Meeting Sixteen (15th January 2013): Randomised Controlled Trials in Educational Research

Happy New Year!

It’s been 6 months since our last meeting. Both @Alby and @AlomShaha have been unavailable to run the club over the latter half of 2012 and the autumn school term is traditionally a long and stressful term so, despite a few false starts, we’ve not been able to get things up and running again. Until now.

The first meeting of 2013 (15th January at 7:30pm) is inspired by the documentary on Radio 4 last week, where Ben Goldacre discusses using evidence to inform policy, concentrating on how suitable randomised controlled trials (RCTs) might be when used in as evidence for social policies in areas such as crime and education. This programme can be downloaded before Friday 11th January from here http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/r4choice. It’s not possible for us to distribute this podcast after this time as it contravenes BBC policy so download it as soon as possible.

There are some useful papers we could discuss however we suffer from the usual problems  i.e.: a lack of open access to research papers. So for this meeting, we will look at the paper written for the Cabinet Office by Dr Ben Goldacre, Professor David Torgerson et al:

Test, Learn, Adapt: Developing Public Policy with Randomised Controlled Trials.

Haynes L., Service, O., Goldacre, B., Torgerson D. (2012). Test, Learn, Adapt: Developing Public Policy with Randomised Controlled Trials. Cabinet Office Behavioural
Insights Team
http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/resource-library/test-learn-adapt-developing-public-policy-randomised-controlled-trials [download .pdf]

The paper doesn’t concentrate exclusively on RCTs in educational research, but there are some examples within that do suggest that RCTs should be used to form education policy.

To complement the paper here are some other open reference materials that are available:

Questions to discuss during the meeting are :

1. How well would the methods described in the paper work in your school? Would you consider running or taking part in a randomised control trial in your school? Why or why not?
2. What concerns do you have with the ethical considerations of using RCTs in educational research?
3. Do you agree with Ben’s assertion (in the documentary) that RCTs provide better evidence (“the gold standard”) than other methods of research for social sciences.
4. Which educational intervention would you like to see more evidence for, in the form of RCTs (or other methodology)?

The meeting is Tuesday, 15th January 2013 at 7:30pm UTC, to be moderated by @A_Weatherall. Remember to use the hashtag #sciteachjc during the discussion.

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2 Responses to Meeting Sixteen (15th January 2013): Randomised Controlled Trials in Educational Research

  1. Stephen Pickles says:

    I am not a science teacher, so do excuse me. I used to be a university librarian in the field, so I am very interested in your comment about the ” usual problem ” of lack of access to research papers.
    I don’t need to rehearse the arguments against journal publisher pay walls and the merits of open access, but would like to make sure you know of the efforts that higher education librarians have made to enable their academic colleagues to make that journal literature available to a wider audience . See for example http://eprints.ioe.ac.uk where Michael Reiss and many other IOE colleagues have posted full text of many of their publications (and still remaining within the constraints of their publishers’ policies)
    Here, as a simple example, is a list of full text avaialable stuff with the word science in the title
    http://tinyurl.com/iOEscience

    It is of course a drop in the ocean , but better, in my view, than simply having to rely on summaries/ exhortations from experts who have decided which bits of evidence are good enough for those outside the pay walls to read

    • Alex Weatherall says:

      Hi Stephen,

      First of all, you not being a science teacher certainly doesn’t preclude you from making contributions to our journal club, all are welcome; especially as you have highlighted such a useful resource. I can’t speak for the others, but I wasn’t aware of this particular resource. Of course some publications are made available, for instance the science education group at University of York make a lot of their research papers available http://www.york.ac.uk/education/research/research-paper/ . We just need to know where to look.

      Thank’s for your comment.

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