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[Series: Knowledge Mobilization] How to Increase the Use of Research in our Classrooms

By McGraw-Hill Education 2 years agoNo Comments
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Last month we kicked off our series on Knowledge Mobilization. In our definition, knowledge mobilization indicates moving knowledge into active use. It looks at connecting research with practical applications. We finished the first part of our discussion of knowledge mobilization with the three recommendations for improving the use of research-based information in the classroom developed by researchers Larysa V. Lysenko, Philip C. Abrami, Robert M. Bernard, and Christian Dagenais. The researchers had identified some problems in the practical applications of research and made the following recommendations:

  1. Training in how to read and understand research as part of teacher training programs. Training programs need to put more emphasis on gathering current research and interpreting the findings. They also need to help future teachers work the research into practical applications in the classroom.
  2. Making research-based information easily accessible. This suggestion includes creating a public resource where research can be accessed by all teachers. It also includes making the research readable and making it include suggestions for application.
  3. Specific institutional support for teachers, including access to research with suggestions on how to implement it, professional development, sharing experiences of incorporating research, and administrative support for the time needed.

We want to continue our discussion of knowledge mobilization by examining information on how to approach these recommendations and make it possible for teachers to apply research-based information in their classrooms.

 

The Solution: Networks

With the issues of applying research in the classroom, networks are being used as a strategy for knowledge mobilization. Networks allow interaction between different groups to improve education. The networks can link instructors with each other, schools with other schools, and create partnerships between practitioners and researchers. With the links in place, research can be shared, practical applications can be developed, and teachers can apply them in their classrooms. These networks have the potential of addressing all of the recommendations made by Lysenko and her colleagues in their research.

 

How do the most effective networks operate?

Patricia Briscoe, Katina Pollock, Carol Campbell, and Shasta Carr-Harris researched the operation and effectiveness of networks and published their findings in “Finding the Sweet Spot: Network Structures and Processes for Increased Knowledge Mobilization.” They liken the process of creating a successful network to finding the sweet spot of a tennis racket or baseball bat. Their data was drawn from grant projects funded by The Knowledge Network for Applied Education Research (KNAER). These projects were designed to support Ontario’s educational goals with research-based initiatives, and each was required to have a knowledge mobilization component. Briscoe and her colleagues analyzed how the projects established and operated their networks in order to identify the most successful networks.

 

Creating a Successful Network

Briscoe et al defined three key components of networks.

  1. Network Structure. Networks have an organizational design with formal or informal policies, resources, and infrastructure for communication.
  2. Network Processes. These are the activities that are performed to accomplish goals.
  3. Alignment. Matching or lining up the network structure with the network processes so that the network operates to achieve its goals.

In their analysis of the data from 44 knowledge mobilization project plans, 141 interim reports, and 43 final project reports, Briscoe and her colleagues were able to determine the characteristics of successful networks.

Knowledge Mobilization Networks

Network Structure

The first set of characteristics is part of the network structure. They define the organization and operational design of the network.

The network has goals or objectives that are similar to current government priorities

Because the study is working with KNAER projects, each project’s goals are linked to the government’s goals for education. The study showed that directly aligned goals created an advantage for the network.

Beyond governmental goals, the finding is that networks need to align with specific goals or priorities and communicate the alignment with all their partners. If an individual school wanted to create a knowledge mobilization network, their goals would need to align first with the school’s own goals and priorities.

The network included key people and organizations as members

In selecting the members of their networks, the projects studied focused on strategic members. These were people who could participate in decision-making, or who could provide access to a number of classroom teachers who would implement the research. Networks that were designed with strategic members were more successful than networks who did not consider this.

The network included formal leadership roles

The most successful networks included leadership roles. Some of the leadership roles like president or coordinator were held by individuals, while other leadership roles were for groups like steering committees. These leaders helped the networks operate efficiently to accomplish the goals.

The network utilized formal communication structures

The final piece for a successful network structure is formal avenues for communication. Networks need to consider and create a plan for how they will communicate goals, and how they will produce and share their knowledge. One successful network used a formal approach and produced a paper that was made publicly available. Whether the communication is printed and distributed publicly or not, the network needs open and available communication.

 

Network Processes & Alignment

Efficient network processes are also required characteristics of a successful network. These characteristics are concerned with the activities of the network as it works to accomplish its goals.

The network creates opportunities to collaborate and co-create products for knowledge mobilization

The KNAER projects provided their networks with a variety of methods to collaborate and create, including “engaging in communities of practice, developing and delivering workshops, and participating in online forums.” At the most basic level, collaborating and co-creating means that all members of the network have access to the research and they are together able to build a way to apply it in the classroom.

The network motivates and incentivizes its members

Briscoe and her colleagues found that to be successful, networks needed ways to motivate their members to continue the work. The simplest way to motivate members was to make the goals clear, allow them to collaborate, and give them credit for their work. If the network lacked those qualities, members lost the motivation to continue the work.

Some of the networks used incentives to keep their members motivated. The incentives might be things like release time, access to classroom resources, or funding for the researchers. Incentives were an additional way to provide motivation, but were not used by all the successful networks.

The network creates and operates with a strategic plan

Successful networks used a strategic plan to align their goals and to coordinate their activities. Without a strategic plan, members often felt like each activity or product was a separate entity and unrelated to other work. With a strategic plan, all members knew what the network was working toward and how the current activities would further their goals. Briscoe and her colleagues identify communication again as a crucial component for the strategic plan. Information needs to be shared among all parts of the network in order to fulfill the plan.

 

Increasing the use of research in the classroom

Each of the successful networks that Briscoe and her colleagues studied increased the use of research-based information in the classroom. When the network operated well, it provided a place to share research and to create practical applications for the classroom.

Networks are a solution to some of the problems with knowledge mobilization because they show teachers they are not alone in their efforts in the classroom. With help and collaboration, teachers can incorporate more research-based information. The networks address the recommendations of easier access to research because they provide a place for the research to be reviewed, and some translated the research into clearer language for the audience. The networks also addressed institutional support by providing a dedicated time and space to read the research, develop applications, and be creative. Although not all networks could provide release time, they worked to address that recommendation.

 

What does it mean for teachers?

How can we create a “sweet spot” network that allows us access to the latest research and lets us collaborate to create practical applications for the research?

While Briscoe and her colleagues acknowledge that creating good networks is complex and difficult, they remind us that “When working at their sweet spot peak, networks are transformative for the institutions and people involved.”

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  Series: Knowledge Mobilization
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