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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. New opportunities and new challenges
  4. Grounding research in practice
  5. The research school model
  6. Conclusion
  7. References

ABSTRACT— Education lacks a strong infrastructure for connecting research with educational practice and policy. The need for this linkage grows as findings in cognitive science and biology become ever more relevant to education. Teachers often lack the background knowledge needed to interpret scientific results, whereas scientists often lack an understanding of pedagogical goals. We need to build an infrastructure that supports sustainable collaboration between researchers and teachers and creates a strong research foundation for education. A primary agent of the lasting collaboration between researchers and practitioners in medicine is the teaching hospital, where researchers and practitioners work together on research that is relevant to practice and the training of young professionals. Education needs analogous institutions—research schools—that join researchers and teachers in living, community-based schools. In these schools, practice shapes research as much as research informs practice. Research schools will provide a fundamental infrastructure for linking transdisciplinary research on learning with educational policy and practice.

In medicine, researchers refine newly developed medications and procedures through hospital testing. In agriculture, researchers improve new seeds, equipment, and farming methods through field tests. In traffic safety, in meteorology, in field after field, practical results are used to inform research-based developments. In education, however, sustained collaboration involving reciprocal interactions between researchers and practitioners has been difficult. Education lacks a fundamental infrastructure for connecting the work of researchers and practitioners. The need for this kind of structure grows as research from biology and cognitive science becomes ever more relevant to education. Teachers often lack the background knowledge needed to interpret scientific results, whereas scientists often lack an understanding of pedagogical goals (Goswami, 2006; Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development [OECD], 2007; Pickering & Howard-Jones, 2007). These new challenges augment the need to build an infrastructure that supports sustainable collaboration between researchers and teachers. Research schools will be living laboratories for field-testing new techniques, training teachers and researchers, and promoting dialogue between researchers and practitioners. They will improve pedagogy by grounding research in practice and practice in research.

New opportunities and new challenges

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. New opportunities and new challenges
  4. Grounding research in practice
  5. The research school model
  6. Conclusion
  7. References

The past year brought several milestones for the emerging field of mind, brain, and education. The Mind, Brain, and Education journal was established, providing a forum for researchers to share knowledge and evidence about learning and teaching from many different disciplinary perspectives. The OECD’s Learning Sciences and Brain Research project, which brought together 25 countries1 interested in connecting neuroscience and cognitive science research with education, culminated with the publication of OECD’s Understanding the Brain: The Birth of a Learning Science. The International Mind, Brain, and Education Society also held its inaugural conference, which brought together neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, geneticists, and educators. These landmark events give the field of mind, brain, and education solid footing to support further progress.

Mind, brain, and education is poised to make seminal advances in human development and learning. Powerful brain-imaging tools, breakthroughs in genetics, and new cognitive methods for analyzing learning can revolutionize our understanding of human development and learning (Fischer, Immordino-Yang, & Waber, 2007; Fischer, Daniel, et al., 2007; Hinton, Miyamoto, & della-Chiesa, 2008; Stern, 2005). Education research traditionally correlates policies and practices with learning outcomes, leaving underlying processes in a “black box” (OECD, 2007). Biology and cognitive science enable researchers to look at underlying learning processes and uncover causal relationships. For example, education research showed that delaying exposure to a second language until after adolescence often results in significant deficits in grammatical processing (Fledge & Fletcher, 1992). Neuroscience research provides an explanation for this observation, revealing a developmental sensitivity for learning the grammar of a language such that the earlier a language is learned, the more efficiently the brain can generally master its grammar (Neville & Bruer, 2001).

Biology and cognitive science also enable researchers to tackle a broad array of questions that can inform education such as: How do basic bodily processes, such as diurnal rhythms and stress regulation, relate to and regulate learning and thinking? How does early brain development relate to learning of fundamental skills such as literacy and mathematics? How do brain and genetic processes contribute to learning differences in students? As researchers explore these types of questions, a transdisciplinary understanding of learning is emerging.

However, working across disciplines brings new challenges as well as new opportunities. Biology, cognitive science, and education each have deeply rooted disciplinary cultures with field-specific language and methods that make it difficult for experts in different fields to collaborate. There is a lack of consensus about the meaning of even fundamental terms, such as learning, and methodological tools of measurement are not yet aligned across fields. Scientists working in laboratories are unplugged from the world of educational policies, school cultures, and student differences. As a esult, they often carry out research with limited practical relevance (OECD, 2007).

On the other side, teachers are often unable to understand implications of scientific results and are susceptible to false ideas allegedly based on science (Goswami, 2006; OECD, 2007; Pickering & Howard-Jones, 2007). It is difficult for nonexperts to understand the subtleties of a study’s findings, conclusions, and implications. Moreover, statements of ideas in neuroscientific language and use of brain images make both educators and scientists more likely to believe the statements (McCabe & Castel, 2008), which leads many commercial and political organizations to promote their ideas about learning as brain based even when there is no neuroscience research to support their claims (OECD, 2007). Without a background understanding of biology and cognitive science, teachers are unable to distinguish these neuromyths from sound neuroscience. A bidirectional relationship between research and practice is needed to help teachers understand scientific findings and to steer researchers toward questions that are relevant to educational practice.

Grounding research in practice

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. New opportunities and new challenges
  4. Grounding research in practice
  5. The research school model
  6. Conclusion
  7. References

Continued progress in mind, brain, and education requires a reciprocal interaction between research on learning and education practice (Fischer, Daniel et al., 2007; OECD, 2007; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000). In this dynamic interaction, research informs practice, and results from classrooms and other learning settings shape research directions. Learning data supply invaluable information for fine-tuning theoretical models. For example, classroom results revealed that phonologically based interventions are effective for some children with dyslexia but not for others. This result guided neuroscientists toward a more sophisticated and differentiated understanding of dyslexia (Wolf & Bowers, 1999). Continued transdisciplinary progress requires sustainable collaboration between researchers and teachers.

