Can we trust the universities when it comes to teaching and learning?

The Irish Times had yet another poorly researched education column today. It contained the usual nonsense about problem-solving and critical thinking while implying that learning in the past was all about rote memorisation. Praise was heaped on Maynooth’s first year module that aims to develop generic critical thinking skills despite the fact that there is little or no evidence that this approach has worked in the past or indeed can work in principle. (Maynooth’s own evidence is worthless for obvious reasons.)

But surely no university would design such a module if there was no evidence to support it? Unfortunately they probably would because the field of education is riddled with ideology, confirmation bias and wishful thinking. Just take the idea of ‘learning styles’, i.e., the idea that if students are taught in a way that is supposedly consistent with their preferred learning style, they will learn better. It sounds plausible but it’s wrong. Well, at the very least it’s not supported by evidence.

Yet every single Irish university has extensive resources devoted to learning styles (see links below). So just because a university promotes an idea, even if the person doing the promoting has a credible-sounding title with the words ‘teaching and learning’ in it, that doesn’t mean that you should believe them.

University College Cork

Dublin City University

Trinity College Dublin

University College Dublin

Maynooth University

NUIG

University of Limerick

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About Greg Foley

A lecturer in Biotechnology in Dublin City University for more than 25 years. Trained as a Chemical Engineer in UCD (BE and PhD) and Cornell (MS). Does research on analysis and design of membrane filtration systems.
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