Where's the R&D in Education?

Two comments on my last post about the New-School ads talked about R&D in education.

If schools had the R&D and PR departments that private industry has – and were equally responsive to “customers” – education might be as cutting edge as your doctored ads suggest! By diane

This has had me thinking the past couple of days on where does R&D come from. I believe the answer comes from us. The collective knowledge that is the edublogosphere and other networks such as Twitter, Ning. In my position anyway I feel it is key to have R&D time. I experiment with new tools, VoiceThread being one that turned into some pretty cool projects. I’ve experimented with different wikis and have used them with teachers as well. I am the R&D for my school (well one of many anyway). Schools have always relied upon teachers themselves to take risks, try new things, and experiment. With recent pressure on teachers to cover more curriculum, prepare students for tests, etc, We’ve seen a decline in the risk taking teachers do. To the point where I think we have stifled creativity in education. At the beginning of the year my Superintendent actually hands out a little piece of paper that says “I Blew It!” it can be used for anything that a teacher might try that doesn’t work. Why is it we feel we have to give teachers permission to take a risk and potentially fail?

I believe it is up to us in the educational technology arena to continue to find time to do R&D in education and how these new digital tools change our learning landscapes. At this point most of us end up doing that R&D on our time. But what if we could get schools to buy into the idea that we are the R&D department. What if we had 20% time like Google employees?

A great read about the power of 20% is the story of Google Reader. Google has taken R&D and embedded it as part of their practice for employees. What if we educational technology people had 20% of our time to research and develop tools, concepts, lessons. What if 20% of our time was set aside to help to get to know these new tools, to mash them up, remix them, bounce ideas off of each other, and see where it leads. 20% of 180 days is 36 days. Of course that 20% probably wouldn’t come in day long chunks, but if you had the equivalent of 36 days throughout the year to research, develop, think, reflect, and implement new tools would we not speed up the pace of change? Of course we would have to be allowed to fail from time to time. Not all projects become the next Google Reader. Many may never make it into the classroom, but in the process we continue to learn, think, and rethink how these tools can affect learning.

I would love if every teacher got 20% R&D time. But what if we started with technology and libraries and showed the power of embedded R&D. From there could we not make great strides in implementing technology in schools?

[tags]Google 20%[/tags]

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17 Comments

  1. Jeff,

    I’m one of the R&D people in my district, also. The problem is that there is no follow through on the “discoveries” that I – and some of my colleagues – have found.

    Due to many constraints, including budget and filtering concerns, a lot of our “brilliant ideas” never see the light of day in classroom practice.

    A creative teacher can find interesting ways to embed and enrich, though!

    diane

  2. I believe in this strongly and have been setting aside R&D dollars. We have used it to experiment with web cams this year and are purchasing a couple of the OLPC type computers to test the feasibility of integrating them with instruction. I am also part of a group that is setting aside 1 Friday per month to get together at a coffee shop and talk about emerging technologies and how they can impact our schools. Time and money show what is important, and in Ed -Tech staying ahead of things is just that.

  3. While I agree that it would be nice if schools had dedicated R&D programs and PR departments, it would also be nice if every classroom could provide students with pencils and paper– my point being that there is no shortage of creative thinking in education, but there is a tremendous shortage in basic funding. I personally believe in a strategy that is something akin to guerilla tactics. I recently read a very interesting article about a school that set up video conferencing workstations using barebones Pentium III computers– extraneous software was removed and only the essential video chat software was used. The result was effective. Both the R&D and the PR elements of this project were tackled by students and teachers. IT departments, faculty, administration, and students need to be creative and dynamic. Every classroom is a potential laboratory for researching and developing new tech solutions if teachers are educated and motivated to incorporate technologies into the classroom. Necessity remains the mother of invention– it is unfortunate when ideas developed by intensive R&D efforts are not incorporated into the classroom, however it is sometimes most effective to work with specific teachers to smoothly integrate these developments into a curriculum. Sometimes you’ve got to give an idea a running start. The modern standardized classroom is a warzone with very little breathing room; this means that all new ideas, technology based or otherwise need to be incorporated on the fly and complementary to existing lesson plans. In order for technology to be revolutionary, it must be evolutionary! Good tech always has a responsibility to be mostly transparent and never in the way. If it is done right, it should be accepted for its value and then virtually taken for granted. At least, thats my take.

  4. Jeff,
    I’m embarassed that I had to figure out that R&D was research and development (and I thought education had its acronyms!).

    20% makes me feel justified in advocating for 90 minute CHUNKS of planning or collaborating time for primary teachers. Even if not daily, it’s know the time is there and planning can be planned for.

    I tend to get lost in the “R” and am developing more tools toward “D”. :)

  5. What struck me most about your post was the fact that our teachers are taking fewer and fewer risks in their classrooms when it comes to trying new instructional ideas. I personally believe NCLB has stifled a great deal of creativity because our teachers are so focused on the outcome of the test rather than the journey to acquire the knowledge.

