Research says…

Recently I have felt slightly under siege by ‘research’. For some of this I have only myself to blame, for choosing to study for my MEd, for choosing to attend lectures about educational policy, for engaging in discussions on social media, for reading newspapers and for listening to politicians and journalists talk about education. However, what is completely not my fault is the way in which this ‘research’ is presented, not as findings constrained by particular methodology or context or situations, but as fact, indisputable, broadly applicable and as a basis for a wide range of policy and practice decisions.

What worries me particularly is how much I accepted this, how much I took what was delivered and believed without question what it told me I should be doing in my classroom. This is not my normal behaviour, I am captain of the “Really? What do you mean by that? Why should I do that?” questions. I am critical, and at times cynical, and really not known for just accepting what I am told. Turns out when it’s presented me under the umbrella of research I follow blindly, happily accepting ideas that challenge my fundamental beliefs without question. Well, not any more.

After some very interesting twitter conversations (the more I engage in twitter, the more I’m learning) I realised that at no point had I read the actual documents prepared by the researchers. What terrified me was that I wasn’t accepting actual research as fact, but rather someone else’s boiled down interpretation of the research, frequently having selected points that best suit their own political or philosophical agenda. To be clear, I wasn’t at some sort of off the grid meetings discussing random aspects of education, I was at professional learning developed and sanctioned by the educational system in which I work. There are some very popular pieces of research getting rather a lot of airtime and policy time and learning time at the moment. However, as I’ve started to read the actual research and articles critiquing said research I’ve come to realise that all is not as it might have first seemed.

It turns out that research comes in all shapes and sizes, some of it is based on other research, some of it uses small samples, some of it large, some of it publicly funded, some private. All of these aspects of the research are of great significance in terms of its validity and applicability. The key for me is that I need to go to the source. I need to ask questions when someone says “Research says…” I need to remember that generally, people use research to prove a particular point, often focusing on particular aspects rather than the research in the fullness of its intention.

There is a huge emphasis at the moment about C21 learners and learning. One of those skills is critical thinking. Are we as educators modelling this skill for our students or are we bowing down under the research presented to us as truth. Are we succumbing to the ‘headline’ approach to research? What do you ask when presented with research that challenges your beliefs? How often do you read the original documents? I’m going to start clawing back some of this power, I’m going to start asking questions and I’m NEVER going to use the phrase “Research says” unless I’ve actually read the research first hand. Promise.