April 2018 research round-up

Research highlights in learning and education from around the world

Go to the profile of Alan Woodruff
May 08, 2018
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Does teacher personality affect learners’ academic outcomes?

Teachers have a significant impact on student education, and some teachers produce better learning outcomes than others. What we don’t know is which traits make one teacher more effective than another. In students, personality can influence academic outcomes. Might teacher personality also affect student achievement?

Kim and colleagues looked at the ‘Big Five’ personality traits in teachers to find out. While they found no impact of teacher personality on academic achievement, certain teacher personality traits were associated with other aspects of teacher effectiveness: teacher conscientiousness predicted the level of academic support they gave students; teacher agreeableness predicted the level of personal support students received; and a teacher’s neuroticism was linked to how well students expected to perform in the class.

Kim et al. (2018) Teacher personality and teacher effectiveness in secondary school: personality predicts teacher support and student self-efficacy but not academic achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology 110(3): 309-323 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000217


Do learners know whether restudy or testing is more effective?

Testing students on classroom material is a better way to consolidate their learning than allowing them to restudy. Given an option, though, students normally prefer to restudy, as they fail to recognize the memory benefits provided by testing.

Tullis and colleagues analyzed this choice in more detail, wondering if learners were in fact utilizing a deeper strategy. They found that students preferentially restudied difficult items, for which testing would not have helped their learning. In other words, learners are aware of when restudy is more effective than testing. Still, this new finding doesn’t mean that students fully understand the value of testing; they just know when restudying is necessary.

Tullis et al. (2018) The efficacy of learners’ testing choices. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 44(4): 540-552 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xlm0000473

 

A neural jump back in time

When we recall events from our own lives, they are embedded in a time-dependent context: if we think of a meeting we had with a friend last week, we might also remember the walk home that followed. Now researchers have shown similar time-dependent memory effects in human brain activity.

In this experiment, people viewed a series of images (study phase) and were later tested for recall (test phase). Their brain activity was recorded throughout. As expected, for images they had seen before, ‘test’ brain activity was similar to ‘study’ brain activity. But brain activity during recall of an image (say, a butterfly) was also similar to the pattern of activity immediately before and after they studied that image (which may have been when they were viewing a tree or a mountain). This is neural evidence for time-dependent memory effects, or what the authors refer to as a ‘neural jump back in time’.

Folkerts et al. (2018) Human episodic memory retrieval is accompanied by a neural contiguity effect. Journal of Neuroscience 38(17): 4200-4211 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2313-17.2018


More evidence that memories require synaptic plasticity

Synaptic plasticity is widely believed to be the cellular substrate for memory. Despite decades of research, however, some would argue that we haven’t definitively proven it. A new study from researchers at Seoul National University takes us a step closer.

Choi and colleagues show that cells involved in memory in two different, connected brain regions – CA3 and CA1 hippocampus – communicate through synapses that are bigger and stronger than the synapses between cells not involved in the memory. Moreover, the better the learning, the bigger the synapse. Because of technical limitations, previous studies had not shown that memory-involved cells in two different brain regions actually had enhanced synaptic transmission. The study provides good evidence that the circuits involved in a memory communicate through enhanced synapses, just as predicted by Donald Hebb in 1949.

Choi et al. (2018) Interregional synaptic maps among engram cells underlie memory formation. Science 360(6387): 430-435 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aas9204


Go to the profile of Alan Woodruff

Alan Woodruff

Community Editor, Queensland Brain Institute

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