Should educational research be seen as the Emperor’s new clothes?

It strikes me that as a profession we like to do – doing is good. Doing is even better when somebody, often by means of power pointlessness shows, through curious statistics and motivational video, that our “doing” is doing our children the power of good.
Later there is an “epiphany” when suddenly “doing” is not good, doing is bad – doing was silly and everybody can see it…now.
The Literacy Hour Carrousel – good idea “yay!” Then later bad idea “boo” – Advisors who but a few years ago positively waxed lyrical about it suddenly were startled anybody could entertain such a notion.
Brain Gym – oh poor old brain gym and VAK – suffered a similar fate – of being both a hero and then a zero in a relatively short space of time. The fact that there are cohorts of children whose lasting memory may well be rubbing their belly button whilst tugging on their left ear lobe and simultaneously wondering how any of this could possibly aid their “auditory learning style” must surely seem absurd. (Probably because it is!)
Educational research, if we are not careful, may well suffer a similar fate. Pointless research, such as the article I read today about exam performance and wearing a Superman costume, may lead our profession into another well meaning dead end.
This would be a shame and we should guard against it. Research is a discipline and as a profession we need to be disciplined in how we approach it – I am excited by the possibilities though.
I am off to conduct some research myself – but before I do – I must rub my belly button and tug on my left ear lobe – I remember a PowerPoint slide that said it helped…

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6 thoughts on “Should educational research be seen as the Emperor’s new clothes?

  1. Russ says:

    I think teachers need to be able to critically read articles like the one you wrote about. Quite often it’s not ed research per se but silly newspaper articles and business trying to cash in on things.

  2. bt0558 says:

    I believe it not uncommon for teachers and others to misunderstand, misquote and misuse research. I believe this is sometimes for purposes known only to themselves and at other times perhaps done completely innocently.

    ‘wondering how any of this could possibly aid their “auditory learning style” must surely seem absurd. (Probably because it is!)’

    I see research and discussion based upon the definition of “learning styles” that suggests that such things do not exist. They go by other names. I see conclusions that matching teaching style to learning style produces no improvements to efficiencies of learning or improved learning. I see these conclusions interpreted to mean that “learning styles are gibberish”. I see teachers interpreting research about minimally guided learning as showing that “progressive methodsare ineffective”.

    I feel that only trained and experienced teacher researchers should be let loose on research.These days it seems to me that a good number of bloggers see themselves as god’s gift to research with nothing but contempt for accomplished and respected academics.

    For me, I would give my vote to any accomplished reseacher who asserts that RCTs are not the be all and end all of educational theory and any blogger who does not assert they they know all the answers as they have read Dan Willigham, even issues that Dan Willingham chooses not to comment on as he is not an expert in that particular area.

    • Thank you for your reply – it is always fascinating to hear other’s views. I would say the following – research being ill used or misquoted is nothing new or particular to any profession.
      I think our profession needs to be honest with itself – it is not used to research – but I disagree that only trained people should access it – that is what led to the rise of brain gym and learning styles – colleagues blindly believed what they were told without question. We must, like lowering into a hot bath, take it slowly – so research has a lasting impact.
      There are bloggers it is true who would claim the higher ground, but so also are there academics – both have much to add to the debate – but if either believe only they can research or interpret research it is hubris.

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