Event Abstract

Educational Neuroscience: The challenges in crossing disciplinary boundaries

  • 1 University of Texas at Arlington, Curriculum and Instruction, United States

Pattern recognition is a basic feature of the human brain. They allow us to create categories; and, memories and experiences permit us to test and verify their robustness. In a similar way this paper explores a new category, "educational neuroscience," emerging at the intersection of neuroscience and education. How robust or meaningful is this new category? Below, educational neuroscience is described in four different contexts. Do you see a pattern, or lack of one? (1) University Program: "… to establish the basic parameters of brain development in the cognitive skills critical for education." (Centre for Neuroscience in Education, 2018) (2) Society: "… Promote an understanding of neuroscience research within the educational community." (Brain, Neurosciences & Education, 2018) (3) Journal: "… to bridge the gap between our increasing basic cognitive and neuroscience understanding of learning and the application of this knowledge in educational settings." (Trends in Neuroscience & Education, 2018) (4) Author: "… to improve educational practice by applying findings from brain research." (Bruer, 2016, p. 1). If you don't see a consensus in meaning, then you might agree with Bruer's (2016) survey of the literature. He concluded that educational neuroscience is still only a "meta-scientific literature" that talks about science, and not a scientific literature producing scientific findings. If a scientific literature is still premature, then part of the problem is in aligning goals. However, alignment is not straightforward given the different agendas and priorities in each area of study. While educators focus on how learning unfolds for students, neuroscientists focus on brain functions that contribute to learning. Confounding alignment is the additional challenge of how each party can leverage their expertise in synergistic ways in the context that matters- the classroom. Here, numerous variables are in play: the child, the child interacting with other children, the teacher, pedagogy, available materials, etc. Even more challenging is that the interaction between variables is more likely dynamic than linear, and outcomes are often unexpected or "emergent." Furthermore, the complexity of systems increases when they are hierarchically organized, such as in school systems. The interaction of variables at one level (e.g., the classroom) can lead to unanticipated outcomes at a larger level (e.g., the school or school district). This observation is a central feature of the organization of neurons and brains, and must be respected. For example, who could have predicted that individual neurons operating in a neural system would lead to hearing, which supports a more complex system-language? And, at more complex levels, who would have predicted interacting neurons leading to conscious beings; and, in turn, one conscious being (the teacher) teaching other conscious beings (students)? The classroom is a complex environment, and a true scientific literature would still need to consider the cognitive sciences. The cognitive sciences offer an important and reliable "bridge" between neuroscience and education (Bruer, 1997). The Venn diagram (figure 1) highlights one view of the interaction between three areas of study. Where education and neuroscience intersect we encounter a situation as described above- two sides influenced by the agendas, values and rewards embedded in each discipline (For further elaboration see Schwartz, 2015). In the smaller area where all three areas of study overlap we encounter a more complicated environment, but also a unique opportunity. Mind, Brain and Education This smaller intersection is a new category, "Mind, Brain and Education" (MBE), whose mission focuses on collaboration: "… to facilitate cross-cultural collaboration in biology, education and the cognitive and developmental sciences" (IMBES, 2018). I emphasize collaboration because the term implies much more than similar terms such as cooperating, coordinating or partnering. Collaboration requires that all parties step back from the demands of their discipline, set aside personal and professional agendas and understand the strengths and limitations of each other's perspectives. Listening to understand is challenging as we often find ourselves listening for the moment when we have an opportunity to offer a solution or interpretation that is specific to the perspective of our discipline. Collaboration requires humility, compromise and patience. Thus, given these expectations, we might expect that the challenges of collaboration are amplified when working across three areas. Disciplinary training in each area has led to paradigms, expectations and agendas unique to each. Distinct disciplinary trajectories inevitably create gaps in understanding that all parties must overcome. Figure 2 illustrates three dimensions that all parties agreed were important in their disciplines (Schwartz & Connell, 2011); however, the relative importance each party assigned to each dimension led to distinct and separate "neighborhoods." Each neighborhood characterizes the life of researchers, educators or administrators. And the distance between neighborhoods in this landscape highlights what each party needs to understand about their partners in order to collaborate. In the space between neighborhoods are the unanticipated questions, research methods and goals that can unite parties. This perspective is necessary as collaboration is not easily supported by the silos that traditionally define our degrees, our academies and our research. Despite all these challenges, there are examples of collaboration. Recent work between a neuroscientist, cognitive scientist and educational practitioner envisioned the possibility of improving teacher pedagogy (Schwartz, Hinesley, Zheng & Dubinsky, in review). The neuroscientist saw practical value in a set of neuroconcepts vetted by the Society for Neuroscience. These were recast as educational neuroconcepts by educational practitioners and used to develop professional development for teachers, which was embedded in a master's program developed by a cognitive scientist. This collaboration led to a pilot study using classroom activities that exemplified the neuroconcepts. Teachers not only learned the meaning of the neuroconcepts, but used them to enrich their lesson plans in a pre/post design. This work is now leading to further collaboration to evaluate the impact of the neuroconcepts in the context that matters most- the teachers' classrooms. While this collaboration is new, all parties are learning to close the gap between disciplinary traditions as well as generate new research, which may over time contribute to a scientific literature.

Figure 1
Figure 2


Brain, Neurosciences and Education. Special Interest Group of the American Education Research Association. Retrieved from: http://www.aera-brain-education.org

Bruer, J. T. (1997). Education and the brain: A bridge too far. Educational Researcher, 26(8), 4-16.

Bruer, J. T. (2016). Where is educational neuroscience?. Educational neuroscience, 1, 2377616115618036.

Centre for Neuroscience in Education. (2018, Feb 2). Welcome to the Centre for Neuroscience in Education. Retrieved from: https://www.cne.psychol.cam.ac.uk

International Mind, Brain and Education Society. (2018, Feb 2). Welcome to the IMBES Site. Retrieved from: http://www.imbes.org

Schwartz, M.S. (2015). Mind, brain and education: a decade of evolution. Mind, Brain, and Education, 9(2), 64-71.

Schwartz, M.S., & Connell, M. (2011). Bringing science and practice together: Fostering productive interdisciplinary dialogue in MBE. Keynote presentation at the biennial meet- ing of the International Mind, Brain and Education Society Conference, San Diego, CA. Retrieved from http://tdlc.ucsd. edu/about/about-videos-imbes2011.html

Schwartz, M.S., Hinesley, V., Zheng, C. & Dubinsky, J. (Submitted). Neuroscience knowledge enriches pedagogical choices.

Trends in Neuroscience and Education (2018, Feb 2). Elsevier. Retrieved from: https://www.journals.elsevier.com/trends-in-neuroscience-and-education/

Keywords: mind, Brain, pedagogy, educational neuroscience, Cognitive Science

Conference: 3rd International Conference on Educational Neuroscience, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 11 Mar - 12 Mar, 2018.

Presentation Type: Oral Presentation (invited speakers only)

Topic: Educational Neuroscience

Citation: Schwartz MS (2018). Educational Neuroscience: The challenges in crossing disciplinary boundaries. Conference Abstract: 3rd International Conference on Educational Neuroscience. doi: 10.3389/conf.fnhum.2018.225.00004

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Received: 12 Feb 2018; Published Online: 14 Dec 2018.

* Correspondence: Prof. Marc S Schwartz, University of Texas at Arlington, Curriculum and Instruction, Arlington, United States, marc.schwartz00@gmail.com