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Education News Cycle

June 5, 2011

Science News Cycle

Recent talk about the (real or perceived??) dangers of cell phones and wi-fi reminded me of an image a colleague sent me. The email was your typical “have a look at this email” with the subject line of his email stating “How Science Really Works.” This post is not to debate the benefits or health concerns of wireless technologies but to draw a parallel to education research.

When I look at this comic I am forced to ask how does this relate to my chosen field of education. In particular I am wondering….

  • Are statements like, “Conclusion: A is correlated with B (ρ=0.56) given C assuming D and under E conditions” common in education?
  • What is the equivalent of the University PR Office for education?
  • What are the news wire organizations for education?
  • How do educational findings play out in the popular press?
  • How do educational finding play out in the blogosphere?
  • How do educational findings, and the reporting of them,  impact students, teachers and the public?

When you consider that relationships between variables get even more complex when dealing with complicated systems like education there is a need to filter any finding through local conditions. Therefore, as I continue to read educational literature I will make sure to critically think about what is being presented. I will be  even more critical when the information is coming from a secondary source.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Nick Poeschek permalink
    June 7, 2011 9:07 am

    I think education research is some of the most difficult to analyse because of the number of confounding variables in education. I’ve read too many studies that don’t adequately control for obvious factors like previous achievement level or SES. Errors in methodology of this magnitude make it hard to trust any of the findings.

    It gets even worse when you consider that learning is highly dependent on student motivation and/or teacher skill. Even in an otherwise well-designed study, I always have to wonder about the relative skill of the teachers involved. For instance, when comparing the effectiveness of “traditional instruction” versus something like problem-based learning, the PBL teachers often receive a significant amount of training in order to deliver the PBL curriculum in the way that the researchers want to study. That training is also a confounding variable. What if the “traditional” teachers were given similar amounts of instruction in a more explicit teaching method like Direct Instruction or Success For All and then compared? Also, a teacher’s willingness to learn PBL and participate in a study could signal a motivational or skill difference between the teachers in the control group. Were the PBL teachers more motivated or enthusiastic than the control group? Were they more engaging teachers than the control group teachers? Also, what was the sample size? If the study only compares a couple of classes, the findings aren’t much more than exploratory research. I think this is the biggest problem with educational research in media, small studies are often blown up to make sweeping generalizations about all students.

    Finally (and probably most controversially) I think that education research is full of the special pleading logical fallacy. In particular, researchers will say that while measured test scores or other tangible results showed minor or no substantial differences between the experimental and control group, the experimental group gained a number of intangible benefits, such as better critical thinking skills or improved social skills. If a result cannot be quantified somehow and measured impartially, the research is frankly no better than pseudoscience.

    And don’t get me started on the “health concern” nonsense recently reported around wireless technology. 🙂

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