Research reading can of worms

Today’s blog post is about my experience attempting to become better read in the area of education research, and I’m sorry to say I’m not going to be glowingly positive about it. As the title suggests, it just seems to get out of hand so quickly.

Let me explain.

The MLC’s job is to support all students in learning and using the maths they need or meet in their coursework. An important part of this job is to support the people teaching the coursework itself to do their teaching in ways that will most help students to learn.

While I have many good ideas, I wouldn’t be doing my job properly or in a scholarly way if I didn’t check out what people already say about teaching. Moreover, there’s nothing like an academic to not take good advice unless it is backed up by peer-reviewed research!

So I try to read education research literature about the courses and concepts the students I help are learning.

And there is the first cause of the can of worms: the students I help come from all sorts of different disciplines and even within the one discipline they are learning all sorts of different concepts. Every day there is at least one new concept that I have to wonder about how it could be taught better. And so I have an ever-increasing list of things to look up in the education literature.

Then, when I come to look up the education literature online, there are any number of papers which may or may not actually be about the concept I am interested in today. If they are related, then they usually introduce at least a few new terminologies or refer to other people’s work which I then need to look up. Alternatively, they aren’t related, but they are usually related to some other thing I am also interested in. So the list of papers I am interested in reading gets longer again.

And then the final problem is that education research is not nice and neat but never fully or adequately answers the question, and usually leaves you with more questions than answers. (As I have discussed before: Frayed Research.) So the can of worms is fully open now and they are wriggling all over the place.

I’m not sure how to deal with this problem. I may need to figure out a specific area of interest and just ignore everything else. (This is more-or-less what I did during my maths PhD.) It’ll be hard though, because I really am interested in a lot of different things, and I feel like I am letting people down by not looking into things as carefully as I would like.

For now I’ll try to wrestle with the worms as they come. You’ll see a new category of post called “Education Research Reading”, where I talk about a paper or few that I have read and what I think about it. It may not be systematic or thematic, but I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

(Don’t worry, though. You’ll still see the standard fare of object lessons, metaphors, teaching ideas and musings about the coolness of maths.)

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6 Responses

  1. The link is missing in the sentence “As I have discussed before: .”

  2. Sophie Karanicolas says:

    Dear David, don’t despair, there is some good stuff out there, they are just hard to find. We will find a good one for you to read! Have a great weekend.

    • David Butler says:

      Thanks Sophie — but that’s part of the point. In some areas there is too much good stuff out there! Better than no good stuff I suppose…

  3. “… education research is not nice and neat but never fully or adequately answers the question …” Indeed, this is because pedagogy or more specifically didactics still lacks the underpinning of a scientific framework anyone can agree on. If nurtritionists wre split about the idea of whether intestines played a role and if chewing was truly necessary for digestion they’d probably be fired from faculty and rather be treated in mental homes. But if educators fail to accept research on how the brain functions and instead expound lofty theories they seem to still be admired … How would different subjects require different teaching if different foods do not require different “stomachs”?