Ohen you hear the term “social media influencer,” education research is usually not the next thing that comes to mind. But, if you’re interested in the world of online education, you’ll recognize that just like there are YouTube influencers who have built huge followings by playing computer games or popping out of boxes, there is a niche of influence for teachers who can rack up retweets with a concise push from the latest academic paper on cognitive load theory, or the link between social background and key findings in Step 4.
The rise of the education research influencer has been recognized as one of the driving forces behind the recent push for research-informed practice in schools. However, there are implications here that are still largely unexplored.
What does the growing reach of the social media influencer mean for how teachers engage in educational research and try to put it into action in the classroom? Which types of research are most likely to be promoted and which are most likely to fail to gain traction?
It is one of the elements of the REMPLE (Research Mobilities in Primary Literacy Education) study, carried out by Sheffield Hallam University with a £376,000 grant from the Economic and Social Research Council, which aims to “ understand how evidence from literacy research moves to and between primary school teachers and what happens to it as it does”.
A range of factors seem to add to “a changing context for the research movement” in education, says former primary school teacher Cathy Burnett, now a professor of literacy and education at the Sheffield Institute of Education in the United States. university and principal researcher of the project. .
There is the “wide range of organizations that broker research”, including but not limited to universities, consultancies, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and subject associations for teachers . And there’s also what Burnett calls a “complex communication environment”: with social media, we see “people coming together and because of that certain kinds of ideas and certain kinds of research get attention.” .
What exactly defines someone as a social media influencer in the context of educational research? It’s “one of the things we want to find out,” Burnett says.
“The importance of social media isn’t just about high-level people gathering followers on Twitter; it’s also about teachers connecting with each other in informal communities,” she explains. “And that means research is moving between teachers from different schools in different organizations across the country and overseas – or has the potential to do so.
“There’s also the role of algorithms, which means teachers will encounter the kinds of things they’ve been looking for before.”
This is all a far cry from the traditional world of teachers learning research through CPD, observes Julia Gillen, professor of literacy studies at Lancaster University and another researcher involved in the project. “Now there is such a wide range of ways that teachers access research,” she says.
What the REMPLE study will explore
There are three parts to the study. The first involves researchers – who also include Gill Adams from Sheffield Hallam University and Terrie Lynn Thompson from the University of Stirling – talking to primary school teachers, asking them about their experiences with literacy research, how they achieve it and their views. above.
The second is to trace particular research items online, says Burnett.
“We’re going to take a few examples of literacy research and see what happened to them, reviewing them on social media sites, reviewing them on more conventional academic sites and seeing both how the research evolves, but also if there are changes in meaning as it moves,” she explains.
“As research appears on different sites, do the accents change? Do the nuances remain? Do the caveats that researchers always build into their methodologies remain or do they also disappear?”
The third part of the study will include “examining media discourses on primary literacy and finding out what’s there” in terms of keyword patterns, says Gillen. “If one imagines that media discourse could be, to some extent, a sort of proxy for public discourse, what are the issues that are important – for example, in daily newspaper discourse, what kind of influence are [these issues] have on the perception that teachers have of research? Are these the same things as in the policy documents, or are they different, and to what extent?
The study focuses on the particular area of primary teachers’ access to literacy research – but it taps into this broader transformation. Changes in the way teachers access educational research could bring benefits – for example, social media opening up a whole new world of research to all teachers, not just senior leaders who might be sent to take a course – as well as disadvantages.
More teaching and learning:
A recent EEF review of evidence on approaches to cognitive science in the classroom warned of the risk of emerging “deadly mutations”, where “a practice becomes disconnected from theory”. The review cited the example of dual coding – where theory holds that working memory has two distinct components and that visual aids could boost information retention, but where teachers reported concerns that research had “become misunderstood and reduced to ‘pretty icons’ and complex organizing graphics”, with “irrelevant illustrations” added to presentations that could be a distraction for students.
Arguably, the risk of such “deadly mutations” is increased by the freer, more informal – and perhaps at times ideologically partisan – dissemination of research through social media.
Social media “provides a great opportunity for teachers to share ideas, inform practice, and support professional communities beyond their immediate contexts,” says Tom Perry, assistant professor of educational studies at the University of Warwick and lead author of the EEF evidence review.
“However, the quality of educational research and commentary on it is highly variable. With limited training in time and research methods, and the tendency of researchers to overemphasize the strength and importance of their findings, social media research can be difficult for teachers to navigate.
Perry adds that while there is plenty of high-quality research on education, engaging in it is “unlikely to be beneficial without being part of high-quality, sustained professional development and learning”. because “even well-communicated research is often outdated—simplified, lost in translation, and fails to cross school subjects and contexts.”
There’s also the problem that educational research, and the way teachers share it on social media, can sometimes reflect the familiar partisan divide between “progressives” and “traditionalists.”
We’ve probably all been tempted to grab research that seems to offer strong evidence for our own beliefs and say, “Aha – that proves I’m right.” But academic research in any field rarely focuses on a single piece of research, experts say — rather it is a constant process of accumulating, or disproving, evidence over the years, through a large number of studies.
Transmitting research via social media could simplify, or oversimplify, this process – but we don’t know exactly how this plays out in the context of education.
The study led by Sheffield Hallam – who is looking for primary school teachers to join her – hopes to shed light on this and other questions. It aims to generate “materials, events and resources…that will support engagement with a wide variety of literacy research” for teachers, says Burnett.
In general, Perry thinks more research into how teachers engage in research is needed, especially as the evidence-based education revolution shows no signs of slowing down.
“It would be interesting to know more about what research is and is not visible, thinking both about the quality of research and its communication, and the role of underlying commercial and political interests” , he says of this somewhat meta proposition.
By what influences, conscious or unconscious, are influencers influenced? As social media changes the way we view educational research and opens up new opportunities, it may also be time to think more critically about what is happening here.