Speaking of Education

Above is the official title of the Sept. 10-13 Education Leadership Conference. However, my own proposed subtitle is "Ensuring the cobbler's children have shoes." By that I mean that students of psychology, at all levels, should have as much access to a scientifically informed teaching and learning process as we propose for others.

It is timely that leaders in psychology reflect upon our own practices in classroom teaching, research training and clinical supervision, and that we assess our progress in translating research on the teaching and learning process into educational applications.

Scientifically based education

Over the last decade, there has been increased attention to scientifically based practice in our nation's schools. The press for evidence-based education has been similar to demands for evidence-based practice in health care, and the accompanying debates about the nature and sufficiency of evidence have been spirited. APA has steadfastly supported the development of the human capital required to address these important issues, as evident in the new APA/Institute of Educational Sciences Postdoctoral Education Research Training program funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Although the impact of this movement on national policy has been most pronounced in pre-K-12 education, leaders in higher education have shown significant interest. One component of an upcoming multidisciplinary conference will address the translation of research in the science of learning to undergraduate educational practices. Its host, The Reinvention Center (www.sunysb.edu/reinventioncenter), directed by Dr. Wendy Katkin, is dedicated to the improvement of undergraduate education at research universities.

Yet others have questioned whether we are teaching our sciences scientifically. Jo Handelsman and 10 co-authors of an April 23 article in Science (Vol. 304, No. 5670) on scientific teaching ask why many "outstanding scientists who demand rigorous proof for scientific assertions in their research continue to use, and indeed, defend on the basis of the intuition alone, teaching methods that are not the most effective?"

They suggest that many scientists are unaware of data from research on teaching and learning or may distrust such data since scientists seem to flourish in educational systems regardless of their teaching/training. Others might be intimidated about learning new methods or fear that identification as "educators and trainers" might reduce their credibility as researchers. The authors demand we admit that "citing our most successful students as evidence that our teaching methods are effective is simply not scientific." Given psychology's roots in learning and the biological, cognitive, affective and social bases of behavior, it would be hard for me to imagine that this shoe fits psychology, that we would fail to consider the scientific bases of our educational practices, but perhaps we need to try it on for size.

Psychology education

Psychology has been a major contributor to the knowledge base regarding cognitive, affective, behavioral and sociocultural aspects of learning and teaching. Moreover, a 2000 seminal report of the National Research Council, "How People Learn" (www.nap.edu/books/0309070368/html), concludes that developments to date have "led to an era of new relevance of science to practice." Practice in this case refers to educational practice--a professional activity for nearly half of all APA members.

We have learned much about basic brain and cognitive functioning, as well as the contexts of productive learning. We have learned how stereotype threat affects academic performance, how conflict in the supervisory relationship results in withheld information and how a learner-centered approach is central to the educational process. How are we as a discipline applying our own body of knowledge to our educational practices in the teaching of psychology, the research training of future psychological scientists, the training of beginning and advanced applied skills and continuing-education activities?

Such questions will be the focus of this conference, to which leaders of more than 20 organizations devoted to education and training in psychology have been invited. Also in attendance will be representatives from APA divisions and governance groups. We will be aided in our self-study process by our students and by experts in the field. We need to promote our accomplishments, identify gaps in our translation of research to educational practice and develop strategies for change where necessary.

We must ensure our students do not go barefoot when our discipline has so much knowledge about learning and achievement.

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