What History Teaches About the Impact of Educational Research on Practice? A Review of the Literature


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This article is prepared by Su-Tuan Lulee for EDDE 802 at Ed. D., Athabasca University, Canada in 2010.

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What History Teaches About the Impact of Educational Research on Practice? A Review of the Literature

  1. 1. Educational Research & Practices 1What History Teaches About the Impact of Educational Research on Practice? A Review of the Literature Su-Tuan Lulee Prepared for Assignment 2 EDDE 802: Advanced Research in Education Professor: Terry Anderson Athabasca University February 26, 2010
  2. 2. Educational Research & Practices 2 What History Teaches About the Impact of Educational Research on Practice? A Review of the Literature The author, William J. Reese, a professor of educational policy and history at University ofWisconsin-Madison, used a historical research method to answer the question: How has the educationalresearch impacted on practice? He first examined the studies conducted by scholars in the first half of the20th century to gather insights into the emergence of a science of education and its effects on public schoolpractices then explored some of the important historical scholarship in recent decades. He concluded that ithas been and would continue to be a difficult task to find evidence for the direct impact that the educationalresearch has on practice. The article was clearly written and well-organized but can be improved in someareas to make the article more persuasive. Statement of the Problem The research question and hypothesis of this study were not explicitly stated however they can beidentified by reading between the lines. As the title suggested, the purpose of this applied research was tofind out what history teaches us about the impact of educational research on practice during the 20th century.The hypothesis of the author was that “the relationship between education-related research and changing andimproving school practice is ambiguous, difficult to pinpoint, perhaps nonexistent” (p. 1). In order to understand the impact of educational research on practice, one must first define the“impact”. What kind of impact was under discussion? What indicators could be used to prove thateducational research had an impact on the practice? For example, one might define “impact” in terms of“changes in curriculum, pedagogy, or assessment design”; another might define “impact” in terms of“changes in teacher belief”; and the other might define “impact” in terms of “applying relevant rules forimmediate use”. Montessori schools were everywhere in urban areas in many countries during the 60’s &70’s, was that a proof of “impact” from educational research? When I was a child, desks and chairs werelined in rows in the classrooms. Now the teachers arrange desks and chairs in circle or in other shapes intheir classrooms. Is that an “impact” from a particular educational research? An operational definition would
  3. 3. Educational Research & Practices 3make the “impact” observable and measurable (Mosenthal, 1985). “Impact” should not be measured simplyby asking teachers to answers questions like “How much do you know about xx research?” or “Have youever read the report of xx research?” The definition of the “impact” will influence the answer to the researchquestion. Since the author did not define this term clearly, the answer to the research question becamedebatable. Research Design and Methodology The research design of this study was very straightforward. The author first gathered previousstudies that have attempted at understanding educational research and its effects on practices. Then hecategorized and interpreted the findings of each study and wove them into his conclusions. The data andinformation from the collected materials seem to be authentic. However, there were three questionable points. Firstly, among the many sources of data that the author used, only few research reports (Caswell,1929; Clifford, 1973; Judd, 1938; Morrison, 1945) conducted in early days were primary sources. The otherdata presented in this article such as the written history (Cuban, 1993; Lagemann, 1998; Travers, 1983) andthe argumentations or the commentaries (Flexner, 1930; Good, 1939; Horn, 1989; Hughes, 1964; Johnson,1987; Ravitch, 1995; Tyack & Cuban, 1995) might all belong to the category of secondary source that areusually considered containing more errors because the information was passed on from one person to another(Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2007). We have good reasons to believe that there were many other sources ofdata existed in the technology-rich 20th century including archives of official minutes or records, files,official publications, films, and video recordings. What have these unpublished material said about theimpacts of educational research on the practices? The author could have selected more diverse sources ofdata. Secondly, while the 20th century is not so long ago, many educators, administrators, students, andparents who witnessed the education practices during the time under investigation are still alive. The authorcould have interviewed persons to trace past events rather than overly relied on the publications fromscholars to interpret what has happened. The third point is with regard to whether or not the source selection has presented the balance of thesources. According to Mosenthal (1985), there are two groups of educators: one group argued that there was
