Is the ‘flipped classroom’ the answer to all our problems ?

27 Oct


Since the beginning of the summer I’ve been heavily involved in by institution’s introduction of a pilot of lecture capture technology. So far I’ve been hugely impressed by the software we’ve decided on from Panopto. This week I attended a conference run by Panopto at Senate House in London, and was intrigued to see that the debate had moved on from just recording all lectures to the concept of the ‘flipped classroom’. Whilst the idea goes back as far as Eric Mazur work in the 1990’s, it was in the early 2000’s that genuine discussion appeared of the idea pre-recording materials for students to watch before attending a teaching session. Indeed, the Learning & Teaching management of my own institution seem really keen that we move towards flipping our classes.

I’m genuinely torn as to whether the ‘flipped classroom’ is a good idea for me or not. I can well understand that if I were teaching Research Methods I would be rushing towards this approach, but for what I do, I still can’t decide whether it’s a good idea or not. I’ve always been a supporter of the ‘lecture’ as a  great way of demonstrating ‘the academic process’ to students, so hopefully the best of my lectures set out to make a specific point, and along the way use evidence as ‘scaffolding’ to get to that point. In my case it may well be that there are small chunks of my lectures that I could ‘flip’ in order to free up class time, rather than it being whole sessions. What I found interesting about the Panopto Conference I attended was that the speaker giving an example of a flipped classroom seemed equally as conflicted as I am. The big question surrounding ‘flipping’ seems to be ‘what do you do with the freed up class time’, and it was that point that seemed to be lacking from the conference presentation. (I should confess that my other fear is ‘What if they don’t all watch the flipped material before the teaching session?’)

I suspect I’ll give this a go next year on a small scale, but in the interim there are a range of examples I’m looking for :

1) Flipped classes in universities that are not highly selective

2) Flipped classes with cohorts of 200+ students

3) Flipped classes at 1st year (freshman) level, rather than final year

As an aside, for anyone considering lecture capture software, Panopto is an excellent solution. I’ve been very pleasantly surprised as to how robust the software is, and how easy it is to use.

When ‘consensus’ doesn’t mean what you think it means

14 Oct


I’ve just started teaching my new cohort of students, and this week used my favourite example of questionable peer-reviewed research, in which conclusions are drawn from self-report data on penis size ! As ever, even though the student were one-week into a three year degree programme they were well able to see that the paper, although published in a reputable peer-reviewed journal, was clearly nonsense. I was therefore really please to receive another great example this week from our brilliant librarian Ian Clark.

Last week saw a lot of reporting of a paper from ‘Psychology of Popular Media Culture’ suggesting that there was a consensus view that media violence leads to childhood aggression. The general tone of the reporting can be seen in this article from Time magazine. This example is in many ways far better that my favourite ‘penis-size’ paper, in that at first glance it looks entirely sensible and is published in a peer-reviewed journal from the august body that is the American Psychological Association. However, a few interesting points appear when one starts to delve:

  • The paper uses the words ‘broad consensus’ In it’s title, yet it appears that 69% of the participants agreed that media violence led to aggression. I may be a raging pedant, but when I see the phrase ‘broad consensus’ I was expecting something rather higher than 69% !
  • The study is essentially an opinion poll, none of the participants appear to have been asked if they have any evidence to back up their view. Whilst opinion polls are interesting, I’m not sure a peer-reviewed scientific journal is the place for them.
  • Even if one doesn’t think that the above two points are an issue, the fact that 36% of the participants in the survey had no further qualification to comment on the topic than that they were parents is truly worrying. Surely, a peer-reviewed journal ought to be soliciting the views of those who have conducted evidence-based research on the question to hand.

One final point, that I won’t dwell on here, but is very intriguing is the second  footnote that appears on page four of the paper:


The version of this manuscript initially submitted and

accepted was based on a different analysis, with communication

scientists and media psychologists combined in one

group as media researchers and identifying consensus as a

significant difference from the midpoint in groups’ average

responses. In reviewing an earlier draft of this manuscript,

the authors of a comment on this article (Ivory et al., in

press) correctly pointed out that these results could not be

interpreted as consensus. The editor gave us permission to

conduct a new set of analyses using a different operational

definition of consensus.


All in all this seems like a great way to demonstrate to students the necessity of reading beyond the headlines, even when reading a reputable peer-reviewed journal !



Eating lots of cheese will save you from diabetes ?

30 Sep


The last week has seen a run of stories in the UK press suggesting that the solution to diabetes maybe a diet rich in full fat dairy products. The Daily Telegraph’s version of the story was sub headed ‘Eating eight portions of full-fat dairy products a day could cut the risk of diabetes by 25 per cent, a study has suggested’. The Daily Mail’s version of the story  even managed to include a swipe at doctors, who had clearly got things very wrong !


What I find rather interesting about this story, and what separates it from the usual run of media health is quite how specific the newspapers are about the study, for example the Telegraph story says ‘The new findings compared people who ate eight portions of full fat diary products a day with those who ate one or fewer per day and found they were 23 per cent less likely to developed type 2 diabetes.”. This same story has appeared around the world, the farthest example I’ve found is this one from New Zealand.

At face value this story seems to be reasonably strong, the newspapers reporting that it used a sample of 27,000 people and was conducted by a respected university in Sweden. However, it’s a lovely example to use to encourage students to delve a little deeper into the story.

As ever, the UK’s National Health Service provides a great resource for rational thinking about health related stories. The ‘Behind the Headlines’ section of the NHS Choices website does a great job of rapidly unpicking the media’s coverage of health news. What’s interesting here is that this seems to have stemmed from a study conducted over two years ago. This study Europe-wide  (of 340,2234 people) did find a relationship between high levels of fermented diary products in the diet and reduced diabetes, HOWEVER the results were rather more complex than that !

