QUICK INTRO TO EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY
Educational Psychology: a field of study in which“Those individuals who find the application of the principles of psychology to education to be the central focus of their professional lives.” (Glover & Ronning, 1987, p.13)
Pragmatism: A philosophy developed in the 1800s that emphasizes logic and rationality over emotion while encouraging scientific inquiry.
Pedagogy: Practice of teaching including the study of how knowledge and skills are acquired.
Cognition: Mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.
Empirical: Based on observation. Gathering data by means of observation, experience, or experiment.
Lexicon: Vocabulary of a subject. For instance, educational gameplay has its own distinct lexicon that includes terms such as game-based learning, gamification, and serious games.
Methodology: A method of investigation. A way of conducting research. For instance, if someone wants to understand the perceptions of a population of people, he/she may employ a Case Study, which is a type of qualitative methodology.
Correlation: A relationship between two or more things. Learning scientists attempt to find the correlations between many different variables.
Inductive: Proceeding to a conclusion by moving from specific to the very general. For instance, gathering data and then drawing conclusions from that data - perhaps without having any preconceived notions of hypotheses about the data, first.
Deductive: Proceeding to a conclusion by at first making general inferences and then moving to the specific. For instance, beginning with a hypothesis or prediction and then following steps to test it.
Inquiry Paradigm (or Theoretical Perspective): A philosophical and methodological stance consisting of the ideas and beliefs of the researcher that helps justify research design decisions.
Ontology: The philosophy of understanding the nature of reality and existence answering such questions as “What is real?”
Epistemology: The philosophy concerned the nature of knowledge answering such questions as “How do we learn?”and “What is truth?”
Axiology (or Value Theory): An attempt to bring the discussion of values (truth, utility, goodness, beauty, right conduct, and obligation) to research design. Axiology encapsulates the underlying set of values or ethics concerning how research should be conducted.
Conceptual Framework: A set of epistemological, conceptual, and theoretical foundation principles for guidance throughout a study
Behaviorism: A philosophy that emphasizes observable, measurable behavior
Domain: A field or content area.
Systems Theory: A theory that models individual human functioning as the result of dynamic interactions among multiple comments that mutually regulate each other to produce cognition, conation (the mental faculty of purpose, desire, or will to perform and action), and affect.
Neuroscience: Science that deals with structure or function of the brain
Neuromyth: A myth about how we learn that many people (including educators) believe including the myth that people who are left or right-brained learn differently and that physical exercise “primes” the brain for learning.
Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle: Simply by observing the system, we change it. This is always in the minds of good researchers as they design a study: How to design without interfering or influencing the study?
Quantitative Research: Using numerical data usually gained though experiment. However, there are non-experimental designs as well that include the collection of observation and survey data. Often quantitative data is used to make generalizations about a group of people.
Qualitative Research: Gaining an understanding without the use of numerical data usually by means of interviewing, observing, working within a population of people, and developing relationships with participants. Methodologies include Narrative Research, Phenomenological Research, Ethnographic Research, Grounded Theory Research, Case Study Study Research, Participatory Research. Since the sample sizes of qualitative research is often smaller and the data gathered is often concerned with people’s lived experiences, the data is considered less generalizable (but not less valuable) than quantitative research.
Mixed Methods: Combining Quantitative and Qualitative Methods. For instance, collecting numerical survey data and then following up with interviews with the participants.
AERA: stands for the American Educational Research Association. The first meeting was held in 1892 at the University of Pennsylvania.
Key Players IN THE EARLY DEVELOPMENT OF ED. PSYCH.:
John Dewey (1859-1952): an American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education and social reform. Believed that our science and art should be conjoined. Wanted a science that took lived experience as the beginning and end point of inquiry.
G. Stanley Hall (1844-1924): a pioneering American psychologist and educator. His interests focused on childhood development and evolutionary theory. Hall was the first president of the American Psychological Association and the first president of Clark University. Sought a science that could be enacted by the non-scientific community such as by teachers and parents.
William James (1842-1910): an American philosopher and psychologist, and the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States. James was a leading thinker of the late nineteenth century, one of the most influential U.S. philosophers, and has been labelled the "Father of American psychology".
Edward Thorndike (1874-1949): an American psychologist who spent nearly his entire career at Teachers College, Columbia University. His work on comparative psychology and the learning process led to the theory of connectionism and helped lay the scientific foundation for educational psychology. Said that psychology does not need to be concerned with the classroom and that scientists should conduct experiments in a lab and hand the results down to teachers. He refused to take the lives of teachers and students into consideration.
Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914): an American philosopher, logician, mathematician, and scientist who is sometimes known as "the father of pragmatism". Believed that one mind mirroring reality was not acceptable evidence because reality does not stand still long enough to be reflected in a single mind.