  4. 4. Educational Research & Practices 4little relation between progress of practice and educational research; the other group held the belief thateducational research has or has the potential for improving practice. The author did not state how he selectedthe literature for investigation. However, his choices seemed to favor the former group while keeping out ofthe latter. He referred to the works of Clifford, Judd and some other scholars who tended to hold a skepticalviewpoint on the impact of educational research to practice without presenting the works from the oppositegroup (Tuthill & Ashton, 1983; Shavelson, 1988) simultaneously. Findings and Discussion The major findings of this study included: 1. The trend of scientific method was a negative influence to the quality of educational research. Most of the educators and researchers over-simplified the method by adopting poorly designed questionnaires and surveys. Others were scared away by the complexity of the scientific methods because they found it difficult to mount with sufficient control over external influences on learning. 2. The low quality of the so-called “scientific” method has led to the perception that educational research did not contribute to practice and much research was useless (p. 3, 5, 9, & 13). Many of the studies were conducted by amateur and part-time researchers therefore “Education research was little more than the mere gathering of information” (p. 6). Moreover, many of the research projects were dedicated to solve problems that were replicable in the laboratory thus very limited in its influence (p. 6). 3. It’s nearly impossible to prove that the ties between research and practice were ones of cause and effect and it’s not proper to assume that education research influenced practice (p. 5 & pp. 12-17). While reading this article, readers would gain a mistaken impression that the author was describingan old story that was situated in the first half of the 20th century. It is true that for many years educationalresearch has taken a laboratory, experimental, and quantitative approach using mainly questionnaires andsurveys (Saba, 2000; Shulman, 1997). It might also be true that a large portion of the studies could barelycontribute to any optimal teaching practice. However, by the 1960s, educators started to question the impact
  5. 5. Educational Research & Practices 5of the so-called “scientific” research (Reese, 1999). Later in the 70’s, educators began to accept the conceptand method of quasi-experimental research (Saba, 2000; Smith & Heshusius, 1986); and in the 80’s,educators learned to transcend the debate of qualitative and quantitative methods (Salomon, 1991) andadopted the more practical mixed approach in inquiry. The strong influence of the so-called “scientific”method had weakened to the very least. Shavelson in his “The 1988 Presidential Address Contributions ofEducational Research to Policy and Practice” (1988) claimed that educational research has significantlycontributed in constructing, challenging, and changing how policymakers and practitioners think. Theresearch efforts of the later decades in the 20th century were not adequately explored in Reese’s article. In reporting research findings, since this article contained a large amount of materials, the authorcould have applied visualization skills, such as using tables, charts and figures to describe, compare, evaluate,and interpret the relationships between historical materials so that the readers would not get confused. Conclusions In the final section, the author implied that it is policy that has caused the improvement of educationand research had little effect on shaping policymaking (p. 13). I found this difficult to accept. Although theimpact of educational research might not be as strong or effective as it might be, many research projects haveshown their positive influences on practices. For example, many projects from Project Zero at HarvardGraduate School of Education such as Teaching for Understanding, Art People, and Assessing HistoricalUnderstanding have been working collaboratively with K-12 teachers and administrators to improve theeffectiveness and learner satisfaction. Their research results and experiences have impacted thousands ofstudents and teachers as well as the policymakers. However, it is acceptable to say that it is never easy to prove the direct causal impact that educationalresearch has on the practices because it is a complex question. Even so, it would increase the possibility ofgetting the answers if the definition of the “impacts” could be further specified. The main contribution of this article is that it retrieved a large amount of data from previoushistorical studies to help readers understand what educational theories and practices have done and how theyhave developed and evolved. Disregarding the defects in defining the problem and in the research methods,the author has expanded his argument with supportive evidences.
  6. 6. Educational Research & Practices 6 ReferencesCohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2007). Research Methods in Education (6th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.Mosenthal, P. B. (1985). Defining Progress in Educational Research. Educational Researcher, 14(9), 3- 9. doi:10.3102/0013189X014009003Reese, W. J. (1999). What History Teaches about the Impact of Educational Research on Practice. Review of Research in Education, 24, 1-19.Saba, F. (2000). Research in Distance Education: A Status Report. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 1(1).Shavelson, R. J. (1988). The 1988 Presidential Address Contributions of Educational Research to Policy and Practice: Constructing, Challenging, Changing Cognition. Educational Researcher, 17(7), 4- 11. doi:10.3102/0013189X017007004Shulman, L. S. (1997). Disciplines of Inquiry in Education: A New Overview. In R. M. Jaeger (Ed.) Complementary methods for research in education (pp. 3-30). Washington: American Educational Research Association.Smith, J. K., & Heshusius, L. (1986). Closing Down the Conversation: The End of the Quantitative- Qualitative Debate among Educational Inquirers. Educational Researcher, 15(1), 4-12. doi:10.3102/0013189X015001004Salomon, G. (1991). Transcending the Qualitative-Quantitative Debate: The Analytic and Systemic Approaches to Educational Research. Educational Researcher, 20(6), 10-18.Tuthill, D., & Ashton, P. (1983). Improving Educational Research Through the Development of Educational Paradigms. Educational Researcher, 12(6), 6-14. doi:10.3102/0013189X012010006Grade: 19/20 by Terry Anderson