On September 8th 2016, Dr. Farley Ripple and I had the great fortune of attending the Digital Promise Summit to Expand Research Use in Education in Redwood City, California. We were thrilled to be invited to this event (not only because it was in Redwood City) but because it seemed like an excellent opportunity to learn about and share different perspectives and to get our center’s name out in this community.
Who is Digital Promise? Digital Promise is an “independent, bipartisan non-profit” organization which was authorized by Congress in 2008 as the National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies. President Barack Obama formally launched Digital Promise in September of 2011. Initial funders of Digital Promise included US Department of Education, Carnegie Corporation of NY, William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Since that time the organization has swiftly grown and gained additional funders.
The organization sees its mission as working at the intersection of education, research, and technology developers to improve learning opportunity. Their work is guided by four principles “Networks connect us with people and ideas,” “Stories inspire ideas and incent action,” “Research informs decision-making,” and “Engagement motivates learning for life” (Digital Promise website, 2016). The influence of these principles was definitely salient throughout the conference.
What was purpose of summit? The summit was guided by one essential question: “How can we work together to expand research use in the design, development, and improvement of education programs, products, and practices?” (Digital Promise website, 2016). We all know that evidence-based practice in education has been a focus for years now, but with the increasing diversity of K-12 classrooms, growth in the development of educational technology, and the new evidence provisions of ESSA, there is an urgency to expand current understandings of research use as well as the factors that facilitate or hinder it.
Overview of the summit: The day started with an introduction from the keynote speaker, Karen Cator, President & CEO of Digital Promise. She introduced the organization and a few of their sponsoring partners. She briefly presented their research map tool and some of its functionality, such as the new “chord view”. The research map is a tool they have created which is designed to help developers and educators to access existing research. A similar tool they have created, the Research@Work video series, also premiered at the Summit. The series features twelve quick, easy to follow videos which each feature a research topic that supports education practice. Personally, I loved the idea of the video series and was very excited to learn more about it. I think this approach, using brief but information-rich videos, could be a very effective way to make research accessible and useable for practitioners.
Next on the agenda was a panel titled Research Use in Education, which featured our own Dr. Liz Farley-Ripple as well as Dr. Shelley Goldman, professor and researcher at Stanford University, and Mr. Guadalupe Guerrero, Deputy Superintendent of Instruction, Innovation, and Social Justice for the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). Dr. Farley-Ripple started off the presentation by asking the question, what is research use? She made the point that we often talk about use as if it is obvious what that means. But what does use actually look like? She introduced the notion that research use can mean different things in different contexts and can serve several different purposes. The audience was intrigued by her introduction of the different purposes of research use: conceptual, instrumental, symbolic, and strategic/political. In addition to the conversation surrounding what it means to use research, there was also a conversation about what it means to do research.
Participants suggested the need for an expanded view of what constitutes doing research from beyond randomized control trials to more action research and design-based research. Processes like these were viewed as being more sensitive to the local context and more conducive to creating high quality research-practice partnerships.
The day continued with breakout sessions which provided an opportunity for educators, researchers, and technology developers to come together and discuss the research around four educational challenges: improving math learning, improving students’ reading skills, increasing student motivation, and supporting English Language learners. These breakout sessions were offered in the morning and again in the afternoon. The morning round of breakouts also included an interesting session on forming research-practice partnerships.
After lunch there was an afternoon panel on research use in educational technology which featured: Bart Epstein, founding CEO, Jefferson Education Accelerator; Kara Carpenter, Co-Founder of Teachley; Bror Saxberg, Chief Learning Officer, Kaplan, Inc.; and Benjamin York, Co-Founder & CEO, ParentPowered Technologies. The discussion focused on how educational technology developers can use research to inform their product design, alternative methods to collect data (such as short-cycle pilots instead of RCTs), and how they can engage users in the evaluation and improvement of their products.
For me personally one of the most exciting things about this summit was the interest and enthusiasm of the attendees. Everyone that I listened to or interacted with seemed to be genuinely excited to learn and eager to identify solutions.
After participating in the panel discussion, Dr. Farley-Ripple was approached for the rest of the day by people who were very eager to connect with her and our center. Repeatedly people introduced themselves and expressed interest in the work that we are doing. Many people admitted that they had never heard of R4S and wanted to learn more. It was a great opportunity for us to make our presence known in a diverse group of individuals with similar goals. Now the challenge remains, how to make our presence known (and utilized) by broader groups of people.