) and learning disabilities may reduce stereotypes and negative attitudes.

    Clearly, there are also many challenges. A main challenge is that the conditions under which most neuroscience studies take place are not naturalistic, but rather, situated in artificial laboratory environments and tightly controlled to measure an isolated process. In other words, most studies suffer from low ‘ecological validity’, making it hard to translate the findings to real-life learning situations. Different approaches are being taken to include more realistic contexts in neuroscience studies (van Atteveldt et al., 2018). For example, developments in portable neuroimaging devices, such as mobile Electro-Encephalography (EEG), enable measuring neural processes in naturalistic contexts such as working classrooms (Janssen et al., 2021). Another approach is to embrace input from diverse stakeholders and disciplines, creating a new, transdisciplinary science (Youdell et al., 2020) which is much better able to increase understanding of learning and development by including different angles to address the same questions. 

    Another challenge is the abundance of misunderstandings and ‘neuromyths’. Much has been written about neuromyths (e.g., Howard-Jones, 2014), so I will be brief. It is a fact that there are many persistent misconceptions about the brain (e.g., we only use 10% of it) and about brain research (e.g., a brain scan can show whether a child is gifted, has autism, etc.). An underrepresented side of such misconceptions are the more sceptical ones. One misunderstanding I would like to counter here is that educational neuroscience is essentially a reductionist effort. Most of my neuroscience colleagues would agree that child development cannot be reduced to one level, but rather, multiple complementary levels of change

    are equally important and dynamically interact during development (van Atteveldt et al., 2021). Importantly, interactions across levels can lead to emerging properties that are missed when these levels are considered separately. The brain is just one of these levels, one piece of the puzzle. Neuromyths and more sceptical misunderstandings can be harmful as they can promote overly optimistic as well as overly pessimistic views about brain research and its potential contributions.

    A constructive dialogue and more interdisciplinary collaboration, including a range of stakeholders, are important to prevent such negative side effects of miscommunication.

    Let me come back to the second part of the title. Why is changing the brain a good thing? Old habits die hard; if school is the place where children learn the skills needed to live in good standing with each other and with nature, the gains can be high. Children have this learning potential because of the high plasticity of their young brains. But this is by no means the same as letting schools “sculpt” or “control” children’s brains – the reality is far too complex for this to happen. Instruction during lessons at school is only a fraction of daily-life experiences and biological maturation processes that are continually ongoing in children. As mentioned above, child development and learning are the result of a complex interplay of changes at a range of levels, from the weight of neural connections to the social environment and cultural norms in which a child’s life is embedded. Moreover, as has been a longstanding realization, development is shaped both by ‘nature’ (e.g., genes) and ‘nurture’ (e.g., environment). This complexity shows that it is an illusion that we can unlimitedly “sculpt” children’s brains. An overemphasis on malleability is referred to as the “nurture assumption” (Sokolowski & Ansari, 2018), in which the biological basis of individual differences is largely ignored, leading to inflated expectations of interventions to improve learning ability. Still, even with tempered expectations of the possibility to sculpt brains, it is wise to have an ongoing dialogue on ethics, especially with the rise of commercially available tools to train and stimulate brains (Williamson, 2019).

    To conclude, sculpting brains into an ideal mould is not something that educational neuroscience strives to achieve. Rather, we aim to solve a piece of the complex puzzle. By aligning the goals of schooling with what we need for a better world, skills and attitudes can be scaffolded for, hopefully, a majority of children to build not only cognitive but also social and emotional competencies, and the attitudes and values needed to take care of others and of our planet. As long as we have a constructive interdisciplinary dialogue, knowledge from neuroscience can contribute to reimagining education for the future, as one out of multiple levels of understanding child development in a complex world.

  • The Main Takeaways from the Diversity Day Seminar

    Current selection practices have led to decreased diversity in the student body of health professions education (HPE) programs. This finding is concerning because diversity ensures the quality of health education and increases patient satisfaction. The current lack of diversity has been linked to the increasingly selection-based enrolment at HPE programs, which has resulted in individuals with parents on social welfare and individuals with a migration background having lower odds of being selected. In addition, the lack of diversity is perpetuated by the fact that minority students lack a sense of belonging at medical universities. Our speakers propose several potential solutions starting from targeted recruitment strategies, increasing the number of minority role models, and finally ending with a suggestion to engage in conscious dialogues.

    From High School Student to Medical Student 

    Diversity and inequality of opportunity in selection for university Health Professions Education (HPE) programs

    Selection has led to increased inequality in university-level health professions education (HPE) programs. Lianne Mulder, along with her research team, has investigated the consequences of the change from a hybrid lottery/selection procedure to the 100% selection-based process on the diversity of the student body in HPE. In a retrospective multicohort study, they followed three cohorts of 16-year-old high-school students (2008, 2012, 2015) for three years. The findings showed that in the 2008 cohort (lottery & max. 50% selection), female applicants and those with parents in the top 10% of the wealth distribution had higher odds of being selected. With increasingly selection-based enrolment programs, additional determinants of admission became clear: individuals with parents on social welfare and individuals with a migration background had lower odds of being selected. The socioeconomic background of the student could not explain this migration background-related disadvantage. Finally, with entirely selection-based enrollment, children of medical professionals had a higher chance of being selected into the program.  

    Looking at the precursors of the lack of higher education diversity, the researchers found that most of the diversity is lost at the entrance of the pre-university track in high school (VWO), resulting in a (potential) eligible pool which is not representative of their peers.

    Potential implications were also discussed, such as the need in primary and secondary education for removing the barriers in the transition to pre-university education. Lianne Mulder proposed some of the ways this could be achieved: recruiting a representative applicant pool with targeted recruitment efforts and adopting equitable admissions policies. However, such equitable admissions policies are not yet legally permitted in the Netherlands. Lianne Mulder, together with her team and a diverse group of experts and stakeholders, is working on a recommendations report for policy changes in this direction.

    From Medical Student to Doctor 

    Motivation and academic performance of ethnic medical students

    Motivation is an essential determinant of well-being and success among medical students. In a comparative study, Dr. Isik and her collaborators showed that autonomous motivation (driven by intrinsic rewards) was higher in non-Western students in pre-clinical and clinical education. In contrast, the controlled motivation (driven by extrinsic rewards) of Western students was higher than Dutch students. However, greater autonomous motivation of non-Western students did not lead to higher GPA. To find possible mediators of this relationship, the team investigated differences in students' study strategies and found that the achieving tragedy was a mediator between autonomous motivation and GPA for Dutch students but not for non-Western or Western minorities. The team conducted a focus group study in this population to zero in on the possible influences of motivation in ethnic minority students. One of the most prominent findings was that students lack a sense of belonging to the medical network, and they lack role models from ethnic minorities. As potential solutions to these issues, ethnic minority students wished to be facilitated in building and maintaining networks, having role models (teachers/mentors) from migration backgrounds, and receiving guidance in communication skills. 

