The Society for Neuroscience today released a white paper calling for unified leadership, a master research plan and better communications to boost the effectiveness of neuroeducation, a still-young field that aims to harness findings from neuroscience and psychology to improve teaching and learning methods.
The white paper is the result of the Neuroscience Research in Education Summit, a closed-door meeting held at the University of California, Irvine, from June 22 to 24. SfN president Thomas Carew organized the meeting, which brought together 40 experts from neuroscience, education and related fields, as part of a special initiative on education. Each leader of SfN customarily chooses one such topic during his or her one-year tenure; Carew says he chose neuroeducation because he has long been interested in the links between learning and brain science.
At the meeting, neuroeducation researchers explored several key issues. In particular, participants discussed three questions at the heart of neuroeducation: How neuroscience research can inform education strategies, what teachers want and need to know about how students think and learn and how teachers’ questions can drive neuroscience research.
The answers, Carew acknowledges in the paper, are “messy.” Participants at the meeting pointed out, for example, that there continues to be a wide gap between the kinds of information scientists provide and the kinds needed to make practical improvements in classrooms. Many educators, meanwhile, have a limited grasp of basic science and continue to believe long-discredited “neuromyths.” In addition, academic institutions have not done enough to train and bring together the multidisciplinary teams necessary to advance the field, despite surveys and other evidence indicating that education is of great interest of many neuroscientists.
The report suggests that neuroeducators take three concrete steps:
- Experts in the field should “identify core translational research priorities” in order to create a “master research agenda” and guide future projects;
- they should develop “foundational neuro-education messages,” a “shared vocabulary” and “communications tools” to foster collaboration and increase the profile of the field in the media; and
- they should form a “Scientific and Educational Neuro-Education Advisory Board” to set and maintain a three- to five-year strategic plan for the field.
It’s not clear in the white paper who would oversee these changes or when, especially since Carew’s presidency will end next week in Chicago during SfN’s annual meeting. One source of leadership might come from the handful of universities that have started establishing programs in the area, such as Harvard, Johns Hopkins and the University of Texas, Arlington.
The report ends on a high note: “The challenges and opportunities are clear. We know what must be accomplished to build and grow the important emerging field of neuroeducation. We applaud those who have already made significant progress in linking the brain sciences to learning, and invite others to join us all in crafting the next chapter,” Carew says in a concluding remark. “Our collective work must continue — the stakes are very high, for us certainly, but especially for our children.”