By Dr Nina Hood
The start of a new year often prompts reflection and the identification of new priorities and intentions. Much of my reflection this year has focused on the purpose and aspirations of The Education Hub and why we believe research has such an important role to play in teaching.
In contemplating this, it is useful to first identify what research does not do. Research rarely provides a definitive answer as to what a teacher should do in a given circumstance. Nor does it provide a recipe to follow in order to achieve particular outcomes. However, what it does offer are “best bets” as to what may work in a particular situation or context, and as such provides a means for prioritising different approaches or courses of action, and for identifying where to concentrate attention and energy. It further opens up new ideas and information, stimulating new thinking, and prompting reflection on past and current practice.
Research should form a key component of improvement work in schools. When looking to make a change in practice, or to address a problem of practice in a school, research must form a central part of this work. Similarly, when deciding to implement a new programme or to make a change to the curriculum or assessment practices or pedagogy, research should feature highly in the decision-making process. Drawing on high quality, validated research is way to draw on collective wisdom and to avoid a frequent curse of education, the reinvention of the wheel.
When doing so, however, it is important to remember that research is inherently backwards facing. It can tell us what worked in the past but not necessarily what will work in the future. Teaching and learning are contextually mediated and what works in one context will not always work in another. This is not a reason to not use research. Rather, it requires that teachers understand how to make informed judgements about what research to use in what circumstances and that they evaluate the impact of any changes they make in their particular contexts of action.
A recent research study from Durham University investigating how schools utilised the findings of an academic paper on feedback demonstrated the challenges associated with research use in practice. Many teachers in the study struggled to fully understand the paper and found that it lacked the detail they needed to effectively implement new feedback strategies in their practice.
The utilisation of research in practice is further complicated by it often requiring that teachers confront existing beliefs and be open to changing these, something that nearly everyone struggles with in any context. Furthermore, research use often is also hampered by something called confirmation bias – “the tendency to process information by looking for or interpreting information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs”. That is, new ideas frequently get subsumed into existing practices, and therefore reinforce the status quo.
These challenges associated with research utilisation have prompted The Education Hub to focus in 2020 on providing greater support to teachers, and schools and ECE centres, to actually make use of our resources. While we’ve tried to make our resources as usable and practical as possible, we recognise that we need to do more to enable teachers to make best use of our resources. We will be providing teachers with greater guidance on how to utilise our resources to support teaching as inquiry, and also will be developing supporting materials to accompany each of our topics that can be used as part of within-school professional learning and development or as part of professional learning circles. We also will be sharing opportunities throughout the year for teachers to dig deeper into the research on particular topics.
So, on reflection, The Education Hub’s purpose and aspirations continue to hold true. Research does have an important role to play in education. However, the complexities surrounding research use in education requires that we are continuing to identify new priorities and ensure that what we offer supports teachers to make best use of research in their practice.