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Two Solitudes: Bringing the Scientists and the Scholars of Teaching and Learning Together

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Uploaded on Nov 3, 2015

It takes little time in the field to recognize that people who are passionate about postsecondary education (and education in general) fall neatly into two camps. Like Cronbach’s “two disciplines of scientific psychology” (1957), they have different qualifications, go to different meetings, publish in different journals and have different standards of scholarship. I will call them the “Scientists” and the “Scholars”. The labels are not mine;, the “S” in SoTL (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) is not the same as the S in SOL-SOI (Science of Learning – Science of Instruction).

Scholars are a diverse bunch, from nearly every discipline on the campus, united by a common passion about teaching and a desire to enrich the learning experience. By and large (but of course with some exceptions), they have no particular methodological skills or interest in advancing the research enterprise. Instead, they simply want to share their experiences to enhance the educational experience. By contrast, the Scientists are a much more homogeneous group. Almost all have postgraduate training in psychology – educational or cognitive. Indeed, the teacher is almost never identified as an important variable in their research publications. Their interest is in curriculum and instruction, not teaching, and they view postsecondary education to apply some of their theories to practical problems.

What is not recognized is a mutual need. The Scientists have repeatedly demonstrated that many of their strategies, although simple and often counter-intuitive, can have dramatic effects on learning with very little investment of time and money. But the demonstrations are almost without exception occurring within the same psychology department that spawned the research. Conversely, the Scholars genuinely desire to make education more effective, but often lack the tools to achieve this.
There is one area where there is a meeting of the minds. Within health sciences education, there is long tradition of scholarship, including active research and publications, in education. Qualitative and quantitative researchers happily coexist, publishing in the same journals and attending the same meetings. Moreover the journals cover the gamut from theory to practice and the meetings are viewed as an opportunity for sharing between researchers and practitioners. In this talk, I will attempt to dissect this phenomenon, now a half century old, to help bring the two solitudes in postsecondary education together.

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