Why read research on education?

by Paul Maharg on 31/10/2007

Was writing a review of two legal educational texts (more about that in a later post) when a paragraph where I mentioned in passing the value of research sort of got hijacked and blocked by the topic, so thought I’d put down thoughts here to vent on it.  Why read research on education? 

It’s about raising the quality of the game on all fronts, because you can’t do much unless there’s commitment to improvement, and knowledge about how to do that.  It’s like the research carried out by Simon & Newell’s early work into expertise — when they matched novice with expert chess players they found that the experts always won, but the games were botched affairs, because the novices couldn’t play on the same level as the experts, and were blundering about the board, to the frustration of the expert players.  There’s plenty that we can learn, in fact must learn, about education from others in our discipline, from other disciplines, esp. medicine, other jurisdictions, and in other times (when I researched for chapter 4 of my book, it I was amazed to see what Dewey and Thorndike were up to in the 1920s in Columbia Law School — almost a century later, our own law schools still haven’t quite caught up with some of it).

As always, it’s the research which, like the gambits & repertoires of moves that a chess player keeps in memory, can contribute to our store of what’s possible, probable, desirable in any particular local situation.  We couldn’t have thought about using Standardized Clients (SCs), for instance, unless we’d already set up the interviewing assessment structure we have in the ggsl, and then been dissatisfied with it.  So that when we rolled out the SCs, the research from medical ed.  had already drawn us further on, further in, because we wanted to improve on our experiece, and link it up with another aspect of training.  The process is endless, really.  Eg off the top of my head, can the SCs be linked to e-portfolios in a direct way?  Can SCs eventually take part via MSM or Skype in the virtual projects if they have the right kit?  And, when avatar facial gesture improves in the next few years, can we give them that to liaise with trainees? 

Another example — airline pilots use simulators constantly, under a variety of conditions that are set in matrices so that their performances are constantly under review every time they enter the simulator (and musicians use scales and exercises in the same way, eg Czerny’s finger drills, or Bach’s).  Trainers can replay recent air accidents by feeding the weather, plane controls & comms data of the original flight, so that by re-enacting the flight their trainees can learn what to do in such circumstances.  Is that possible with transactional legal learning?  Imagine a project with a medium or large firm, where we work with the firm to define learning outcomes for a particular seat, work back through the simulated transactions, setting up the resources, so that trainees learn simple procedures at first, then more complex, knowing that they were being monitored as if this were real. Ratcheting up the complexity would mean that we would also give them more and more complex feedback, too.  This would be a remarkable training tool.  That’s about my horizon at the moment…  Back to the review.

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