The Science Research – Education Research Divide

I’ve always been puzzled, and frustrated, at the fact that most scientists either ignore or outright dismiss the latest in science education research.

I just came on a great post on Sci-Ed about the divide from last month. It starts:

Science education researchers and science teachers have much to offer each other. In an ideal world, knowledge would flow freely between researchers and educators. Unfortunately, research and practice tend to exist in parallel universes. As long as this divide persists, classrooms will rarely benefit from research findings, and research studies will rarely be rooted in the realities of the classroom. If we care about science education, we have to face the research-practice divide.

It’s worth a read. The irony is that scientists, more than anybody else you would think, should be the ones to use evidence-based methods in their practices. Why would you do something if you don’t know it to be effective? Research shows that professors often think that a number of methods they use are effective when, upon investigation, they clearly aren’t. (This is often true about lecturing in general.)

If you found out that your experimental methods were inaccurate or giving false results, you’d change your methods lickety split.

But if a scientist is told by a professional science education researcher that what they’re doing doesn’t work, what happens? All too often, nothing does.

I really have no idea how to open this up; there are inherited prejudices. The science education literature is rife with jargon and acronyms, and most scientists who give a look don’t see the methods as particularly robust.  Communication is a start, but I don’t know what’s to be said.

2 thoughts on “The Science Research – Education Research Divide

  1. Jeremy Fox

    One way scientists will start paying attention to this stuff is if colleagues in their own department start paying attention to it and using it in their own teaching, with good results. Here at Calgary we have several faculty (some of them “instructors”, meaning faculty whose primary duty is to teach; they’re not expected to do research) who are in touch with the sci-ed literature. They draw on it in their own teaching (and they’re great teachers), some of them contribute to that literature themselves, and they also offer seminars and workshops for other faculty on teaching techniques. And other faculty are sincerely interested. I suppose because the information and advice is coming from scientific colleagues we all know and respect, not from papers or blogs we don’t read, or from education faculty whom we don’t know.

  2. Terry McGlynn Post author

    That’s great that you have instructors who are on the ball, and are even scholars of teaching and as professionally trained scientists. I suspect there is a lot of groupthink, and it varies from one place to another, about what is best practice. Some folks are quick to change as long as it doesn’t take much extra time, others don’t want to change because they’re convinced they know what’s best.
    In the last few years, there’s been an increase in the attention towards effective teaching in the biology research community, I’ve noticed, and the folks involved in the “scientific teaching” movement can have an effect because they are scientists.
    Also, the fact that we may or may not know these education faculty is huge. This doesn’t only refer to people on your own campus, but also, the whole community. Scientists in narrow fields know one another and the people they cite. I’ve gotten into inadvertent trouble, in my one failed attempt at an education grant with NSF, by citing the wrong people and the education reviewers had a field day with that. You’ll trust a paper, or an idea, if it comes from a person or a lab you know.

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