Imagine if Jean Piaget, John Dewey, Maria Montessori, or Paulo Friere were tenure track education or psychology professors today. They would probably not get their work published in education and psychology research journals, despite being some of the most highly influential and innovative thinkers in education.
Even some contemporary people who are or have been highly influential in education largely do not publish their work in journals for the most part, including Kieran Egan, Howard Gardner (multiple intelligences), Seymour Papert, Larry Cuban, and so forth.
They primarily publish in books.
Part of the issue is that we keep research, theory, development, and practice in separate bins. Educational research journals rarely publish about theory or development or practice; Philosophy of education journals primarily publish articles about long deceased theorists; and teacher/practitioner journals and magazines rarely publish about research or theory.
If some of the above authors submitted their work to journals, they would be rejected for not having p values and effect sizes, or because they discuss new and innovative theories and practices without devoting enough attention to past philosophers or empirical findings.
Research, theory, development, and practice are not separate but equal things. Influencing and changing education for the better is not the result of any one of those in isolation. A common thread between them all is innovation. We are interested in new, innovative ideas and practices and developments to improve education, such as those created by Piaget, Dewey, Montessori… This is more of a concept from engineering or entrepreneurship than science or philosophy. One might adopt an engineering perspective on education (as Dewey did). If you compare today’s world outside of education to the world of 100 years ago, the starkest differences and advances are a result of engineering. We don’t use p values alone to judge improvement in automobiles or computers. We don’t have to cite Plato or Kant to better understand new medical technologies.
Of course engineers do research, engineers do discuss theory and philosophy (the fPET engineering & philosophy conference is this weekend), and engineering is inherently connected to development and practice. But too often educational research is disconnected from changing theory or practice, and educational philosophers don’t engage in innovative development or empirical research. The former becomes aimless and ineffectual; the latter becomes arm-chair theorizing disconnected to everyday practice. Practitioners, too, sometimes glom onto some new idea or technology that doesn’t have a basis in research or theory, or doesn’t really change or advance their practices (IWBs, or interactive whiteboards, may be a current example). Developers sometimes recreate activities based on outmoded and less effective ideas. That said, are K-12 and higher education teachers and developers supposed to read and apply educational research journal articles? I don’t think so, although there is evidence for a correlation (not a causal link): engineering instructors for example who follow educational research have better student learning outcomes, but they are a tiny minority, the exception. And it’s not entirely the responsibility of practitioners. It is our job as educational researchers, theorists, and developers to always be highly connected to innovation and making educational change happen, as were Dewey and so many others. At the very least, we should be striving to communicate our work publicly with others and allowing for public feedback and criticism from practitioners, theorists, developers, and so forth. Many more people read a magazine article or even a blog post or view a youtube video than read an educational journal article or attend a conference presentation. My AERA talk was attend by 20 people, but after posting it online over 200 people had viewed it within a few hours. A journal article, even an open access one, I would guess at most a few hundred read (and virtually zero practitioners), whereas an innovative new software tool or instrument or curriculum may be used by hundreds or thousands more, especially when given away for free with an open license. I and other edubloggers, #edchat’ers, youtube educators, and educoders know this phenomenon well. Salman Khan‘s instructional videos on youtube get more views than even all of MIT’s opencourseware courses combined. If you google ‘cognitive load theory’ you’ll get my post that is critical about it, even though I don’t do research on that topic myself, and despite decades of other published journal articles and books on the topic. Perhaps Dewey and Friere would have had blogs or twitter accounts or Youtube channels, like Larry Cuban, Roger Schank, Richard Hake and many other less well known but nevertheless influential educational innovators do today.
Unless (or even if) you are an A-list blogger or are conversing with others directly through your blog, your primary audience when you are blogging or posting in public forums, other than yourself, is Google — the people using Google search engine to find information.
It’s a good indicator for what real people’s information needs are. I would love it, for example, if people searching on how to develop educational software were to come across my blog, or on how embodied cognition applies to designing learning environments were to come across a wiki of mine, but there are just not many folks doing so as you might expect. That’s not a bad thing in itself, but sometimes it is good to target what people really want and need to know. Last year after I graduated I looked for a good free antivirus program, and was frustrated with all the conflicting and bad advice I saw. It seemed like people were asking for help on this everyday at Yahoo Answers, too. So I thought this blog would be a good place to make a recommendation, and also tell people about free antispyware tools, firewalls, and other programs as well. And sure enough, hundreds of people a day search for information on the ‘best free antivirus’, and many of them check out this site in the process. The same thing with getting a projector to work with Ubuntu Linux and a laptop (something I just posted about like 2 days ago), or setting up an Ubuntu server with a firewall for security, or how to mark spam as read in gmail. Now if you search for ‘ubuntu laptop projector’ for example or other terms related to those examples, it hits here as well.
