At the September 2016 Summit to Expand Research Use in Education, educators, technology developers, and researchers met to address an essential question: How can we work together to expand research use in the design, development, and improvement of education programs, products, and practices?
There have been calls for evidence-based practice in education for decades, but the need to address this question is now urgent. Schools are finding it difficult to meet the needs of a diverse student population. At the same time, the number of educational technology tools continues to grow — but research on the effectiveness of these tools lags behind.
Below, we share some highlights from the discussion.
Expanding Research Use in Schools
To make it easier for schools to use research, Elizabeth Farley Ripple, panelist and Associate Director & Associate Professor of the University of Delaware School of Education, recommended an expanded view of what we mean by “using research.” For example, schools can use research in a conceptual way as a launchpad for new thinking, in an instrumental way that applies research to guide decisions, or in a political/strategic way to gain support from the community (NCRPP, 2016). Further, participants suggested schools partner with researchers for help implementing research-based practices.
Summit participants also voiced an interest in expanding how schools “do research.” Rather than using only traditional, randomized controlled trial (RCT) studies (which are costly and difficult to implement), schools can try action research, design-based implementation research (DBIR), and other continuous improvement processes.
Participants agreed that any research approach must consider the local context, so that data is meaningful for decision-making. Guadalupe Guerrero, panelist and Deputy Superintendent of Instruction, Innovation, and Social Justice at San Francisco Unified School District, recommended educators and the community be a central part of the research process. Further, research partnerships, such as SFUSD’s partnership with Stanford University, are key to crafting appropriate research questions and plans, and making research findings actionable.
Expanding Research Use in Educational Technology
Summit participants also recommended technology developers view research more broadly, and offered ideas for how to create effective research-based products.
First, developers can use basic research to inform their product design; then, they can engage in user and evaluation research to improve their products. Here too, developers can look beyond RCTs and use other methods to quickly collect data, such as short-cycle pilots. Kara Carpenter, panelist and Co-Founder of Teachley, recommended developers cultivate knowledge of learning science research as a first step in product design:
Although there is currently little incentive for companies to use research, panelist Bror Saxberg, Chief Learning Officer of Kaplan, suggested that demand for research-based products is increasing, and it is advantageous for companies to start using research now. “The market is beginning to change, and long-term, as soon as people start to understand the efficacy of learning environments, they won’t go back,” he said.
At the same time, participants recommended supporting educators in selecting technology tools for their needs. Ideas included building partnerships between researchers and schools to conduct product pilots, providing coaching, and setting up learning communities on implementing technology tools. Although it will take time, Bart Epstein, panel moderator and CEO of Jefferson Education at the University of Virginia, said schools have a critical role in improving educational technology by increasing the demand for research-based products:
Expanding Research Use through Collaborative Partnerships
In challenge sessions, participants formed on-the-spot partnerships between researchers, educators and developers, and reviewed research on four education challenges: Improving Math Learning, Improving Students’ Skills in Reading, Improving Student Motivation, and Supporting English Language Learners. They then worked together to find ways to apply this research in the “real world.”
For example, Pam Spycher, Project Director of Leading with Learning at WestEd, presented research on how English Language Learners benefit from collaborative activities that emphasize talking and writing. Educators and product developers then generated ideas for using technology to create collaborative learning environments, and to integrate writing and vocabulary learning into all subject areas.
At the same time, researchers learned from educators about the importance of crafting relevant research questions. Eian Harm, Research and Innovative Projects Coordinator at West Ada School District, said, “Collection of data is a really powerful tool when we are all bought in on what we are looking at and the data we are collecting. …[Educators are] much more willing to accept it than any company or university coming in and saying, ‘here’s what we’re seeing.’”
The main takeaway from the summit: there needs to be more opportunities for educators, researchers, and product developers to work together. Additionally, we need to find and share examples of powerful partnerships as models for others to follow. Shelley Goldman, presenter and Stanford University professor who has worked with the Stanford-SFUSD partnership, sums it up: “The more we can demonstrate the power of these partnerships where aims, goals, and processes of the research are co-developed and collaborative, and you can have successful research and implementation, the more we can get that model out there.”
We at Digital Promise are inspired to work alongside current and new partners to support research-based solutions for education, and to share more success stories in the coming months.
You can also view the summit handouts, and a list of participants and speakers on the event website.