Monday, September 17, 2018

Education 'Cargo Cults'

Education guru (not self-proclaimed) John Hattie, along with co-author Arran Hamilton, list a number of fatal cognitive biases in the blog post How to stop cognitive biases from undermining your impact, which is well worth a read for any educator (or anyone for that matter). They point out that:
...a growing database of Cognitive Biases or glitches in our human operating system have been catalogued and confirmed through laboratory experiment and psychometric testing. The research suggests that biases afflict all of us, unless we have been trained to ward against them.
The post is a small part of the bigger white paper: Education cargo cults must die (pdf). It's a somewhat ironic paper, given the criticism levelled at Hattie's guru status and cult-like following. However, this is something Hattie and Hamilton are well aware of, noting the danger of appealing to authority:
Authority Bias: Tendency to attribute greater weight and accuracy to the opinions of an authority figure—irrespective of whether this is deserved—and to be influenced by it. 
EDUCATION: Don’t be swayed by famous titled gurus. Carefully unpick and test of all their assumptions—especially if they are making claims outside the specific area of expertise. Be particularly suspicious of anyone that writes and publishes a white paper [!!!] (p 20, emphasis added).
Some key quotes from the white paper: 
We make the case that ingrained cognitive biases make us all naturally predisposed to invest in educational products and approaches that conform with our existing worldview and to only grudgingly alter our behavior in the face of significant conflicting evidence. In section two, we argue that educators and policymakers must fight hard to overcome their cognitive biases and to become true evaluators of their own impact (p 9). 
Health warning: May ultimately make you feel as though you can trust what you see again, because you’ll have a framework for identifying evidence and being more skeptical of initiatives and resources that just don’t have sufficient backing (p 10).
We advocate an approach to education that is built on reason, rather than intuition alone. This involves systematic collection of data on students’ learning experiences in the classroom and the ways in which teachers and product developers can accelerate this learning. From data, we can inform intuitions and judgements and build theories. And, from theories, we can build structured processes—continually testing and refining these too (p 25).
While there are plenty of critics of Hattie's work (and how Hattie's work tends to be used), it's great to see educators engaged in discussion about our profession and continually improving evidence/research base of our practice. Or at the very least, minimising the chances of wasting our time on myths and errant nonsense.