Rethinking Connections Between Research and Practice
University of Delaware offers framework in most-read education article
The use of educational research in practice is complex, notes Elizabeth Farley-Ripple, associate professor in the University of Delaware (UD) School of Education (SOE), and her coauthors in the opening paragraph of “Rethinking Connections Between Research and Practice in Education: A Conceptual Framework.” Identified as one of the top-ten most read education articles of 2018 by the American Educational Research Association, this work theorizes a new way of understanding the challenges of bridging the traditional gaps between research produced by universities or think-tanks and practice in schools and districts.
Henry May, director of the UD Center for Research in Education and Social Policy (CRESP) and associate professor in the SOE, Allison Karpyn, senior associate director of CRESP and associate professor in the department of Human Development and Family Sciences, Katherine Tilley, SOE doctoral candidate, and Kalyn McDonough, UD School of Public Policy and Administration doctoral candidate, are coauthors of this article.
Among other applications, this framework may deepen our understanding of research-practice partnerships, long-term collaborations between the research and practitioner communities designed to investigate problems in educational practice and develop solutions.
Most often, the difficulties associated with using research to inform, change, or improve educational practice are simplified to problems of dissemination. This view assumes, in other words, that educational researchers are not making their work easily accessible to teachers, principals, and other educational leaders.
Farley-Ripple and her coauthors argue, however, that the issue is much more complicated, offering instead a framework that jointly considers the production of research and the factors that shape the work of both the research and practice communities.
“We really frame the challenge as a bidirectional one—that we can’t focus on changing either researcher practices or educational decision-making,” said Farley-Ripple. “A strength of our work is that we are looking at both communities simultaneously to unpack the proverbial gap and identify conditions and levers that bring research and practice together.”
Farley-Ripple and her coauthors identify five factors or dimensions that may contribute to “gaps” or divides in perspectives between the research and practice communities:
1) the usefulness of research products,
2) the nature and quality of research,
3) the problems that the research addresses,
4) structures, processes, and incentives, and
5) specific relationships between the research and practice communities.
In their discussion of the nature and quality of research, for example, Farley-Ripple and her coauthors emphasize that the research and practitioner communities often value different characteristics in research. The What Works Clearinghouse, a database that synthesizes evidence of intervention impacts from the research community, prioritizes reports that draw evidence from randomized experiments—studies in which participants are randomly selected to receive one or more educational interventions.
In contrast, school districts often value evidence drawn from organizations similar to their own in terms of demographics, location, and performance with less interest in how the research study was designed.
In this framework, the magnitude of these “gaps” affects how research is produced and how deeply teachers, principals, and other educational leaders use this research in their activities, routines, roles, use of tools, or decision-making.
Larger gaps in perspectives may lead to very little research use or research use that lacks depth. But, greater and deeper research use may result from smaller gaps in perspectives—when the research and practice communities are closely aligned along those five dimensions.
“Our Center for Research Use in Education (CRUE) has been working on operationalizing this framework and is currently collecting survey data from a nationally representative sample of more than 300 schools and 300 researchers,” said Farley-Ripple. “We’re excited to provide empirical support for the relationships in this framework, so stay tuned.”
To learn more about this framework, including how Farley-Ripple and her coauthors understand “depth” of research and use, read “Rethinking Connections Between Research and Practice in Education: A Conceptual Framework.”
Learn more about partnership work at UD through the Partnership for Public Education (PPE). Farley-Ripple also serves as director of the PPE.
Article by Jessica Henderson.
Photo courtesy of the UD Center for Research in Education and Social Policy.