“It’s Probably Never The ‘Right’ Time, But You Still Need Time Off Work” by Darius Foroux https://link.medium.com/zUyIR56dYZ
Horizon Europe: the EU plans to spend €100 billion on research – here’s how to get the most from it
Imagine that you could decide how to invest €10 billion in research projects. Now imagine that you have to make this decision not once, but every year for the next decade. This is effectively what the EU needs to do in preparation for its next programme of funding for research and innovation, known as “Horizon Europe”, which will cover €100 billion of investments from 2021 until 2027.
What could seem like a dream job for those who simply want to find and support some of the world’s best research is actually a daunting game of political negotiation. EU politicians disagree on whether to solely promote excellence or to use the funds to compensate existing imbalances in Europe’s research.
But there’s also another factor at play. As the EU research budget has grown (up from €3.8 billion for 1984-1987 to the €100 billion for 2021-27), so has the pressure for the investment to produce greater economic and social benefit. The European commissioner for research, science and innovation, Carlos Moedas, recently said that “for every €100 invested, we expect to add €850 to the European GDP by 2030”. Yet the evidence on the impact of innovation programmes is subject to extensive debate.
Horizon Europe actually represents just about 5% of the EU’s total spend on research and development when you include all national public and private investment. This means how the money is allocated will have to be spot on if the EU really expects it to have a significant effect on GDP growth and productivity. So how can we get the most from this investment?
First, you don’t just have to give money directly to researchers to improve the impact of R&D. Recent research shows that relaxing immigration rules or broadening STEM education access might have a stronger long-term effect on innovation and economic growth than direct public funding.
Second, we could change the way that publicly funded researchers work with the private sector. Most public innovation programmes focus on funding collaborative projects between firms and universities.
This assumes companies can combine their market knowledge with the advanced research of academics to accelerate innovation. It also allows companies to explore high-risk innovation without it threatening their future operations, and helps researchers better understand the problems that actually matter to the marketplace.
The problem is that research shows these types of project aren’t actually that good at bringing scientific research to market, helping innovative small businesses grow or accelerating the high-tech transformation of the economy.
The EU hopes to address this problem by focusing part of Horizon Europe on narrower, more specific outcomes. This so-called “mission-oriented” strategy will receive up to 10% (or about €5 billion) of the overall budget for global challenges and industry competitiveness.
This plan mimics some of the assumptions behind the UK’s recent industrial strategy in that it tries to align research efforts towards specific goals. A model for this is the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which include eliminating poverty, improving health and education and generating clean, affordable energy.
For this to work, we will need to see changes in the way universities and industry work together. It means that researchers will, in many cases, have to shift their current research trajectories. For example, a nanotechnology researcher might have to increase attention to how their nanostructures could contribute to healthier oceans or energy-efficient cities, in line with society’s current big challenges.
A recent study of medical research shows that it might cost over €3m for a scientist to redirect their attention in this way. The decision to enter a new research field depends on the similarity to what the researcher is already doing. The more radical the change, the bigger the threat that the switching researcher will be less competitive than those already in that application area and so won’t win the available grant.
The shift to mission-based funding will also mean that firms will have to be more open to engaging with universities. My own recent study shows that this can take more than tax subsidies or generous grants. We need to encourage firms to reconsider who they engage in their innovation efforts. For example, I found that just being invited to get to know researchers and become familiar with a university’s activities can be a first step for a company to take part in a joint research project.
While it will be important to target specific goals, a bigger change in how we think about science innovation policy could better justify spending €100 billion on research. It may just be that to trigger more unexpected and disruptive innovations, firms and universities need more support to be open to experimentation and to potential failures. In the end, why should we expect different results if we insist on doing the same things?
How gamification can boost student success
In a perfect world, students would be self-motivated to focus during lectures and practice or study the material. Unfortunately, this is often not the case for many reasons. Recognizing that engagement is one of the key elements for student success is what leads many of us, as professors and teachers, to develop and adopt techniques to foster it.
As an educator teaching undergraduate students, I have been exploring an approach that I was already familiar with in a non-academic context: Gamification.
In its simplest form, gamification is the application of game design elements to non-game tasks. Some of the richer but more complex gamification techniques include quests, “levelling-up” and role-playing while the simpler and more common elements include points, badges, achievements and instant feedback.
