How to Make Ed Research Accessible to Teachers: Bridging the Gap between Learning Science and the Classroom

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This is the first post in our series on Evidence-Based Practice, which will shed light on the classroom applications of instructional practices grounded in learning science principles and research evidence. You can find all posts in the series here.

I was a 6th grade math teacher for 10 years, but it was not until I came to work at ASSISTments that I became fully aware of all of the research going on in education. I mean, as educators, we know that much of what we do and the pedagogical moves that make our classrooms work are based on research and data, but there is a clear gap between the advances taking place in learning science and what goes on in our classrooms.

Yet, as the practitioners in classrooms, educators should be able to turn to education research for information that can make them more effective. After all,  research can provide answers to our biggest and most pressing questions about learning, like how our increasingly digital classrooms can impact students' learning outcomes, or what instructional practices are actually proven to be effective. 

A cyclical relationship between researchers and teachers

Why is it that there is no clear bridge between learning scientists and educators, where research outcomes can fuel effective teaching practice, and real world classroom scenarios can inspire timely research? 

That's why we launched the Teachers for Research & Feedback community. We aim to make research findings accessible to teachers and support them to leverage learning science for evidence-based teaching practices.

At ASSISTments, as a community of researchers and educators, this cyclical relationship is core to our work; we were quite literally built as a collaboration between teachers and ed researchers and maintain this research engine through our university partnership with Worcester Polytechnic Institute. As such, we are dedicated to serving as a bridge to evidence-based practice.

Further, through this Evidence-Based Practice blog series, we aim to shed light on instructional practices grounded in learning science principles and research evidence that teachers can apply in class. ASSISTments teachers are already leveraging the benefits of educational research for enhanced teaching practices, including metacognition, spaced learning and interleaving (shoutout to Kim Kelly and Bill Hinkley in these linked videos!).

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Make teachers and classrooms the audience - and the informants

So again, why is it that there is no clear bridge between learning scientists and educators? One source of disconnect is where research is published. Educational research is often only available in academic journals, many of which are hidden behind prohibitive paywalls. Additionally, much of this research is written in highly scientific language. While this research is highly descriptive, it is not always written with a teacher reader in mind. 

“Many teachers said that research would be most helpful to them if it were ‘translated’ by other teachers,” says Mark Schneider, Director of the Institute of Educational Sciences. “They want short pieces where a teacher who implemented a research-based program talks about how to implement the program, highlighting what a teacher has to get right and problems they might encounter.” This is not to say that teachers cannot interpret academic text, but rather to say that research findings are not written for teachers as target audiences with classroom interpretation in mind.

Another way to bridge the gap is for teachers to serve as informants in research. A survey conducted by the Jefferson Education Exchange in November 2019 found that 9 out of 10 teacher respondents said they had opinions on what researchers should study and two thirds of them would like to be directly involved in educational research. 

How ASSISTments is becoming part of the solution

At ASSISTments, we want to make research more accessible to teachers by:

  • Including teachers in the world of education research and helping make educational research easy to do
  • Translating research into more digestible language and action items for teachers 
  • Providing access to research outcomes to educators
  • Maintaining open dialogue with teachers about their needs in the classroom

Digital learning platforms such as ASSISTments provide a unique opportunity to directly bridge research and classroom practice. Many research scientists have used the ASSISTments platform to conduct research on methods that work for students. We have started to take these research outcomes and help to translate them into useful and actionable learning for teachers. We will be posting these on our blog as they become available.

We have always included teachers not only in research, but also in our desire to improve ASSISTments and to make it better serve the needs of teachers. To date we have had over 150 teachers take part in various forms of research and focus groups. And this year we are excited to turn that into a program we are calling Teachers for Research and Feedback. By signing up, teachers get a monthly newsletter that will inform them of upcoming opportunities for teachers to engage in research and feedback as well as share the outcomes of completed studies. 

What ed research has taught us 

As an organization, research has allowed us to put our own efficacy to the test. One of the most important things we sought to learn through research was whether the use of ASSISTments had a meaningful and positive impact on the learning of math in middle school. An independent study, conducted in Maine over the course of 3 years proved that the use of ASSISTments, which gives immediate feedback to students and data to teachers, did in fact increase learning outcomes, especially for those who struggle most. This research was recently highlighted again in a new analysis that reinvigorates our commitment to replicating and scaling the impactful outcomes in other studies outside of the Maine context in more racially, socioeconomically and geographically diverse settings.

Ed research can be a critical piece of the puzzle to helping our students learn better. But we can only make use of research insights by opening pathways between researchers and educators. We hope that by creating systems that allow research to both take direction from and give inspiration to teachers, ed research will have a much larger impact on student learning. 

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