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Teachers or Scientists – whose evidence do we want?

4 Jul 2018, by Amy Sarcevic

The word ‘evidence’ is undoubtedly one of the education sector’s biggest buzzwords this decade.

In just a few years, the concept of evidence-based teaching (EBT) has achieved widespread acceptance – with few people disputing that if a teaching method is backed by ‘evidence’, it is inherently better than one which isn’t.

But despite this, there has been a notable lack of consensus – or even discussion – in terms of what the definition of ‘evidence’ is; or more specifically, what constitutes a good evidence source.

“The one question that is rarely asked is ‘whose evidence do we want?’”, says President of the Science of Learning Group, Dr. Jared Cooney Horvath, ahead of the Evidence Based Teaching Summit – 20-21 September, Melbourne.

“A common assumption is that evidence equals statistical data; or that statistical data is the most trustworthy source of information. But in actual fact, many of the laboratory studies in which statistical results are derived from lack ecological validity”, i.e. relevance to a real-life context.

An established Scientist himself, Dr. Horvath certainly does not oppose laboratory science as a basis for EBT, but believes that teachers should be allowed to apply their own expert judgement and layer of translation when interpreting and implementing the results.

In reference to the many neuroscientific studies that have been used to inform teaching practices, he says, “Genes doubtless play a role in behaviour – but often we’re left wondering…now what? Knowing mechanistic underpinnings is well and good, but this tells us little about how to effect change”.

“Just as knowing that the HAHA-1 gene variant leads to a sense of humour, alone it tells us nothing about what humour is, how to tell a joke, or why some things are so funny; so too knowledge of the brain alone tells us nothing about what good learning is, what good teaching is, or how to cultivate either”.

Dr. Horvath also believes that educators should be allowed to be flexible in terms of how they define evidence. He says that quantitative (numerical) or qualitative (non-numerical) data derived directly from the classroom environment should not be viewed as a less credible evidence source.

Teachers should never be forced to ‘bow down to lab scientists’”, he adds. “In my opinion, a bottom-up, grass-roots approach would work just as well as a top-down approach”.

‘What gets missed in a laboratory setting is that ‘ah-ha’ moment, or that ‘glint’ in a student’s eye which shows that he or she understands what we are trying to teach them. I don’t see a reason why that glint in a student’s eye shouldn’t also be classed as evidence, providing it is collated and analysed in a systematic way”.

Dr. Horvath has developed an innovative, four-tiered approach to EBT which he will share full details of at the Evidence Based Teaching Summit – to be held 20-21 September 2018 in Melbourne.

Learn more and register.

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