How to find the educational research you need

How to find the educational research you need

Opinion: Teach Secondary

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Credible educational research can inform and enhance classroom practice – but how is a busy teacher supposed to sort the sound from the suspect? Terry Freedman explores a few options…

Academic research can be an invaluable tool for teachers’ CPD – but alas, it’s often written in a way that seems designed to put anyone off reading it; and that’s if you know how to find it in the first place of course. Fortunately, there are ways in which you can avail yourself of the latest studies without having to visit obscure libraries or wade through impenetrable prose. Here, then, in alphabetical order, are my top ten research resources for time-strapped (i.e. all) educators:

1. DERN

DERN is the Digital Education Research Network, and is Australian. But don’t let that put you off; teachers there face the same kind of problems as they do over here. It has many research reports available, but to access what you want when you want, you have to subscribe, which means paying a fee.There’s good news, though: every Thursday, two research reports are made available free of charge. It’s a bit pot luck; the latest ones at the time of writing, for instance, are “Open educational literacies for K-12 teachers” and “iPads in primary schools”. You can sign up for a free email alert so you can grab a useful-looking report as soon as it becomes available.

dern2.acer.edu.au

2. The Department for Education

Did you know that our own government carries out or pays for research? Some of it is in the form of responses to official consultations, while others are in the form of reviews. Again, a bit of a mish-mash, but worth a trawl for the odd gem.

www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-education/about/research (then click on Publications or National Archives)

3. Edfutures

This website has a leaning towards education technology. If you want to know what a flipped classroom is, for example, or whether 1-to-1 computing really works, make this your first port of call. It’s written in a very accessible way in bite-sized chunks, but with references to follow up for further reading should you want to.

edfutures.net

4. The Evidence Hub

The research on this site is organised by area, such as ‘Systems learning and leadership’, and then by themes. These include ‘Key challenges’, ‘Potential solutions’, ‘Research claims’ and others. It’s not the most populated research site out there, but the way it’s organised is very interesting and accessible. Well worth a look in case there’s a resource listed you didn’t know about.

evidence-hub.net

5. Best evidence in brief

This is a newsletter collaboration between the Institute of Effective Education at the University of York, and the Centre for Research and Reform at John Hopkins University. It provides a very useful service in highlighting recent research. Quite often, the original reports are behind paywalls, but the thumbnail sketch summaries are ample for getting the main points of what the researchers found. york.ac.uk/iee/news/beib/index.htm

6. Meshguides

Imagine being able to very quickly look at a topic, find the particular aspect you need to know about, and then read a summary of the research with further reading provided. That’s exactly what the Mesh Guides provide. For instance, what are the five main types of spelling error? All is explained in the Spelling guide. The nice thing about Mesh Guides is that they are growing all the time – and are always looking for people to get involved.

meshguides.org/mesh-guides

7. Nesta

Nesta’s area of focus is innovation – a rather broad category, covering business, health and other sectors besides education. As you might imagine, technology tends to feature highly in its reports. But it’s not for teachers of Computing necessarily. For example, there’s a great resource under Publications called the Fast Idea Generator. Definitely worth exploring.

nesta.org.uk

8. NFER

This is the National Foundation for Educational Research. It covers a wide range of topics. Some of its publications are paid-for resources, but there are free guides too. It’s worth exploring the schools section of the NFER website for instance for free guides on how to do carry out your own research. nfer.ac.uk

9. OU

The Open University is well-known for its courses (including some free ones online), but did you know that it has a very extensive research section? The area I especially like is the Centre for Research in Education and Educational Technology, but there are sections on the Arts and other areas too. It’s not the easiest website to find stuff on, so be prepared to spend a bit of time exploring. There are some real gems there though, so it’s worth persevering! Start at open.ac.uk/research/main/our-research

10. The Sutton Trust

Describing itself as a ‘do tank’ as opposed to a ‘think tank’, the Sutton Trust commissions research on important educational topics. Sometimes their findings make the headlines, as with its ‘effective teaching’ report in October 2014, which found that allowing students to discover key ideas for themselves was not an effective approach. That’s just another example of how many teaching practices develop based on no educational research whatsoever – which is why keeping abreast of research in education is so important, of course.

suttontrust.com

About the author

Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT and computing consultant – and the Technology and Innovation Ambassador for 2014/15. He publishes the ICT and Computing in Education website at ictineducation.org.

Searching effectively

How can you find what you’re looking for on the web? Even if you use only Google, you can still search more efficiently – and teach your students to do so as well. Bear in mind that in this situation more does not necessarily mean better: a response of 100 excellent ‘hits’ is much better than a response containing 5 million dubious ones.

Some of the things you can do include:

  • Think of alternative terms for what you’re looking for, or words that go together. For instance a search for “lead metal” is better than simply “lead”.
  • Use different search engines (see other box-out).
  • Think about whether a specialist website or organisation might exist. For example, I discovered a newsletter called “Metal Bulletin”!

For some very useful hints and tips, and links to unusual repositories of information, look at UC Berkeley Library’s Recommended Search Strategy at lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/Strategies.html.

Different strokes

Google may be a good search engine, but if that is the only one you use then you are limiting your search results. Why? First, because Google tends to work out what your interests are, and to some extent serves up results it thinks you will find useful. Second, because different search engines use different methods, they find different things. There will be some overlap, of course, but it’s the websites that Google doesn’t find that are often the most interesting. There are three main alternatives to using Google:

  • One approach is simply to use another search engine; bing.com or duckduckgo.com/ for example.
  • Another option is to use a clustering search engine, ie one that groups the results into different categories. One such search engine is Yippy.com. Another is Carrot2.com. The latter gives you a choice of visual presentations too. The foam view, for instance, indicates the relative number of hits in each category by varying the size of the element on the screen. In each of these cases you can drill down to see the sources of the results if you wish to.
  • Finally, you could always go back to basics and use a subject directory, which is all we had before search engines were invented. For example, go to ipl.org and click on the “Resources by subject” option.

The bottom line is this: use different search engines, and different types of search engine, to obtain results you might otherwise not have found. This strategy is also a good example of ‘triangulation’; rather than rely on one set of results, you gather evidence from several different sources and then see which results appear in all of them.