Translating research into practice is obviously an important consideration for educational schools across the country and the world. How can we, as professors, students and administrators utilize research to impact practice in a variety of settings? Before embarking on this question however, I think it needs to be reframed.
The question is simple on its surface, but like an iceberg in one of those motivational posters, it continues downward and touches on many other ideas and levels which may not seem apparent at first. At its core, I think the question brings attention to the fact that there is so much research. And the amount of research is never static, rather, it continues to grow at bewildering rates. The research to practice endeavor may signal just how massive of an undertaking it actually is.
Research to practice becomes the information age in living form. As information and knowledge proliferates, translating even a small chunk of that ever-growing stream is what professors, students and administrators are actually trying to do. It may be akin to damming and diverting a small trickle of Mississippi river or the Pacific Ocean. Sound intimidating? It should! This is no easy task.
For me, this is where my training at the College of William & Mary shines. Translating research to practice is not a simple or one-to-one translation. In our volatile world, there is so much complexity, as well as obfuscation and even purposeful deception from many parties. I realized through my coursework, conversations with my professors, and courses of study that to translate research into practice would require not only a knowledge of what that research is, but a type of flexibility and foresight.
Reality in the information age is too complex and too big for myopic research.
Translating research to practice requires more than simply reading a how to manual or being unthinking practitioners. Rather, this translation requires those translating to be active, to see new and novel ways to apply ideas, to sense how similar ideas work in vastly different circumstances and how emerging ideas interact with each other and long held practices. Indeed, we may need to incorporate more radical modes of research, such as arts-based research alongside traditional modes of research, in an effort to see social phenomena in new ways (Barone & Eisner, 2012).
As such, translating research in practice is a messy endeavor. And while some academics may appreciate this messiness and see it as an opportunity for creativity and growth, I would argue that larger mainstream culture does not value this messiness. Instead, mainstream culture largely values soundbites, instant gratification and simplistic solutions from politicians who want another term, who want to placate their bases and need to show progress now.
Many do not want complexity, they want simplicity. Simplicity is comforting, ignorance is bliss, but it is detrimental to true progress. Of course, these ideas may be a little preachy, but there is some truth in it, even if I am a cranky. The point is that that the academic who translates research into practice may not only have to navigate the complexity of the information age and the messiness of research practice itself, but also social and political obstacles as well.
At William & Mary, I began to understand this volatile and ever changing situation. (I am not expert, I learn a little more about it every day). I learned to be comfortable with this messiness and complexity. And I realized that anything I learned would have to be practiced in this volatility and many times in the face of resistance. I welcome the challenge and I am better for it. Thank you William & Mary.
Dr. Angelo Letizia is an assistant professor of education at Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore Maryland, and a 2014 graduate of the EPPL Higher Education PhD program. He specializes in social studies education, arts based research and history.