Of course, I use more conventional tools as well. The ones I tend to call on most include applied examples, analogy, humour and a healthy dose of pop culture references. I also use group discussions, elements of “flipped classrooms” and various digital platforms to provide some variety in the delivery methods. I inherited some of these techniques from my own past professors who managed to engage my interest even when the course material seemed of little personal value to me.
Students need additional motivation
While these methods have proven useful in increasing engagement during in-class lectures, they don’t help motivate students to complete homework assignments, study for tests or maximize effort in projects.
As in-class engagement increased for my students, a disconnect between interaction in lectures and overall academic performance became apparent. Through conversations with many of them, it seemed that although they enjoyed and understood the lecture topics, they simply lacked the motivation to work for more than a minimally acceptable grade.
Lack of motivation was a particular problem for students taking courses as electives to satisfy another degree program. In order to increase the level of engagement with these students — and hopefully all of my students — I began looking for ways to offer extrinsic motivation.
I drew inspiration from video games. In the newly released Destiny 2, players score achievements marked by badges (shown in the upper center of the screen). This reward system can also be applied to education.
Video games structure motivation
In video games, badges and “achievements” — recognition for completing minor, secondary or non-essential tasks or goals that do not inherently affect the game’s outcome — are a staple tool to reward players for accomplishments. For example, the highly cooperative Overcooked rewards players who work together to complete a level using the same controller.
Another game, the story-driven Ori and the Blind Forest, offers 57 achievements ranging from progress tracking such as “Complete the prologue” to skill-highlighting, including “Finish the game in under three hours” and “Find all secrets.”
Examples abound in all types of games, from puzzle and adventure games like the ones I mentioned, to fast-paced, action-oriented games that test one’s hand-eye co-ordination and reflexes. Whatever the genre, achievements are an established means of motivating players to keep playing and to push their skills further. They are also a motivational technique that many students are familiar with given the rates at which they are playing video games.
Non-game software and mobile phone app developers frequently use badges and achievements to promote sales and increased use. These offer the same core benefits as in games: a sense of accomplishment, a concrete goal to strive for and ways to foster commitment to achieve that goal.
Use of badges, leaderboards and even quests to promote positive behavioural change is perhaps most evident in the fitness software market.
Gamifying the education experience
Based on these models, a Laurentian computer science student developed a custom website to support a trial of these simple gamification elements in my first-year computer science course. The website allowed creation of badges based on several categories: assignments, labs, tests, social interactions and miscellaneous (for badges that didn’t fall into any the previous categories).
All of the badges were colour-coded so that students could easily identify and group them by category. The specific criteria for each achievement was designed to reward positive academic or social behaviour, denoted by a title and brief description of the task required to earn the badge. Examples of badges are shown in the image below.
In addition, the site included a leaderboard to promote friendly competition between students. Badges were assigned a point value, based on the perceived difficulty of the required task. The sum of a student’s badge points — rather than the number of badges collected — gave students a relative rank on the leaderboard.
To protect students’ identities, they used a nickname and could opt out of the leaderboard altogether. Aside from the ranking and point sums on the voluntary leaderboard, all information on the site was private between users.
Perhaps the biggest success was the overwhelmingly positive student response to the system. In a brief survey at the end of the courses, over 75 per cent of the students who responded said the system was enjoyable, engaging, and that they would like to see it implemented in other courses. More importantly, students felt it helped motivate them to work harder on assignments, labs and test preparation.
Although a clear increase in academic performance cannot be quantified from the original trial, having students report a qualitative increase in motivation is an important step in the right direction.
Approximately 20 per cent of the initial badges had titles and descriptions that were hidden from the students. The goal of these “mystery” achievements was to provide an element of surprise, with details of the badge revealed only when the task was accomplished and the badge awarded.
It was my hope that the first students who uncovered these tasks would then discuss them with other students, thereby increasing the social aspect around the badge system. Instead, 68 per cent of students said in the exit survey that mystery badges were their least favourite feature.
Unexpected outcomes and the future
It appears as though students value the goal-setting nature of the badges over their potential as “fun” surprise elements. Though future implementations are likely to include mystery achievements, the number will be significantly reduced.
