Hall of Shame: Willingham uses science to blast 'eyeQ'
By Daniel Willingham
Every week or two I get an email from a teacher, parent, or school board member seeking my opinion about a curriculum or product. I’m not a product reviewer, so until now I’ve declined. But some of the products seem so ill-conceived that I thought it was worth writing about them. So I’m starting an occasional series on this blog called “Hall of Shame” in which I’ll feature educational products that are unsupported or contradicted by scientific evidence, and yet are actually in use in schools.
eyeQ is a computer program currently being tested in Salt Lake City Schools which the makers describe as “an effective tool for Brain Enhancement, Reading Improvement, and Vision Therapy or Eye Training.” Near-sighted users are promised that they likely will see an improvement in their vision. Improvements in reading speed of 100% in less than one month are described as typical.
You can try the first lesson free at the website. You are encouraged to read at different paces (some that are clearly meant to be faster than you could possibly read), to follow a moving object as it appears and disappears at different spots on the screen, and to visualize an object expanding, guided by an oval that increases in size.
How would we know whether or not these exercises deliver the promised results?
The first thing one might do is search psychology, education, and medicine research databases, which cover most research journals published in English, and major research journals in other languages. I found nothing about eyeQ.
So research databases are not going to provide any help in establishing the credibility of eyeQ. What about the science on which eyeQ claims to be based?
According to the website, eyeQ works by making the right hemisphere of your brain active during reading. This happens by encouraging readers to create visual images as they read. Following an object with your eyes is also purported to activate the right hemisphere of your brain.
Both of these tasks actually use both hemispheres of the brain, not just the right. More importantly, it’s not clear why you would want more brain activity. More brain activity doesn’t mean you are thinking better. In fact, less brain activity is frequently a sign that your thinking is more efficient.
The website makes much of the fact that only the left hemisphere of the brain is active when you are reading. It neglects to mention that the left and right hemispheres are both active in inexperienced readers.
The coup de grace for me is the website’s claim that the left hemisphere is associated with scientific ability and logic, whereas the right brain is associated with intuition and artistic ability. This cartoon characterization of the brain was discredited 30 years ago.
When a truly new idea comes along, someone has to be the first to try it, so even if a product like eyeQ had not been rigorously tested, I could see asking teachers and students to invest their time to try it if it seemed likely to work.
But the claims made are fantastic (doubling your reading speed in one month) and anyone with any experience in human neuroscience would tell you that the science is confused.
Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham is a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and author of “Why Don’t Students Like School?” His research concerns the application of cognitive psychology to K-12 education.
The Answer Sheet called eyeQ and spoke to the company’s president, Jeffrey C. Flamm, about Willingham’s conclusions.
Flamm said there is some research showing the effectiveness of eyeQ but added that there needs to be more because much of the feedback has been anecdotal.
He said eyeQ is being used in 750 schools. "The results are irrefutable," he said.
Flamm said the research upon which eyeQ is based came from a Japanese educator, Akihiro Kawamura, who is described on the web site as having conducted extensive research and authored 72 books related to brain function and reading.
The books do not show up in a web search, he said, because they are in Japanese.
| November 10, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
Tags: Daniel Willingham, Guest Bloggers, Hall of Shame, eyeQ
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