  • There was no relationship between total diary intake and diabetes risk
  • People in France who ate more cheese had reduced diabetes risk
  • People in the UK who ate more cheese were at increased risk of diabetes

A rather different story from the Swedish study that prompted the current round of stories. It’s also of note that the Swedish study is in fact a conference paper that has yet to be published. It could also prompt a discussion about sampling i.e. is a study of 27,00 Swedes more reliable than a study of 340,000 people from across Europe ?

All in all, if nothing else this is a great example of getting students to dig a bit beneath the headlines. It might also be worth asking students if other illnesses might be made worse by eating large quantities of cheese !




The start of a new year, and my mind turns to economics (in praise of @TimHarford)

17 Sep


In a couple of weeks time our new academic year begins, and for the first time I’ll be teaching a year-long rational thinking course to our new undergraduate students. This doubling of the length of my course has forced me to think about that I want to spend more time on, or address for the first time.

I’ve written elsewhere about my surprise that so few undergraduate psychology programmes address ‘religion’, so for the first time this year I’ll include a ‘psychology of religion lecture’, and given that this first running of the new course will finish at the time of a UK general election, I’ll also include. ‘The psychology of politics’ for the first time, however the thing that is really interesting me at the moment is economics. One of my great thinking heros, Jim Flynn, has written about the laws of  ‘supply and demand’ being one of the key ideas that people should grasp, but I’m going to try a different tack from just teaching introductory economics.

Tim Harford wrote a column in the Financial Times for many years called ‘The Undercover Economist’, and has now written a serious of books applying economic theory to everyday life. He also maintains an excellent website that is a great source of teaching examples. The nice thing about Harford’s work is that he uses everyday examples like ‘Why is coffee so expensive in Starbucks’ or ‘Why do shops have sales’ and manages to work in complex economic ideas without the reader really noticing. He can also be found on Twitter @TimHarford, well worth a ‘Follow’

The great thing about Harford’s work is that it gives you loads of teaching ideas, for example I shall be sending this article about the impact of increased sentences after the London 2011 riots to my Forensic Psychology colleagues.





Suddenly, looking at ‘screens’ might actually be good for you.

17 Sep

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the spate of reports that computer screens are addling the brains of teenagers. Imagine my delight to this week come across a paper saying that playing video games and watching TV might actually be good for you !

What’s interesting about this is that is seems a quite plausible study, and actually suggests that the reason that some people don’t benefit from ‘relaxing’ in front of the TV is that they negatively interpret it as procrastination. This seems quite valuable in a teaching situation. The idea that a popular idea i.e. ‘the internet is bad for children’ might get more media coverage than a less popular idea i.e. ‘watching TV might do you good’ might be a good way of getting students to thing about sources of information, and whether they might only ever hear about ideas that are ‘popular’

It also occurs to me that this is a lovely illustration of the necessity of reading around the literature, not just relying on one study !

Are ‘screens’ really damaging our children ? I’m not convinced

26 Aug

I’ve written before about the idea that electronic devices are damaging children’s development, and this week has seen the reporting of another study that seems to suggest that electronic devices are cause harm to our children. Uhls etal report in a study published in ‘Computers in Human Behaviour’ that depriving children of interaction with electronic devices improves their ability to read facial emotions.

Put simply, this study looks at a group of children in a five-day residential camp where no ‘screens’ are allowed, and finds that their ability to discern facial emotion improves after the five days of screen-denial. On the face of it this seems like an interesting finding, in that is compares with a control-group of kids not at the camp. But I’ve got real misgivings about this, as I’m not convinced that this is a genuine control group.

It seems to me that the logic of this study is that if you give participants five days of practice at X (using the time that they would usually be engaged in Y), then performance on X will improve after five days. In this case X is face-to-face interaction and Y is ‘screen time’. I’m not clear why the cause of the improved performance is the five days of practice, rather than the denial of screen time.

If you truly wanted to test the hypothesis that the issue lays with the ‘screens’ would you not want to replace ‘screen time’ with some other solitary activity (i.e. reading a book). Of course, the conclusion that reading a book damages the ability to read facial emotions might not be quite the one people are looking for.

These sorts of study seem to be to be a great example for slightly more advanced students, in that they need to apply their rational thinking skills to seemingly plausible stories, rather than one’s that intuitively seem flawed.

Even more on the ‘value’ of university sport… oh the irony

22 Jul

Only yesterday I wrote about a story from the USA about how university sport ‘allegedly’ makes you cleverer, and then this morning the Sports Centre of my own institution tweeted a link to a UK story suggesting that university sport makes you more employable and results in you earning more money !!!!. This story comes from what seems an unimpeachable source, an academic study funded by BUCS.

As with the study I wrote about yesterday from the US, in the 59 pages of the BUCS report I can find no mention of the Socio-economic of the students surveyed. I am well aware that there are a some honourable exceptions to this (my own institution is based in an economically reprieved area but has a successful rowing club !), but it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that universities that draw their students from higher SES groups make larger investments in sports, and students at those institutions have a higher disposable income and more free time (not working part-time) and thus more time to devote to sport. It’s hardly surprising that students from such institutions are more employable and earn higher salaries. I’m just not convinced that the sport is what is driving the higher salaries !!!

Now of course I’m not suggesting that university sport is a bad thing, but people really need to look at the source of stories. One wonders if BUCS would have funded a study that said ‘Students at Russell Group Universities (the UK equivalent of the Ivy League) have a higher disposable income and more free time that students at Post-92 universities (State unis in the US) and go on to earn more’. That’s rather more a point about the socio-economic climate that it is a point about university sport..

As ever the take home message of this is that just because you find a correlation it doesn’t mean that variable A causes condition B !!!!!!

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