True Grit: Just how gritty are modern students?

Hi folks,

Apologies for the silence on the blog for the last few weeks. I have been down at a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning  Conference in Georgia last week (note to self: never fly United again, its like a budget bus trip), and Roger has been publishing his new creative science teaching textbook (of which more will be revealed shortly). Also he has somehow lost the ability to login and post here. Anyhow, we should have that sorted shortly. So, enough apologies and a quick blog post for now, and we shall do our best to catch up in April.

At the conference I came across an interesting paper by Dr. Ted Cross from Grand Canyon University exploring the use of the Grit psychometric scale and correlations with academic success in online doctoral students. In case you have not come across it, the Grit personality trait measurement is a 5 point positive, non-cognitive scale based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or end state coupled with their motivation to achieve this objective. The maximum score on the scale is 5 (extremely gritty), and  the lowest scale on this scale is 1 (not at all gritty). Generally Grit can be simply defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals (Duckworth et al., 2007). There is an interesting TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth explaining her work on the scale here:

Overall it seems a well validated psychometric tool, and unlike IQ which remains controversial for any practical predictive ability, and can be culturally insensitive; Grit appears to have less of these problems. Also, Grit, unlike many traditional measures of performance is not tied to intelligence. Interestingly, Cross reported Grit was well correlated with GPA, but not with Standard Test scores in the USA. Unfortunately, he found the scale was not sensitive enough to be useful to explain differences within the doctoral students he tested it with, or predict likely success (after all these are already a highly-skewed, high achieving population and the test is designed for general population use).

To test your own grit try the Penn State University online test here, or the paper one here:  I came out as more gritty than 75% of Americans, which seems perfectly reasonable, given my career history, but penchant to always want to explore some new aspect in my work.

So what does this mean for us scientists? Well Grit is also associated with longer term and multi-year goals and science is a long-term business, requiring dedicated persistence to advance in a field, often in small steps. It is also worth considering how today’s millennial, multi-tasking, short attention span learners are likely to fare in careers in science, or if we can actually have any impact on this trait as educators, or make our educational practices more appealing to intelligent students who are less gritty.

Also, I must admit I wondered, given the range of papers presented at the conference (from the very postmodern to the very post-positivist) of the possibilities of developing a trait scale to predict the likelihood of a person being susceptible to believing in unscientific nonsense (such as homeopathy, ghouls and ghosts, bigfoot, alien abductions, etc etc.). Maybe there is one out there in the world of psychometric testing? Not so much a gullibility scale, as a tendency towards fallibility scale. This would seem a personality trait that could be measured with practical uses. Knowing your own tendency towards fallibility could help in the analytical process. After all, even the most intelligent individual can be fooled quite easily (just look at famous scientists and academics who adopt bizarre and unfounded beliefs later in their careers: Dr Oz springs to mind amongst others). I must investigate further!

Onwards and upwards,



Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M.D., & Kelly, D.R. (2007). “Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals”. Personality Processes and Individual Differences, 92 (6), p. 1087.


Roger & Bernies Holiday Message

Greetings all,

Well here we are ready to celebrate the end of the world with two holiday special video messages from us both.

Roger and Bernies End of the World Vlog: The Trailer

Roger and Bernies End of the World Holiday Message

Happy holidays one and all and we will be back in the New Year!

Roger and Bernie

P.S. Congratulations to our FOSM colleagues in Australia, who won Skeptic of the Year Award.

P.P.S. Here is the WitchDoctor site link to which we refer in the vlog

Is anybody out there?

Sorry about the delay in this post. I was away this week at a conference in Florence, Italy that concerned science education. It was quite small, but delegates had come from all over the world to present their research papers. Like all conferences, there were some really good presentations and ones that were a little less ‘academically robust’ or personally interesting. However, if you sat and listened to the papers you could hear the same message (allbeit spoken in different ways) namely that students are not really ‘getting’ science, in the sense that they have misconceptions about quite basic principles and secondly that by changing the way we teach it, things undoubtedly improve (to some very high stats probabilities in some cases). These changes normally relate to introducing methods such as problem or scenario based learning, student centred project work, experiential learning methods, the nature of feedback, etc etc.

Geoff Petty in Evidence Based Teaching (2009) discusses a number of meta-analyses on education research papers, that even if only the most high rated are selected, the number being produced every year still numbers tens of thousands. So why is nothing changing? This huge research literature is seemingly being ignored by many teachers/lecturers. In fact Petty concludes that it’s easier to get teachers to change their religion than their teaching style!

On a related note, I saw with dismay last week that SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) are up and running again, having spent millions listening for aliens. Now you have the chance to search through their extensive data base of white noise for them. Looking for more ‘subtle signs’. I won’t rant on about it (as I could) but is listening for aliens a worthy pursuit for the 21st century? We can’t hear the research results that suggest an exciting, revolutionary change in the way we teach science could inspire a whole generation. Perhaps SETI would do better to point their listening arrays at science education conferences and shout out the results. Unless ET has some better ideas.