Perhaps the most discouraging result was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm when the badge site was used with a subset of the same students in the followup course. The motivational properties of simpler gamification systems — particularly badges and achievements — tend to diminish over time. This effect may be mitigated or perhaps even eliminated with further trials, data collection and improved integration of established positive behaviour modification techniques.
Despite some concerns, many professors, teachers and researchers believe that even this type of simple gamification remains a valuable engagement tool. It is not a standalone cure for low student engagement nor poor academic performance. Instead, it capitalizes on students’ nearly universal experience with video games and their reward systems to provide a source of extrinsic motivation that supplements effective lecturing and solid pedagogy.
The survey results from the first trial clearly indicate that students enjoyed the experience and felt that it did have a positive impact as an extrinsic motivator.
We are continuing this work with badges and achievements, with more colleagues and their courses participating. This will be accompanied by a formal study to quantify changes in academic performance. Our intention is to improve the current gamification system through iteration, expansion and student feedback.
How ‘gamification’ could revolutionise creative thinking in the workplace
Coming up with a good creative idea is hard. We do not fully understand how this process works, but there are certain techniques that have proved successful in fostering creativity, such as mind-mapping, brainstorming or creating conditions for free experimentation. Many big companies (such as design agencies) embrace these practices in the way they work.
The rapid acceleration of information technologies has led to a huge boom in the video game industry. Curious as to what exactly makes games so engaging, many are keen to test it out in non-gaming contexts. This process is called “gamification” (not to be confused with game theory).
Playing games, literally, is a powerful way of facilitating creative thinking, because it can lower the barriers of established behavioural norms and routines by offering new rules and sometimes even new realities.
The idea was quickly picked up by business where bold predictions were made about the value of gamification when applied to business processes such as innovation management – overseeing the process of creating and transforming an idea into a marketable solution. But many companies are still sceptical about the concept of gamification or unsure how to make it work for their particular needs.
The purpose of ideas management is to engage people who already have ideas and to streamline them through the “innovation funnel” – the process of searching for, selecting and implementing new ideas. Our research shows how gamification becomes a tool to create a space where people can share their ideas with each other.
A typical way this would work would be for an organisation to set up a platform such as a website on which to post and share ideas. Employees receive points every week or month to “invest” in proposed ideas they like. After the best ideas are selected, the successful “investors” receive dividends in points, which can then be reinvested. The points don’t have a monetary value, but people assign status value to them. Playing investor is both fun and serves a serious purpose.
This can create informal competition between employees for the status of their departments, with unintended positive side effects. For instance, when employees browse through the platform, they start to understand better what is happening in the rest of the organisation. They get to know other people and this develops a sense of community.
In large organisations, such initiatives can be very successful at the beginning, but ultimately cannot cope with the amount of ideas flowing through the funnel. At that point the initiative needs to develop into something else.
But crucially, a gamified environment gives people permission to think and behave differently, and this is where the magic starts to happen.
Another approach is to gamify that actual process of ideas creation. This aims to influence cognitive processes – the mental processes that help us analyse, respond and react to any given situation – and involves something that looks more like an actual game. This makes it more difficult to implement because it requires the development of a more sophisticated concept. Here, simple investment points will not do – and this is where creative ideas can be born and really flourish.
Alternate reality games and live-action role play (LARP) are two examples of how this can work. In alternate reality games, the players act as themselves, but the reality around them changes. Gamification expert Jane McGonigal showed how it can work in a game called World Without Oil, where participants were presented with a situation where the world gradually runs out of oil.
Daily updates about prices, shortages and new oil strikes were provided to prompt participants to think about what it would mean for them. They shared with others their insights about how their lives would change. These were then clustered into “signals” of change. This collective thinking could then be used by different industries for long-term scenario planning.
In live action role play – as the name suggest – the players adopt new roles, while the reality around them can change or stay the same. What matters is the interactions between the players and the insights they gain from being in a new role or from observing others.
A new role liberates the player from conventional social norms and allows them to explore their characters and the reality. For instance, researchers from the University of California studied smart social wearables (wearable devices that aim to enhance real-life interactions), through a LARP called Battlestar Galactica.
The participants played the survivors of an alien attack on their home planet and had to adjust their communication with each other depending on the indicators of physical and mental health from the clothing they were “wearing”. Analysing the results, the researchers gained insights into how wearable technology can mediate human interactions.
