Seeing Education Through the Eyes of Students

Those who trust us educate us. -- George Eliot
As educational professionals, we often pride ourselves in our ability to clearly 
articulate the latest knowledge gleaned from academic research.  We especially 
pride ourselves on our ability to make our findings "practical."  In educational 
psychology one of the main goals of research is to apply findings to classroom 
practice, to interpret results in terms of assisting teachers and students to 
learn and/or teach more productively, for maximum success.  This is a lofty goal...

And while we struggle with issues of reliability and validity, we sometimes, 
inadvertently, minimize one of the most important "variables" in educational 
research--- the student.   Although this problem is less conspicuous now than it 
was twenty years ago, I am amazed at how often we struggle to design research that 
"gets at" issues involving teaching and learning without considering the student's 
perspective.  I recall something that was said to me many years ago by a feminist 
colleague.  To paraphrase her-we try and try to design research in convoluted ways 
to find out what students are thinking.  Why don't we just ask them?   I never 
forgot those words as I conducted, critiqued, or planned research.

Students' perspectives, an examination of their beliefs or attitudes, are 
meaningful not only in the interpretation of our findings, but in the very design 
of our research, in the questions we pose, in the issues we address.  To see 
education through the eyes of students is a daunting task, one that challenges us 
to think beyond our own perspectives and our personal preferences for research 
style-it also requires much more time and patience, particularly when we focus our 
energies on younger students.  And like anyone who takes exception to the hegemonic 
rules of the academy, we must defend ourselves against other professionals who have 
taken pride in being "keepers of the knowledge," who would not dare ask children 
what they think, or empower and respect the student's own view.

Ultimately, these are the issues-empowerment and respect.  When we reach out to 
students, we give them an important message about their importance in the 
teaching/learning cycle and we show them that their perceptions and beliefs are 
not only important, but deserve our inquiry and respect.  Years ago, when designing 
my dissertation research I decided that during the development of my research 
instrument, I would not simply pilot the items I had designed, but that I would go 
directly to a similar student population and ask them for feedback on my items.  
Were they comprehensible, did I use language with which students could identify, 
were the questions non-threatening?  I met with a group of students, matching in 
age and grade the final sample of students to whom the instrument would be 
administered. The feedback was extremely helpful.  They assisted me in rewording 
items so that they were not so "research sounding"; they laughed at some of the 
"funny old" words I used and helped me to "just ask what you want to know."  
What resulted was a much better questionnaire than I could have designed myself.  
I tell this story because I believe it punctuates the importance of trying to see 
the educational world through the eyes of students, whatever their age or level 
of education.

And so we present to you an issue of Academic Exchange Quarterly devoted to student 
perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes.  The articles herein are testimonials to 
research that respects and empowers students; they exemplify the growing trend 
toward embracing and acknowledging the student perspective.

I began this editorial with a quote from George Eliot that illustrates my belief 
in the importance of the teacher-student relationship, which includes respecting 
student perceptions-- those who trust us educate us.  May we always trust in our 
students and in their beliefs and attitudes.  May we work with them as partners in 
our mutual learning, at all grade levels, and may we never forget that learning is 
a journey embarked upon by both teacher and learner.  The more we understand one 
another, the better are the chances of success in the classroom.   Enjoy!

Rosaria Caporrimo, Ph.D.