This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by David
Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is
one component of the Information Age Education project. See http://iae-pedia.org/
and the end of this newsletter.
Education and Health Care Part 5: Theory into Practice
"If you were going to see a doctor and the doctor
said, 'I've been really busy since I got out of medical school, and so
I'm going to treat you with the techniques I learned back then,' you'd
be rightly incensed," …. "Yet there are a lot of faculty who say with a
straight face, 'I don't need to change my teaching,' as if nothing has
been learned about teaching since they had been prepared to do it—if
they've ever been prepared to." (Chris Dede; Technology, Innovation,
and Education Program, Harvard Graduate School of Education.)
Both Education and Health Care carry on large programs of
research and development. Each discipline is faced by the problems of
trying to achieve wide scale implementation of promising research and
development results. This issue of the IAE Newsletter explores
similarities and differences in translating theory into wide-scale
The quote from Chris Dede captures some of the difficulties in
the human component of implementation of new methodologies in Education
and Health Care. Many of us have a considerable propensity to just keep
doing what has worked for us in the past. Dede’s quote is aimed at
educators, and suggests he believes the Heath Care profession is doing
much better than the Education profession in taking advantage of newer
Note, however, medicine has done well on the simple body systems
(heart, lungs, etc.) but it's only now beginning to understand mental
illness. So it's easy to think of medicine as being ahead of education,
but only in the areas that don't parallel educational issues.
Example from Medicine
Your authors live in Eugene, Oregon, a city of about
150,000 people. Recently page 3 of our local newspaper carried an
article titled “Test seen as advance in diagnosis of TB.” This article
contained information just reported in the New England Journal of
Medicine (Bates 9/3/2010). We know that:
- World wide, about 1.8 million people die of TB each year.
- The current widely used test for TB is 125 years old, takes about
a 2-3 days to determine the results, misses about half of the cases of
TB, and does not test for the new drug-resistant strain of TB.
- The new test is far more accurate, also tests for the new drug-resistant strain of TB, and can be completed in two hours.
This remarkable progress in medical research and development still
faces the challenge of achieving widespread, high fidelity
implementation. The new test costs more than the old test, and use of
the old test is thoroughly entrenched. Moreover, most TB occurs in
relatively impoverished nations. The company that has developed the
test will be making it available at close to an “at cost” basis in such
Examples of Joint Education and Health Care Efforts
Medical research produced evidence of harms produced by lead
in gasoline and in paint, arsenic in drinking water, first hand and
second hand smoke, and other chemicals such as mercury, PCBs, and
). Also see Toppo (2009.) All of these poisons also have serious educational effects.
Thus, it is appropriate and desirable that Education and Health Care
work together to promote appropriate environmental protection laws and
policies, and to educate people of all ages of the aforementioned
Another example is provided by research into the general health and
cognition benefits of appropriate diet and exercise. We know, of
course, that children living on a starvation-level diet experience
permanent cognitive damage. However, in less extreme cases poor diets
and lack of exercise can significantly decrease cognitive performance
(EUFIC, 2000; Ratey, 2008).
Think about how the research in the two examples is translated into
practice. In the first example, the amount of change and individual
effort required by a person is modest. Rather, the changes are
top-down, nation-wide (and perhaps global) efforts. Federal and state
legislation and enforcement has been used in the various environmental
Note that attempts to develop and pass such legislation often encounter
strong resistance from various corporations whose businesses would be
affected. Popular support from large numbers of people has proven
helpful. In addition, individuals and groups have had success through
seeking legal redress.
The second example calls for both top-down and an individual bottom-up
approaches. Legislation can also help in the diet and exercise area.
For example, legislation has led to requirements for better labeling of
food items. We can legislate physical education requirements in schools
and more healthy school lunch programs. However, to a large extent this
healthy diet and exercise depend substantially on an informed and
committed general population.
Theory Into Practice: Health Care
both Education and Health care, there is a significant and ongoing
problem of translating theory into practice. Both face issues of
fidelity of implementation and wide scale implementation.
Health care is an issue that has a very large following, so there is
considerable “popular press” coverage of the topic. News about
advancements in health care is quickly and widely disseminated.
Nowadays, many people who are diagnosed with a particular medical
problem seek information from colleagues, publications, and the Web. We
want and expect high quality and effective treatment.