John Comenius (1592-1670): a Czech philosopher, pedagogue and theologian from the Margraviate of Moravia and is considered “the father of modern education”.
Juan Vives (1492-1540): a Spanish scholar and Renaissance humanist. His beliefs on the soul, insight into early medical practice, and perspective on emotions, memory and learning earned him the title of the "father" of modern psychology.
John Watson (1878-1935): an American psychologist who established the psychological school of behaviorism. Watson promoted a change in psychology through his address Psychology as the Behaviorist Views it, which was given at Columbia University in 1913.
Burris F. Skinner (1904-1990): an American psychologist, behaviorist, author, inventor, and social philosopher. He is most known for his work in Operant Conditioning.
Johann Pestalozzi (1746-1827): a Swiss teacher and educational reformer who exemplified Romanticism in his approach. He founded several educational institutions both in German- and French-speaking regions of Switzerland and wrote many works explaining his revolutionary modern principles of education. Created the first modern elementary school.
Johann Herbart (1776-1841): a German philosopher, psychologist and founder of pedagogy as an academic discipline. Created the five formal steps to learning: Preparation, Presentation, Association, Generalization, and Application.
Joseph Meyer Rice (1857-1934): a physician, editor of The Forum magazine, and early advocate of progressive education in the United States. He is credited with being one of the first to bring the need for widespread school reform to the public eye, and with laying the foundation for future empirical educational research.
Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911): an English Victorian era statistician, progressive, polymath, sociologist, psychologist, anthropologist, eugenicist, tropical explorer, geographer, inventor, meteorologist, proto-geneticist, and psychometrician. Given credit for developing some of the first rating scales, physiological tests, and questionnaires. Studied individual differences and environmental effects.
Jerome Bruner (1915-2016): an American psychologist who made significant contributions to human cognitive psychology and cognitive learning theory in educational psychology. Bruner was a senior research fellow at the New York University School of Law.
The beginning of Ed. Psych. as a discipline is blurry and disputed even though it is relatively young - a little over 100 years old. Some argue that the birth of Ed. Psych. began with behaviorists like B.F. Skinner, who may be best known for Operant Conditioning: A learning process in which rewards and punishments are used. However, people have been paying close attention to how people learn for hundreds of years dating back to John Comenius (1592-1671), who is often referred to as the father of education and Juan Vives (1492-1540), who is often referred to as the father of modern psychology. Many others including Dewey, James, Hall, Herbart were also interested in the study of learning and teaching methods well before Skinner came along. Educational Psychology is an ever-evolving field that expands daily. Educational Psychologists spend their time designing experiments, creating surveys and questionnaires, and immersing themselves in educational communities to learn more about how, why, and to what extent people learn.
What is Educational Psychology?
It is the study of learning, which makes the discipline very vast since there are so many ways to study it. There are some universally agreed upon things about Ed. Psych. though including the belief that the study of learning needs to be forefront and that empirical evidence is vital to good research. Also, much of the research in educational psychology tends to be reductionistic, which means that researchers desire to reduce data to simpler forms - often to make generalizations about a population of people and to make their finding more accessible to readers. The goal though is to improve learning for all of humankind.
The Multiplicative Equation
Someone X Something X Someone Else X Some Context
The equation above, which evolved from Schwab’s (1978) original equation, means that when conducting research, there are variables that need to be considered, which makes educational research vast, infinite, and complex. Every study involves someone doing something to someone else in some context.
An example would be a 1st YEAR TEACHER who teaches MATH to 4th GRADERS at a RURAL PUBLIC SCHOOL IN NORTHWESTERN PENNSYLVANIA.
The results may be markedly different if only one of those variables changed. Would the same study garner the same results if the context was an URBAN SCHOOL or the teacher was VETERAN TEACHER? Very likely, things would be much different. However, since their could be an infinite number of variables, it makes the study of educational psychology both exciting and daunting. It’s exciting because there are so many possibilities and paths that have yet to be discovered. It’s daunting because there is so much research that came before me and it is virtually impossible to read it all.
Debates & Troubles
John Dewey believed that educational science should be observable and that lived experience was the best way to know things. G. Stanley Hall also agreed that research should be conducted in a student’s natural environment: the classroom. William James thought that the study of learning may be best at the individual level rather than on a larger scale, but he was disputed by Peirce who thought that focusing so closely at the individual level made the results less verifiable - especially in the eyes of the public.
Edward Thorndike, who seemed like one of biggest antagonists to modern educational psychology, believed that learning experiments should be done in a lab and that teachers had little to offer. He thought scientists should hand down the results to the teachers, who should then, simply, implement whatever was recommended. He, simply, did not account for teachers or students in their natural environments.