    Dr. Isik proposed practical implications for creating a better learning environment for minority students. These included: improving the inclusive environment, raising cultural awareness and competence, guiding the students, providing more clarity on what is expected of them, and recruiting representative role models. 

    Living up to the unhidden prejudices about race and diversity in medical education and health care systems

    Dr. Jamiu O. Busari is careful about defining the difference between equity and equality. He defines equality as the equal treatment and availability of health care services to all people, which carries the goal of achieving fairness. However, it is limited by the assumption that everyone has the same starting point and needs the same things. On the other hand, equity in a medical setting is achieved by taking into account the factors that may influence health (e.g., employment, housing, transportation, education, socioeconomic status, food access). 

    According to Dr. Busari, the definition of diversity - "all possible ways in which people differ from each other" - is also amenable to change. The changeability, however, is dependent on an individual's environment at any particular moment in time. The changeable aspects of diversity, for example, include economic status, marital status, profession, and religious beliefs and are referred to as secondary dimensions. The unchangeable aspects include characteristics such as our DNA, ethnicity, race, biological parents, and physical deformities and constitute the primary dimensions of diversity.

    What interests Dr. Busari in the issues concerning diversity are those mechanisms driving these processes, such as privilege and hence, the importance of us understanding our privilege(s). According to the coin model of privilege, at any given time, each of us is either privileged or oppressed within a specific context or system of inequality. Although some of these privileges are earned, and others are not. Therefore, according to Dr. Busari, it is essential to be aware of our (un)earned privileges and how we apply these in practice. 

    The main message from Dr. Busari is that understanding these notions is crucial in the move from inequality to justice. We must understand that providing equity is not sufficient for this transition. We need to enable the process such that the disadvantaged ones are placed on an equal playing field with those who are opportune. To achieve this, we need to exercise critical consciousness. That is, to engage less in discussions and more in dialogues - cognitive, affective, and experiential interactions that would enable us to achieve an authentic understanding of equity and social justice.

  • Dr. Marjolein Camphuijsen and Professor Dr. Melanie Ehren - Mainstream and Supplementary Education: How to Make the Marriage Work?

    Dutch students increasingly participate in educational activities outside school hours, often with the aim of improving their performance in the regular education system. Examples include tutoring, test- and exam training, homework assistance, and extra support for specific learning needs. While these forms of supplementary education are sometimes provided by schools themselves, in other instances, external actors -including private for-profit companies or charitable organizations- are offering these types of schooling. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in the provision of supplementary education, now publicly funded through school-based block grants to repair learning loss. Many schools and parents rely on supplementary education to improve children’s outcomes, but the collaboration between the mainstream and supplementary education sector is not a straightforward one. In this blog, we discuss some of the benefits and pitfalls of a growing supplementary education sector and offer three takeaway messages that could potentially ‘make the marriage work.’

    Defining supplementary education

    Supplementary education is education that schools or other parties -with or without costs for parents- organize outside school hours and that support students in their regular education programme (Bisschop, van den Berg & van der Ven, 2019; Elffers et al., 2019). In public debates, as well as in the international academic literature, supplementary education is often referred to as shadow education, which has been defined as supplementary educational activities that students follow after school at their own expense in order to improve their learning and school performance (Elffers & Jansen, 2019). Educational activities that are organized free of charge, for example, by charitable organisations, in an attempt to support children's education, are generally not regarded as shadow education. Nonetheless, this definition is increasingly subject to debate, in part due to the variety of supplementary education activities that have emerged, as well as the different goals that are being pursued and the different groups that are targeted. These sometimes partly do and sometimes partly do not fall under the formal definition of shadow education. As a result, we consider the term supplementary education more encompassing.

    A thriving industry

    The exact amount of supplementary education accessed by numbers of students is difficult to establish. There is, however, ample evidence that the private supplementary education industry is thriving. For example, between 2015 and 2017, the total revenue of companies that offer tutoring, test- and exam training, and homework assistance increased from 48.5 million to 69.2 million (Bisschop, van den Berg & van der Ven, 2019). Moreover, Statistics Netherlands estimates that household expenditure on supplementary education increased from 189 to 284 million between 2015 and 2018.

    Should we be worried about the growth of supplementary education?

    The answer to the question lies in the quality of the service and who is able to access it. When organized sensibly and effectively, supplementary education might prevent slow learners from falling behind and thus help reduce unequal outcomes both in classrooms and in the broader society. At the same time, supplementary education might not only be beneficial for students’ self-confidence, motivation, and performance but could simultaneously relieve teachers’ workload. This might, in particular, be the case when schools that themselves struggle to provide additional support engage with external actors to make sure the needs of all students are met.

    Nonetheless, supplementary education can also have very problematic dimensions. At least in the case of paid-for activities, research shows that such forms of supplementary education are mostly used by students from privileged backgrounds to improve exam results and gain a competitive advantage over their peers. In contrast, pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who need additional tutoring and support often do not access supplementary education or make use of free offers. As a result, there is a real risk that social inequalities are maintained or exacerbated by paid-for forms of supplementary education, in particular when there exists a quality difference between free and paid-for activities. Other risks that are often mentioned relate to the adverse effects on the mainstream schooling system when core educational tasks are delegated to supplementary education providers or when teachers leave for jobs in the supplementary sector resulting in a hollowing out of the mainstream system. Moreover, scholars have pointed towards the potential negative effects of supplementary education on children’s mental health as a result of an increase in hours devoted to school work, increased pressure to perform well, as well as psychological anxiety when not relying on supplementary education.

    Mainstream and supplementary education: how to make the marriage work

    We present the following takeaway messages to ensure overall positive outcomes of supplementary education in support of the public system:

    1. Track and monitor supplementary education. Without good data about the scale, size, quality, and nature of supplemental education and who is accessing it, any discussion about potential benefits or pitfalls of supplementary education remains largely anecdotal. Good policy and improvement of practice requires information.
    2. Regulate quality of supplementary education. In the mainstream system, school quality is regulated and monitored through school inspections, where parents can use inspections reports and information provided by the school to ‘vote with their feet’ and choose a high-quality school. Such regulation and monitoring is also put in place to ensure a minimum standard of quality. For supplementary education, such regulation is largely absent as parents are expected to ‘vote with their feet’ when services are not up to standards. However, many parents are unable to make an informed decision or lack the information to change provider; services are often also paid for through external funding and offered by schools or municipalities who are not monitoring quality (e.g., part of COVID-related catch-up programmes). Quality control of individual tutors and/or agencies by a knowledgeable agency is needed to improve practice.
    3. Ensure the mainstream system can meet the needs of all students. Ideally, there is no need for supplementary education when schools can meet the needs of all students and ensure equal opportunities for high learning outcomes. Relying on external partners to provide additional support and teaching will fragment the system and might also put an additional burden on schools and teachers. They now have to take into account that learning of some of their students is taking place outside of their span of control and this requires additional time and effort for coordination and alignment of teaching and curriculum coverage. Where the mainstream system cannot meet the needs of all students, there should at the minimum be a provision for disadvantaged students to access similar cost-free supplemental education as their more advantaged peers.

