ResearchED: What I think now

The conference has prompted me to think some new stuff and think some stuff again:researchED

  1. Random Control Trials are possibly part of the rich blend of instruments we can use in education reseach.  There are dilemmas about when it is appropriate to use them, for example establishing the impact of two different science schemes is one thing, but the concept of using a trial where one group get something that probably will make an improvement and one don’t is troubling.  Because it effectively says that it’s ok to penalise one group of kids for the greater good of “proving” it works.
  2. John Tomsett’s concept of “educated instincts” is valid and means that if on the balance of probablities an intervention is likely to have an impact, then there would have to be a compelling business case to justify the perpetration of an RCT upon the children.
  3. Stephen Lockyer has a very valid point that the provenance of research matters and that consumers of research need the critical disposition to be able to interrogate it.
  4. There needs to be a compelling case for an RCT delivering more valid data than comparison of against past performance and known trends about children’s progress.
  5. The act of researching must be valued in itself. The output is one thing, but the impact on practice of taking on the disposition of a researcher has a significant impact on its own, because of the rigour it imposes on the partcipants.
  6. No-one has yet discussed the right to withdraw.  Is it morally and ethically acceptable to subject a child to a controlled trial if they do not wish to partake and how will schools manage the logistics of that?
  7. Frank Furedi has a point: that the rights and wrongs of RCT are negligible in the grand tapestry of teaching and learning, when we know that if we have better teachers, loving their subjects, you get better outcomes.  He also made an interesting point that RCT are about interventions, which suggests we subscribe to the deficit model of kids who come to school to be fixed.  He also made the point that aligned with Ben Goldacre’s point on the need for a mix of Qualitative and Quantitative methods.

I’ve had a great day.

Thanks Tom.

6 thoughts on “ResearchED: What I think now

  1. I have followed the day as much as possible with a tinge of envy as I was unable to attend as we are developing an ethos of teacher research at our school.
    I am glad that you have raised two key issues for me. Firstly, the thorny issue of RCTs which to the subjective and outside observer may well appear to be vital but to a parent of a child in it could be frightening. As a Head I would also anticipate concerns from Governors about legal action from parents in later years. These are not reasons not to undertake them but reasons for further discussion (and why a day like today was so important.)
    My other issue is the right to withdraw which you mention. I remember discussions on Twitter about a parents’ lack of right to withdraw their child from the Key Stage One Phonics screening check or end of Key Stage assessment tests and had considered that this may occur with in class research.
    Again, I don’t necessarily have the answer but it is good to see the issues being discussed.

    • RCTs are not vital, even to the ‘subjective observer’. They are just one of the more straightforward research methods to understand. Their ‘common sense’ relationship with validity and reliability make them very seductive for ‘proving what works’, but I am concerned that this straightforwardness can lead to a sidestepping of properly considering methodological issues for many people, particularly the less experienced in research (of which I would include myself despite the fact 1/3 of my job for 2 years has been research). This is not necessarily the case, they are a rigorous method with a well established case for validity… but so are very many other more interpretive methods.

      If teachers are going to engage with research that is potentially hugely powerful, but not if they sidestep a consideration of methodology which I do think is a danger. Just because there is a straightforward argument for RCTs that speaks to our natural inclination to value that which can easily be quantified and measured that does not mean they are the ‘gold standard’ of research methods.

      • Reading your reply has prompted the thought that my concern actually sits more around the methodology of our research rather than ensuring that we have RCTs in place. I do need to blog about the impact of our research which started last year on learning environments – it has had a clear impact on the way that we approach managed change as a whole school team. However, we did not map out the methodology clearly enough before we started and this is something we are addressing in our next piece of work.
        This comes back to Pete’s point number 5 – The act of researching must be valued in itself – a very timely reminder and one which will change our practice this year.

  2. Pingback: #rED2013 First thoughts | Teaching Science

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