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.