    To conclude

    The growth in supplementary education has given rise to a public debate on the desirability of this trend. In many respects, there still exists a lack of sufficient empirical evidence to provide a clear direction for policy and practice in response to the growing reliance on supplementary education in the Netherlands. This highlights the need for more research focused both on the drivers and the implications of supplementary education. At the same time, it is crucial to reach a collective agreement on what should be part of the mainstream education system and what can be provided through supplementary education. This will clarify what is and can be expected of schools and provide direction for policy and practice.

     

    References

    Bisschop, P., Berg E. van den, Ven, K. van der, Geus, W. de, & Kooij, D. (2019). Aanvullend en particulier onderwijs. Onderzoek naar de verschijningsvormen en omvang van aanvullend en particulier onderwijs en motieven voor deelname. Amsterdam: SEO Economisch Onderzoek; Utrecht: Oberon. 

    Elffers, L. & Jansen, D. (2019). De opkomst van schaduwonderwijs in Nederland: Wat weten we en welke vragen liggen nog open? Retrieved on 27 October 2021 from: htps://www.nro.nl/sites/nro/fles/migrate/ rapport-schaduwonderwijs-Elfers-Jansen-2019.pdf

    Elffers, L., Fukkink, R., Jansen, D., Helms, R., Timmerman, G., Fix, M., & Lusse, M. (2019). Aanvullend onderwijs: leren en ontwikkelen naast de school: een verkennende schets van het landschap van aanvullend onderwijs in Nederland. Nationale Wetenschapsagenda.

  • Jacqueline Zadelaar - Social Influence on Decision-Making in Adolescence

    Decision-making, social influence, and adolescence

    When making decisions, people may rely on information they themselves can extract from the situation as well as on information provided by others. For example, when answering a multiple-choice exam question, a student may rely on their own knowledge of the subject and careful inspection of the question, but they may also peek at the answer of their neighbor. Information provided by others may benefit decision-making by providing additional knowledge or insights, but it may also be detrimental when the other person is less knowledgeable or has different priorities than the decision-maker.

    Adolescence is a developmental stage in which social influence has a prominent role, helping develop social skills and coping mechanisms (Berndt, 1992; van Hoorn et al., 2016), shaping interests and social identities (Welborn et al., 2016), but also stimulating risk-taking behavior (Blakemore & Robbins, 2012; Shepherd et al., 2011). The stereotype is that adolescents are particularly susceptible to social influence, especially peers, though scientific findings on the subject are inconsistent (Sumter et al., 2009). We investigate this phenomenon by focusing on cognitive mechanisms driving-decision making under the social influence, examining individual differences and age-related changes in both the extent and manner in which social influence guides decision-making.

    Distinguishing between decision mechanisms

    To get a complete picture of if and why adolescent decision-making is more susceptible to social influence, we studied the mechanisms behind it. In doing so, we distinguish between the extent to which individually attained information and information provided by others affect decision making, and the manner in which the decision maker uses either or both types of information to reach a decision (i.e., decision strategies). For example, some people may employ a strategy wherein they only ever consider one type of information while others adopt a strategy in which they consider each type of information one after another, and yet others may integrate both types of information to reach a decision. By distinguishing between extent and strategy of information use, one prevents mistaking one for another – something that could distort findings by inflating the effects of interest. Through an innovative Bayesian hierarchical mixture modeling approach, both mechanisms can be estimated simultaneously and on an individual basis. Additionally, this model only requires a single decision task to be administered rather than separate versions with and without a social influence component, as is common in this type of research.

    Adolescents not more susceptible to social influence

    We hypothesized the increased sensitivity to social influence in adolescence to be explained by a shift in decision strategies. Specifically, we expected a shift between childhood and adolescence from a strategy relying solely on individually attained information to strategies relying on

    information provided by others as well. However, in a large sample of 9- through 14-year-olds, no such strategy shift was observed, nor was there an increase in the extent to which either type of information influenced decisions. This speaks against the controversial view of adolescents’ heightened sensitivity to social influence, at least pertaining to early adolescence. In light of this, absence of the expected age-related shift in decision strategy seems logical.

    Notable individual differences in strategy use were observed. Youngsters either relied solely on individually attained information or on both types of information to make decisions, either sequentially or integratively. No one relied solely on information provided by others, a finding in agreement with the phenomenon of ‘egocentric discounting’ – a tendency to value ones’ own insights and opinions over those of others (Rader et al., 2017; Yaniv & Kleinberger, 2000). Given the qualitatively distinct manners in which social influence affects decision-making in different strategies, these findings suggest that research looking exclusively at the extent to which social influence affects decisions may provide an overly simplistic view of this phenomenon.

    Implications and future research

    In the current study, both the decision-maker and the influencer were anonymous. While this translates to certain real-life situations (e.g., online decision-making), different effects may be expected in different decision formats (Deutsch, 1955; Rader et al., 2017). Future research, starting with a recently launched master thesis project, will systematically vary and compare decision-relevant factors such as anonymity, reliability of the social influencer, as well as decision objectives. By mapping out the developmental trajectory of decision mechanisms under social influence in a variety of contexts, we aim to better understand real-life decision making as well as providing an overview of the effects associated with different decision task characteristics.

    Contact information

    Name: Jacqueline Zadelaar Email: j.n.zadelaar@vu.nl

    Article: Zadelaar, J. N., Agelink van Rentergem, J. A., Schaaf, J. V., Dekkers, T. J., de Vent, N., Dekkers, L. M. S., Olthof, M. C, Jansen, B. R. J., Huizenga, H. M. (in press). Development of decision making based on internal and external information: A hierarchical Bayesian approach.

    Literature

    Berndt, T. J. (1992). Friendship and friends' influence in adolescence. Current directions in psychological science, 1(5), 156-159.

    Blakemore, S. J., & Robbins, T. W. (2012). Decision-making in the adolescent brain. Nature Neuroscience, 15(9), 1184–1191. http://doi.org/10.1038/nn.3177

    Deutsch, M., & Gerard, H. B. (1955). A study of normative and informational social influences upon individual judgment. The Journal Of Abnormal And Social Psychology, 51(3), 629.

    Rader, C. A., Larrick, R. P., & Soll, J. B. (2017). Advice as a form of social influence: Informational motives and the consequences for accuracy. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 11(8), e12329.

    Shepherd, J. L., Lane, D. J., Tapscott, R. L., & Gentile, D. A. (2011). Susceptible to Social Influence: Risky “Driving” in Response to Peer Pressure. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41(4), 773–797. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2011.00735.x

    Sumter, S. R., Bokhorst, C. L., Steinberg, L., & Westenberg, P. M. (2009). The developmental pattern of resistance to peer influence in adolescence: Will the teenager ever be able to resist?. Journal of adolescence, 32(4), 1009-1021.

