How Social Science Research Can Improve Teaching..

Tyler Cowen points to this interesting paper. It is by Gary King and Maya Sen of Harvard.

They point how we can make teaching more effective using inputs from social science research and technology. Basicallly the authors point to three discoveries from social science research 1) social connections motivate, (2) teaching teaches the teacher, and (3) instant feedback improves learning. These three findings are mixed with technology to get better teaching outcomes.

We marshal discoveries about human behavior and learning from social science research and show how they can be used to improve teaching and learning. The discoveries are easily stated as three social science generalizations: (1) social connections motivate, (2) teaching teaches the teacher, and (3) instant feedback improves learning. We show how to apply these generalizations via innovations in modern information technology inside, outside, and across university classrooms. We also .give concrete examples of these ideas from innovations we have experimented with in our own teaching.

The authors begin nicely saying that our great-great grandparents will find little changes from today’s classroom:

Humans have theorized how to teach for thousands of years and update the substance of what we teach almost every year. Yet generations have passed without any major improvements in the procedures and style of teaching in our classrooms. If your great-greatgrand parents went to college, they probably sat in a classroom with all the other students facing forward, trying to look attentive, while the professor professed. If you’re professor at a university today, you probably lecture to the same sea of students, all still trying to look like they’re paying attention. To be sure, you may use some newer technologies (electricity, radio, TV, whiteboards, powerpoint slides, etc.), you may have added a few group activities, and you perhaps teach a seminar with lots of discussion. But if your ancestors were to walk into a classroom today, they’d know where to sit, what to do, and how to act. Our methods of teaching have changed very little.

Education researchers, often in and around schools of education, have written volumes about how to improve teaching and learning. Many of these ideas are extremely promising, but very few are firmly established by rigorous empirical research, replicated in different areas (Whitehurst, 2010). The problem is not the researchers; the problem is the almost unique (and probably underappreciated) difficulty of doing research in this area. Methodologically, we have a large number of students, but the unit of analysis for a teaching in tervention is the professor. Thus, any one professor that intervenes in his or her own classroom has an n = 1 study. Although intervening in our own classroom is easy, getting a reasonable sample size with the right unit of analysis is almost impossible and rarely done: imagine the difficulty of convincing (say) 50 of your colleagues that they and their classes will be assigned (randomly or otherwise) to treatment and control groups to test a hypothesis. For one example, in 75 years of education research on the effects of class size, only one fully randomized large-scale study has ever been done (Chingos, 2013)!

A nice different read. The best part about the paper is mimicking how we really behave in classrooms.

We do see some changes  happening on suggested lines. But clearly there is a long way to go. Learning at school needs to be made  a lot lot better.


One Response to “How Social Science Research Can Improve Teaching..”

  1. Four Reasons to Teach Science Well « Taking Science to the People Says:

    […] How Social Science Research Can Improve Teaching.. ( […]

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