Gamification for the good
Many companies are likely to implement gamification for ideas management as a way of evolving and improving their business processes. It’s a more playful, engaging way to give every employee a voice and allow them to be innovators, even if it is not in their job title.
But gamification should not be seen as a purely instrumental approach for the easier task of ideas management. Using it to foster creative thinking is more difficult and resource-consuming, but it is also more rewarding, because it can help us to explore and imagine the future challenges and possibilities.
And it is not an approach that should remain just in the realm of obvious creative industries, like design. More traditional industries can use this approach to re-imagine their future and open up their creative potential. For example, games could help the bottled water industry consider what it should look like in light of pressing plastic waste issues. How does it adapt? Adopting gamification sparks the creativity that leads to invention and reinvention.
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What’s the best way to teach children a second language? New research produces surprising results
People often assume that children learn new languages easily and without effort, regardless of the situation they find themselves in. But is it really true that children soak up language like sponges?
Research has shown that children are highly successful learners if they have a lot of exposure to a new language over a long time, such as in the case of child immigrants who are surrounded by the new language all day, every day. In such a scenario, children become much more proficient in the new language over the long term than adults.
But if the amount of language children are exposed to is limited, as in classroom language learning, children are slow learners and overall less successful than teenagers or adults. How can we explain this apparent contrast?
Researchers have argued that children learn implicitly, that is, without conscious thought, reflection or effort. And implicit learning requires a large amount of language input over a long period of time.
As we get older, we develop the ability to learn explicitly – that is, analytically and with deliberate effort. Put differently, adults approach the learning task like scientists. This explains why more mature classroom learners have greater success: they can draw on more highly developed, efficient, explicit learning processes which also require more effort.
Which is best?
When it comes to learning a language, however, it is not a question of either implicit or explicit learning. They can coexist, so it is more often a question of how much of each approach is used.
In our new study, we asked whether younger children who are generally thought to learn implicitly had already developed some ability to learn explicitly as well. What’s more, we looked at whether the ability to analyse language can predict foreign language learning success in the classroom.
We worked with over 100 Year 4 children, aged eight to nine, in five primary schools in England. The children took a number of tests, including a measure of their language learning aptitude, which assessed their ability to analyse language (language-analytic ability), to memorise language material (memory ability) and to handle language sounds (phonological awareness).
Over one school year, the children participated in language classes for 75 minutes per week. For this purpose, they were divided into four groups.
In the first half of the school year, each group was taught, respectively, German, Italian, Esperanto or Esperanto with a “focus-on-form method”. This method involved the teacher drawing the children’s attention to regular patterns in the language, asked them to think about what particular parts of words might mean or how sentences are put together in the language, for example. In other words, the children were encouraged to use their language-analytic ability, taking an explicit approach.
In the other groups, language was taught in a way that is typically used at primary school, that is, entirely playfully with games, songs and worksheets. This method is more likely to result in implicit learning.
In the second half of the school year, all groups experienced the same type of language class: they all learned French, taught with a focus-on-form method. For our study, we assessed the children’s progress in French over the second half of the school year and then looked at whether any components of their aptitude – language-analytic ability, memory ability, phonological awareness – would predict their success in learning French.
If children learn implicitly, we would expect that memory ability would be most important. In other words, the ability to pick up language material as you hear and see it is most relevant. If children learn above all explicitly, we would expect that language-analytic ability would be most important.
Differently to what people might expect, we found that the children’s language-analytic ability was most important, followed by phonological awareness. These two abilities contributed to predicting the children’s achievement in French, while memory ability was only marginally relevant. This suggests that children as young as eight or nine years can indeed learn explicitly to some extent, if the teaching method they experience encourages them to engage in analysis of the language to be learned.
Our results are in line with a previous study which directly compared children and adults experiencing different teaching methods. Here the researcher also found that learners’ use of an explicit approach in the foreign language classroom did not exclusively depend on age, but on how learners were taught. This means that even younger children can approach a learning task like scientists.
Of course, it is important to note that children of primary school age are still developing their ability to learn explicitly. Therefore, we cannot expect to teach them languages in exactly the same way as we would teach teenagers or adults. But some activities that encourage children to consciously reflect on and analyse the language material to be learned can be introduced to make best use of the limited class time that is available for foreign language teaching.
Give these online tests a try.