The Monash Q Project aims to improve the use of research evidence in Australian schools. It investigates how research evidence is used in schools, and how to support educators to better use that evidence in their practice. The emphasis of the Q Project is to shift the focus from quality evidence to quality use of evidence by educators.
BehaviourWorks Australia has been collaborating with the Q team to bring a behavioural lens to this emphasis on quality use of research evidence. This includes thinking about quality use as a series of observable actions and to unpack the different barriers and facilitators that might influence educators to adopt these actions.
This approach can help shift research use from a more theoretical, abstract concept to an actionable, on-ground process that can be more easily understood and applied by educators. It also enables the research use process to be understood from the perspective of educators and what helps, or gets in the way of, greater uptake by the sector.
These insights are critical for the targeted, and appropriate, design of interventions to facilitate behaviour change in the education sector to support quality use of research evidence.
A key element of the definition of quality use of research evidence in education is "the thoughtful engagement with and implementation of appropriate research evidence". We completed a number of activities to unpack what this looks like as a series of observable actions, explore barriers to these actions, and support intervention design to address identified barriers.
In applying the BehaviourWorks Australia Method, we took the following main steps:
1. Created a long list of possible quality use behaviours via internal workshops with experts (behaviour identification);
2. Prioritised quality use practices through internal ratings of practices and discussion with experts (behaviour prioritisation); and
3. Explored targeted practices from the perspective of educators through a series of belief elicitation interviews (deep dive).
As we worked with the Monash Q team to understand the process of quality use of research, it became clear that this process could be broken down into a series of specific ‘chunks’ of different actions or behaviours and thinking processes. These can help reduce some of the complexity when it comes to understanding what quality use of research evidence might look like. We have called these different chunks of actions and thinking the ‘ATTA’ process, a shorthand to indicate that quality use of research evidence involves at least two different actions and two different thinking processes.
Act, Think, Think, Act (ATTA)
· Act (1) - Access research evidence for use.
· Think (2) - Appraise the quality of the evidence for its intended use.
· Think (3) - Consider the contextual relevance of the research for its intended use.
· Act (4) - Use the research evidence.
Two key take-away messages from the deep dive interview findings are:
a) There appear to be many ‘opportunity’ barriers to educators performing QURE (Quality Use of Research Evidence) practices, or at least these appear to be the most salient barriers to educators.
b) Many barriers to educators performing QURE practices appear to occur at the school level (which, in turn, could negatively impact individual educators’ motivations towards QURE).
This means that:
I. If the goal is to increase QURE in Australian schools, it will not be enough to build educators’ capability or motivation forQURE‚ it will require building their opportunity for QURE.
II. Similarly, it will not be enough to work with individual educators‚ this will require school-and-system-level changes (e.g., in the form of infrastructure to support QURE).
There has already been a focus within the Q-project on operationalising some of the insights from these interviews into a professional learning program. However, there is an opportunity to develop and test additional interventions in addition to the knowledge and skills focus of professional learning. Some key examples, although not limited to these, include:
· Increasing physical access to research evidence and increasing the accessibility of research content for teachers via school-and-system-level infrastructure.
· Increasing opportunity for educators to use and embed research use in their practice via school-and-system-level infrastructure.
There is an opportunity to build on these insights with additional research that captures the ‘in-practice’ experience of educators actually engaged in these behaviours. This might include:
a) A video-ethnography or video-elicitation process; and
b) Journey mapping.
There is also an opportunity to further research around designing, trialling, and evaluating school-and-system-level infrastructure interventions that draw on some of the recommendations made in this report. This might include:
· Literature and/or practice reviews into what interventions might be effective to address the identified school-and-system-level barriers to quality research evidence use;
· Co-design workshops with key stakeholders and educators to identify and design intervention options that are informed by the behavioural insights and would be suitable for Australian schools; and to define measures of success;
· Pilot trial of school-and-system-level interventions in Australian schools; evaluation and adaptation of interventions;
· Large-scale trial of school-and-system-level infrastructure interventions, including impact evaluation (using defined success measures).
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