I'm at a conference on teaching at the college level, so I'm getting a bit of a break from the daily grind. Conferences are usually energizing experiences for me, since the environment is intense and the locations are, if not exotic, at least out of the ordinary. However, I can't help but think that the main problem with college-level education conferences is that they tend to present information I learned as an undergraduate as if it were new material. Hey, look -- students learn more when they have to manipulate content rather than simply take notes at your lecture! Oh, check this out -- varied assessment techniques are more valid than just midterm and final!
However, the best one I've had so far was a session on using technology in the classroom -- or to be more specific, it was a session on "trends" in technology that could be applied to education. In other words, it turned into a "did you know that there are things called blogs that can be used for interacting with students?" and a "search engines can pull up all sorts of information about you, even information you may not have provided yourself."
I kid you not. 2008. Late 2008.
But I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you that the food was good, the accomodations pleasant, and that some of the sessions have been much better than those I've chosen to outline. I suppose my big problem is that I'm comparing it to English conferences, in which you'd most certainly get laughed out of the room if you tried to present some twenty year old reading of Moby Dick as if it were something new (not that I haven't seen my share of bad English conference papers, but in general you get savaged in the question and answer session for presenting old ideas as new discoveries).
I've also discovered that most of the people at this conference aren't actually trained education researchers -- they're college professors from one discipline or another who have a great interest in their teaching, and it's good they have that interest; they're probably all good teachers, dedicated teachers. However, that doesn't mean they can design valid research studies on educational models. For instance, I question the validity of a study in which students are divided into two groups: one group takes the course online, the other takes it in a traditional classroom setting. Learning is measured by a multiple-choice post-test that the traditional students take closed book in class under time constraints, and the online students take online under time constraints. The instructor seemed to think that the time constraints precluded online students from looking up answers, even though the tests were based on readings in their textbooks (hello, google books anyone, or even the good old fashioned method of having the book open and marked to key chapter summaries, bullet lists, etc.).
Maybe I'm just a curmudgeon.