Aaron Sloman: Is education research a form of alchemy?

This piece by Aaron Sloman in ALT News Online may be of interest:

First three paragraphs:

Alchemists did masses of data collection, seeking correlations. In the process they learnt a great many useful facts – but lacked deep explanations. Searching for correlations can produce results of limited significance when studying processes with an underlying basis of mechanisms with astronomical generative power. But this correlation-seeking approach characterises much educational research.

Accelerated progress in chemistry came from developing a deep explanatory theory about the hidden structure of matter and the processes such structure could support (atoms, subatomic particles, valence, constraints on chemical reactions, etc.). Thus deep research requires (among other things) the ability to invent powerful explanatory mechanisms, often referring to unobservables.

My experience of researchers in education, psychology, social science and similar fields is that the vast majority of the ones I have encountered have had no experience of building, testing, and debugging, deep explanatory models of any working system. So their education does not equip them for a scientific study of education, a process that depends crucially on the operations of the most sophisticated information processing engines on the planet, many important features of which are still unknown. [Read more…]

History of Mathematics undergraduate essay prize

Winners of first British Society for the History of Mathematics undergraduate essay prize announced.

The BSHM is pleased to announce the inaugural winners of its undergraduate essay prize as Stephanie Crampin for an essay entitled The contribution of Évariste Galois to the founding of group theory and Nicole Johannesen for The application of mathematical understanding in the ancient Olympic Games. Stephanie is a third year student studying mathematics and philosophy at St Hugh’s College, Oxford and Nicole a third year student studying mathematics at St Andrews University.

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