BPS West Midlands Branch Conference 2015

So I rounded off my visit to my parents house by attending this conference, and I wasn’t disappointed.

At first, I was just eager to find out what a BPS conference might be like, since the range of psychology branches covered by the society is impressive all in itself. I’ll admit I was a little apprehensive, as I was walking into the situation completely blind (and that is not my style AT ALL). But my fears were unfounded and I ended up having a really good day.

The morning session included the keynote address by Professor Clare Wood. Alongside her colleagues, Wood researches the impact of texting on children’s literary development, with a particular focus on “understanding the complex relationship between conventional and unconventional literacy in children.” Her main point for this talk was that texting language is actually having a counter-intuitive effect on literacy: these “textisms” are giving kids the free run they need to experiment and make mistakes with their phonetics. At one point, Wood displayed a portion of text onscreen (written almost exclusively in textisms) and asked us to decode: this was met with a confused burst of laughter. Admittedly, I was able to understand the language, but this merely demonstrates that I am a member of that awkward between generation who is just old enough to remember life pre-tech.

With this demonstration, Wood showed that many of the fears surrounding the influence of texting on literacy hail from a parent feeling excluded from the language. They think: “my kids speak a different language, and this must be at the expense of their grasp of traditional English, surely?” To this, Wood gave an elegant response: the younger brain is far more capable of recognising and overcoming incorrect use of spelling and grammar. In fact, encountering mistakes like these (whether it be in school or when texting) gives children the opportunity to independently further their understanding of the English language. Moreover, during interviews with children aged 8-12 years, Wood found that these kids fully understood the separation between textisms and proper grammar. They knew that texting language was unsuitable for academic work, and in cases where the language crept into actual essays, this was seemingly done to get a rise out of their teacher!

So, by implementing textisms at increasingly young ages, children are forgoing the traditional method of literary development: instead of being tested on every little thing they place on paper (as so often is the case in schools nowadays), they are exploring language with their friends in a playful way. At the end of the day, surely that is a good thing?

A brief presentation by Hannah-Leigh Nicholls (Coventry University) about “the efficacy of colour overlays on children’s reading abilities” was the talk which saw me scribbling down the most notes. I was taken by the idea that these transparent colour overlays may have such a strong impact on a child suffering from visual stress (Irlen, 1983). Given that I currently work as a research assistant to a visual neuroscientist, I will definitely be bringing this research up during our next discussion. Perhaps the overlays might produce similar benefits for amblyopic children? Either way, Nicholls’ talk opened my eyes to a pretty exciting concept which may come to have a significant affect in the modern classroom.

The posters I gravitated towards most were ‘an exploration of dementia in the LGBT community’ by Peel, Wilkinson and McDald (University of Worcester), and Louise Cook’s (Coventry University) interesting study of undergraduate reading habits. I especially liked Cook’s poster because I am one of those students who begrudgingly hangs up reading for pleasure during term time in favour of textbooks and journal articles.

My main take-away from this conference is that there is an alarming gap between research and public policy. If the government was properly tuned into the scientific community, their educational reforms (and the like) could actually do some good, rather than just being there to improve the economy, or whatever (I know i’m simplifying to a large extent, but you get the idea!). For example, if the increasing influence of technology in the classroom could be capitalised on, rather than downplayed or ignored, then children would no longer be forced into the pattern of separating their school time from their free time. What seems to happen is that kids are associating technology with fun and freedom, whereas school is seen as books and tests. This is so wrong, in my opinion, and will breed a generation who learn for the test, rather than learning for the knowledge.

Overall, the 2015 BPS West Midlands conference has broadened my horizons in many ways. I learnt vast amounts about a wide range of issues and topics relevant to today’s psychological climate, and met some inspiring people.

I’ve got quite a few events of this type coming up over the next few months so stay tuned for that!

Any psychology conference/event recommendations would also be appreciated, as long as they’re affordable (i.e. Free). Seriously…how do people afford to go to those expensive conferences???

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