Monday, May 2, 2016

Can Theory Emerge From Practice? Does Scientific Discovery Only Occur at a Young Age?

The book Authentic Quantitative Analysis for Leadership Decision-Making starts with discussions about the nature of science and then uses that as the basis of discussing the relationship between theory and application in science in Chapters 1, 2. The discussions about the relationship between theory and practice in the book are unique and counter-intuitive in terms of how they are usually discussed in EdD programs. Some of the innovative nature of the discussion talks about:

  • the importance of personal theories of action along with academic theories, and 
  • the application of theory to practice does not necessarily mean that the practice will be more effective than one that is not based on academic theory. 

Chapter 4 goes a step further and argues that while the importance of theory is universally discussed as a key to improving practice, this ignores the fact that important academic theory can emerge from a successful practice that was based on an alternative mode of scientific discovery; e.g., accident or metaphor.

This is why I was glad to see a recent article about Iva Babushka, a 90-year old mathematician. This article noted that while applications such as cryptography have emerged from highly abstract number theory, "Conversely, many elegant and aesthetically pleasing mathematical theories have emerged from the most utilitarian applications." In other words, even abstract mathematical theory can emerge from the experience of successful practice.

The bottom line is that EdD programs should encourage students to explore innovative approaches to improving practice even if there is no theoretical justification.

And, by the way, one other take away from this article for us older faculty and students in EdD programs, is that the most important work of this mathematician occurred when he was 70. This contradicts the often cited notion that science and math is a young "Man's" game and that folks are over the hill by 30 or 40. In other words, faculty and students over the age of 40, in any field, still make important discoveries. Science is also finally acknowledging and honoring the important contributions of women. So let's embrace as a positive the fact that EdD programs tend to work with more experienced, older students than PhD programs, and also view as a plus the highly diverse nature of our students.        

No comments:

Post a Comment