Education is now universally recognized as an area of major concern. Cognitive!science, working in tandem with education science and social science, offers a fresh perspective which has started bearing fruit. The key processes involved in any educational enterprise, be they individual or collective, depend on the mental capacities of the participants : this is not a new idea, but what is new is that these capacities can now be studied with the tools and methodologies of!cognitive science.
The "master effect"
Cognitive science has up until now focused on the internal processes of the learner; it accounts for the mechanisms underlying learning. Another aspect has been largely neglected: what goes on in the mind/brain of the teacherat the time she teaches. This question is all the more crucial as there is!now clear evidence of the "master effect". Beyond intuitions and personal anecdotes, econometric studies show that a good teacher has a lasting effect in “real life”. As assessed by standard sociological measurements, the longterm prospects of adults are enhanced.
If we want to understand what makes a good teacher and what good teachers do, to determine what could be improved as regards the training, selection and working conditions of teachers, and how to secure a higher proportion of good teachers, we must get a grip on the “teacher’s cognition”.
The translational approach
The approach best suited to this inquiry is translational research, which connects research grounded in theory with educational practice seen from all angles. The combined resources of experimental psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary theory, anthropology, ethology, formal learning theory are!brought to bear on such issues as the pedagogic “instinct”, its relation to the basic cognitive functions, its degree of plasticity ; on the teacher’sexpertise;on the role of disciplinary competencies; and on the spatial and temporal distribution of pedagogic functions. This way avoids two pitfalls: the “laboratory tunnel vision” that develops without regard to real world processes, and the“field tunnel vision” that doesn’t see beyond the local circumstances and ignores the universal processes at work everywhere, in every culture, every system, and tradition. This is not to say that context makes no difference. A case in point are situations of scarcity and/or conflict in!which teachingand learning are at once of paramount importance and yet hard to achieve a session of the conference will be devoted to the social, political and cultural dimensions that weigh on the scientific agenda and cannot be ignored when deploying science based innovations. Even so, the optimal framework to approach the teaching process is both multidisciplinary and transnational.
Being probably the first of its kind, the conference could give rise to an edited volume that would set a trend in multidisciplinary applied research in the learning sciences. It could also lead to a number of collaborative, multidisciplinary and international projects.
An international conference organized by Groupe Compas (Département d’études cognitives) and sponsored by Collège d’études mondiales, l’Université Paris Sorbonne, l’équipe Sciences, normes, décision (CNRS/Université Paris Sorbonne), l’École normale supérieure, le GDRI « Éducation et neurosciences » du CNRS