New Media Communications Forums for Improving Education Research and Practice (Pea)

*Roy Pea., “New Media Communications Forums for Improving Education research and Practice,” In E. Condliff Lagemann and L.S. Shulman ( Eds.) Issues In Education Research.

Pea discusses how “emerging interactive forms of publication” could positively impact the current ways “education research is conceived, conducted, authored, and critically responded to by its audiences.”  Creating “new media forums” could:

  • Improve the understanding and practice of education, particularly in conjunction with design experiments in education settings, in which innovative practices are designed, implemented, assessed, and continuously adapted in dynamic partnership between social scientists and educators.
  • Help to bridge the jargon gap between researchers and practitioners, linking them in a unified knowledge network (via practices including primary audio-video data of educational artifacts in published works)
  • Advance a much-needed integration of the perspectives of education researchers, practitioners, and other education stakeholders in research inquiries

Pea lists a few general commonalities concerning the production, publication, and consumption of scholarly research in education today:

  1. Published in linear print media and little use is made of more dynamic media such as animations, videos, or sound in communicating the processes and results of research
  2. The time lag between the write-up of education research results and journal publication is lengthy, often a year or more.
  3. Educators, the front-line agents for educational change, rarely read education research articles.
  4. Few educational practitioners produce reflective documents, in any media, about their teaching experiences that could help shape education research topics and strategies for improved learning.

Pea makes a case for why the education research field in particular must strive to take advantage of these new forms of collaboration/communication: “The normative goals of education–what a society seeks to achieve through its activities–essentially involves renewal. In this sense, education is at once conservative–looking to the past and learning from it–and “subversive” and futuristic, second-guessing the needs of the possible worlds ahead and readying learners to adapt to them creatively and successfully over a lifetime of major changes in society, culture, and environment. Education research has the dual purpose of improving our understanding of the functioning of different levels of activity in education systems (such as conceptual change in physics for learners in a specific instructional environment or teacher development in the context of a reform-oriented school) and guiding improvements in practices (for example, in learning environment design or in administrative supports that facilitate effective reforms). Research in education thus has special properties as a field of inquiry and reporting; it is a fundamentally different kind of enterprise from research in physics or molecular biology.”

“Putting new curricula into daily practice is a hard task, and many curriculum researchers and reformers have seen the hoped-for reforms targeted by their innovations become “lethal mutations” when inappropriately interpreted in the classroom. Educators, in turn, have been frustrated with whole-cloth admonitions to transform their daily teaching practices with the latest research innovations. Although design experiments offer a promising approach to resolving these difficulties, their crucial feature–the collaborative engagement of researchers and educators in finding a common ground for advancing best educational practices around a reform agenda and set of reform strategies–presupposes an intimacy of communicative exchange that has escaped realization in the large.

All curricula, and in particular new reform curricula, undergo significant adaptation during implementation in the classroom (Berman and McLaughlin, 1978). Curricula do not serve simply as scripts for transforming practice. Educators continue the design process for curricula in how they tailor learning activities, goals, and affiliated assessments in order to meet local circumstances. Such tailoring is challenging.

In addition, teachers work in a system, so that the tailoring process, although mainly centered in the classroom, is not limited to teachers using the curricula but expands to other members of the school community, including teacher colleagues, administrators, parents, and students. Curricular implementation thus offers up occasions, if the right kinds of support are provided, for educators to reflect on practice, consider new ideas, construct new understandings about practice, and reconstruct practice (Cohen and Ball, 1990).

The implications of this line of argument are significant for reflecting on design requirements for new communication forums for education research and practice. Educators and others involved in the enterprise could be better supported in the activities of tailoring new curricula to local contexts. Opportunities for this, and for sharing the successes and failures in the processes involved, should be explicitly built into new communication forums for education in the decade ahead. Media-rich annotations of curricula and other resources by education stakeholders, particularly teachers, could advance a form of “living curriculum,” in which one’s own experiences, and the plans and learnings of others, are shared and adapted within a broad-based, knowledge-building community. As yet we know little about how to do this.” [**UPDATE?]

“This minimalist role of new media in the conceptualization of education research could change quickly if the gateways of communication from teachers in classrooms to the traditionally university-based education research community were opened up. As educators have begun to explore the internetworked world of information from their classrooms, the flow of learning could move from the classroom to the researcher, reversing the more traditional one-way transmission flow from theory and research into practice (Suppes, 1978).”

For this to occur, the following pre-conditions must be met: 1) Broad-scale networking of classrooms, so that teachers have regular access to the Internet, preferably from home and school; 2) Existence of virtual “social places”–electronic hallways and other “places” in which discourse about practices among teachers (and perhaps for a research-interested community) could be conducted and well supported with communications tools, shared work spaces, and other resources; 3) Existence of simple-to-use tools for educators to author “cases” and publish them on the Internet. “Cases, commonly employed in other fields such as business, law, and medicine, could provide a new kind of communication vehicle for teachers to share their experiences with colleagues and learn from one another through cumulative, reflective discourse about them.”

