Should you let educational researchers into your classroom, or is it a waste of your time?
This is Professor Boulton and he wants to come in to your class to interview your pupils for his research.” Well, that’s what the head said. I couldn’t help thinking that what the teacher actually heard was, “This is Professor Boulton who wants to come in to your class to make your life even more stressful.”
I think I know what they mean. People like me, and that includes a seemingly never-ending stream of dissertation students, breeze in, disrupt teachers’ routines, collect our precious data and breeze out again, mostly never to be seen again (at least until our next study). Sometimes we might offer a ‘research report’ that few teachers have the time or inclination to read.
I have tried to convince myself that doing research in schools is a case of mutual give and take, but have come to the inevitable conclusion that as things currently stand, teachers give and researchers take. You give your time and effort to rearrange your well-ordered class so that we can administer our questionnaires, conduct our interviews or do whatever else the study ‘requires’. We take the data and use it to write journal articles (that few, if any, teachers actually read) and progress in our careers. It is no coincidence that as teachers’ workloads have increased, more and more are saying no when asked to take part in educational research, and those that are ‘encouraged’ (or coerced) to do so are less than enthusiastic. If things don’t change, there is a realistic chance that educational research where it matters most – in the classroom – will become a thing of the past. This would be a disaster because it would cut off the supply of valuable evidence that feeds the evidence-based approach that is now so dominant in education. No bad thing, you might say, but I’m not so sure. While there is, to say the least, some dubious ‘evidence’ being peddled by those with something to sell, until someone comes up with anything better, good evidence remains our collective best hope of achieving truly effective teaching and learning in our modern world. So, in the hope of finding a method of building better research collaborations between teachers and researchers, I offer some practical ideas that might help us all benefit more from what currently is often seen by teachers as a waste of time.
Mike Boulton is professor of psychology at the University of Chester