The nucleus of the lasting collaboration between researchers and practitioners in the field of medicine is the teaching hospital. Teaching hospitals partner with a nearby medical school to carry out research and train young professionals. Researchers and practitioners work side by side, which catalyzes cross-fertilization between research and practice. Many of the advances that begin in laboratories of medical schools are incorporated into patient care through clinical research programs at teaching hospitals. These hospitals also provide a hands-on classroom for physicians, nurses, and other health professionals and providers to learn practice and to influence research. Education needs analogous institutions—research schools—that join researchers and practitioners in schools supported by universities that are committed to connecting research and practice in education (Schwartz & Gerlach, in press).

Education also needs broader databases to house data collected at research schools and analyze learning and teaching in classrooms and other educational settings. Databases such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the many state databases related to No Child Left Behind are useful for examining general trends, but they capture only limited aspects of education. Research schools can provide richly textured data about students’ learning and teachers’ teaching in vivo, which are essential to understanding the specific patterns and pathways for learning and teaching. The potential power of such a database is illustrated by the U.S. database in the field of traffic safety, the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which established a comprehensive surveillance system for automobile accidents, injuries, and fatalities. This database has facilitated dramatic improvements in motor vehicle safety, including the scientific evaluation of a wide variety of interventions, such as mandatory seat belt laws, revised speed limits, vehicle crash survivability standards, driver education programs, drunk-driver legislation, child restraint laws, and vehicle inspection laws (Hemenway, 2001). Education needs similar national databases to support the systematic evaluation of various teaching and learning practices. Research schools, paired with national databases, will position scientific research as a foundation for education reform, moving beyond mere opinions and ideology to evidence-based practice and policy.

The research school model

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. New opportunities and new challenges
  4. Grounding research in practice
  5. The research school model
  6. Conclusion
  7. References

Research schools are rooted in the tradition of Dewey’s (1896) laboratory school model. In Dewey’s time, developmental psychology was blossoming as a new field, providing new insights into how children learn. Seeing discrepancies between this new research and education in schools, he developed the laboratory school model to align research and practice. Dewey (1900) wrote that the primary purposes of laboratory schools were to implement practices based on “working hypotheses” from developmental psychology and discover the “educational counterparts” (p. 222). Laboratory schools were intended to field-test theory in vivo, grounding research in practice and vice versa.

We are still confronted with the same problem that Dewey faced over a century ago—there are profound inconsistencies between research on learning and educational practice. Unfortunately, Dewey’s efforts to establish laboratory schools did not persist in the role that he envisioned. Many universities and colleges have schools on campus for the children of their faculty and students, but most of those schools are not involved in educational research and play virtually no role in connecting education research and practice in the way that Dewey envisioned. Education needs research schools to provide a long-term foundation for connecting research and practice.

Research schools can support sustainable collaboration between researchers and practitioners. Research schools partner with a university to build a research community in the school, train teachers, carry out research that is relevant to practice, shape research questions, and disseminate findings. Research schools provide a hands-on classroom for training teachers and researchers. Practitioners practice their teaching skills and learn strategies for collecting classroom data, including using journals and descriptive reviews (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993). Researchers learn to work in schools as scholars-in-residence. The research school community promotes a school culture with research as a fundamental aspect of the school’s activity.

In research schools, researchers and teachers work together to carry out research that is relevant to practice. The research process includes developing questions, field-testing innovative techniques, entering results into a national database, using classroom results to refine research directions and adjust local practice, and disseminating findings (Figure 1). Researchers and practitioners collaborate in a cyclic process to integrate theory and practice. They develop theoretical models, implement practices based on these models, systematically track progress, adjust models based on classroom results, and so forth. Researchers and teachers continue this cyclic process for each theoretical model until it is aligned with classroom results. They then disseminate findings to other schools, universities, and policy agencies. Box 1 provides an illustrative example of the research school model.

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Figure 1. Research process at a research school. Research schools partner with a university to develop research questions that are relevant to practice, field-test innovative techniques, track progress, enter results into a database, use classroom results to refine research directions and adjust local practice, and disseminate findings.

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Table Box 1.  Example of Creating a Research School Partnership
Harvard Graduate School of Education Professor Kurt Fischer spent his sabbatical this past year working to establish the research school model at the Ross School, an independent school in East Hampton, NY, founded by Courtney Ross. As a scholar-in-residence, Fischer worked closely with the Ross School to lead professional development workshops; connect teachers with recent research in mind, brain, and education; and establish an infrastructure for helping the Ross School become a research school. He is also working with the school to develop a method for analyzing learning pathways in their innovative spiral cultural history curriculum. They plan to set up a database to document progress and identify best practices. This database will provide usable knowledge for other schools and universities.

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. New opportunities and new challenges
  4. Grounding research in practice
  5. The research school model
  6. Conclusion
  7. References

Education needs a strong infrastructure for grounding practice and policy in research as findings in cognitive science and biology become increasingly relevant to education. As living laboratories that connect the work of researchers and practitioners, research schools will support the bidirectional relationship between research and practice that is needed to ensure fruitful transdisciplinary work. Research schools will lay a fundamental infrastructure for connecting transdisciplinary research on learning and educational practice and policy.

Note
  • 1

    The 22-member countries active in OECD’s Learning Sciences and Brain Research project include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, and United States. The three nonmember countries active in OECD’s Learning Sciences and Brain Research project were Chile, China, and Israel.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. New opportunities and new challenges
  4. Grounding research in practice
  5. The research school model
  6. Conclusion
  7. References
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