Somehow this picture of a reflection seemed appropriate for the posting. Taken close to Ballarat ghost town, west from Death Valley NP.

Somehow this picture of a reflection seemed appropriate for the posting. Taken close to Ballarat ghost town, west from Death Valley NP.

One of my favorite bloggers is the fearless @hormiga Terry McGlynn, with whom I share many challenges related to teaching science and doing research at a mainly teaching institution, serving mostly underrepresented/minority students to boot. I enjoy his no-nonsense postings and practical advice, like today’s list of advice for education faculty to approach science faculty about new teaching strategies.

As I look back to my own journey, I am trying to remember how I became interested and engaged in trying novel educational approaches. I do not really recall any education researcher approaching me about it. It all started with me needing to design an online course, for which I had to take a training. There I heard for the first time about Bloom’s and backward design. Later I took an online teaching certification, which was a great eye-opener and game-changer for me. In my group, the next closest to science was a professor of health and nutrition. For a while I felt quite alone trying to figure out how to apply those approaches to science education, until Twitter put me in contact with bigger names already doing it. In a few years, science education started to appear in Science magazine, Vision and Change popped up in the radar, and research-based courses were all in the rage (for examples see GEP, SeaPhages, Small World Initiative, Genome Solver– disclaimer, I participate in two of those). So in my experience, it have been mainly scientists who ‘converted” to the new approaches and moved from straight lecturing.

However, going back to Terry’s list, I would add one more to the list: express the challenges of education research. In contrast to lab experiments, where it is relatively easy to control for variability, “experiments” with students are studded with confounders. Student randomization is often impossible, resulting in gains without an actual intervention. How to measure student learning is still in the works (collecting references would be part of a thesis, or maybe a separate blog posting). Scientists love challenges, and one way to entice them could be to express how hard it is to design and evaluate such interventions. From my own experience, a science person tends to believe that the only thing that is needed is to compare an experimental and a control group and voila! In the optimal case then, dialogue ensues, where both the practical and the less tangible confounders are evaluated, discussed, and hopefully addressed.

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