School Research Engagement

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School research engagement involves schools engaging in research projects, as well as with research and evidence.

Participating in research projects can be a rich learning experience for leaders, teachers, students and families, providing the opportunity to reflect on and improve school programs and practices, and contribute to key issues in education.

Engaging with research findings is also important for schools to reflect on evidence of ‘what works’, in combination with their own experiences, to continually improve their approaches to learning and teaching and school improvement.

Melbourne Ƶ Catholic Schools (Ƶ) is committed to better understanding and promoting school research engagement by working with schools and the research community to strengthen how schools engage in, and with, research. A significant step towards this goal was the Understanding School Engagement in Research project, conducted by Catholic Education Melbourne in 2016.

Understanding School Engagement in Research (USER) project

Hundreds of academic research projects are conducted in schools each year, but little is known about the experiences of schools as participants and occasionally partners. Similarly, schools are encouraged to engage with research findings and be ‘evidence-informed’, but if and how this occurs is not well understood.

Catholic Education Melbourne conducted the USER project in 2016 to better understand these practices, that is: how schools engage in academic research projects; and how they engage with academic research evidence.

USER project findings

Invaluable feedback was provided by 67 Melbourne Catholic schools through a quantitative and qualitative online survey, focus groups and semi-structured interviews. Project highlights and learnings can be found in the USER Project Summary.

How do the USER project findings relate to other research on school research engagement?

There was such interest in the USER project findings from schools, other jurisdictions and universities, that Catholic Education Melbourne partnered with Associate Professor Mark Rickinson from Monash University to explore the international literature on school research engagement.

A literature review was conducted, and the USER project findings were re-analysed from the perspective of the wider literature. There was strong alignment between the USER findings and broader evidence on school research engagement, resulting in five clear themes:

  1. Schools are selective about their research involvement.
  2. Schools are discerning about what the research is on and how it is conducted.
  3. Schools access research in indirect and informal ways.
  4. Schools value research more than they use it.
  5. Schools need much more than access to research evidence.

These themes are expanded on in the research report, Understanding School Engagement in and with Research.

Strengthening research conducted in schools

We learned through the USER project that the best research projects are a win-win for both schools and researchers. However, despite well-intentioned researchers and school staff investing time, energy and resources, not all research projects are achieving best-case outcomes.

Catholic Education Melbourne brought school leaders and researchers together for a 'World Café' (i.e. workshop) to explore how schools can be actively and meaningfully engaged in academic research projects to maximise their value and impact.

Insights from schools and researchers have informed the development of a resource called The Insiders’ Guide: Helping researchers and schools get the most out of working together, which articulates how schools can be engaged throughout four phases of a research project: Design, Recruit, Conduct and Share.

The Insiders’ Guide is designed to support researchers with designing and conducting research in schools, and school staff with getting the most out of participating in academic research projects.

Continuing to support school research engagement

Ƶ continues work in this area by: keeping up to date with relevant research; sharing the findings with schools, other jurisdictions and universities; conducting school forums; and developing school resources.

Projects, information and resources focused on understanding and strengthening school research engagement will be shared on this page.

For information about research at Ƶ, please contact the Strategy Implementation team on 03 9267 0228 or research@macs.vic.edu.au.