I was at a fascinating education conference at Dulwich College in London yesterday. The key-note speaker was the author and quackery debunker Dr Ben Goldacre, who managed to circumvent a technical hitch by presenting directly from his laptop (see below).
The last time I had been in that school dining room was as a post A-level student doing an extra Oxbridge term. As it turned out my heart wasn’t really in it and I ended up, with little regret, going to Bristol instead. But that’s another story.
The conference, ResearchED 2013, had a sub-title of ‘Working Out What Works’. This played on Government-supported initiatives in the USA and the UK, which are trying to promote the value of evidence-informed approaches to policy and practice in education and other areas.
The event was aimed specifically at a teacher audience, unlike most other education research conferences. The organisers had packed in more than 30 separate sessions with a range of well-respected and lesser-known educationists. Many delegates could only grab a quick bite or drink between slots, and even then were stuck between deciding which workshop to attend.
Highlights for me?
Firstly, the fact that it was an open conference with a mix of researchers, teachers, policy people, knowledge brokers (that’s me!) and others involved with education. It was like throwing a random assortment of contrasting ingredients into a large pot and seeing whether it produces something edible. It was pretty tasty according to my palate.
Secondly, individual speakers I heard were generally informative and, in most cases, very engaging.
Thirdly, I learned some new things. I admit that I’m not a big fan of conferences, not being an instinctive networking type. In this case I felt justified by some nuggets of information.
For example, Daniel Willingham, the US educational psychologist, admitted in a video interview:
- You can only know what psychology is by knowing what it isn’t – I won’t use the curious analogy he offered.
- He had softened his previously hard line on the importance of teaching knowledge as opposed to skills and now stressed that they are intertwined.
- There was a role for teacher unions in helping to vet research evidence and disseminate findings to the chalkface.
In another session, Tom Sherrington a.k.a @headguruteacher enlightened the audience about the CamSTAR project his school was involved with and the impact he thought this was having on teaching. This could at times be difficult to quantify precisely, but Tom stressed that whatever they learned from their ‘explorations’, which, even if inconclusive, they were keen to share with colleagues, his staff never TOLD others how to teach.
Last but not least, Laura McInerney a.k.a. @miss_mcinerney challenged all our brains. We really HAD to think of significant educational questions that would be worth solving for the benefit of any teacher, in any classroom, in any school. Laura called these #touchpaper problems.
A good suggestion from the floor was that we should build on what we have already identified. My own thoughts centred around the learning environment because, how ever ‘good’ a teacher is (and I’m still struggling with definitive criteria for this!), this could be completely negated by factors in or outside their classroom. Willingham continually refers to the ‘lab’ environment and ‘hothouse’ experiments. If you are doing action research observing and teaching your own students, at what point is your classroom a science laboratory and a what point is it a true learning domain? What if a colleague or researcher is also observing? Does this change the teaching and learning dynamics?
A final point which I may have stuck in a previous post but seems appropriate now. Sitting in front of my keyboard is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein.
“Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.”