    As a former high school French teacher, I was all about taking risks and yes, I fell on my face far too many times to count, but it was so helpful for me to learn what practices engaged my students the most and had the greatest impact on their learning.

    The same can certainly be said for making time to explore technologies.

  6. Jeff, thanks for the stimulus this post afforded me. I posted my comment “Do teachers need to innovate? Or is innovation a 21st Century skill we must teach in school?” on my blog: innovation3.blogspot.com.

  7. Jeff – I agree, we need R+D time as teachers! I just have to get this idea past my Principal :+)
    I find myself analyzing things often and wanting to do some research on the gut feelings I have. Gut feelings are good as an indication but to have sway in matters you need to come up with the hard data. Especially if you are leading a curriculum area or your school!
    I’m currently doing a survey with my students and parents on blogging. If your interested have a look at http://www.lietze.edublogs.org in about a weeks time. The survey is an attempt to look deeper into a gut feeling. It is shallow however because of time constraints.

  8. I think that many schools have just assumed that that R&D component is inherent in the job that we do as the Ed Tech specialists anyway.

    If we take our job seriously, then we are twittering and Ninging and collaborating with like (and better) minds. We are testing out new tools and we are working out ways to best use them to help kids learn better.

    The problem, as your post says, is that we just don’t have enough time to do this. Honestly, I wonder if schools don’t care about assigning the “Google time” because what they get out of us is “good enough”.

    Sure it could be done better, but under their budget constraints and their understanding (or lack thereof) of what is needed in the 21st century, it simply isn’t justified – even though it should be.

    In the end I have to R&D on my own time. Becaues it’s as important as you say and I want to do my job well (like you and so many others). What’s the price? At this stage, kids not getting the best product possible (though a better one than without anything) and sleep. And perhaps a final price…home time suffers too…and that’s the one that hurts most.

    Great post, Jeff.

  9. Early on in my current MA course, we had to write a critical evaluation of a paper by Prof Hargreaves which contrasted the R&D practices of medicine and education. I wish I could provide a reference, but, while I find many citations of the paper, I don’t find the paper itself online.

    Anyhow, for what it’s worth, this was my initial reaction to the paper (before I even knew what I was supposed to do with it.

  10. Not sure if anecdotal responses based on feedback /communication is enough to encompass the idea of R & D. This seems like an oversimplification of research design and application of educational theory. I could see it as part of the process but not the whole thing.

  11. Agreed, it can’t be the oly thing – and it isn’t very formal – but it is better than not experimenting and trying. Hopefully once educational institutions see that they can learn things from informal R&D they will be more apt to invest time and money in formal R&D.

  12. Education has a rich history of “Action Research” link to en.wikipedia.org to which I think you are alluding to when you say R and D.

    see Amazon

  13. I am quite familiar with action resarch (used it for my dissertation) If R&D is “creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge, including knowledge of man, culture and society, and the use of this stock of knowledge to devise new applications”… R&D investment generally reflects a government’s or organization’s willingness to forego current operations or profit to improve future performance or returns, and its abilities to conduct research and development.

    link to en.wikipedia.org

    Then yes it is a form of Action Research that I feel also qualifes for R&D

    If the goal in education is to help our students learn (better) and money we are spending isn’t going towards that goal (education’s profit)- how does that not qualify as R&D? Especially if you are using it to gather information to see if a resource might be able to help increase learning in the future?

    Maybe I just don’t understand what you are qualifying as R&D…but I am interested in learning.

  14. I don’t know why we don’t have this yet – this is a necessary thing. Teachers are feeling overwhelmed with differentiating, supporting individualized education plans, and transforming instruction to 21st century goals. We need the time to change our instruction to engaged students. Completely agree.

  15. Hello Hank,

    I was pointing out that the process already exists within the framework of educational research design (action research is one example). Unfortunately, I don’t know your background well enough to predict what you know. One of the things that I am learning through my experiences in the edublogsphere, is that sometimes we think that we are reinventing the wheel, when educational theory abounds in these areas. If we want to raise the level of discussion from high school banter into educational reform, we need to keep existing theories in mind, in order to make breakthroughs into higher levels of discourse and new theories. But – what do I know, I’m just a teacher.

  16. Quentin,

    I think I am starting to understand your point better – that this is not new – unfortunately in education it seems that the really good ideas that would require major change are often ignored and we choose band-aid solutions instead of really working at making a difference. People want proof that something will make a difference, but are rarely willing to invest the time and effort it takes to get evidence. It seems to me that educators usually don’t change until it is so apparent that they are actually behind the change. Most of the time this happens because we administrators don’t take the time to understand the change-makers in the classroom. Once we start supporting the teachers that are doing great things, and stop wavering on our ideals for those that don’t embrace change, educational reform might happen. We still aren’t doing things that Dewey unveiled to us nearly 100 years ago. What my point from the beginning was that schools need to invest time and money into investigating how to make these changes happen – to be proactive – rather than responsive.

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