The terminology educational psychologists use keeps changing as well. As new researchers jump into the pool, many may not be well-versed in the history of their specific domain or discipline, so new terms are invented even when old ones meaning the same thing still exist. This has caused much confusion among scholars and practitioners. The problem is that new scholars looking to study educational psychology may not have the time to read everything that has come before them or, perhaps, have little motivation or desire to.
Also, each domain (or area of study) has its own lexicon, which helps members of the community better share their work and communicate with one another. This is good and bad. Often a domain’s lexicon is not shared with practitioners, which makes data difficult to interpret or implement for teachers, administrators, and parents. Also, as Bruner (1990) suggested: Researchers have a tendency to “seal” themselves in their own rhetoric and terminology, which, ultimately, prevents growth as a researcher and growth of a domain.
Another issue is how research should be conducted. There is inductive and deductive research each with its own distinct methods of reasoning. Inductive research proceeds to a conclusion by moving from specific to the very general. For instance, gathering data and then drawing conclusions from that data - perhaps without having any preconceived notions of hypotheses about the data, first.
Deductive research, on the other hand, proceeds to a conclusion by at first making general inferences and then moving to the specific. For instance, beginning with a hypothesis or prediction and then following steps to test it. The difference lies in where the researcher begins. Does he/she begin with a theory or with an observation of some kind? There are plenty of well-respected researchers out there who use each method. In fact, Dewey (1910) suggested that a complete research act involves both deductive and inductive reasoning!
The big problem for someone who understands the Multiplicative Equation (explained above) is that context matters, which makes generalization extremely unlikely. Too often (especially in qualitative studies) researchers claim that their experiment results are generalizable (e.g. 100 elementary school children score highly in math when they play the Fun with Numbers game on the computer for an hour a day for eight weeks, therefore, Fun with Numbers may work for all elementary students). This often leads to administrators spending tons of cash adopting technology that fails to garner the same results as found by the researcher. However, this does not stop researchers from claiming generalizability anyway. This is not to say that researchers should not attempt to generalize, but we definitely need to be more cognizant and honest about how likely our results can be repeated.
Qualitative vs. Quantitative
To put it in its simplest and broadest terms: Quantitative is interested in numbers and Qualitative is not. This is not to say qualitative research cannot also be interested in numbers, but it does not rely on it like quantitative research does. Quantitative research means using numerical data usually gained though experimentation. However, there are non-experimental designs as well that include the collection of observation data and survey data, which is translated to numbers. Often quantitative data is used to make generalizations about a group of people.
Qualitative researchers, on the other hand, are more interested in gaining an understanding without the use of numerical data usually by means of interviewing, observing, working within a population of people, and developing relationships with participants. Qualitative methodologies include Narrative Research, Phenomenological Research, Ethnographic Research, Grounded Theory Research, Case Study Study Research, Participatory Research. Since the sample sizes (the number of study participants) of qualitative research is often smaller and the data gathered is often concerned with people’s lived experiences, the data is considered less generalizable (but not less valuable) than quantitative research. And unfortunately, qualitative in the past has been taken less seriously by the educational psychology community because it is much harder to replicate a qualitative study than a quantitative one. The great news is that this is changing and more people are finding that they can dive deeper into the reasons why things work through qualitative methodologies. In fact, many people who conduct quantitative research follow up with a qualitative one on the same subject. Qualitative studies are emphasize taking a closer look at what it going on. It is more concerned with the Why? and How? something happened rather than with To What Extent? something happened.
Who is listening to Educational Psychologists anyway?
Another big problem (maybe, the biggest problem) is the divide and lack of communication between the people doing the research and the population of people the research is meant to help. What good is a study if educators cannot read it, discuss it, and, maybe, even put what they’ve read into practice? It’s true that many, like Thorndike, want to go about business without the educational community’s involvement, but good research needs to be accessible and applicable. This lack of communication led to things like No Child Left Behind, which did not take individual student experience and context into consideration and high-stakes standardized testing, which reduces learning to a series of multiple choice questions.
Also, there is a perception that educational psychologists sit in their ivory towers sending out waves of new research findings, which are indiscriminately adopted by school districts around the globe. There are plenty of researchers who do embed themselves in the teaching communities, but there many that do not. If we intend to bridge the gap between Ed. Psych. and the teaching community, we must get better at being transparent and accessible.
If educational psychologists want to endure, we need to begin making our research more accessible to the teaching and learning community. We also need to keep in mind that research may be more important when locality is considered over a greater generalizability. Teachers teach and students learn at a local level and educational psychologists may want to begin diving into those communities in more meaningful ways that place the emphasis less on reduction and more on relationships and deep understandings.