I’ve been spending some time reflecting on journal clubs and their use in schools recently. I’ve been fortunate enough to speak at events about journal clubs in education for a while now, and whilst I’ve tweaked my presentation a few times and always use a new paper for discussion, it’s still pretty much the same thing and I think it’s been good for me to go through this process of reflection so that it doesn’t become something I churn out for the sake of it.
This Easter I’m lucky enough to be going to Toronto for rEDOnt. Whist I’ve presented at events for other organisations, the majority of my presentations have been for researchED and as this is how I started out doing it it’s quite nice to have been able to develop and explore the promotion of journal clubs with them. There is always a treasure trove of speakers at researchED events – all giving their time for free – and it always seems like they’ve got a PhD and books and a gajillion followers on Twitter and they talk about hardcore research and RCTs they’ve done and theories of how research should be applied in schools. I experience quite a bit of imposter syndrome, doubting the legitimacy of my presenting at these events (although I’ve seen ‘names’ doing the same thing a few times so don’t feel too bad) but it’s important I remember the number of new people who come and tell me about their clubs. There are journal clubs across the UK, in Sweden, the US, Canada all because of me and if I allow myself to be honest, that feels pretty awesome.
People talk about research projects they’ve been involved in or opportunities for schools to take part. There is a wealth of stuff going on and I love it. I think it’s increasingly important that people come away from researchED, or other events, with something practical they can do in school or with colleagues and even better if that is something that doesn’t need huge amounts of planning or money and can be done by any group. After a few researchED conferences, and when I’d taken part in (and tried to take part in) some research projects within school I found that for us particularly as a small school it was difficult to take part. Our cohort was too small or didn’t fit trial recruitment criteria. In the one RCT we were part of our pupils found it hard to access the pre- and post-test materials so we ended up as an additional case-study. I’m sure there will be things we can take part in more successfully but I’m aware that we won’t be the only school in this position and for those who come to researchED and want to take back and share something solid that can get their schools engaging with research I truly believe journal clubs are the way they can do it.
There is understandably a significant focus at conferences on how research can be applied in the classroom and how to measure impact on pupil outcomes, or how policy makers at different levels can make research-informed decisions, and I think this risks narrowing the research we look at in schools. I think it also risks an over-reliance on research summaries and meta analyses which whilst they definitely have their place and I’m not saying we need to stop this, it’s healthy for teachers and leaders to be critical of the research they’re presented with and face their biases. Teachers also need to be aware that a lot of research isn’t ready for use in the classroom and I think it’s just as important that this is looked at too.
Implementation science and knowledge translation expert, Melanie Barwick, put my thoughts into a more concrete form recently in a blog post about ‘Why Knowledge Translation and Implementation Science are not Synonymous‘, particularly when she said ‘Not all evidence shared for building awareness or informing is ready for application, but this does not make it less beneficial to the knowledge user’. It’s just as important that teachers become aware of ideas, different perspectives or potential developments in research as it is they find out about something new to try. Journal clubs are a space for teachers at any level to read and discuss research with colleagues without the expectation that they put any of it into practice. It’s great if it means coming across something new to try and explore it further, but it should be equally valid to have an awareness of the research that’s out there and be critical of it and make links and connections and prompt reflection on practice.
It’s amazing to be part of the charge of schools becoming more research savvy and the increasing awareness of the big ideas in education, and despite my occasional doubts over whether I belong, I want to be there to give people something to take back and share something concrete and doable in the hope that it prompts a wider discussion and participation.
I really hope those coming to rEDOnt find something in journal clubs that they feel they can do, starting clubs and starting a conversation. I’ll bring the biscuits 😉