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On Research

Part of my professional obligation as a teacher is to keep up-to-date on what the current research says is ‘best practice’, that is, what are the most efficient and effective ways to instruct, assess, and maintain classroom culture as backed up by field experience and studies. Part of the final field placement work that we do in our degree program is something called a ‘Professional Inquiry Project’, where we are encouraged to develop this particular skill by investigating a question of interest.

This can be very very hard. And not just because you happen to be an overachiever and choose a topic/question that ends up being enough material for a decent sized textbook (that would be me). It’s hard because of how unfriendly the academic community is towards non-initiates.

Studies and notes will only be considered academically valid if they adhere to the basic scientific method laboratory style conditions where the results can be replicated, or if they have such immediate and obvious changes in a larger population pool that the benefits need no explanation. This means that in order to work on questions requiring research, you have to look for journals. And most journals will make you pay through the nose for the mere privilege of looking at their material.

The only reason I have access to half the articles I do is that I happen to have an active library account due to being a student at my university (until December, at least – YAY graduation!). I’ve looked up several journals that I routinely read because of their interesting content, and the price just blows me away.

It’s not like any other magazine, where simply picking up a copy for 5 or 10 dollars will net you a slew of interesting articles. Out of each issue, I’ll probably find two, maybe three (and those are on a lucky day/week/month). In order to actual see the full benefits of reading these things, you need several different journals.

What normal – AKA not permanently ensconced in a university-based, research-focused environment – person can actually afford this? Certainly as teachers we spend enough time and money on required PD conferences, sub plans and paying for said subs, etc., that paying for subscriptions to a variety of (still excellent) journals is prohibitively expensive.

Now, I may be being slightly unfair to the academic community. I understand that the people who contribute to these publications expend enourmous time and effort in order to see those typed results appear. On the other hand, I would like to see that knowledge spread out over a wider pool of the population, not just those who are employed or studying at a university. I suspect based on conversations I’ve had with many friends and colleagues that this could be turned into a discussion about the slightly out-of-touch feeling typically associated with a closed academic community, like one at a university, without much resistance.

I don’t mean to say that universities and academics are bad or mean or ungrateful things. They do a lot of great work, and what research I can access cost-effectively is great for my job. However, I do wish that the community as a whole would open up in terms of price and availability so that some more of our world could benefit from these sorts of things. I think that’s only best practice.

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