The classroom as lab, the teacher as researcher
Teenage brains, iPads in the classroom, learning by rote or not: teachers need a sound understanding of these issues in order to know what is effective and what is not. Wilfried Admiraal, Professor of Educational Science, calls for education research labs to be set up. He gave his inaugural lecture on 24 June.
Teachers gain an enormous amount of expertise in the course of their career. This expertise, however, usually remains within the bounds of the classroom or the staff room, which means a lot of time is wasted reinventing the wheel. Education experts write abstract articles in weighty journals that teachers never read. Consequently, teachers are unable to benefit from any of the scientific insights and we are left with a gap between education research and daily teaching practice. The government, with its renewed focus on teachers rather than on school management, is very concerned about this gap.
Wilfried Admiraal, Professor of Educational Science at Leiden University’s Teacher Training Institute (ICLON), wants to close - rather than bridge - the gap between research and teaching practice by getting teachers and researchers to collaborate on research.
Such collaboration projects already exist in various forms and have been encouraged by a concerned government. However, they often consist of a group of teachers who basically teach their classes and a group of researchers who observe them: the teacher becomes the research object. Despite goodwill on both sides, it does not seem to be effective.
For several years now teachers have been able to apply for a research grant from NWO (the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research). They retain their teaching job, but are allowed to spend just under half their time doing research. The research has to generate information that is both based on practice and relevant for the practical teaching environment. However, most of the teachers who apply for these grants want to do research on their particular subject, rather than on teaching practice itself.
Admiraal sees a lot of potential in so-called research labs, and wants to set up such labs in Leiden, in collaboration with schools. These labs are where teacher-researchers work together with fellow teachers, university researchers and occasionally pupils. Each lab has its own research programme and scientists train the teachers how to formulate scientific hypotheses and introduce them to the specialist literature.
This type of research allows the classroom or the school to function as an actual laboratory. Teacher-researchers can carry out experiments in different classes using different types of homework assignments or didactic methods, and can then measure the results to find out what works best. They can also collaborate with other schools. Video cameras in the classrooms show pupils’ motivation and input as well as demonstrating the relation between doing homework and being able to play an active part in class. Admiraal: ‘It’s directly useful for the teacher, and also advances science.’
(21 June 2013 /HP)