TITLE: "Damn It, Jim. I'm a Teacher" AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: June 10, 2010 4:42 PM DESC: ----- BODY: If you are a university professor, read this short piece by John Cook and try not to think about teaching and educational research! It doesn't take long for a CS professor interested in thinking about his teaching methods scientifically to bump into the seeming double standard that Mosteller identifies between practicing doctors and medical researchers. Wanna teach object-oriented programming beginning on Day 1 of CS 1? No problem. Wanna collect some data and compare the results to results from a control group? Hold on there... You'll need to fill out a few forms, get permission from a review board, and make sure your research methodology satisfies the scrutiny of colleagues from across campus. I understand Cook's reasoning that review boards add necessary value to the enterprise of medical research, and I suppose they add some of the same value to educational research. But many of the things we try in our classrooms are more experimental than routine. Even with grounding in educational psychology, a lot of our teaching is done under conditions we don't understand completely and with techniques that are outside the range of past education research. Formally vetting education research does achieve one worthwhile goal: It reduces the chances that a poorly conceived experiment can be used to draw broad conclusions beyond its reach. On the other end of the spectrum, though, it likely reduces the number of formal experiments that are done, which contributes to a culture of sharing anecdotal results and "Look what I did..." experience reports. When that happens, you have to study the community closely to learn whose results to pay attention to and learn from. Vetting informal experiments becomes an informal process. After going through a couple of rounds of trying to get teaching experiments approved early in my career, I have even greater admiration and appreciation for the work people like Mark Guzdial do. We educators need educators to do formal experiments and to report the results. We also need to learn as much about psychology (of all sorts, including behavioral), biology, and even sociology if we hope to teach more effectively, more reliably. I promise I won't try to learn anything when I teach compilers this fall. If I do, though, I may tell people about it. -----