    Welborn, B. L., Lieberman, M. D., Goldenberg, D., Fuligni, A. J., Galván, A., & Telzer, E. H. (2016). Neural mechanisms of social influence in adolescence. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 11(1), 100-109.

    van Hoorn, J., van Dijk, E., Meuwese, R., Rieffe, C., & Crone, E. A. (2016). Peer influence on prosocial behavior in adolescence. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 26(1), 90-100.

    Yaniv, I., & Kleinberger, E. (2000). Advice taking in decision making: Egocentric discounting and reputation formation. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 83(2), 260–281. https://doi.org/10.1006/obhd.2000.2909

  • Interview with Dr. Cor van Montfort

    You have been working on an evaluation of the new legislation concerning early childcare in the Caribbean Netherlands. Could you tell us more about it?

    To be precise, I did not work on the evaluation of the new legislation. Instead, I worked on the ex-ante assessment, where I looked at the concept of the new law, and I looked at the childcare program, called Bes(t)4kids, that has been running for three years and will be running for three more years until the new law is implemented. BES stands for the BES islands, an acronym for Bonaire, St. Eustatia, and Saba, three small islands in the Caribbean that are a part of the Netherlands. A consultancy firm is going to evaluate this program during the next three years. Thus, I looked at the plan that the consultancy bureau made to follow and monitor the program for three years. That is also an ex-ante way of looking at things.

    Before we go forward, could you explain the new legislation to our readers?

    The new legislation wants to make childcare more affordable, more safe, and of better quality. These are the three goals of the new legislation. Child care was quite expensive on the islands, and the government has decided to invest in solving this issue. They also want to make childcare safer. By safety, I mean safety in the buildings. There are many buildings in which childcare is provided. Sometimes they are old and not very safe for the children. Thus, the Dutch government wants to invest in the safety of these buildings. However, safety also has to do with social safety and safe environments in which the children can play and learn. Higher quality means the professionalization of the staff of the child care organizations. These three elements are the core of the new law.

    The Dutch government wants to do this because it takes childcare as a crucial aspect in the development of young children. The theory behind the policy is that it is imperative to provide children, from the beginning, with chances and opportunities in a society. If this basis is lacking, children will have problems for the rest of their lives. This is the theory behind this quite massive investment.

    What are the most critical findings from your pre-evaluation?

    There are three things. What the new law is proposing in terms of structure when we are talking about the roles and responsibilities of all the parties - the Dutch government, the inspectorate, the childcare organizations - is quite clear. However, there is one issue with the structure: the new law pays almost no attention to governance. They do not pay attention to the quality of the governance of the child care organizations. In my view, that is a critical factor. Professional management and professional leadership are critical. However, the law says (almost) nothing about this issue. My advice was to pay more attention, both in the program that is already running, and the new law, to the governance of these organizations.

    The main problems, or questions, that arise are on what I call the Process, Behavior, and Culture. The Dutch government wants to operate and act on an equal level with people on the islands, to consider them equal to us. That is a problem because the Dutch government pays,

    the Dutch government has made the policy, the Dutch government can put many people on this topic. From the perspective of the islands, it is almost impossible to act in an equal way with this Big Brother. The Dutch government wants to do so, but the perception on the islands is different. This is the dilemma of equivalence between the big Dutch government and the small islands. How can they communicate with each other on an equal basis when one party is huge and another very small and dependent on Big Brother?

    There are two more dilemma’s. The second dilemma is: On which topics do you need or want to have uniform standards on quality? Does every island and every childcare organization use the same standards? On what topics do you want to have more diversity between the islands? Both the Dutch government and the islands themselves are searching for a balance between what is uniform and what requires diversity.

    The third dilemma is between establishing the new structure of the law, which will be implemented within three years, and the problems of “here and now.” How do you solve the problems here and now? This is a problem for the islands, they have to act in an in-between space between the old law and the new law that is coming. There remains a gray zone in which they have to act and solve their acute problems.

    These three dilemmas are challenging to deal with both for the Dutch government and the islands.

    What are some of the solutions for these dilemmas?

    Concerning the dilemma of structure vs. issues “here and now,” I advised to come together and discover the issues that need to be solved and think about why they can not be solved within the current legal framework.

    On the issue of equivalence between the parties, I advised the Dutch government to try to be clear on which topics they require uniformity, for example, for the quality of childcare. It has to be more clear to the islands on which issues they can make their own choices and on which issues they have to follow the rules.

    Could you tell us more about how the new legislation is perceived on the islands?

    The goals of the program and the goals of the new legislation are supported by the islands. The people on the islands can recognize the problems on the islands: they can see that it is too expensive and that the new law can make it less expensive; they can see that the quality can be improved; the professionalization process is appreciated. However, what can be improved is the interaction and communication between the Dutch government and people on the islands.

    What are the possible implications of this legislation on the children in the Caribbean?

    The intentions of the law are enormous. The theory behind the law is very ambitious. It starts with childcare and ends with preventing poverty. One of the comments that I make in the

    evaluation is that it may be better to shrink the policy theory and focus on performance rather than the outcome of poverty and equal opportunities.

    What is happening now is that childcare IS becoming more affordable, safer, and more professional than it was four years ago. Most of the people I have spoken with think that the program is a success in that way. What they are thinking about now is how to maintain these gains for the longer term. This is why good communication between the islands and the Dutch government is so important. There are many examples of positive experiences on the islands. Hence, my advice is to share the good news and be positive about what is already happening.

  • Blog from Paula Dekkers-Verbon Supporting the child-caregiver attachment bond through a specially designed playmat

    Blog from Paula Dekkers-Verbon
    Supporting the child-caregiver attachment bond through a specially designed playmat 

    Parents can struggle with connecting to their young child with visual disabilities. Therefore, the ‘Social Relations and Attachment’ Academic Lab Bartiméus-Vrije Universiteit has, in collaboration with Eindhoven University of Technology and By-wire.net, developed a playmat called the Barti-mat. This multisensory, interactive mat provokes child-led play, which helps parents engage in sensitive and responsive interactions with their child. Eleven child-parent dyads participated in an effect study last year. Results were promising: children showed elevated joy and improved arousal while playing on the Barti-mat, and parents displayed more sensitive mirroring behaviour. In this blog, Paula Dekkers-Verbon, scientist-practitioner at the ‘Social Relations and Attachment’ Academic Lab, describes the rationale behind the Barti-mat and its evaluation. 

