Today’s educators recognize the importance of research. That’s not much of a headline, but a new survey from the Jefferson Education Exchange suggests something that might be: Educators aren’t getting as much out of research as they’d like—and they have ideas on how to fix it.
“What we are hearing loud and clear from teachers is that they feel as though the research is being done to them and not for them,” says Bart Epstein, CEO of the Jefferson Education Exchange, which conducted the survey.
The Jefferson Education Exchange is a nonprofit focused on research and decision making around edtech. Recently, it surveyed more than 1,300 educators, mostly online and distributed through various education associations, to gauge perceptions and use of research.
Among the findings: More than 90 percent of respondents access research via journals or conferences at least once a year, primarily via Google searches but also through social media, referrals from colleagues and journal subscriptions. Respondents also gave some indication that research was most useful to them when it was contextualized for their needs and included actionable steps on how to implement it. And across the board, respondents most often searched for research related to pedagogical practices, special education and social-emotional supports.
But they also indicated that educators should influence that research. Given a 7 point scale—where 1 meant “strongly disagree” and 7 meant “strongly agree—the respondents averaged a 6 to the statement: “Educators should influence the topics on which researchers conduct education research”—indicating rather strong agreement.
“They feel as though they are not driving the research agenda,” Epstein says of educators. “They want to be a significant voice in deciding what gets researched.”
The Research Gap
To that end, 9 out of 10 respondents said they had opinions on what researchers should study. About two-thirds of those who said they had opinions also said they’d be interested in being directly involved in that research themselves.
Epstein says that research often ends with publication, and that researchers expect other groups to translate their work for broader audiences or make it more actionable. “We’re not pointing fingers at the research community for coming up short,” he says. “It’s a question of scope.”
As a result of this disconnect, however, few educators may be applying research to their practice, says Emily Barton, a research assistant professor at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and Human Development who also works for the Jefferson Education Exchange. She cites a recent survey of around 150 educators conducted by her organization, which found that only 16 percent of respondents actually use research to inform their practice. (That survey is slated for presentation at the American Educational Research Association’s 2020 conference in April.)
“To me, that is a signal,” Barton says. “If they are accessing research but not typically using that research, perhaps there is a gap there—that the research we’re providing is not perceived to be directly applicable and useful.”
As for who should do the work of translating research for educator use, that’s still an open question. Perhaps it will fall to a new type of organization that doesn't yet exist, muses Epstein. Or some coalition of associations, practitioners, unions and product developers.
The Jefferson Exchange survey was also designed to test educators’ familiarity—and use—of the collection of resources curated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Educational Sciences, or IES for short. IES offers several platforms for finding education research, including the What Works Clearinghouse, the National Center for Education Research and the Education Resources Information Center, known as ERIC.
Overall, respondents were reasonably familiar with these services—87 percent had heard of ERIC, for example, and 55 percent had used it to find resources. But fewer than a third of respondents had used any other IES tool.
“They have done a lot of really interesting, relevant research,” Epstein says of IES. However, “they are frustrated to know that there are educators out there searching for answers to questions that they have already answered.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the group that conducted a survey slated for presentation at an upcoming American Educational Research Association conference. The Jefferson Education Exchange conducted the survey.