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Posts Tagged ‘research

Praxis is research-informed practice or research that is translated into practice.


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According to this video, there is surprisingly little praxis in the area of classroom management.

Just how little? According to one research group’s analysis, only 0.13% of published research were replications. Replications are studies that test another researcher’s findings and claims. This means that it is easy to make an initial claim and not have it challenged by questions or critique.

That finding affects educators who regularly read academic journals. If they do not, their practice is transmitted and challenged socially by their peers and supervisors.

There is nothing wrong with teachers observing one another and exchanging professional practice. In fact, this needs to happen more often than it already does. But casual or unstructured observations and communications are not research. They do not have the reach or rigour of reputable research journals.

So the next time you attend a workshop or conference with a guru up front making claims that their technique works, ask them what replicated research it is based on. If you do not, I have some snake oil you might like to purchase.

The tweet above is an example of how NOT to start research.

You do not start with a conclusion and look for data to prove it. Instead, you gather data based on one or more research questions, then only do conclusions possibly emerge.

So how might the tweeted issue be investigated? It might start with the questions: How does the new surge pricing scheme affect drivers? How does it affect passengers? What are the effects by each company?

These questions allow for different data sources and types to shed light on a complex phenomenon. They may reveal that the surge pricing is “unfair” (however that is defined) or not. They do not exclude data that might reveal the contrary or uncover even more issues.

Recently I have been reflecting on the frailty of our memories and ability to recall events [example] because of current events.


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Memories are imperfect not just for victims and witnesses of events. The same could be said of all of us. With the exception of very few, most of our brains are designed to forget, not to remember.

Justice systems might learn from cognitive and psychology research. How about those that reinforce the building that is old school and hunker down in it?

Steven Anderson described five reasons why educational research is not commonly used in schools. He then suggested four things teachers could consider about reading, applying, or conducting research.

I could not agree more. In fact, I am guiding and mentoring a group of teachers as they write research papers about their shared experiences. I enjoy the clinic-like sessions as we write, reflect, and revise our work.

But back to the importance of practice-based research. I sum it up with this image quote I made in 2015.

Practice without theory is blind. Theory without practice is sterile.

These two summaries below of research on flipped classrooms and flipped learning seem to exemplify what and how the phenomena has been studied.

First, studies that focus on test scores or academic results often report the “no significant difference” (NSD) phenomenon. This is typical of quasi-experimental studies that attempt to replicate test and control treatments.

It is not surprising that there rarely are significant differences in treatments because there is often just one key outcome — test scores. Like most social phenomena in schooling and education, test scores are subject to many influencing and confounding factors. It is impossible to implement pure treatment no matter how much you try to control for them.

Second, studies that review other studies reveal what practitioners might sense intuitively — reports tend to be cautious trials that tout ideas, but rarely follow up despite the claim for “future areas of study”. This results in the dearth of practice-informed theory.

Both are often symptomatic of the unethical research game: Propose studies, clear review boards by assuring no harm to human subjects, receive grant money, collect data, publish for appraisal points and promotion.

Who benefits? The researchers and publishers, especially the latter who put high-sounding work behind walled gardens. This crosses ethical boundaries particularly when the money is publicly sourced. If the money is from taxation, it does not help the people who paid the taxes because they can neither access nor understand the articles.

Even when they are simplified by abstracts and summaries (or dumbed down by this dummy!), the reported efforts offer NSD or offer no real answers. That is flipping research (and other research) in the nutshell.

 
This article reported that “around 80 percent of instructors around the world teaching or training others in flipped learning are three to five years behind current best practices”.

If their estimate is close, then that is an alarming statistic because teachers are not staying current with research-informed practices.

That said, I am just as alarmed with the use of “best practices”. What is best or good in one context is not in another. Here are my other objections to the blind adoption of this corporate term.

I am also worried that an article that claims numbers and standards of practice does not link properly to evidence. For example, at the time of my reflection, there was a sentence: “The standards were developed by a team of international academics from the U.S., Spain, Turkey and Taiwan”. The link leads to a non-existent page about the experts.

Strangely enough, the article took a twist about halfway through. It quoted Robert Talbert, a mathematics professor and author of a book on flipping:

Talbert noted, however, that the FLGI’s Global Standards Project is primarily about setting standards for flipped learning training, and not for flipped learning itself.

First, I was concerned that the group thought it could train adult learners.

Second, if you asked the question “Are You Flipping the Wrong Way?” (the title of the article), then why were the standards not for the implementation of flipped learning per se?

While my reflection might come across as an argument about semantics, it is not. Words hold meaning and their meanings stem from the beliefs and mindsets of the people who speak and write them. If they cannot get terms right, who are they to tell others that their practices are right or wrong?

All that said, there is value in the latter half of the article. If the premise had been better stated as teachers were not keeping up with research-informed practices, then the article did a good job of illustrating wasteful practices like investing in redundant LMS and providing every student with thumb drives.

It also had this to say about the emphasis on pre-class work:

“Using video for preclass work is still by far the most common approach, but more instructors are using some interactive activity instead,” said Talbert. Some instructors are reverting to assigning students a text to read with structured questions before class, he said. “Making a video is very time-consuming, and it’s not clear if video provides benefits to students commensurate with the cost of making those videos.”

Emphasis has also shifted in recent years from what happens before class to what happens in class, said Talbert. “In the early days, instructors tended to put a great deal of emphasis on students’ preclass work and then do nothing particularly special for class meetings. Now there’s a much broader understanding that the in-class activity needs to be designed first.”

Ultimately, the problem is not that teachers are not researchers and do not have the bandwidth for reading research:

“There are lots of common pitfalls, and it’s likely that in almost two decades somebody has tried what you’re thinking of and failed,” said Bowen. But finding out what hasn’t worked can be difficult, because positive results are more likely to get published than negative ones. Access to journal articles is also expensive, he noted.

The issue is that journals tend to favour positive results and are walled-gardens with premium access. The academic publishing system is flipping wrong. Teachers need to rely more on connected communities of practice, not just on central “training” bodies or pay-for-access journals.

In a few weeks, yet another batch of future faculty will pass through my hands. I can only hope that they remember to teach with learning and the learner in mind.

Another related task that they have to do is start a teaching philosophy statement. As this piece of writing is a challenge even for established faculty, I will be providing them links to two resources I shared in this blog:

  1. 10 tips for crafting a teaching philosophy
  2. Writing tips for future faculty

Today, I add one more simple tip: Find a balance between storytelling and citing pedagogical research.
 

 
Narratives can be compelling because they are often personal stories. However, one person’s story does not necessarily represent a system nor is it credible.

Citing pedagogical research that has rigour and respect goes a long way to providing some credibility to an approach to teaching. However, it lacks personalisation.

I recommend blending the two. For example, a personal story of a bad learning experience could provide context for a new pedagogical approach.

When the strength of one method compensates for the weakness of another, it makes sense to combine the both in a delicate balance.


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