Reading & Reacting: Making Sense Out of Educational Research

Image: research - stack of books

research – cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Dayna Bateman

By Dr. Richard Corwin @ Edutopia

“Does educational research really matter?” This is the question that Dr. Corwin presents in his latest Edutopia blogpost. Continuing, he raises some interesting and thoughtful posts, yet seems almost to be currying controversy at the potential expense of cautious wisdom.

Corwin frames four genuine problems with education research: making sense of the numbers, revelation of facts not truth, bias, and truth can lead to false action. The problem is that these four, apart from bias, have more to do with the people reading than the research itself. Moreover, the second and fourth seem to be at odds with one another.

I understand that it is a opinion-driven blogpost, but his oversimplification not only seems to undermine the entire field of educational research but also offers up a weak alternative use in his conclusion. What educational research offers, according to Corwin, if relevant, is inspiration.
His explanation for this is a bit more redemptive.

It is not often that research and inspiration are associated with one another, but I think they are connected. Educational research can make us question whether what we are doing in the classroom makes sense. It cannot tell us what to do, but it can make us reexamine our current practices. It can lead us to investigate an issue further and discover something new, something we haven’t thought of before.

All this may be true, but this post seems too dismissive and limited in what qualifies as educational research. In fact, I would argue that, despite some of the quality points, the oversimplification borders on irresponsible. It doesn’t quite go that far, because he saves things at the end with “It can inspire us to discover new possibilities, open our minds to new ways of thinking — and be highly relevant to our professional lives.” Yet, good educational research can matter much more profoundly than even Corwin suggests. it need not be so lofty in scale. It can be most important closer to the ground.

Of course, research is and will continue to be used to justify all kinds of poor decisions. In the information age, with overwhelming volumes of data, information, and propaganda being generated, we must all read as editors perforce. It is all just a bit more complicated than this short shrift blogpost suggests. Judging from the comments, I gather more people simply gained more justification for dismissing educational research out of hand, which is potentially more damaging than Corwin might have meant.

I would answer his opening question in the affirmative, but I would build upon the need for cautious wisdom whne it comes to reading educational research. In fact, that needs to be the clarion call heretofore as a rash of “research-based” studies are already flooding what is known as the “education market” with a particular agenda of moving technology products. While I am a strong technology user and advocate, reading that research definitely demands a jaundiced eye. In fact, it all does.

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and flipped to Teaching Today

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