Critical Consumers

During my doctoral studies, one of the first things I learned (or truly understood in application) was the importance of being a critical consumer of educational research. I spent hours reading research and asking questions such as:

  • Who conducted this research?
  • What was the context of the research study?
    • Location (urban or rural, local or international), participants (how many, what demographics), and methodology (survey, interviews, observations) all tell a story.

So much in education is contextualized and not easily replicated by copying another school or district’s idea exactly as is. One of the challenges of being an educational leader is situational leadership- knowing your constituents and their specific needs at any given point in time based on the context.

Well, today I was reminded to be a critical consumer once again by two very different sources.

First, you must know that I recently finished binge-watching the Netflix documentary “Making of a Murderer” (thanks Dad!). I loved the series for hooking me and keeping my interest, and was once again sad thinking about our justice system. I went through many of the same emotions I felt while listening to both Serial and Undisclosed podcasts. After finishing the series, I was less concerned about the guilt or innocence of the key characters, but was more concerned with the evident miscarriages of justice that were portrayed.

I didn’t realize how uncritically I had consumed this documentary until I read this editorial and a few more articles about the series as a whole. While I may not agree with the editorial, it gave me pause for thought. I had watched the entire documentary assuming I was getting the whole picture even though it was heavily slanted to the defendant’s side.

My next reminder to be a more critical consumer came when I saw this tweet:

It sparked my interest enough to click on the link and read the article. The article cites a variety of sources (research and non-research-based) which claim that education’s focus on different learning styles (aka Howard Gardner’s work) was not grounded in valid research.

“In his paper on the subject for Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Howard-Jones argues that it’s not a result of fraud, but of ‘uniformed interpretations of genuine scientific facts.'”

Reading this article forced me to consider my role as a critical consumer. I did do some additional reading (as well as having a brief twitter conversation with the person who tweeted out the link) about both the author and some of the citations within the article. Just like I’m not declaring the people in the documentary guilty or innocent, I am not stating whether or not learning styles are worthless for educators to consider. I am, however, asking myself some different questions such as:

  • How are research-based practices brought to mainstream educators?
  • How do educators ensure they stay current on research trends in education?
  • What research should inform educators making decisions framed to be in the best interest of students?
  • When someone labels a strategy, program, or initiative as “research-based”, how do you confirm the research, especially as it applies to your context?

These recent experiences have reminded me of the importance of being a critical consumer within my life- of research, when making important decisions, and without judgment.



About Amy's Reflections

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services in Southern CA, taking time to reflect on leadership and learning
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