    The need for special play material

    Child-leading play is an easy and enjoyable way to connect to young children. Caregivers can, for example, mirror the baby in movements or sounds, like clapping or parroting sounds. Through this mirroring play, the child recognizes itself, feels understood, and the dyad experiences joy. Also, sensitive and responsive parents naturally mirror the inner world of the child by voicing what the child is experiencing and feeling. This mirroring of the affective states helps the child to regulate its emotions and to feel safe. However, parents of a child with a visual impairment have more difficulty exhibiting these sensitive and responsive behaviours, due to the scarce and confusing signals the child sends out. For example, a blind child turning its ear towards the sound of the parental voice is a sign of paying attention, but the parent can interpret this ‘looking away’ as a signal of lost interest in the interaction.

    Sharing (or joint) attention also connects young child-parent duos. Making eye contact, looking at the same object and pointing, are all behaviours that are less (or not) possible for children with visual disabilities. Joint attention in a child with visual impairment is more subtle (e.g., a child turning its body a certain direction) and therefore requires more effort and sensitive responsivity of parents. The increased difficulty in connecting to a child with visual disabilities leads to a greater chance of developing an insecure caregiver-child attachment relationship.

    Meet the Barti-mat

    The Barti-mat was developed to help parents playfully connect to their child with visual impairment. This large, colourful mat with different textures is appealing for young children to explore. The mat allows parents to follow up on the child-led play that naturally arises. The soundbox is programmed with eight sets containing four sounds (e.g., nature sounds, deep-sea animals). A sound can easily be triggered by gently touching one of the four big coloured blocks with integrated sensors. The volume is customizable, and the 3D-printed sound box with magnets can be removed for cleaning the mat.

    Effect study and implementation

    In the spring and summer of 2020, eleven child-parent dyads were willing to test the Barti-mat in their home setting. Dyads were requested to do eight rounds of 3-minute-play together, alternating between the Barti-mat and their own toys. Aged 9 months to 4 years with a maximum developmental age of 3 years, children generally enjoyed playing on the mat and laughed frequently, even more than when playing with their own toys. Children were also in a more optimal state of arousal while playing on the Barti-mat: they were less under- and over-aroused.

     Four out of eleven children had a developmental age of 6 months or younger. Parents already displayed many sensitive and responsive behaviours to attune to their child’s needs. However, when playing on the Barti-mat, parents generally were even more able to voice the affective states of children. This finding can be explained by the type of play the Barti-mat elicits: the sensory-stimulating, open-ended play facilitates parents to engage in sensitive mirroring behaviours more compared to playing with other (mostly individualistic) play material. Interestingly, parents themselves did not realize they showed more mirroring behaviours, emphasizing the subtleness and subconsciousness of sensitive responsivity. 

     Twelve Barti-mats were adopted by two expert organizations on visual impairment (Bartiméus and Koninklijke Visio) and are integrated into the home-based early intervention sessions for young children with visual impairment. The interactive playmat is widely applicable. Due to the open-ended play, there are no age restrictions for the Barti-mat. In addition, the Barti-mat can be used by parents who are proficient in relationship-focussed play but also by parents that are novice to this kind of interaction. For more information on the Barti-mat, please visit: https://www.by-wire.net/barti-mat/

     Dyzel, V., Dekkers-Verbon, P., Toeters, M., & Sterkenburg, P. S. (in press). For happy children with a visual or visual-and-intellectual disability: efficacy research to promote sensitive caregiving with the Barti-mat. British Journal of Visual Impairment.

  • Attachment measures and feasibility of use in clinical practice by Lianne Bakkum

    Attachment measures and feasibility of use in clinical practice by Lianne Bakkum

    I recently passed my PhD defence at the University of Cambridge. During my PhD, I dived deep into a widely-used instrument for measuring adult attachment representations: the Adult Attachment Interview (George et al., 1996). This hour-long semi-structured interview includes questions about relationship experiences with parents and other caregivers in childhood. My research focused on the category of “unresolved loss and trauma”, which describes disoriented or confused discourse about past loss or childhood abuse, such as irrational beliefs that a deceased person is still alive in the present.

    Becoming a certified coder of the Adult Attachment Interview

    To become a certified coder of the Adult Attachment Interview, one must take part in a two-week training institute and complete three rounds of reliability tests. The reliability testing process takes about 1,5 years, assuming that the coder in training passes each reliability test. Coding an interview may take up to 10-12 hours, depending on the length and complexity of the interview. In addition, the interview needs to be carefully transcribed according to specific guidelines. As Van IJzendoorn (1991) mentioned about three decades ago, the Adult Attachment Interview is probably among the most labour-intensive instruments in the behavioural sciences.

    Thesis research: Discovering ways to develop a less labour-intensive version of the “unresolved state of mind” coding system

    One of the chapters in my thesis described a study on the psychometric validity of the indicators of unresolved loss and trauma. The coding system has initially been developed on the basis of 88 interviews with caregivers and has been used by researchers for decades. However, the indicators of unresolved loss or trauma have not been psychometrically validated in independent study samples. In my research, I explored the extent to which these indicators contributed to the overall classification. Using individual participant data from the Collaboration of Attachment Transmission Synthesis (CATS), we pooled together a dataset of more than 1,000 Adult Attachment Interviews..

    Using machine learning techniques, we investigated the contribution of 32 individual indicators of unresolved loss and trauma to the overall classification. It was of great help that LEARN!-colleagues Chris van Klaveren and Ilja Cornelisz brought in their expertise for this paper. We found that two indicators contributed strongly to the classification, and that 22 out of 32 indicators did not occur frequently enough to be included in the analyses. Of these rare indicators, seven occurred only once in the entire sample of 1,009 interviews. We concluded that it does not make much sense for coders to keep looking for these rare indicators in interview transcripts, and emphasised the need for future methodological innovations to develop and validate optimised versions of the coding system. While the use of secondary data comes with many benefits, new data are needed for prospective hypothesis- and validity testing.

    Other studies: Making attachment measures feasible for use in clinical practice

    Optimised versions of attachment instruments may contribute to the feasibility of training and coding,and make the use of these measures less time-intensive. Another benefit of cut-down measures is that they may be more feasible for use in clinical practice. A recently validated, cut-down attachment measure is the Atypical Maternal Behavior Instrument for Assessment and Classification, brief version (AMBIANCE-Brief, Madigan et al., 2018). This assessment for disrupted caregiver behaviour originally contained 150 indices and is coded based on video-recorded caregiver-child observations. The brief version has been reduced to 45 indices and can be coded live (e.g., during home visits). The AMBIANCE-Brief has recently been tested for use by community practitioners, who underwent a 2-day training and a 3,5-hour reliability session. Eighty-nine percent of the participants met reliability standards (Madigan et al., 2021).

    Within our own section of Clinical Child and Family Studies, Mirte Forrer (scientist-practitioner) has been working under the supervision of Mirjam Oosterman and Carlo Schuengel on an application (OK! Opvoeder-Kind Interactie; English: caregiver-child interaction) for professionals working with families, to aid assessment of caregiver sensitivity during home visits. The app presents professionals with a decision tree, including questions such as: “Do you find the caregiving behaviour more insensitive or more sensitive?” and provides an outcome of caregiver sensitivity. Professionals can use this as a direction for further conversations with the caregiver, and for professional reports. The OK! app has been tested for reliability and validity and will soon be ready for implementation.

