I’d like to suggest that we all stop using the phrase “research says…”
Here are some typical formulas I’ve noticed:
- “Research says (insert indisputable and robust snippet using adequately formal language)”.
- “Research says….(insert judgement of current situation based on a standard derived from a different context, with different goals and values)”.
- “Research says…(insert academic legalese that makes the non-academic person feel like they’re being spoken at and not spoken to)”
- “Research says…(signal end of conversation as quickly as refusing to wear Speedos would disallow you from swimming in Parisian public pool*)
I’ve just googled “research says” and the hits ranged from “research says bras are useless” to “research says we remember 10% of what we read”. 10%? Really? Not 9.5?
My problem with “research says” is the way it skews the general opinion of what research is. Research becomes a ubiquitous yardstick which we use to measure everything that we need to sound ‘serious’ about. Throwing in a comment about research shuts conversation up because research is higher than us all. It is the result of hard academic labour that many of us don’t feel we’ve done or have access to and thus cannot question. This is yet another thing that distances academic practice from teaching practice.
We read a study, or a report of a study, or a spoken account of a report of a study, or even better, an overheard spoken account of a report of a study – and we transform it into a super- statement that suddenly passes judgement on the environment we’re in.
And while there is great value in having standards to measure best practice by and so much to be gained from assessing how things are going, this can’t be done in seconds nor can it be done in a phrase. This particular way of framing research could do with some revamping. And we could all do with engaging with research as a tool for understanding and a tool for change.
The reason I’m a researcher is because I believe in the ability research has to change mindsets and thus to change practice and the systems that host them.
I think it’s wonderful when research comes with a desire to change things, a transformative agenda, where action researchers attempt change, document this change and spiral into discovery about their own practice. I think it’s equally interesting when research is highly context and culture sensitive, where the data speaks louder than the theory does. And I also think that research that needs to test, assume theoretical standpoints, hypothesise and generalise is an extremely useful and informative tool. These are all different kinds of research and I don’t think their goal is (or should be) to create this timeless theory that stops the thinking process.
Theory isn’t timeless. Theory is constantly shaped and reshaped by our practice. In moving away from “research says…” perhaps we allow colleagues who say “in my experience…” to have more of a place in our shared knowledge base of what good teaching is.
*For ‘purposes of general hygiene’, men have to wear Speedos in public pools. The better pools have vending machines where one may be purchased.