Reading, Reliability and Research

If you’re reading this then, most likely, you use Twitter to support your professional life and perhaps even write a blog yourself. We digest a huge amount of information on a daily basis: tweets, blog posts, news articles, books and scholarly articles. I deliberately try to keep the number of people I follow on Twitter relatively low. Currently I follow just over a hundred people and, checking two or three times through the day, I think I can skim through everything on my feed and hunt out those morsels worth pursuing.

However, something I have become especially conscious of recently is the (somewhat subliminal) persuasive power of the authors of this plethora of outlets. Now, in part, this must say something about my own habits of reading and that I need to work on my skills of critical reflection. But in my mind it raises the question “Where is the most reliable source for evidence about…?

Here are a couple of examples that I have noticed recently (and I’ll apologise now if I have over-simplified or missed the point entirely):

Moreover, it brought back to my mind the idolatry and hatred of Comic Sans font. (I’ve recently discovered the Hello Internet series of podcasts by CGP Grey and Brady Haran, based on a recommendation by one of my students. In Episode 14, they discuss some merits of Comic Sans.) One of my previous colleges used Comic Sans for all printed material ‘sent down’ from senior management, but that’s another story for another time. I assume that somewhere there is some evidence that Comic Sans is the preferred font of dyslexic readers. I worry that this research was carried out at a time when the only alternative was Times New Roman or similar. Sadly though, I don’t think this fact is questioned any more and thus recent, relevant research goes largely unnoticed. The British Dyslexia Association have published some advice about Typefaces for dyslexia. Finally on this, a much less well-known font of which I am a fan: Andika.

So, what’s my point here? Well I wanted to wrap-up with an example of something that I see as an especially positive way forwards. I’ve just come across the document “Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning – A Practice Guide“. This appears to be the first in a series of Practice Guides published by the Institute of Education Sciences (research division of the US DoE), and it:

  • Models itself on practice guides in the healthcare sector
  • Makes explicit recommendations for improving practice
  • Is co-authored by a panel who declare any possible conflicts of interest
  • Is evidence-based with a significant list of references
  • Rates the recommendations based on the quality, availability and reliability of the evidence base
  • Summarises the evidence for each recommendation and includes suggestions on implementation, possible roadblocks and solutions

My only slight hesitation is that the ratings of Strong, Moderate and Low are related to the level of evidence and are not necessarily a direct indication of the ‘effect size’ of implementing any of the given recommendations. But take a look and let me know what you think. Is it a reliable, scholarly and valuable source of advice? Or have I fallen for persuasive writing once again?!

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