In some sense, this public participation in the health care system
helps to drive the system and its practitioners. Perceived or actual
poor services can lead to lawsuits and to bad publicity. People tend to
have a certain amount of freedom of choice in selecting treatment
alternatives and the people who provide the services.
However, we need only look at smoking and obesity to see that our
health care system has a significant problem of translating theory into
practice. Tobacco is addictive, and many popular junk foods have
addictive-like characteristics. There are no magic pills or shots that
cure these problems. Rather, individual actions by the patients are
Theory Into Practice: Education
One of the ways to better translate educational
research-based theory into practice is through better education of
teachers and other education personnel. Over the past several hundred
years, the formal higher education requirements to be a teacher have
gradually been increased. If you have read some of the Laura Ingalls
Wilder books, you perhaps remember that she became a teacher in 1882
shortly before her 16th birthday. One of your authors (Bob) notes,
“When I moved to Nebraska to teach in 1959, it was possible to teach
straight out of high school, if you attended one summer session at a
The US Federal Government and others have invested heavily in research
in education of individuals with disabilities. The Individuals with
Disabilities Act (IDEA) Federal legislation defines a number of
categories of disabilities and requires public school systems
throughout the country to provide special services to children from
birth to age 21 with these disabilities. Approximately 1/8 of children
have one or more of these disabilities.
As a very rough estimate, average cost of educating these students is
more than twice the cost of educating students who are not protected
under this legislation. Our country has made a large and continuing
commitment to translating special education research into practice, and
it funds quite a bit of research in special education.
The US Federal Government and others have made substantial investments
in the development of better textbooks and related materials in the
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) areas. For example,
quoting from Bybee (2006):
A committee of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS)
established BSCS in 1958. At its birth, BSCS had a single grand
vision—change the way biology was taught in American high schools. BSCS
accomplished this goal by publishing three innovative biology textbooks
in 1963. … These textbooks were widely adopted in the United States,
and by the mid 1970s BSCS programs had over 50 percent of the high
school biology market.
In Math, efforts to modernize the curriculum eventually led to serious
disagreements between the “new math” and the “traditional math”
proponents. Read about the math education wars at http://iae-pedia.org/Math_Education_Wars
Such projects can be viewed as large-scale experiments in translating
STEM educational research into practice. Students use the textbooks and
teachers are provided with instructional materials geared to the
textbooks. Developers of these instructional materials pay careful
attention to state and national standards. State and national
assessment is geared to these standards. Thus, one would expect that
STEM education—as measured by state and national tests—would have
substantially improved over the past few decades. Unfortunately, that
is not the case.
Some of the current research in STEM and other education focuses on
developing Highly Interactive Intelligent Computer-Assisted Learning
systems that can provide one-on-one, individualized instruction. In
some sense, such products have the characteristics of being an
individualized treatment. However, their success still requires the
active cooperation and participation of the students. If you want to
stretch an analogy, many students are dealing with an addictive-type of
aversion to formal education. The addiction being fueled by the
increasingly powerful forms of and aids to entertainment, social
networking, and other activities that they feel are more fun than
Bates, Ramona (9/3/2010). New rapid TB test reduces time to diagnosis. EmaxHealth. Retrieved 9/4/2010 from http://www.emaxhealth.com/1024/new-rapid-tb-test-reduces-time-diagnosis.
Bybee, Roger W. (2006). Enhancing science teaching and student learning: A BSCS perspective. Retrieved 9/4/2010 from http://www.bscs.org/pdf/presentationperspectiveaug06.pdf.
EUFIC (May 2000). Food and mental performance. European Food Information Council. Retrieved 8/10/2010 from http://www.eufic.org/article/en/artid/food-mental-performance/.
Ratey, John (2008). Spark: The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. Little, Brown and Company. To learn about Ratey, see http://www.johnratey.com/site/profile.aspx.
Stahl, Robert (1994). Using "think-time" and "wait-time" skillfully in the classroom. Retrieved 8/11/2010 from http://www.atozteacherstuff.com/pages/1884.shtml.
Toppo, Greg (2/3/09). Study links children's lead levels, SAT scores. USA Today. Retrieved 2/3/09: http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-02-02-lead-SAT_N.htm.
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