School & District Management

AERA: Could ‘Speed Dating’ Inspire Researcher-Teacher Studies?

By Sarah D. Sparks — April 14, 2012 2 min read
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Vancouver, B.C.

The American Educational Research Association’s annual conference opened here with a call from Linda T. Smith, the dean of Maori and Pacific development at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, for researchers to work more closely with the communities they study, particularly indigenous students.

“It’s not enough to know” how a school or community can improve, Smith said, echoing the theme of the conference, “if you just annoy everybody.”

Researchers often conduct their studies without taking into account the deeper needs of the community or they present their findings in a “here’s what you’re doing wrong” approach that can turn off the same people who would need to implement the recommendations, she said.

“If you just annoy everybody, you can know everything and no one in the community will want your opinion. ... Just knowing does not lead to dramatic changes in school and community.”

Doris Alvarez, the director of the Educator Network at the University of California San Diego, has a novel answer to the call for closer teacher-researcher partnerships: Speed dating.

Since 2010, the network has brought more than 150 district and charter teachers and principals together with researchers from UC-San Diego’s Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center in meetings modeled on dating meet-ups, in which each teacher spends a few minutes talking with each scientist in rotation. A charter school principal might discuss the daily school implications of Mary Helen Immordino-Yang’s research on social learning, or a middle school math teacher might learn the uses of different feedback cycles based on UC-San Diego researcher Hal Pashler’s spacing effect studies.

Even brief chats spark new insights and ongoing discussions for both scientists and teachers, Alvarez said. She noted that university-level educators often connect with their peers in cognitive and brain science, so “it’s very unusual to hook up an elementary teacher with a scientist.”

The group also has an advisory panel of educators who meet with researchers monthly and a social networking site for more than 150 educators and researchers to discuss new findings. “What we’ve found out is there’s a lot out there but educators don’t hear about it,” Alvarez said. Through the meet-ups and social networking, teachers learn how scientists think and in return can give them a better grounding of the classroom implications of their findings. “You get educators with lots of experience who can talk about what’s important,” she said.

The network has developed a protocol to start teacher-researcher discussions, and is expanding its network to schools in Colorado this year.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.