Research in education

As a scientist with experience in biological research, I find it curious that educational research is not rooted in fixed knowledge and standard methods; rather, theories come in and out of fashion and there is no single best methodology. It’s true that scientific knowledge changes as we discover new things, but teaching and learning is much more complex, with many external factors influencing instructor and student success. Some of these factors include social and ethnic background, age, gender, personality, location, etc. Through the process of writing a literature review, I learned that there are research niches that explore these factors, and re-frame the issues to create different perspectives.

Researcher at the National Archives. Image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org

Researcher at the National Archives. Image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org

After class discussions, I’ve come to realize how political education can be. It is a field where the elite few can influence policy and opinion, and reject research findings when they conflict with their personal views. Because of this, I believe it’s important for educational professionals to not only file away research for their personal knowledge base, but also to be able to talk about educational issues, methods and results to promote understanding and innovation.

There exists a disconnect between research and implementation, and education professionals should be more aware of current research to minimize this disconnect. Research can take different forms, depending on the context and the audience. Different methodologies are more useful to some professionals than others; for example, a large scale study using quantitative methods may be more useful for a policy-maker to see the big picture, identify trends and adjust educational policy accordingly. Small qualitative studies may be more useful to instructors, who could creatively experiment with new techniques in their classrooms. Research is important because it gives us access to different types of data.

My plan is to use research to learn about new ways to teach and how well they work in specific contexts; in my case, the context would be a community college science classroom full of diverse learners. Even though I have to adhere to policy, research can help me identify specific, concrete ways to improve my practice and be prepared for the needs of the next generation. Research makes me feel confident in my pedagogy and allows me to talk about my practice with my colleagues.

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