In this guest blogpost Kate Reynolds explains how researchers in education could maximise the impact of their research and introduces a tool to enable teachers and teacher educators to find and access the best of academic research to support their professional practice.
There’s a lot of talk about the need to make research impactful, relevant and accessible. For academics this is at one of the key elements of the Research Excellence Framework used to ‘judge’ the research standing of HEIs.Making research accessible so it can have an impact is , I would argue, particularly important in the world of teacher education where equipping student teachers with the skills to critically engage not only with academic research but also with education policy is a central to most teacher training programmes. With the Government considering a national curriculum for teacher training, embedding theory and critical reflection of research into teacher education programmes, enables future teacher to continue to develop their own professional journey in the classrooms of our schools and colleges. Teaching needs to help to shape the best educational research and practice and to be informed by high quality, robust academic research.
Luckily through the tools of the internet, academics now have a plethora of different mechanisms for getting their research into the ‘hands’ of teachers. Social media has played a key role in developing online education research communities where teachers as researchers and academic researchers can together discuss how their research influences practice. Alongside blogs, twitters and internet groups, organisations such as ResearchEd now hold conferences showcasing research by teachers from classrooms up and down the country.
As yet, I don’t know of any research on these research communities, how they are formed, what their purpose is, and of greater importance: how robust their research is and what steps they take to make sure their research is reliable and valid? As academic researchers know, the process of defining, shaping and indeed, doing research involves a system of very critical and robust processes focused on key methodological questions, ethical dilemmas, theoretical questions and issues of subjectivity and objectivity and underlying epistemological questions. It is not clear to me, then, how some of these big issues are dealt with through some of the online research chatrooms and communities.
There is then, an urgent need to make sure that teachers can access robust academic research which supports their professional practice and is grounded in a thorough understanding of the methodological and epistemological nuances that make good research. The medical profession has long understood the power of bringing such research into the hands of doctors. Through organisations such as NICE (The national institute for clinical excellence) access to the latest medical research is available to clinicians in medical practice throughout the country.
So it’s no surprise that education academics are also now looking at how to bring the best of research into the hands of teachers. One way of doing this has been the development by the Education Futures Collaboration (a charity supported by a number of Universities) to produce online guides that quickly and easily enable teachers to access the best of academic research
The MESH guides (MESH stands for Mapping Educational Specialist knowhow) are developed by groups of academic researchers who are experts in their field. Together they develop drafts which are then tested with groups of practicing teachers and a guide is produced which is usable and accessible. As well as giving teachers access to academic research such guides enable researchers to directly impact on education and teachers and to show the impact of their own work – as required by the Research Excellence Framework.
Mesh guides cover a variety of areas that will be of interest to both researchers and teachers: from neuroscience to attachment awareness and from technology to pedagogy, the guides help support classroom teachers improve their professional practice and make a difference to children and young people.
A different approach has been developed by Bath Spa Institute for Education. Focusing on making education policy and policy debates easily accessible BERTiE (Bristish Education Research Tool) is an online web crawler that searches discreet predefined sites enabling easy access to the current education debates.
BERTiE acts as a web search engine searching a range of discreet and predefined websites. These websites include the key policy and media organisations such as TES (The Times Educational Supplement), THES (The Times Higher Education Supplement), Policy Exchange, The Sutton Trust, IPPR, (Institute for Public Policy Research), RSA (Royal Society of Arts), DfE (Department for Education), BIS (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) with the intention to continue to broaden the range and variety of websites called upon. Through a user friendly interface, BERTiE enables the user to conduct broad searches or to narrow down a search to look through the lens of policy, research or comments, with ‘policy’ searching key policy think tanks (such as `policy exchange IPPR and government websites such as the Department for Education and Ofsted), whereas ‘research’ focuses on specific research outcomes and academic journals, whilst ‘comments’ produces results from the key education media (such as the TES).
Alongside these external websites, BERTiE calls on and searches Bath Spa’s respository of academic outputs enabling academic scholarly work to sit alongside contemporary public and policy debate. BERTiE has been developed and tested by groups of teacher educators, teachers and student teachers as well as the broader academic community and students.
With the Government looking for ways to make research accessible and with researchers keen to give their research impact, we need to ensure that accessible research is quality research. Mesh and BERTiE provide two different ways of doing so using the best of academic research.
BERTiE is hosted on the Bath Spa University website and can be assessed here: http://www.bathspa.ac.uk/static/bertie/bertie.html
Kate Reynolds is the Dean of Education at Bath Spa University. She is named as one of the top 50 higher education social media influencers by JISC. Her research interests include education policy and implementation and gender.