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!
Thank you for the post. I agree that teachers are an essential, but underutilized, resource in research globally.
My background is in higher education in South Africa, but I have worked with several secondary and primary school teachers in my country. While many of these teachers are motivated and have the potential to be excellent researchers, they are often overburdened with a large teaching load, and work overtime in order to meet the daily demands of teaching and assessment.
However, this obstacle could be overcome, if there was sufficient institutional support and encouragement for teachers to embark on research. Unfortunately, this is not the case in South Africa. Are there sufficient support structures in the Netherlands to give teachers time for research?
In the Netherlands, we hear the same complaints although I am quite sure that teachers have a lower work load than in your country. And of course, teaching is a stressful job and it costs a lot of energy. But as long research is “not part of the system in school”, it will be additional to the teaching task. So, if we value a research task of teachers, we should reorganize their tasks and the school system so that “research” is another responsibiity, additional to teaching, at least for some teachers.
It’s so true. Anyone can mindlessly ltisen to a lesson but when you get the questions, that is where the learning takes place.A lot of the text of the Babylonian Talmud is in the context of asking questions and then providing answers just terse enough that the reader can then probe further. It’s best, of course, when done with a partner or group for that reason. Each person can bring up other questions and the learning continues.
Dear Prof. Admiraal,
It is very interesting post, which remind me of a topic I had at a recent teacher training project. Just for discussion: will a partnership between educational researcher, the so- called outsiders and teachers for some action research a possible solution?
Thanks for you comment. Yes that would a logical option. However, we already have many forms of collaboration between teachers and researchers, even to do research on teaching practice, but most of the time the “teaching” and “research” tasks are still divided. This means that the gap between practice and theory, and between teaching and research, is still there, but now within one group.
Glad to read your feedback. Yes I understand what you mean. But what makes it interesting is that though the gap is always there, it somehow becomes a motivation to drive researchers to keep trying.
Yes that could be a positive side effect. But my point is that -as a group- researchers better focus their energy on collaboration and cooperation with teachers in research or on other topics than teaching in classrooms.
I couldn’t agree more. : )
I absolutely agree with it David.As a stdenut, unless I can answer questions or explain problems my learning doesn’t complete.As a teacher/ trainer, I can gauge my stdenuts’ level of understanding by the way they explain things each other.This is also a great way of learning because something unheard/ unknown/ unseen can come out of this discussion.