Some thoughts on educational research

legalbooksWe want our educational efforts to be informed by research as research will be able to show us what works and what does not.   Hattie’s longitudinal study for example indicated the effect size of various educational interventions, drawn from a large number of studies conducted over a significant period of time.   From this research we can identify the activities that we need to do more of and the activities which have little effect and therefore we shouldn’t spend as much time on.   This all seems simple.    Taking a research informed approach seems logical so why wouldn’t you take this approach?

As is normally the case the world isn’t as tidy and simple as we would like it.    Hattie’s study is a good example of research in that it gathered data from across a number of different studies and contexts, plus over a period of time.   It therefore presented findings which could be more easily generalised across educational settings and contexts.   The issue here is the generalisable nature of the findings.    It means that the findings “generally” hold true.   In specific contexts or situations it is therefore possible that the findings may not hold true.   Looking at education in general this is all well in good but teachers are dealing with individual students in their classrooms and therefore should be seeking to find what works for each child.    Holding too strong a view in relation to research findings may lead to practices that don’t work with certain students being applied because the research shows they “generally” work.   Worse still it could lead to practices that do work in a given situation and/or context being labelled as “generally” inappropriate and not being tried.     We need to see educational research as a guide but be careful to understand that in some situations, doing the opposite may equally be effective.

Hattie’s study is based on a thorough and large data set meaning its statistical reliability is reasonable high.   One problem with educational research is that most studies are not based on such a large data set.   They are often based on a very small sample of schools and students.   Studies are often conducted within a specific context such as a certain geographical area, national or region culture, certain age range or curriculum subject.    The validity of the findings when generalised outside the context of the study is often questionable.   I remember my own masters level study when we were guided on the need to state that the findings “suggested” or “pointed towards” as opposed to “demonstrating” or “showing” something to be true.   You will find in most good education research a similar language in the conclusions.    Without a large amount of data gathered from different contexts across a period of time it is highly unlikely any research findings can be generally applied across all or even most educational contexts.    Even where findings are generalizable this doesn’t mean they are replicable in an individual context.

I need to be clear, I am not saying we shouldn’t use educational research in directing practice in individual schools and classrooms.   What I am saying is we should do so with an awareness of the limitations, and bear these in mind.


The culture of education

It is possible to examine and make judgments on the culture and climate of an organisation.   We can look at a macro view, looking at all companies within a particular employment sector or looking at similar organisations across a specified geographical area.   Equally we can take a micro view observing the specific culture and climate within departments or other sub-divisions within a particular organisation.

I have found myself repeatedly mentioning the importance of schools in general having an open culture and a positive climate.   My intention with such comments was specifically to address culture and climate at the organisational level, looking at each individual school as the whole unit however I have had cause to reflect on this and consider a more macro viewpoint.

What would the culture and climate of “schools” in general be?

What I mean by this, is that if we were to consider all the schools and all educational staff, including leaders, teachers and support staff, as the scope of analysis and as a single unit of study what would the culture and climate be.

The first issue I have with the above is the question is the evidence which is used in such a judgement.   Thinking about education and schools in general and the things which come to mind as possible evidence the various comments on social media including twitter, facebook and LinkedIn are first to stir in my conscious thoughts.    The television and printed news would also serve as evidence which is quick to present itself.     The issue I instantly have with this is that these are things which come easily to mind as they are most easily accessible in my memory, not that they are most representative of the truth, however my perception as directed by my memories is my truth.

As such my truth with regards how I perceive the culture and climate of schools in general could be shaped by the below:

Having read the above, how do you yourself feel about schools?

I don’t feel quite as negative as I possibly should based on the examples above and the many similar posts, articles and stories however this is due to being conscious of the fact that these items only way readily on my mind not due to be fact but due to just being readily available.    That they are readily available is partly related to the media and the need for a good story along with the tendency to report the extremes as opposed to the everyday, the more mundane and also the more representative.   This in turn leads to retweets and responses to articles which emphasise these reported extremes, in turn reinforcing stories like those mentioned above.

Could it be that we are in a cycle of negativity?

I hasten to add that I am not suggesting with the above question that all is perfect in the world of education and that we should stop moaning and get on with it, far from this.    Education the world over has many issues, with each individual country and education system with its own demons to wrestle.   Some countries are making better progress than others, and some other countries are suffering a quicker or lesser decline than their neighbours.   We need to address the issues in hand and this requires making them known and discussing them in a hope to find solutions.

But wouldn’t it be nice if in all of this teachers had at least a few thoughts which came easily to mind which were positive about the work we do.     Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a positive cycle of news relating to successes, ideas, etc.

As the 2015/16 year draws to a close wouldn’t it be nice to show the world that there is a culture of working to make things better, of positivity, of sharing, of openness………..hold on, would it be nice to show the world the face we show our students every day we are with them!

P.s. Following writing this I observed #teacher5aday and calls for tweachers to tweet thanks to other educators who have inspired them.

This and the resulting stream of thank you tweets flying around twitter is exactly the positivity that I was referring to above, and the kind of example which I would like to see come easily to mind among teachers and also the general public.   This is the culture and climate we want to seek to encourage.



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