Thursday, 2 October 2014

Flipping what?

A bit of a ramble I forgot to publish ages ago.

Flipping is everywhere just now, flipped classrooms, flipped learning, flipped academics. I know I am an old grouch but I am not particularly keen on the label, I have not really seen much new in it, just a new label for processes that have been used in learning for decades if not centuries.

Pupils doing lesson content in advance at home then discussing what they have learned with the teacher is something I did as a pupil way back in the 60/70s except many teachers called it homework and some brighter ones called it research. There were some teachers who would just give us sums to do or ask us to read or write about something then not take it much further but a fair few seemed to set research tasks then in class would revisit what we had found out with us, sometimes that would be in the form of a weekly class debate about a topic or 'show and tell' type activities that then involved discussing what was shown and told and giving it deeper relevance or wider context through group dialogue.

Flipping peer review? I feel that traditional peer review prior to publication can sometimes be of benefit but I do not think it is a necessary precursor to sharing what has been learned. It does not always 'validate' a publication with sufficient rigour. I know I am far from alone in having received feedback from two isolated reviewers that directly contradict each other. Presenting, or accepting, any research or learning as a valid truth is not great practice in my opinion. Presenting it as a stimulus for further research or for debate is a more sensible approach. Many peer reviewed papers have turned out to be way off the mark, many have turned out to have less than valid agendas particularly in Health related fields where huge profits can be achieved by influencing consumer patterns. As has been said peer review can include bias, self-interest etc. The peer reviewers, the media then the public may well not look deeply enough at what has influenced the research and whether the data collection and analysis was fair and rigorous. Millions of people mistakenly start to drink red wine, eat wonder foods, take supplements, cut out foods etc. sometimes this is a reaction to publicity that is based on weak or biased research. The viral take up of end of the world scenarios in relation to the supposed ending of time on the Mayan calendar in 2012 is a good example of that. Using the internet it was very easy to search out details about the Mayan approach to dividing time periods but many media publications and many people did not bother. It seems to be a characteristic of much of humanity to accept what seems credible and not to want to have adopted illusions overturned in favour of more logical conclusions. 'I believe in Father Christmas' is another that much of the western world like to accept. I have never promoted that belief with my children but neither have I challenged it, my most recent ones have reached an age where they realised it is all smoke and mirrors and are now pondering on why adults promote fallacy. They seem to be concluding it is for fun and entertainment, to have a lever to help them control behaviour, well done them for working that out, hopefully they will make the link to commercial gain soon enough and one day translate that learning into deeper and wider understanding of the nature of truth and illusion.

Some of my undergraduate students have reported finding more value in the debate that ensues when "...academics brain dump at the end of the day into YouTube, or on their blogs..." and other academics, practitioners and students then discuss what was published using the comments fields. In many instances I have to agree with them, informal publication is often about the now, it is at the cutting edge, it is not spurious but based on evolving reflections and new findings that may well be waiting to be reviewed and formally published. The delay between research findings being consolidated and the paper being written, then reviewed, then published, can lead to papers being out of date by the time they reach the journals. When a less formal publication is publicly peer reviewed by a range of academics and in a place where the author can join in with the conversation, it is fresh at the time of publication and there can be more value and validity than when a potential journal publication is reviewed by just two isolated academics and published a year or more later. In my experience a fair bit of literature based research is largely only of value if what is written is then considered in the light of experiential learning or used as a precursor to action based research. It can help us find out what others think they know but then we need to test whether the theory holds water in our personal context.

If learning styles / preferences got past the peer reviewers then I have little faith in the process. All I see is poorly designed questionnaires and weak psuedo-scientific theory. It has been hugely popular and lasted way longer than Brain Gym did. Often misinterpreted to the extent that is is detrimental to children.

Rather disappointed to find that many peer reviewed journals do not publish much in the way of negative findings. Perhaps they need to flip their criteria. I guess that is sort of understandable as "I tried X and it did not work." is not much of a read but particularly in health related research this can be critical information that is of huge value to others. Listening to a researcher a few weeks ago he posited that when a hypothesis is not supported by the research the hypothesis may often be altered. This is particularly the case when a different benefit to what was expected is uncovered. For example a hypothesis that xx treatment will cure baldness is unlikely to be published if the trial does not lead to positive results so there is impetus to change the hypothesis to show the research set out with a different aim. If there is sufficient incidental data it may turn into something like: "xx treatment has a positive effect in alleviating dandruff." I guess there is a feeling that it is better to be seen to find out what you set out to discover than to be seen to have disproved your hypothesis then noticed an unexpected benefit pattern in the data. 

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