Of course some searches hit here unintentionally just because I happened to mention something, like ‘example of discovery learning’ or ‘dalvik virtual machine’ (google’s new technology) or ‘sesame street toys lead recalls’. And sometimes Google hits for the wrong terms, like ‘multiple answer quiz question’ hits my article on test-wiseness, but not a search on ‘test-wiseness’ itself. Google also doesn’t appear to be such a big fan of wikispaces or pbwiki as it is of blogspot and wikipedia. Searching for “educational research journals” on Yahoo for example hits a wiki page of mine, but not Google. Google hits it if you search for something like ‘rss journals’.
The problem with targetting Google is that you don’t know what many people are searching for until after the fact. That is why a place like Yahoo Answers is nice to see what everyday folks’ information (and educational) needs are more directly.
A good start in cleaning the place up would be to see the permanent banning not of an editor but that ugly word “troll”. This word is increasingly used to suppress any voice of dissent no matter how reasonable. Many attempts to reach a hidden truth or even just the honest truth are met with a barrage of name calling. The term inhibits justice and speech and honest debate. It is an ugly word, to use it is to attack, and we need to wake up to that. So let’s not use it any more.
The problem with Wikipedia is that, for so many in the project, it’s no longer about the encyclopedia. The problem is that Wikipedia’s community has defined itself not in terms of the encyclopedia it is supposedly producing, but instead of the people it venerates and the people it abhors.
Indeed, anytime in an online community you see terms used like “troll”, “flame”, “newbie”, or “RTFM” (see this article on rtfm jerks), that’s a sign of an unhealthy community. It’s not a place I’d recommend beginners (or children for that matter) go for help, especially. It may be a fine place to lurk, but not so great to be an active (commenting, submitting) participant. That unfortunately includes many USENET groups, mailing lists, forums, IRC channels, and yes, even Wikipedia. See also the article “Wikipedia’s Technological Obscurification: Three ways Wikipedia keeps 99% of the population from participating.”
I wouldn’t use an IRC channel or an unmoderated mailing list or discussion board as the primary means of community support & participation. Ubuntu Linux, for example, lists their IRC channels first for support, when their (moderated) forums are much more recommendable to those looking for help.
So just to speculate, what are some features that might help a site from becoming exclusionist, elitist, or the like? Perhaps things like:
- Have a clear mission or purpose that is beneficial to the community. Define what the community is for, not what it is against.
- Make some things more transient. Blog posts, for example, fade away from rss readers after a while.
- Make community processes transparent. That’s what got Wikipedia into trouble in this latest controversy.
- Diminish the importance of rankings or ratings, or at least disconnect them from people involved in the community and contributing the content. I’m not a big fan of “user stats” on various forums and sites like reddit or digg, although I suppose it does stimulate the amount of content submitted, which may be more important and useful when getting a community off the ground. It depends if you value quantity over quality.
- Allow individuals to make a contribution that won’t be trampled on. Good examples include some blogs or forums or for example Yahoo Answers, and again you can let it quickly fade away if need be (unlike with USENET groups or mailing lists). Questions more than 10-15 minutes old on Yahoo Answers pretty much disappear off the front page of each section.
- Most popular online social sites allow complete anonymity, but a lot of the time it is the fuel for what makes the communities bad, as well.
There are some middle ground strategies, like allowing anonymous contributions from people with verified identifies (such as pseudonymous contributions to the Chronicle of Higher Education, or the Second Life virtual world which requires registering with a credit card first). The Citizendium wiki is trying the experiment of requiring everyone to use real identities, and furthermore, while anyone can contribute to the wiki, only real-world experts can approve or certify articles as being accurate. Wikipedia suffered (and suffers) from this problem as well. See for example the Essjay controversy from earlier this year. Wikipedia is also constantly vandalized by anonymous individuals. Citizendium, in contrast, hasn’t had any vandalism problems. Perhaps not coincidentally, even “Jimbo” Wales, head of Wikipedia, uses the term troll.