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Subway Summit Expands in Fourth Year


The Graduate School of Education (GSE) held its fourth annual Subway Summit on Cognition and Education Research on Jan. 28.

Hosted by the Center for Learning in Unsupervised Environments (CLUE) on the Lincoln Center campus, the daylong event drew almost 100 guests. It provides an opportunity for professors, post-doctoral students and graduate students from New York City-area universities to parse the latest in cognition research.

This year saw the addition of Rutgers University, making it more of a “subway and light rail” summit.

“When we started in 2007, we invited people who we knew were studying how cognitive psychology can improve education,” said William B. Whitten II, Ph.D., Distinguished Research Scholar at GSE and director of CLUE. “Rutgers has a pretty extensive education department, and I happen to know that if you get on NJ Transit, you can get here by train. So we thought, why not?”
New York University, Columbia University and the City University of New York’s Graduate Center also participated in the event, as they have in years past.

The Subway Summit is unique, Whitten explained, because it is a local, low-cost conference that focuses on cognitive psychology or cognitive science research applied to educational practice.

“It’s a self-organizing conference,” he said. “Each university is given a block of time and they organize it. I don’t tell them what they can or can’t present.”

Past Subway Summits have sparked collaborations.

“I gave a colloquium at Columbia last year as a direct result of the summit,” Whitten said. “That kind of interaction is good because the faculty—and especially graduate students—can learn about a new line of research that hasn’t been published yet or is still in motion.”

At this year’s summit, Whitten presented new findings from his research, performed in collaboration with Mitchell Rabinowitz, Ph.D., on improving the effectiveness of homework.

Reflecting on the summit, Whitten observed, “We’ve heard some great talks. We’ve had an amazing variety.”

As an example of that variety, New York University doctoral student and emergency room physician Steven Wall, M.D., discussed the value of edutainment as it applies to organ donation.

In the United States, donated organs can only be taken from those who die in hospitals.

A six-month pilot program launched last December in New York City allows doctors to approach families about donation within 20 minutes after someone dies of cardiac arrest at home. Many in the media deemed the program—the first of its kind in the country—to be controversial.

Wall set out to find which style of video would best inform the public about organ donation. His hypothesis was that an edutainment-style video would be more effective than a documentary-style video, the likes of which are typically used.

“More often than not, no one has seen [the standard-style video]because if I’m on the Internet and I can choose to watch something funny or something about organ donation, I’m not going to pick organ donation,” Wall said.

“Typically, these videos are produced in a ‘tear-jerker’ style, with a message of ‘please donate,’ as opposed to pointing out what happens when there aren’t enough organ donations, such as people buying off the black market.”

Wall and his team compared two content treatments: standard organ-donation content versus a new edutainment-style video featuring real people being interviewed on the street about the misconceptions they may have had regarding organ donation.

Wall found, however, that all the videos improved people’s short-term understanding about organ donation.

“It seems the risk we took is not working the way we thought,” Wall said. “The standard videos are outperforming the real people in our edutainment videos.”

In his next study, Wall plans to offer a multimedia display that people can use to choose the content they would like to see.


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