“Key research issues in using cases for supporting teachers’ learning are how to select cases, how to identify which aspects of cases are crucial to facilitate learning, and what indexes will enable teachers to find the best cases for meeting the demands of a new problem they are facing. A common case architecture (Kolodner, 1993) is useful in this regard:

  • The problem or situation the case is about
  • The alternative means for addressing the issues in the problem or situation
  • The results from carrying out the means used for addressing the issue
  • An explanation for why the outcome occurred, whether expected or not (lessons learned)

Then, as Kolodner and others (1997) state, “While solving a problem or reasoning, a reasoner navigates to appropriate cases in the case library by using its indexed links. A case, told as a story about what happened in some situation, may suggest a way to solve a new problem, an issue that needs to be addressed, or a problem that might be expected to arise if some type of solution is put in place.”


Pea also discusses the potential as well as challenges that digital media/technology poses for the practice of academic publishing.

“Among the IMMJ capabilities that [Mitchell] Nathan and others (1994) consider to be important for communicating education research are the depiction of dynamic and interactive instructional materials and how they are used in instructional settings as well as concrete examples of how their use is received by learners. Summing up these properties, they argue that IMMJ articles can lead to more accurate mental models of instructional interventions among readers of these documents, provide valuable instantiations of abstract technical language used by education researchers (because actual classroom practices are depicted), and support more inclusive communication of research results to diverse audiences, including teachers, parents, school administrators, and community members.”

Important limitations of IMMJ articles (Nathan and others, 1994):

  • Selective nature of videorecording in classrooms, which, although also present in other data collection activities, has the added burden of the video medium. Unlike textual descriptions, even when edited, such video data tend to convey a strong sense for the viewer of direct experience with the primary phenomena that are documented.
  • Integrity of video data that are being reported, where the concern is time sequence or time compression alterations distorting “the way it was.”
  • Ethical dilemma posed when the visual identity, even without the name or location, of the participants in the research is revealed. Although this may not be problematic when the demonstrated effects of research interventions are profoundly beneficial, it could be damaging for the individuals involved when poor teaching practices or learners’ faulty patterns of reasoning (important in the text-based educational research literature) are exposed….Only “very brief images that capture the global nature of the classroom intervention are generally safe to show because they do not center on any one person, do not reveal any particular behaviors that can be considered negatively, and still provide the reader of an IMMJ with a good feel for the execution of an instructional intervention” (p. 271). They recommend that individual teacher or student video depictions not be used until standards are agreed on for ensuring anonymity of video-based data.

“…The field of education research has the distinctive problem of needing to relate much more intimately to the phenomena of study–the participants in teaching and learning. Teachers, educational leaders, educational policymakers, and even parents are not only prospective audiences for education research but potential contributors to it. Education studies for a century have sought to illuminate and improve the scientific understanding of education, learning, and teaching. These other education stakeholders have a special insight into the day-to-day sites in which the theoretical knowledge and findings of educational inquiry could be applied; they also have the potential ability to tap new problems and solutions for long-standing concerns that should be shared with the education research community.”

“As many authors have indicated, there are novel features of electronic publishing that provide a significant value added to the linear print medium–for example:

  • Rapid access to disciplinary preprints
  • Capacity to publish vast amounts of materials quickly and cheaply
  • Searchability
  • Hyperlinking to other papers and databases (primarily) and, in principle but rarely in practice, diverse dynamic media (such as animated graphics, video, audio, and interactive programs or simulations)
  • Annotation capabilities so that readers may communicate with authors and one another
  • Notification services, so that interested readers can be automatically notified by e-mail, discussion lists, or newsgroups when articles appear on-line in which they might have an interest


Some more recent projects that relate to this issue (all connected to Simon Buckingham Shum):

Cohere— visual tool to create, connect and share Ideas.

Compendium is about sharing ideas, creating artifacts, making things together, and breaking down the boundaries between dialogue, artifact, knowledge, and data.

SocialLearn— a project initiated by The Open University to combine the best of the values and approaches found in the new social web technologies with those of higher education. This will create new modes of recognised and supported learning experiences for a wide clientele.

e-Dance project— brings together an interdisciplinary team combining research aspects of choreography, next generation of videoconferencing and human–computer interaction analysis incorporating hypermedia and nonlinear annotations for recording and documentation.


Interesting ideas/experiments mentioned in the article:

Harnad’s scholarly skywriting-new communication method made possible via numerous electronic networks such as Bitnet and Internet that link academic and research institutions globally. They not only make it possible to send electronic mail from individual to individual almost instantaneously, but they allow individuals to send multiple email to GROUPS of individuals reciprocally, anywhere from a few collaborating colleagues, to all the experts in a given subspecialty, to an entire discipline — all just as quickly as individual email, but with the emergent benefits of the interactive feedback.

Theodore Nelson’s “transclusion”–“reuse with original context available, through embedded shared instancing.”

Scholarly Societies Project of the University of Waterloo — analyzes the history of scholarly publication; had documented societies devoted to the study of aspects of education, ranging from subject matter teaching, as in physics, mathematics, and foreign languages, to the different levels of education, to curriculum and technology.

University of Wisconsin-Madison’s MERIT (Media, Education Resources, and Information Technology) Library maintains an annotated list of current education journals (K-12 education and teacher ed).

Journal of Interactive Media in Education (JIME)-the first electronic journal in education experimenting with issues of interactive media within its publications, for it fully integrates JIME articles with a structured (frame-based) Web discussion space to foster new models of scholarly practice.

Ricki Goldman’s Learning Constellations/WebConstellations.

TAPPED IN integrates the best of current Internet communications tools, such as e-mail, listservs, Web pages, and newsgroups, into a Web-based graphical, multiuser virtual environment that simulates and extends face-to-face, real-time collaborative learning and mentoring situations.


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