Over the last couple of days I’ve been attending the New Perspectives in Science Education conference in Florence. I gave a talk (an honest one!) on my experience of teaching on an interdisciplinary programme.
This is my first ever education conference and it has been an interesting experience. A few things have struck me:
- Nobody really seems to be addressing the quite fundamental issue of how we actually measure student learning. Most of the time we use proxies like ‘engagement’.
- Inquiry-based approaches are very popular and it is interesting that there are very few, if any, dissenting voices. IBL and PBL are presumed to be inherently good. Nobody mentions concepts like cognitive load, for example. Nor do people address the fact that when IBL and PBL approaches are used, there is a loss (in the acquisition of knowledge) as well as a supposed gain in ‘skills’.
- Many education researchers don’t seem to define what precise problem they are trying to fix when they innovate. There seems to be an underlying presumption that traditional teaching, in which the teacher charts a course through a subject for the student, and actually explains stuff to the student, is not fit for purpose.
- It seems to me that the education field as a whole suffers from confirmation bias. Innovation is always seen as a Good Thing and small-scale studies invariably claim to support the innovation in question.
- Some researchers are still fixated on learning styles.
- Many STEM educators believe that if only we taught STEM subjects in a more engaging and relevant way, more students would learn to appreciate and even love these subjects. (I don’t agree. I believe that science is fundamentally abstract and only appeals to a minority.)
- An awful lot of conference presentations are pretty dull. This is ironic given that this conference was an education one.
- The teaching of maths seems to be a challenge everywhere and the only solution seems to be to link maths with the ‘real world’, thus denying the very essence of mathematics. (Maths is an abstract language; you shouldn’t need to do experiments, for example, to justify the laws of probability.)
- It is interesting that many studies focus on teaching methodologies but make very little mention of the teacher. I would have thought that the teacher is the x-factor in all of education.
- Thankfully, I didn’t hear the phrase 21st Century Skills even once. Mind you, one presenter came dangerously close to mentioning “jobs that don’t exist”.
All in all, an interesting experience but I got the sense that group-think is a bit of an issue in education research.