Like practitioners as clergy, lawyers or clinical psychologists, teachers are tightly linked to a practice which is mostly examined by outside researchers. Teachers have years of experience with working with different instructional methods, tools and formats. They are all experts in their school subject knowing which learning strategies their students apply and which misconceptions they have. And teachers have an accurate idea of the context in which they teach. With other words, teachers have developed practical wisdom about their practice, which is invaluable for research on this practice. And –last but not least- they have easy access to information about teaching and learning which is mostly unreachable for external researchers. Yet, academic research about teaching and learning is mostly done by the outside educational researchers, who do not possess these advantages. There might be two reasons why this is common practice. Firstly, educational research requires particular competencies that researchers have acquired and are absent in teachers. Secondly, outside researchers examine an extensive set of practices, which allows them to generate conclusions about these teaching practices. But aren’t these actually myths? And shouldn’t we think better of how academic research can take advantage of teachers’ experience with and access to their practice? And wouldn’t that be via research by teachers themselves?
To start with the first myth. Research on teaching and learning requires methodological skills as well as knowledge about the domain that is object of research. Most educational researchers possess the necessary methodological skills, but lack accurate knowledge about the particular area of teaching and learning they examine. Most teachers possess the accurate knowledge and experience, but lack the skills to do rigorous research on teaching and learning. Yet it is common practice that research on teaching and learning is done by educational researchers, which means that knowledge about research methods is valued as more relevant than knowledge about the domain. Yet more teachers than educational researchers are trained to carry out practice-based research, which is typical for research teaching and learning.
To continue with the second myth. This is based on the assumption that the only way to generate conclusions about teaching and learning is to examine more than one practice: the more you examine, the more valid the conclusions are – provided that these practices are carefully sampled. But there are at least two arguments against this assumption. First, it should also be about how well a “population” of practices is represented in the sample, not about numbers per se. Research on teaching and learning with data from 1000 students of one higher education program is similar in scope as research with data of a group of 30 secondary school students. Secondly, valid argumentation or explication can be used as quality control procedures as well. Actually even in quantitative research, many steps (for example, selecting and carrying out a method of data collection and data analyses) are vulnerable to subjective biases and could profit from explication and peer review.
Following the line of reasoning, research by teachers on teaching and learning is an invaluable addition to the conventional ways of educational research. Moreover, compared to the modest number of educational researchers, the number of teachers who are able and willing to perform academic research on teaching and learning is enormous. So let’s deploy this huge research capital!