    To conclude, the next steps for the field of attachment research would be to investigate and validate optimised versions of attachment measures to make these more feasible for professionals working with children and families. Ways of optimising these measures may be discovered using large (secondary) datasets and rigorous methods, and optimised versions may be validated through repeating cycles of collecting new data and reliability and validity testing.

    Lianne Bakkum’s research page

  • Mariëtte Huizinga speaks about her research on executive functions and her current projects

    Mariëtte Huizinga speaks about her research on executive functions and her current projects

    Since the beginning of her academic career, Dr. Mariëtte Huizinga has been dedicated to studying the development of goal-directed behavior in children and adolescents. More specifically she examines the development of executive functions and their role in educational achievement. While she started with fundamental research, she is currently focusing on interventions to improve executive functions. In her position at the VU as an associate professor, she works on two large research projects. In the interview, she tells us more about those research projects and her motivation to study executive functions.

    Your main research focus is the development of executive functions. What are executive functions and why are they important for learning?

    Executive functions are a highly complex construct. It is an umbrella term that describes various cognitive processes to carry out goal directed behaviour. Our executive functions allow us to adjust rapidly to changing situations. It is therefore especially important for demanding and novel situations in which we can’t use automatic behaviours. Core functions that fit under the umbrella of executive functions are for example, working memory, inhibition, or cognitive flexibility. A frequent misunderstanding is that we cannot see executive functions – they are brain processes. What we can see however, is the behavior as a consequence of executive functions. If your executive functions are well developed, you are for example capable to plan your homework, show up on time or stick to deadlines. Deficits in executive functions on the other hand, can negatively affect your school success and can cause difficulties in your social and cognitive development. Those functions are consequently, very important for success in school and that’s why also teachers picked up on this topic.

    What is the critical age for developing executive functions?

    We can see that young children find it more difficult to show goal directed behaviour but the older they get, the better they become in using these executive functions to guide their behaviour. The development of executive functions takes long, into late adolescence and young-adulthood. One hypothesis is that this has to do with the development of a particular brain region. Research showed that the development of the prefrontal cortex is related to executive functions. Compared to other brain areas, the prefrontal cortex develops slowly – all the way into adolescence. That is one of the reasons why we think that executive functions develop so slowly.  However, recent research has shifted the attention towards the influence of environmental factors. Especially, to the role of school and classroom environment as a developmental context for promoting children's executive function and, in turn, their cognition and behaviour.

    You are currently working on a research project to study the effectiveness of different interventions to foster executive functions. What are you doing there exactly?

    I am co-advisor in some projects of a colleague from KU Leuven (Dr. Dieter Baeyens), in which we examine the effect of teacher-student interactions on the development of students' executive function skills. Many interventions/programmes were developed to foster executive functions and we can see that most of them are not effective – they lack durable and transferable effects. However, the quality of teacher-student relationship is related to the development of EF. Still, we do not know the direction of this association. To investigate this, my colleagues and I first did a large literature review of experiments and interventions that aim to improve children's executive functions by manipulating the teacher-student interaction. We are about to start the next phase of the project.

    What do you mean by ‘manipulating the student-teacher interactions’?

    In a design, so-called microtrials, we directly and briefly investigate theoretical hypotheses concerning the effect of teacher-student interaction on specific executive functions. Microtrials are randomized experiments with focused environmental manipulations to investigate specific mechanisms of change. An important topic encompasses the investigation of which dimension of teacher-student interaction (i.e. emotional, instructional or organizational support) holds the potential to improve executive functions. So, we teach teachers to focus on one specific method and subsequently observe the quality of the interaction between the teacher and student. With the help of these observations and questionnaires, you subsequently investigate how the executive functions in children improve. We are currently setting up our own microtrials in which we hope to go a step further. In the end, we aim to study if different combinations of dimensions might be more effective for some students than for others. We hope that with this research we can align the interventions more to individual needs and differences to improve the effectiveness of the intervention. 

    You are also working on a project focusing on study choice of VU students. What is this study aiming for?

    As part of the matching procedure for arriving students, the VU uses a questionnaire. However, the results of this questionnaire don’t really give good insight into the match between the student and the study chosen and in the meantime 20% -30% of the students drop out or switch after the first year. I am the project leader of a new project with the main aim to develop a new questionnaire, the so-called Study Choice Check. We want to get better insights into - among others - the interests, motivation and goal-directed behavior skills of the students. By having more insight, we hope to increase the quality of the match between the incoming students and the studies they have chosen thereby decreasing the number of drop-outs or switching students. We have just finished the data collection and are about to start the data analysis. I am very curious about the results which we can hopefully present at the beginning of 2022.

    What inspires you to study executive functions and keeps you motivated?

    I find it very interesting to observe children and adolescents in their development to become their own selves. I did my Master with one of the pioneers in the field, Dr. Marilyn C. Welsh. Her research really inspired me and motivated me to pursue a PhD on the development of executive functions. At this time, my research was very fundamental. I find it also very important to make this fundamental knowledge more applicable and useable in a classroom setting. To do so, together with Dr. Diana Smidts, I for example developed the Dutch adaptation of the Behaviour Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF) for children between ages 5 and 18. We also wrote a book on the development of executive functions, especially for parents and teachers. To examine ways to foster childrens’ and adolescents’ executive functions – and thereby their behavior and cognition - is very rewarding.

    Where would you be if you wouldn’t have pursued a career in academia?

    I don’t know if I wouldn’t have ended up in academia anyway. In the early nineties I ended up in Psychology – a study that I greatly enjoyed. If I would have been 18 years old by now, I would have been very attracted to the interdisciplinary study Conservation and Restoration at the UvA. Here you combine academic knowledge and technical skills to preserve art. Art has always interested me, especially the ‘How’ and ‘Why’ of art. So yes, this study would have been a serious competitor. In the early nineties, it did not yet exist in this form. So that’s why it was and still is Psychology.

  • Blog Melvin Vooren

    About me 

    Melvin Vooren is a post-doctoral researcher in the field of education sciences at ACLA since June of this year. Melvin has a background in economics, specifically education economics. On January 21st, he will defend his PhD thesis entitled “Essays on Human Capital Formation and Active Labor Market Policies” at the University of Amsterdam. Together with Chris van Klaveren and Ilja Cornelisz from ACLA, Melvin is working on the Comenius Project “Plan for Success”. This is a joint project with VU analytics and the study advisors from the Faculty of Behavioral and Movement Sciences (FGB) and the School of Business and Economics (SBE). The goal of this project is to give FGB and SBE undergraduate students more autonomy in their study planning. In this interview, he will explain more about the project, as well as his research interests.

