"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Friday, October 19, 2012

An Example: "Teachers in the Age of Digital Instruction"

Formulating a vision for public education can be as easy as forming an opinion. There are anecdotes which seem prolific enough for everyone to grab just to advance an agenda. In medicine, evidence-based research is important before new therapies are introduced. In education, so much more is still desired. Reforms in education can not be taken as sound simply because these have been put forward by so-called expert educators. For instance, here is a recent description by Rep. Angara of DepEd's K to 12 curriculum (Source: Manila Bulletin):
This new curriculum is an innovation in how lessons are taught to each learner. It’s a combined result of decades of DepEd experience, years of painstaking research, and surveys of best practices in the region adapted to the local scenario.
In the United States, there is the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  Its mission is as follows:
The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence.
To illustrate how the center works, here is a specific example. In November of 2011, the Fordham Institute produced a document entitled, "Teachers in the Age of Digital Instruction":
For the full article, visit EdExcellenceMedia
http://www.edexcellence.net/publications/education-reform-for-the-digital-era.html
At first glance, one may get the impression that the document is a scholarly publication. It has 46 footnotes and it comes with seemingly reasonable arguments:

Digital learning has the potential to transform teaching in three primary ways:
  • Enabling excellent teachers to reach more students. 
  • Attracting and retaining more of these excellent teachers.
  • Boosting effectiveness and job options for average teachers.
Who would argue against these? Luis Huerta of Columbia University did. Here is the press release of Huerta's review of the above paper:
BOULDER, CO (April 3, 2012) – The Fordham Institute’s Teachers in the Age of Digital Instruction, an advocacy document outlining a vision for how technology might transform the teaching profession, provides little or no empirical research evidence to support its central claim that digital age technologies will improve the education system, according to a new review. 
The report was reviewed for the Think Twice think tank review project by Luis Huerta of Teachers College at Columbia University. The review is published by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. 
Huerta writes in his review that the report’s rationale is based on claims that the current education system lacks the capacity to support revolutionary changes needed to unleash the technological innovations of online instruction that will yield increased effectiveness and efficiency. 
The report explains that effective teachers are central to the demands of online instruction and will be even more necessary in the digital age than in the current system. It asserts that the elements that constitute effective teaching can be broken down into discrete skills and then packaged and distributed to a wider group of learners via digital media. 
Harnessing the talents of effective teachers will be critical in both meeting the needs of students and in making teaching a “true profession” (p. 2) through increased specialization and tiered salary structures, the report asserts. 
Huerta notes that while the report addresses an important topic, the empirical research evidence to support its fundamental premise is insufficient and inadequate. Consequently, he concludes, the report amounts to only a vision of what changes might be necessary as the digital revolution comes of age in public education. 
Find Luis Huerta’s review on the NEPC website at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-teachers-digital-age
Thus, in a sentence:
"Teachers in the Age of Digital Instruction" provides little or no empirical research evidence to support the claim that digital-age technologies will improve the education system."
Advocacy documents sound and look good. But it takes a lot more for a study or paper to be scholarly. Education reforms must be based not on ideology but on good data. Painstaking research that is good must be published in peer-reviewed journals. Only these research papers have been reviewed by experts. Without  such a review, a research paper is simply an advocacy paper and one must not confuse advocacy with research.

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