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Blog post Part of series: BERA Conference 2023

Better together: Research-practice partnerships in education

Sarah McGeown, Senior Lecturer, Moray House School of Education and Sport at University of Edinburgh

Research-practice partnerships (RPPs) are collaborative research structures which seek to improve children and young people’s educational experiences and outcomes, by synthesising the cumulative knowledge, expertise and experience available from both research and practice (McGeown et al., 2023). RPPs draw on teachers’ professional, pedagogical and contextual knowledge and expertise, and researchers’ academic knowledge and methodological expertise. In recent years, there has been growing interest and use of research-practice partnerships in UK and international education research contexts (McGeown, 2023; Penuel & Hill, 2019; Sjölund et al., 2022), with funding calls and academic papers increasingly describing the need for closer connections between research and practice to increase the positive impact of university-led research on the lives and learning of children and young people.

Indeed, RPPs have been cited as one route to narrow the widely recognised gap between educational research and practice (Sjölund et al., 2022), as they focus not only on ‘research informing practice’ but also ‘practice informing research’, as the education community works collaboratively with researchers to help to shape the research agenda, ensuring it is informed by current priorities in educational practice.

Figure 1: A shift in methodological approach: moving from research informing practice to connecting research and practice (from McGeown, 2023).

‘Improving our understanding of the benefits and methodological considerations associated with RPPs is important to ensure these structures and relationships achieve their potential.’

 

However, despite the increasing popularity and use of RPPs in education, researchers and educators typically have very little experience of working in this way. Improving our understanding of the benefits and methodological considerations associated with RPPs is important to ensure these structures and relationships achieve their potential. Several of the key benefits and methodological considerations are highlighted in table 1.

Benefits

Methodological considerations

Research more likely to align with educational priorities

Considerable time required to nurture and sustain high-quality partnerships

Increases likelihood of research uptake in educational settings

Requires researchers and teachers to work in atypical ways

Improves teachers’ interest and attitudes to university-led research

Those in research and practice may have different priorities/views

Democratises research and ensures more inclusive decision-making

Research process/outcomes are harder to anticipate, challenging for funding, ethics, etc.

Supports researchers and teachers’ professional development

Potential for poor quality outcomes that satisfy neither those from research nor practice

Table 1: Benefits and methodological considerations. Adapted from McGeown (2023).

At the BERA conference in September 2023, I will discuss the benefits and methodological considerations associated with RPPs and reflect on the changes that need to occur for RPPs to become more easily embedded in our educational research practices. I will discuss the skills, dispositions and training required for researchers and others to work effectively in this way (Penuel & Hill, 2019; Skipper & Pepler, 2021) and consider how university structures and funding bodies need to adapt to better facilitate RPPs which allow researchers and educators to work more effectively, together, towards educational improvement.


References

McGeown, S. (2023). Research-practice partnerships in education: Why we need a methodological shift in how we do research. Psychology of Education Review (Open     Dialogue), 47(1), 6–14. [Opening article. Explore the entire collection here: https://explore.bps.org.uk/content/bpsper/47/1]

McGeown, S., Oxley, E., Love to Read Practice Partners, Ricketts, J., & Shapiro, L. (2023).  Working at the intersection of research and practice: The Love to Read project. International Journal of Educational Research, 117https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2022.102134

Penuel, W. R., & Hill, H. C. (2019). Building a knowledge base on research-practice partnerships: Introduction to the special topic collection. AERA Open. https://doi.org/10.1177/2332858419891950

Sjölund, S., Lindvall, J., Larsson, M., & Ryve, A. (2022). Using research to inform practice through research‐practice partnerships: A systematic literature review. Review of Education, 10(1). https://doi.org/10.1002/rev3.3337

Skipper, Y., & Pepler, D. J. (2021). Knowledge mobilization: Stepping into interdependent and relational space using co-creation. Action Research, 19(3), 588–605. https://doi.org/10.1177/1476750320960810

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