    What is the Comenius project about?

    Dutch universities have been struggling with attrition and study delay for years. Since the end of the 1990s, Dutch universities have been using academic dismissal policies (in Dutch: bindend studieadvies) in the first year of bachelor programs to reduce attrition and delay in later years. The idea behind this is that by dismissing poor-performing students during the first year of the program, this will decrease attrition and delay in later years. However, interventions to improve study success in later years are scarce and evidence on their effectiveness is limited.

    How is the Comenius project going to improve study success?

    The aim of the Comenius project “Plan for Success” is to increase study success in later years by giving at-risk students more autonomy in their study planning in year two. At-risk students are students who have failed one or more courses in year one. The idea is that by giving them personalized predictions on the probability of passing a course, at-risk students can make a more informed decision on the number of courses they take up at the same time in year two. Our hypothesis is that taking more than two courses at the same time decreases the probability of passing the individual courses, because students will have to divide their time over more courses. In addition to the number of courses to take up, students must decide which courses they prioritize in year two. The Plan for Success platform helps students in their study decisions by feeding back a personalized probability of success for each course in each study plan. A study plan is a combination of courses in a specific period. This feedback is visualized as a percentage ranging between 0 and 100 percent.

    How are these personalized predictions computed?

    Through VU analytics, we have access to a range of data on the student level. Next to several personal characteristics such as age, gender, and information on the student’s previous education, this includes data from the student enrollment and grade administration. This includes performance indicators in year one, such as grades on the individual courses and the number of accumulated credits. We have developed a Machine Learning model that estimates the probability of passing a course. This model has been trained using data from earlier cohorts to provide out-of-sample predictions for the current 2021-2022 cohort. These out-of-sample predictions are calculated with personalized data from the participants. The participants can select courses from a set of courses that includes those from year two and the courses from year one that they have not yet successfully finished. When they select their courses, the participants get to see their personal predicted success rates based on their own personal situation.

    What other research projects are you working on?

    My main research interests are causal inference and out-of-sample predictions. I am interested in health, educational, and labor market outcomes. Currently, I am also working on a project about academic dismissal policies during the Covid-19 crisis together with Chris van Klaveren, Ilja Cornelisz, and Martijn Meeter from ACLA. I am also collaborating on a project about informing workers about their retirement plan through online seminars at a large Dutch pension fund.

     

    Contact details

    Melvin Vooren

    FGB ACLA

    M.Vooren@vu.nl

  • Widening participation in the honours programme

    Honours programmes (HP) are widely offered across the Netherlands to talented and motivated students. Unfortunately, only students with a higher GPA are eligible to participate in the honours programme [1]. There is an assumption that talented students are alike, but starting points are not the same for everyone as some of the students come from less privileged backgrounds and lack of diversity could affect the motivation and participation of such students [2,3]. Selection process like in HP hinders the process of fostering diversity and equity within education. A recent article published at advalvas.vu.nl, titled ‘wie is er bang voor de culturele barometer diversiteit?’, touches upon this issue. The article has stirred conversations on fostering a more diverse and equitable population within the education system.

    Programmes like HP could help in widening participation not only in terms of the number of students but also equal representation from under-represented groups (those from lower-income families, ethnic minorities, first generation students (first in the family to participate in higher education)). Therefore, the student’s selection process for HP needs a re-evaluation to make it more effective, diverse and equitable.

    Why honours programme?
    Honours programmes aim at providing high-achieving and motivated students additional educational opportunities ‘that are more challenging and demanding than regular programs’[4]. Most writing in the field of honours programme premised on the fact that all talented and motivated students will pursue the honours programme. Studies have shown that the honours programme strongly contributes to the research and skills development of the students [5].  It helps the student to build critical thinking skills and creativity.

    But the report shows that there is a lack of representation of students from a non-traditional background in the honours programme. This indicates that the process of fostering intellectual diversity and creativity, which is one of the aims of the programme, is being affected [4]. Therefore, further research is needed in order to examine what factors are playing a role in motivating and demotivating students from participating in the programme. This will also help us to get more insight into what is needed in order to make the programme more accessible and equitable.

    Honours programme research
    In our, Motivation for Honours programme research project, we examine honours students motivation for participation in the honours programme at two universities, VU and UVA. The research especially focuses on the motivation of non-traditional students for the honours programme. Non-traditional students are those who are under-represented in higher education and whose participation may be limited by the lack of socio-economic resources [3].  They include first generations of higher education students (first in the family to participate in higher education), students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, male and ethnic minorities. This research aims to provide an in-depth understanding of how inequalities and lack of diversity are further marginalising the vulnerable section of society. The findings from the research could be valuable to make effective interventions.

    Who do we want to interview in our research?

    • Honours programme students from VU and UVA.
    • Both students with traditional and non-traditional (as defined above) backgrounds.
    • This will help us to show and compare motivation and factors involved in participating in the honours programme in both groups.
    • Students who were eligible to participate in the honours programme but did not enrol.

    The current COVID-19 pandemic might influence the research interview process, therefore we are flexible in conducting both online and face-to-face interviews with the students at their convenient time.

    For more information, please visit our survey, available at: https://vumc.datacoll.nl/sulkrdclpw?l=en

    If you have any questions or would like to participate in our interviews, then we suggest that you put your questions directly to the research team via this email: onderzoekvanonderwijs@vumc.nl

    [1] Wolfensberger, M. V. (2004). Qualities honours students look for in faculty and courses.

    [2] Wouters, A., Croiset, G., & Kusurkar, R. A. (2018). Selection and lottery in medical school admissions: who gains and who loses?. MedEdPublish, 7

    [3] Wouters, A. (2020). Getting to know our non-traditional and rejected medical school applicants. Perspectives on medical education, 9(3), 132-134

    [4] Wolfensberger, M. V., Eijl, P. V., & Pilot, A. (2012). Laboratories for educational innovation: Honors programs in the Netherlands.

    [5] Jansen, E. P. W. A., & Suhre, C. J. M. (2015). Factors influencing students’ perceptions of graduate attribute acquisition in a multidisciplinary honours track in a Dutch university. Higher Education Research & Development, 34(6), 1138-115.

  • Blog Martijn Meeter & Van Vu: Academic motivation: so many theories, so many words

    Blog Martijn Meeter & Van Vu: Academic motivation: so many theories, so many words

    Psychology has too many words. Usually, wordiness is not that bad of a thing (like Trump claiming to have the best words in the world), but for psychology, it is a curse. This is because psychology’s words do not refer to things, they refer to concepts that, with so many of them, can become nebulous. Do short-term memory and working memory refer to the same thing, or not? Articles tend to refer to the one or the other, but is that just preference or do those papers actually investigate different things? This has become such a fog that investigators themselves have resolved to just ignore the distinction. The same holds for selective attention and spatial attention, grit and conscientiousness, temporal preparation and temporal attention, and surely more examples exist.

