As you may recall, we recently announced that eLiterate is launching a new initiative called the Empirical Educator Project (EEP). From the announcement post:
We believe one major barrier to progress is social. Work is being done, but it is fragmented. New approaches are being pioneered, but they aren’t shared, tested in different educational contexts, or framed in a way that makes them easy for other individuals and organizations to adopt them. An innovation often doesn’t make it outside the classroom or institution where it was created. When it does, it usually travels to peer groups—other members of the same department, other colleagues in the same discipline, or other universities of the same type.
Colleges that have educational challenges they need to solve often lack researchers to help them, while research universities often have researchers who are looking for good problems to solve. Despite the obvious collaboration opportunity that this resource imbalance presents, classroom educators aren’t aware of relevant educational researchers, and researchers rarely make their work product accessible to and adoptable by classroom educators. And if those researchers happen to work for vendors rather than universities, the problem is even worse. Vendors have no good way to convince the average academic that their research is valid, even when they have real and significant contributions to make. Academics who want to engage with vendors on research projects have no clear avenues to do so.
At e-Literate, we are in the rare and lucky position to be able to see into and across all these various silos. Given that we are seeing both increasing motivation and increasing activity in pockets across the higher education sector, we want to focus on increasing propagation and collaborative refinement of this work by lowering the barriers and increasing the opportunities and incentives for collaborative work. But part we believe that creating incentives for action is not the biggest challenge. Many people and organizations already have enough incentive that they are taking actions now, on their own, with whatever resources they can muster. In many cases, we will just need to create enough additional incentive to make collaboration worth the effort over and above whatever energy they are already putting into their projects.
We had our summit at Stanford about 2 weeks ago with 50 participants from a pretty wide range of institutions and roles. (You can see the attendee list on the project web page.) We’re still processing everything that we’re learning from that gathering and the follow-up, but here are two big lessons that I’m taking away from it personally:
- Our hypothesis that gaps in our networks are preventing us from seeing the progress that is being made and collaborating to accelerate that progress was strongly supported by the early outcomes of that meeting. Participants seem thrilled to hear about work they didn’t know about from people they’d never met at institutions they never encounter. The number of collaborative project ideas coming out of the summit was far, far higher than we expected. We will see how many of them come to fruition, and how many of those produce real impact, but we are off to a running start.
- The work of Carnegie Mellon University anthropologist Lauren Herckis, which we have highlighted here twice, really resonated with the group. It turns out that telling faculty they should adopt effective teaching practices isn’t an effective teaching practice. With the caveat that she has conducted one (extensive) study at one institution, her work suggests that we tend to dramatically underestimate the degree to which most faculty care about teaching while dramatically overestimating the degree to which they will be persuaded by academic research that they should change their teaching practices. Faculty have all kinds of reasons why they resist pedagogical change, some of which are very logical and some of which are more intuitive or emotional. If we don’t engage with these cultural blockers head-on, then no amount of research, promotion, technology investment, or grant money will move the needle on student success.
Put these two observations together, and it looks like EEP will be most helpful if it promotes collaboration around projects that move campus culture in the direction of embracing an open-minded and experimental approach to educating, in which increasing student success is viewed as a collective endeavor in which we can advance the state of the art using the same intellectual tools of inquiry, debate, and peer review that academics apply all the time in their disciplinary work.
We will have much more to share about both the summit and our plans for EEP going forward within a couple of weeks. In the meantime, we have encouraged the participants to share their own views on the project as they see fit through blogs, articles, or other venues.