Engaging Research: Profession, Practice, Politics Postgraduate Research Conference University of Queensland, September 19, 2009 Jo-Anne Reid Faculty of Education CSU AARE Why does educational research matter? In what ways does the research we do matter to the field of education? Who reads it, whose thinking and practice is changed by it? How does it make a difference in the lives of teachers, children, parents and in the history of the nation? Engagement challenges for educational research the range of education professions that require the advocacy and evidence of our research to build and strengthen themselves as communities; the range of everyday teaching, leadership and academic practices that contribute to renewal and strengthening of education through research; and the range of political circumstances, constraints and possibilities that frame the work of educational researchers at the present time. Drawing on the evidence of six years’ reflection on the sorts of educational research Australian universities have nominated as the very best doctoral theses in the nation, I argue that educational researchers must continue to ask the difficult questions about our field and engage more fully with the challenge of ensuring that education research continues to matter. The Problem of ‘the Problem with Educational Research’ McWilliam & Lee (2006) suggest that the different positions on the problem with educational research, and hence on the solution to the problem, fail to engage in the question of education itself as a problem of the present. They argue that this problem is produced through twin fantasies about education: a redemptive fantasy about the possibility and the imperative for education to solve problems of social disadvantage; and a disciplinary fantasy that faculties of education can do this by themselves. Through an examination of the ‘de-sciencing’ of education in the past decade or so, and its recent ‘re-sciencing’, they conclude that, with all the problems that might be identified as pertaining to educational research and to Faculties of Education, the most significant might well be a failure of research imagination. Overcoming this problem demands engagement with provocative ideas coming from outside traditional educational expertise. McWilliam, E & Lee, A (2006) The Problem of ‘the Problem with Educational Research’, Australian Educational Researcher, Vol 33, No 2, pp 43-60 What needs to be studied? Wagner (1993) reminds researchers of the difference between what he calls ‘blank spots’ and ‘blind spots’ in our construction of knowledge. Blank spots are the bits of the picture that we think need to be ‘filled in’ by research. To fill in blank spots we do not need to change or question the existing picture at all. Research that fills in the ‘blank spots’ in our knowledge as teachers does not challenge existing constructions or values. Even when such research works right out at the edges of what is already ‘sketched in’ to our picture of high quality educational practice, it remains within the frame of the big picture it assumes to represent reality and truth. But when things in our professional practice are not ‘picture perfect’ within our frame; when some of our students are failing to learn in our classrooms; when our school is not achieving the same level of outcomes as others; when we feel we could do things better but don’t quite know what to do: we are seeing our blind spots…. Teaching becomes a strategy for using research to reduce ignorance, and research a strategy for preparing to teach. While this articulates research closely with teaching, it also suggests how complicated teaching really is. … Research itself is a form of learning – and research reporting a form of teaching (Wagner 1993:19, 21). In order to generate new knowledge about education and schooling, Wagner claims, “educational researchers must begin with ignorance, not truth” (1993:15). In this way, some of the ‘blind spots’ we have in our educational vision are more likely to appear, and demand our attention. Sometimes, indeed, we might be taken by surprise by having a look at somebody else’s picture of normality and truth. Wagner, J. (1993) Ignorance in Educational Research, or How could you Not know that? Educational Researcher, Vol. 22, No. 5, 15-23. 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A theatre of the observed: A study of adolescent meaning making An investigation into my career chapter: A dialogical autobiography Disciplining the principal Towards inclusive standards The emergence of a dominant discourse associated with school programs: A study of CLaSS Our schools and their war: Victoria’s Education Department and the Great War 1914-18 AARE Thesis Award nominations by topic – 2004-2009 Topic 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 Total Literacy/English/Reading 111111 1111111 1111111 1111 11 1111 30 Sociology of Ed 1111 111 1 11 1111 111 17 Psychology of Ed 1111 111 1 111 11 11 15 Higher Education 11 11111 11 11 11 1 14 School subjects 1111 1 11 11 1 Leadership 11111 1 11 1 1 10 Teachers & teaching 11 111 11 7 Indigenous education 1 111 11 6 11 1 5 1 3 1 3 ICT 1 History of Ed 1 Curriculum theory 11 Adult Education 1 1 1 10 1 2 International Ed 1 1 2 Inclusive/Special Ed 1 1 2 Philosophy and ethics Education Policy 1 1 1 2 1 1 Early Childhood Ed 1 Other (research/ Hungarians) 1 1 18 23 TOTAL 33 23 2 1 19 19 0 2 3 2004 2 3 2005 1 4 2006 5 10 Total 2 4 6 2 Examiners 8 10 3 Examiners 12 14 16 References McWilliam, E. & Lee, A (2006 forthcoming) The Problem of ‘The Problem with Educational Research”, Australian Educational Researcher. Wagner, J. 1993, ‘Ignorance in Educational Research, or How can you not know that?’, Educational Researcher,Vol. 22, No. 5, pp. 15-23. Yates, L. (2004) What Does Good Education Research Look Like? Berkshire, Open University Press.