GUEST POST: An Interview With an Educational Realist and Grumpy Old Man

GUEST POST: An Interview With an Educational Realist and Grumpy Old Man

Paul A. Kirschner, @P_A_Kirschner, is Distinguished University Professor in the Welten Institute at the Open University of the Netherlands and describes himself as an educational realist and grumpy old man. Together with collaborator Mirjam Neelen, @MirjamN, Paul writes a rigorously evidence-based educational blog (for an article on homework that we reblogged, see here.

What is your favorite aspect of doing research related to education?

Actually, there are at least 4 aspects that I enjoy:

1) Doing research: adding to the corpus of knowledge, figure out what's beneficial to learning and teaching, and alerting people to what isn't. I want to fundamentally understand how people can learn in effective, efficient, and enjoyable ways, and how you can teach and design learning materials to achieve this objective. If a learner doesn't enjoy the learning experience, even if it’s effective and/or efficient, they won't do it. The same is true for teaching: that is it must also be effective, efficient, and enjoyable for the teacher because if a teacher doesn't enjoy the teaching process, even if it’s effective and/or efficient, they won't do it.

2) Working with young academics: trying to distill in them / helping them understand the "habitus" of research - what it is to be a researcher in a community of researchers.

3) Improving education: our future is based on what our children learn and how they learn. The snake-oil salesmen around education are ruining the future of a lot of people when they propagate myths like learning styles and left-brain/right-brain. I want to fight against these eduquacks.

4) The close-knit community of very nice people in the learning sciences, educational research, instructional design. They really know how to party!

In an ideal world, how would your broader audience (e.g., teachers, parents) engage with your research?

In the best of all possible worlds, my broader audience would apply evidence-based principles to make teaching and learning more effective, more efficient, and more enjoyable. That is:

  • More EFFECTIVE means that more information could be learned in the same amount of time;
  • More EFFICIENT means that the same amount of information could be learned in less time; and
  • More ENJOYABLE means that teachers and students want to do it.

Other than that, I would want researchers to read my papers (not just the really highly cited ones!). And I would want teachers to read my more non-specialist writings (e.g., the book, columns, blog about teaching and learning, teacher journals). Parents might read up on urban myths, and perhaps articles about how and when to trust educators - so they can make better choices about their children’s education. I want the general public to be critical consumers of teaching and learning tools and techniques.

What advice do you have for academics who want to improve education?

Those who research these things should use them in their own teaching and presentations. For example, Sweller’s cognitive load theory suggests that you should not present the exact same information in two modalities - for example, reading directly from a slide. This is called the redundancy principle. And yet, many researchers who should know better will still do this. The best way to translate research is in your own teaching - why did you study it if you’re not going to use it?

Also, researchers should not just look at publications and conferences in terms of what’s good for their CVs, but also as an opportunity to say things in a way that policy makers and parents can understand. We need people to lose their fear and suspicion of science. Americans in particular are very suspicious of science at the moment; after all, press releases tend to make non-results into big results, so some suspicion is warranted.

We also need to make use of technology and digital resources - blogging, vlogging, and whatever the next trend may be. There are people who won’t take the time to read what you’re writing; maybe a 2-minute video would get your point across more effectively, efficiently, and enjoyably.

Be available to answer questions when members of the public get in touch with you! Recently, a high school teacher reached about to me about her student who was doing a project on how education should be changed. I contacted the student and we entered into a dialogue. I then read it and commented on it in a number of iterations, as if that high school student were one of my PhD students. Reach out, be available to people. You may start feeling like you’re making a difference, and education will improve from your efforts. That’s my goal in life, and I’ve been able to make my hobby and my frustration into my profession. That’s something that not all people can say.

How can we challenge common misconceptions in education?

When communicating with teachers, connect research to something they’ve experienced - get them thinking, being critical, so that the next time a fad or model comes around, they don’t immediately accept it, but think about it instead. Enter into a genuine dialogue. Many researchers fall back on all other types of techniques, e.g. telling people “facts” - that this doesn’t work has been shown time and time again. One’s own experience is often the strongest proof that you can give people: you have to be creative and get into their heads, and say it in a way that they feel and understand.

Don’t ever say “because research shows X” - this is a conversation killer. If brain-based learning is a pseudoscientific fad, and if Learning Styles are a pseudoscientific fad, then why should I then accept that YOUR research is valid and not the same? If asked whether research shows it, then sure, provide research evidence. Along with this, we (researchers) have partially caused this because we jump too quickly on good-sounding bandwagons. We tend to ourselves not be critical enough - after only one study or a couple of pieces of research at best we proclaim that something is good. Think twice before propagating any thought or idea.


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