economics education, research, scholarship of teaching-learning, SoTL

The scholarship of teaching-learning

Yesterday I attended a colloquium on the scholarship of teaching-learning. I came away from it thinking that it is much tougher than what is being argued in institutional committees. All universities are now research focussed, but also have staff members who’s first love is teaching. No problem says the managers. If you like doing different and interesting things with your class, why don’t you also write a paper about it and we will get closer to our target outputs. While I am not against the idea of scholarship of teaching-learning – in every field there are a few people busy with ‘whatever-your-field-is’ education – I just want to say that it is tough and probably not the research growth area that bean counters are hoping for.

So here is some unsolicited advice to colleagues in the economic and management sciences who are interested in education research:

  • Yes, it would be interesting to know what the impact of the educational / pedagogical intervention that you try in class is on academic performance, but it is going to be a lot of work to get such a study published in an economics journal. It is already going to be a lot of work to use clickers, blogs, or the flipped classroom, but economist reviewers will be asking hard questions about causality. If you want to show that group work helps with learning, you will have to control for everything and unobserved heterogeneity – that means a panel study or a randomised control trial. Now this is hard core research and a world away from a first love for teaching and doing interesting, fun things in class.
  • Ok, you can say, forget the economists, I am going to try education journals with qualitative or mixed methods: develop a questionnaire, have focus groups and ask students what are their experience of group work and learning. But coming from an economics background you’ll quickly realise that you don’t speak the language of the journals and have not been trained in the methods. It is not group work, it is cooperative learning. And how does a good focus group discussion actually work? No R-squared there. Thus, to aim for education journals will mean that you have to do a lot of reading, get to know the schools of thought and the language and learn new methods.

Both of these are good options, but not quick or easy. We should not pretend that people who love teaching and are not that keen on on research can just go and write a few papers about what they do in class. MOAR research! may have to come from somewhere else.


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