    It also holds for the field of academic motivation, which has proven very apt at recruiting new words. These may refer to the same thing as other motivation terms, but that may also denote something else. The driving force behind the recruitment of words is theoretical progress – which is of course in and of itself good. To take the first example given above, the term “short-term memory” was introduced when a new framework for short-term remembering was introduced, Baddeley and Hitch’s (1974) working memory theory. The introduction of a new term was apt because Baddeley and Hitch had a wholly different idea about short-term memory than was common before. However, the old term did not die and after a decade or so one needed history lessons to understand the difference between the two.

    The same occurs in the field of motivation. Whereas early versions of self-determination theory (SDT) popularized the earlier distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, newer iterations focus more on that between autonomous and controlled motivation. While for students of SDT the relation between these two dichotomies is clear, others at more distance may observe four terms being used with unclear meanings. The word ‘motivation’ itself is also not as clear as it seems – already in 1981 102 definitions of it had been proposed in scientific papers (Kleinginna & Kleinginna, 1981 ).

    What makes the situation for academic motivation worse than that in other fields, is that the delineation of what should count as a theory of motivation is fluid. In a consensus definition, motivation is that which energizes behavior (Kleinginna & Kleinginna, 1981). So academic motivation would be that which energizes academic behavior – i.e., learning and studying. Being interested can drive a student to learn, so theories of interest formation are arguably theories of academic motivation. Similarly, attribution theories of motivation describe factors that can strengthen or impair one’s wish to study (i.e., attributing success to work vs attributing it externally), and therefore would count. The case for metacognition theory as a theory of motivation is somewhat less clear-cut. Metacognition is thought of as a set of skills, not energizers, but these skills do affect whether one studies or not. They have therefore been included in reviews of academic motivation theories (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002 ).

    For a recent paper, we made a list of theories that others have treated as prominent ones of academic motivation. It can be found here, with for each theory a short summary. In all likelihood, it is highly incomplete, and we’d welcome any suggestions for additions.
    What is already clear, however, is that many theories have used words that denote overlapping concepts (technical term for this problem: Jingle-Jangle fallacies; Marsh, 1994 ). Such as self-efficacy and self-concept, interest, flow and intrinsic motivation, locus of control and attribution of success. Yes, they mean subtly different things, but is scientific progress served by keeping those distinctions alive until one needs a history lesson to grasp them? As researchers, we’d probably do ourselves and educational practice a huge favor by going through our vocabulary with a thick broom.

  • What it's like to study school climate in the US

    What it’s like to study school climate in the US

    Nicolette van Halem & Alissa Postpischil

    Crossing borders can result in great discoveries. Although the travel restrictions with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic are still in place, researchers are crossing borders on a daily basis; not only are they crossing the borders of different disciplines, but also the borders of different cultures. Disciplinary and cultural diversity can encourage us to think more creatively and to come up with ideas that bring us as a society forward. How do we keep this international exchange ongoing, how can we promote it further?
     
    We, as the research institute LEARN!, promote it by celebrating our international research in a series of conversations with researchers who research outside the Netherlands. On the 15th of April, Nicolette van Halem reflected on her experiences during her research on school culture in an urban fringe district in Southern California and how this international exchange helped her to grow as a person and as a researcher. Although the US and the Netherlands are both western cultures and do not appear too different at first sight, Nicolette experienced several cultural barriers and found out quickly that those would affect her research plan in surprising ways. When looking into theory, Erin Meyer states that the US and the Netherlands diverge mainly on the cultural dimensions of evaluating, deciding and disagreeing (see Figure below). In the conversation with Nicolette, we discussed these cultural differences in light of her own experiences.

    Figure 1. Erin Meyers cultural dimensions (2018). A comparison between the US and the Netherlands. 

    The difference in giving and receiving feedback and the importance of a good relationship
     
    Before arriving in the United States, Nicolette had her research plan sorted. She started the collaboration with the impression that her American colleagues were on the same page. Only after arrival, she realized that the research partners were hesitant about sharing particular data, which substantially impacted the initial plans. While she was used to direct feedback from her supervisors in the Netherlands, she experienced first-hand that in the US the feedback was more indirect and a contrasting opinion would be covered in compliments. At the same time, the same communication style allowed for constructive conversations about shared research interests and seminal directions for innovative and multidisciplinary research. It also shifted the attention to the benefits of the partnership on the long term.
     
    What showed from Nicolette her experience is that the specific context of the University and the schools in Southern California also deviate from the global trends described by Erin Meyer. Erin Meyer describes in his cultural dimensions that both the Netherlands and the US tend to be very task-oriented and not as much relationship-oriented in the workplace. Nicolette experiences are rather different. To illustrate, she was invited to a thanks giving party of the chair of the department before they started talking about research. Another example is the strong emphasis on moving in the pace of the schools (instead of the research planning) to ascertain deep levels of trust with the school leaders. It was of great importance to her colleagues to first build a warm relationship and a foundation of trust before moving on with the work. The focus in the department on researching culture, climate, and relationships in school may have contributed too.
     
    Race on the forefront of the US research agenda as well as in daily life
     
    Another topic that was discussed in the conversation with Nicolette is a difference in how researchers in the Netherlands and the US sensitize towards issues related to race, culture, and ethnic background. These issues are at the forefront in the US and were regularly topic of discussion in the department that Nicolette visited. An example is the acknowledgement of land and the attention for the inclusion of native Americans in Higher education. Another example is the ‘Partners at Learning’ project that connects students with underrepresented primary and secondary school pupils. If you are interested in reading more about these topics, you can look up the research of the faculty at the Department of Education Studies at the University of San Diego, California.
     
    Receiving funding to start your own collaboration with US colleagues
     
    Nicolette received the funding for her research position in the US through network activities and shared contacts. Meeting the US partners at an international event was a first important step in discussing the opportunities, timing, and financial resources available to start a research collaboration. A shared passion for school improvement efforts and research-practice partnership catalysed these conversations. About 6 months after meeting each other, concrete preparations for the 12-month period abroad were set in motion.
     
    If you plan to start a collaboration with US colleagues on a research project or conduct research in the US, try to find a local partner first. Local partners can provide you with a network of schools and sometimes have possibilities to finance projects. But even if they do not have the financial means to support your project, US foundations look for projects that include local partners. Whether you would like to apply at the Steve Jobs foundation, Bill & Melinda gates foundation, Spencer or William T. Grant foundation, it will increase your chances when you apply together with a local partner. If you are planning to do a research trip to the US, the Fulbright Schuman foundation or the Marie Curie fellowships are good starting points.
     
    If you are interested in starting a collaborative research project in the US, contact Nicolette van Halem or Prof. Melanie Ehren as they can provide you with many more tips to make it a success.

    Authors: Nicolette van Halem & Alissa Postpischil