Research Collaborative: Where the Journey Goes from Here

By Eric Toshalis
February 17, 2017

In my previous post, I wrote about the Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative and its goal to break down silos so that educators, researchers, and policymakers can collaboratively examine, apply, and share knowledge about student-centered learning so that we can elevate learning outcomes, particularly for underserved students. Now, let’s talk about how we do this.

Our November launch meeting was attended by more than 125 stakeholders from every corner of the education world. The meeting confirmed the power of cross-sector collaboration to add nuance to our thinking and to enhance our accountability to one another—and to our most underserved students. Here are three key takeaways:

Equity must be integrated, highlighted, and prioritized at every opportunity

“Can equitable outcomes be facilitated through student-centered learning approaches?” was a concern we heard again and again. We need to act strategically to prevent reforms from reinforcing longstanding inequities. As an example, competency-based instruction and assessment can be powerful catalysts for identifying and meeting the needs of struggling youth. But if ill-conceived or poorly implemented, they reinforce tendencies to label, track, and segregate kids.

We have “baked in” our commitment to equity by requiring our research teams to investigate who is most benefiting from student-centered approaches and how those approaches are—or are not—leading to more equitable outcomes. We also heard numerous great ideas for how to better diversify our teams, the partners we consult, who we charge to do the research and translate it for various audiences, and who we spotlight when we share developments. Leaders from every sector agreed that the voices of all stakeholders—including students—must be integrated into our explorations and implementations to ensure that student-centered approaches yield equitable results.

So, what is the Research Collaborative doing about this? We’re developing initiatives to enhance marginalized voices in the student-centered learning field and creating ways to integrate youth perspectives into our work. As a first step, we’re drafting a model for identifying, recruiting, and supporting scholars of color who are committed to studying student-centered learning in diverse settings, and we’re working with a prominent youth organization to explore ways of integrating student perspectives. Stay tuned for announcements about these efforts and tell us what you think.

Show as much as tell

My middle school principal once said that there are two kinds of people: those who need to believe something to see it, and those who need to see something to believe it. I suspect many in education, including me, are in the latter group. We need evidence before considering a new approach. We at the Research Collaborative think these evidence-seeking behaviors are a good thing! Skepticism is understandable given the big promises of reforms like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. We get it that some parents are wary of student-centered learning and worry that it might disadvantage their children.

Our partners at the launch meeting told us that student-centered learning advocates need to confront these concerns head-on by showing—not just telling—how particular approaches yield specific academic and social outcomes. We must deliver research findings using approachable and compelling messaging (see number 3 below). And we need to demonstrate what student-centered learning looks like when it’s done well—in everyday learning environments in and outside of schools. We need to show how these successful models came about, what they accomplished, and how they’re sustained. Our communication vehicles can be site visits, video tours, case studies, webinars, podcasts, legislative summits, short- and long-form documentaries, public forums, reimagined “Back-to-School” nights, and parent-teacher conferences. We’ve already featured over 500 resources in numerous formats on the Hub, and more appear weekly. Meanwhile, our Distinguished Fellows and research teams are developing even more toolkits, infographics, blogs, and curricula. Connect with us to stay informed about forthcoming resources, and to report what you see and want to see in the learning environments in your region!

Empower translators

Compelling narratives require skilled storytellers. But translating and effectively communicating knowledge and nuance is a rare skill. As I explained in a previous blog post, we often work in silos, which frequently become echo chambers. We at the Research Collaborative have seen too many partnering opportunities squandered when jargon and acronyms eclipse inclusive, accessible, and effective modes of communication.

At our launch meeting, a powerful consensus emerged that we must help researchers become better translators, as opposed to training teachers or policymakers to be better consumers of research that was never written for them in the first place. To do this, researchers need help, practice, feedback, incentives, venues, and platforms (which is precisely what the Research Collaborative provides!). Universities and research institutions need to prioritize not just peer-reviewed publications, but also accessible translations to ensure that the knowledge generated has an impact on the real world.

We asked participants at our November launch meeting how they felt about our time together breaking down silos and fostering collaboration. Their answers included, “inspiring,” “energizing,” and “highly motivational.” We feel the same. These takeaways are the products of the insightful, challenging, and—above all—necessary conversations that were started last fall, and we’re excited to continue those conversations with you on the Hub and through the Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative’s hashtag, #SCLCollab.


Sign up for the Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative mailing list to be the first to know about new resources, funding opportunities, and the latest news from the Research Collaborative.

The Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative is a core project of the Students at the Center initiative at Jobs for the Future. The Research Collaborative is grateful for thought leadership and anchor funding from The Nellie Mae Education Foundation and additional support from Overdeck Family Foundation.

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