Is anybody out there?

Sorry about the delay in this post. I was away this week at a conference in Florence, Italy that concerned science education. It was quite small, but delegates had come from all over the world to present their research papers. Like all conferences, there were some really good presentations and ones that were a little less ‘academically robust’ or personally interesting. However, if you sat and listened to the papers you could hear the same message (allbeit spoken in different ways) namely that students are not really ‘getting’ science, in the sense that they have misconceptions about quite basic principles and secondly that by changing the way we teach it, things undoubtedly improve (to some very high stats probabilities in some cases). These changes normally relate to introducing methods such as problem or scenario based learning, student centred project work, experiential learning methods, the nature of feedback, etc etc.

Geoff Petty in Evidence Based Teaching (2009) discusses a number of meta-analyses on education research papers, that even if only the most high rated are selected, the number being produced every year still numbers tens of thousands. So why is nothing changing? This huge research literature is seemingly being ignored by many teachers/lecturers. In fact Petty concludes that it’s easier to get teachers to change their religion than their teaching style!

On a related note, I saw with dismay last week that SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) are up and running again, having spent millions listening for aliens. Now you have the chance to search through their extensive data base of white noise for them. Looking for more ‘subtle signs’. I won’t rant on about it (as I could) but is listening for aliens a worthy pursuit for the 21st century? We can’t hear the research results that suggest an exciting, revolutionary change in the way we teach science could inspire a whole generation. Perhaps SETI would do better to point their listening arrays at science education conferences and shout out the results. Unless ET has some better ideas.