Research in teaching education does not usually involve high-tech equipment, virtual reality and scientists in lab coats. When it does, however, it can change education for the better, says Dr. Steven Woltering, assistant professor of learning sciences.
Why are certain students able to control their attention and emotions better than others? How does this ability of self-regulation develop across the lifespan? Can this ability of self-regulation be trained so that students can become more effective learners?
These are a sample of the pressing questions Dr. Woltering hopes to answer using the cutting edge technology in his new Neurobiological Lab for Learning & Development (NLD).
He explains, “We think that biometric measures have enormous potential to, not replace existing measures [of examining psychological constructs], but advance existing measures to learn more about what’s going on with kids’ brains and their behavior.”
Dr. Woltering is an expert in the emerging field of educational neuroscience, which bridges the study of human behavior and neurophysiology to advance education. On his long list of goals for the lab, he says he hopes to squash myths (e.g. the belief that humans only use 10% of their brain power), train educators to be less susceptible to those myths, and target neural markers – which are often dubbed the “holy grail of neuroscience” – for learning disorders such as dyslexia and conditions such as ADHD.
He admits, “20 years ago, if you were to pursue a career in educational neuroscience, most neuroscientists would laugh at you.”
This, he explains, was mostly due to prior limitations in the technology that have made it difficult to track brain activity during everyday life functions. With recent advancements, though – e.g. eye-tracking and virtually-controlled environments –neuroscientists today can explore the complexities of the brain like never before.
“Basically, we can do much cooler things now,” he smiles.
“20 years ago, if you were to pursue a career in educational neuroscience, most neuroscientists would laugh at you.” - Dr. Steven WolteringTweet This
GREAT MINDS THINK TOGETHER
In spite of all that sophisticated equipment and the potential it brings for translational research, what excites him most is a campus-wide culture of interdisciplinary research.
“Moving forward, I think Texas A&M’s interdisciplinary nature will be a unique strength for our lab,” Dr. Woltering explains. “When it comes to the potential of bridging the fields of education and neuroscience, you could probably count the number of similarly collaborative universities on one hand. For that reason, our University has the potential to be cutting edge.”
Since he arrived at Texas A&M in 2014, he has already had the opportunity to pick the brains of engineers, computer scientists, psychologists and, of course, educators – all within the four corners of Aggieland. He says this collaboration will be key to making his research meaningful in real-life educational settings.
He says, “If we want to transform lives, the future of science won’t just come from one direction. It will come from the merging of different fields. That’s what creates new ideas. I think that’s where we will find progress. I’m hopeful that in three or four years, we will be a place where people can come together and create those new ideas, and we can facilitate progress.”