Week 3

The notes from week 2 are up on the Wiki.

While many of you are still thinking about or finalising the topic you want to work on, it is important to keep in mind the broad purpose of this course. You will at the end of it have written a draft paper suitable for publication in a professional journal. Why? Why draw on research to inform policy and practice in schools?

We touched on this question last module, i.e. the relationship between research and what goes on in schools and classrooms. It’s an important consideration when you are thinking about framing your issue for both assignments.

This module is thus concerned with thinking about this question:

How can educational research inform our knowledge and understanding of the educational issues facing schools, and so influence educational policies and practices?

This is not only an issue in education as any quick scan via Google would demonstrate.

Beginning with you

Before looking at what other folk have to say about this important and interesting question, it is useful to do two things: think about why we are asking this question; and draw on our own experiences of research informing our understanding of the educational issues of importance to us.

The course provides a framework for you to work on an educational issue that is important to you. You are then to begin exploring that issue through research papers that are related to your issue. In all of this your first and second notebooks will be invaluable to you as you work on the two tasks1 associated with this course. Both of your tasks can be seen as your contribution of articulating research work to the educational issue you have chosen.

To help frame your thinking about the question we are working on in this module here are two questions that you might take time to answer2:

• Make a brief note of who you regard to be the key influences in your professional practice and in your thinking about your practice. You might list people, events, books, etc.

• Recall, if you can, an instance where an external influence (person, event, book etc) made an important contribution to changing to your professional thinking and/or practice.

The brief notes you make about these two questions will be a good basis from which to read the papers associated with this module.

The readings

There are two sets of readings for this week. Four papers explore the research-practice relationship3. There are two papers we will use to practice how to read a paper in the face-to-face class.

The readings for this module capture something of the complexity of this issue. Rational choice theory4 suggests that people use information such as that from research to maximise benefit to them, e.g. if a teacher reads a paper that presented evidence for a particular approach for teaching writing and the teacher was keen to improve the performance of her students then rational choice theory would suggest that she adopted the research-informed approach5. As the papers in this module suggest this is far from what usually occurs.

Research findings make their way to the classroom or policy maker’s desk via a variety of routes. While it is always possible that a teacher reads a research paper and draws conclusions that frames her practice, more often than not, there may be two to three intermediaries or interpreters in the chain of communication between teacher and research. This can subject the original message to something like a ‘Chinese whispers’6 effect, i.e. there is a chain of communication about particular ideas from research studies that often extend or overstate or modify what are typically the limited claims of a study. As Ohi (2008, p. 104) notes in her paper:

Most teachers relied upon professional development (PD) courses as a primary means of accessing research and furthering their professional knowledge and they recognised these courses as heavily influencing their views on early years reading and reading pedagogies.

Miretzky (2007) makes similar observations and underlines the role of professional development, which for some teachers in her study was not necessarily a positive experience ( p. 275).

“And because of the focus on test scores,” said Trish, “schools jump between ‘a million different programs’ with the promise of ‘this is the answer, based on what this researcher says.’ ” Although it may not be fair, it is likely that, for many educators, PD workshops become the embodiment of educational research, for better or (often) for worse.

Interestingly, this paper also picks up on the important place of the teacher-researcher even though there can be problems and tensions in this mode of research as well. Action Research is one common and popular mode of doing research in a work setting like a classroom.

The Ohi and Miretzky papers can be seen as serving two purposes for this course. They are a contribution to your thinking about the research-practice divide or nexus; they are also research papers and can be read as such, something we will spend time doing in the first workshop.

There are also the two papers (Bates, 2002; Department of Education, 2001) which were published around the time that there was interest in and concern about the role of educational research in Australia. Both papers report on the four reports commissioned by DETYA. It is interesting that they draw out different aspects of the four reports. The common theme of relevance is underlined in both papers, i.e. that researchers often have a different purpose for their work than the needs of the practitioner and policy maker. It is worth reading these papers side-by-side to get a sense of how scholarly work in education draws attention to different ideas from the same sources.

The 2nd of the reports commissioned by DETYA reported on a ‘backwards’ study in that the investigators looked at some current policy and programme initiatives and worked back to see how they were informed by research. The report maps interesting ‘connecting webs’ that operated between programme and policy initiatives and the research that informed them.

In reflecting on all four reports, Bates’ (2002, p. 407) conclusions are useful:

First, while the relationships between research and practice are often indirect, they are significant and numerous. Second, by using more sophisticated methodologies which ‘work backwards’ from practice, many of the ways in which research contributes to practice can be unravelled. Third, the ‘theory to application’ paradigm fundamental to so much R&D does not figure strongly in these accounts of educational practice. Fifth, the models of relationships between the teacher/practitioner, administrator and policy-maker that emerge from these studies is far from the hierarchical instruction/compliance model that is so much part of a ‘rational policy-making/implementation’ model of education.

In a sense, your reflections on your own experience in relation to research and your practice and ways of thinking about education is one bookend and the work of Bates, Miretzky and the DETYA reports is the other bookend for this issue. Developing a sensibility beyond the usual teacher criticism of relevance about this issue is important, particularly when you begin to plan your article for a professional journal.

Other thoughts

Another way to think further about this issue is to ask yourself the question:

“what evidence would you need to see in order to change your mind?”

Ask yourself that question about one of your most treasured practices or ways of thinking about teaching. Write about it in your first notebook. The point of this little exercise is to underline the false nature of what is so often assumed in the research-practice nexus, i.e. new research has shown that I need to do X so I begin to do X.

There is a growing body of interesting research, mostly outside education, which has largely discredited the notion of humans as rational decision makers7. This work variously falls under the familiar category of psychology and perhaps the less familiar category of behavioural economics. Broadly, it is research into why people take the decisions that they do. The interesting findings, again very very broadly, is that evidence can often play a minor or no role at all in decision making. This is not to suggest that people are stupid or unintelligent, but rather that the basis for their decision making is not much related to the kind of thinking that is presupposed in what Bates (2002, p. 407) calls the ‘rational policy-making/implementation’ model of education.

References8

Bates, R. (2002). The impact of educational research: alternative methodologies and conclusions. Research Papers in Education, 17(4), 403-408. doi: 10.1080/0267152022000031379
Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs. (2001). Educational research: in whose interests? Higher Education series. Canberra: Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs.
Miretzky, D. (2007). A View of Research From Practice: Voices of Teachers. Theory Into Practice, 46(4), 272-280. doi: 10.1080/00405840701593857
Ohi, S. (2008). The teacher’s role in the research-policy-praxis nexus. Australian Journal of Education, 52(1), 95-109.
Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2009). Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. New York: Penguin Books.

The supplementary report
Department of Education, Training & Youth Affairs, (2000). The Impact of Educational Research. Canberra: Higher Education Division, Department of Education, Training & Youth Affairs.

The papers for practice reading
deVries, P. (2004). The extramusical effects of music lessons on preschoolers. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 29(2), 6-10.
Wu, L., & Cao, T. (2007). English language teaching in non-English language countries: the curriculum impact of globalisation and computer-mediated communication. Transnational Curriculum Inquiry 4(1), np. Retrieved from http://nitinat.library.ubc.ca/ojs/index.php/tci

The worked example of reading on this wiki
Passig, D., & Eden, S. (2003). Cognitive intervention through virtual environments among deaf and hard-of-hearing children. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 18(2), 173-182. doi: 10.1080/0885625032000078961

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