Building A Successful Research-to-Practice Partnership

Study of a partnership focused on computational thinking in education highlights the value of communication, collaboration, and flexibility.

by Jena Barchas-LichtensteinJoanna Laursen BruckerLaura TietjenElizabeth Attaway
May 13, 2020

Key Findings

Results from Knology’s study of an ongoing partnership between the Educational Gaming Environments Group (EdGE) at TERC and Braintree Public Schools showed that communication, collaboration, and flexibility are key to researcher-practitioner partnerships like this one.

The EdGE-BPS partnership, known as CodePlay, aims to build a foundation for Computational Thinking through disciplinary learning in upper elementary and middle school classrooms. Our study showed that the partners - including EdGE staff, teachers, department heads, and school administrators - became better collaborators over time, and adjusted the project work based on shifting priorities and concerns. This meant the team often made changes, such as adding new roles to support coordination activities and reevaluating goals as the partnership progressed. The partners were also able to jointly develop useful materials and activities for teaching CT in classrooms.

Equally critical to the success of researcher-practitioner partnerships is a shared vision and clear communication from both parties. In the context of CodePlay, it was important to teachers and administrators alike to have clarity on why CT learning is important and what is needed to be in place for implementation in schools to succeed. One of the steps towards reaching those goals was coming up with a shared language needed for discussing important concepts used to talk about collaborative activities, like distinguishing co-design and co-development - different ways of working together that required different levels of involvement and time commitment.

The partners also needed to clearly articulate their different needs and expectations. For example, the research team needed clarity on the day to day realities of being in a classroom as well as what CT concepts were more challenging for students to learn. For their part, practitioners needed to communicate what CT concepts they and their students understood best and which were more challenging.

Let's Put It to Work

For Researchers and Practitioners Who Have Teamed up (or Want to Team up): First, irrespective of the goals for your partnership, recognize and accept that true collaboration takes time and patience to cultivate. These kinds of partnerships can be successful with clear communication regarding expectations, a shared vision, and shared understanding and language. In building these kinds of collaborations, it is important for the different stakeholders to question their assumptions about each other’s work and create space for each party to articulate their needs. It’s also important to remain open to shifting priorities and circumstances and flexible enough to make changes as needed. Lastly, developing clear communication channels that involve all parties reduces the risk of misunderstanding, and ensures that all voices are heard and accounted for in developing the partnership. To learn more about research-practice partnerships, the William T. Grant Foundation has some good resources on its website. Sage Journals has also published a special topic collection on research-practice partnerships.

About this Study:

CodePlay is funded by a National Science Foundation grant (Award #DRL-1738574). It is a three-year Researcher-Practitioner Partnership between the Educational Gaming Environments group EdGE at TERC and Braintree Public Schools BPS. As external evaluators of the project, Knology was tasked with assessing the overall project progress, making recommendations to enhance the partnership, and sharing generalizable lessons for similar partnerships. The study used data from observation of partnership meetings, as well as interviews with EdGE staff, BPS leadership, and teachers.

Photo by NESA by Makers on Unsplash

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