It’s not rocket science

The ‘O’ word.

I am following up Tim Taylor’s reflective piece this week about the relationship between research and teaching.(1) Taylor makes the point that ‘research in the social sciences is different to research in the natural sciences. Ontologically different, meaning they involve fundamentally different phenomena,’ different phenomena existing in different realities. The Ofsted Chief Inspector knows this and says that dealing with disruptive behaviour in schools is not rocket science and indeed it is not; human behaviour and rocketry are phenomena existing in the very different realities of the social and the physical worlds.

I’ve thought about the ontological question, written and talked about it for years without making much progress. It’s important but it’s not a pressing issue, or maybe not a comprehensible one, for most people. On the edge of yet another conference designed to expose to examination the level of ontological ignorance underlying the fierce discussion about educational research and its relevance to teachers, it’s a good time to look at this problem another way.

Careful, quiet and respectful talking has largely failed in the attempt to get the ontological argument heard.

To take a current example, Mr. T Bennett, adviser on behaviour and related teacher training to the Minister of State for education and director of a conference series aimed at improving the so-called research literacy of teachers and bombing pseudo-science into rubble, is making some serious public claims this week in the fields of communications technology, education and social science. He claims (2) that there is no evidence to show that technology helps pupils learn and that students only use ipads for looking at dubious images on the web and hurling insults at each other. He claims that ‘devices are used as ‘pacifiers’ by teachers to control unruly classes’ and that ‘parents (are) allowing children to stay up late using gadgets.’

As reported in the ‘The Daily Mail’ (2)  Mr. Bennett states that there is ‘absolutely no need’ for children to have access to the Internet, on the grounds that ‘kids are kids – they will see things you don’t want them to see.’

Mr. Bennett criticizes teachers who tell children to use search engines to complete homework, describing it as being like ‘guiding them to a library without a librarian’ and concludes that it is a teacher’s duty to point out mistakes on the web.

Ok, so where’s the reliable evidence for Mr. Bennett’s claims?

Are the claims made here based on high-quality positivist research? Or on other forms of research appropriate to the realms of the social sciences? What form of research inquiry is best fitted to produced and analyse the evidence?

The process of publication and peer review requires a researcher to be named and accessible and the work to be open to critique. The critique itself is in turn itself open to critique. It’s recognized to be an imperfect process and to give a current example p-level gaming (3) and the difficulties of replication in psychological research (4) are currently under the microscope as the system seeks to self-correct.

As blogging in our world of education and educational research matures into something more than shouting at a laptop it’s the time to encourage and welcome critique, for claims to be justified or withdrawn, as happens in the rest of the research world.

Put up or shut up, eh?











G D James 2 Sept 2015it’s

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