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Looking to the Future: Educational Research and AERA16

Looking to the Future: Educational Research and AERA16

By Julie Adams | May 25, 2016
Research Assistant, ETR

The 2016 American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting was held in Washington, DC last month. It marked the 100th anniversary of education researchers meeting to talk about current issues in education, research and policy. As a first-time attendee, I was inspired to see so many people gather in one place, all dedicated to improving the future of education.


I’ve been reflecting on the information shared by some of the most notable researchers in the field over the course of those five exciting days. Here are three ideas I believe are essential to keep in mind as I continue my career in research.

Partners Are Important in Education Research

Whether they’re funders, school districts or individual teachers, these relationships need to be a priority to ensure long-term collaboration. Making positive change in education is always the goal, so it’s not only important to think of ways to please funders, but also to leave schools with something after the funding for the research ends.

It’s not unusual for investigators to complete their data analysis, submit articles for publication and move on to the next project, especially when working on multiple projects. But instead of thinking of dissemination as the final step, our end goal should be the integration of research findings into practice. This has the potential to impact far more students in a much more immediate manner. William Penuel discussed this idea as he spoke with graduate students and answered questions about research design.

It helps when we can describe some of the benefits educators can gain from collaborating with research efforts. It’s also important to keep our obligations to a partner school or community in mind from the outset (see especially Point 5 in this post by Amie Ashcraft).

Work on the Gap Between Education Research and Education Policy

It’s no secret that this gap creates a disconnect between research and practice—that is, which evidence-based solutions are actually able to reach students. I’ve listened to both policy makers and journalists speak about this. It’s clear that sharing results through social media platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn can be far more efficient than submitting to scholarly journals that few people have heard of.

It makes sense that non-researchers have little time to sift through the abundance of peer reviewed publications that appear each year. When researchers tweet snapshots of current research, a more diverse selection of findings are made readily available to the people who can use them to make change. This can be a good way to share research findings with the general public, too.

Leverage Cultural Differences to Make Learning a Richer Experience

This is an idea that comes up frequently in my work on the Diversity in IT team at ETR. Working in diverse communities gives us the opportunity to understand cultural differences in learning and incorporate that understanding into research findings.

Kris Gutiérrez from the University of California, Berkeley, spoke on this topic at AERA. She stressed the importance of understanding the experiences students bring into the classroom. This is especially important in computer science education, where students can come in with a variety of experiences with, and exposure to, technology.

At present, we have no standard best-practices for effective computer education for diverse students. I believe we’ll come up with practical, concrete guidelines as more research is done on computer learning, including the kind of research my team at ETR is pursuing (see here, here and here, for example).

Opportunities to Change the Future

Education research provides an opportunity not only to make a change in the lives of students, but also to change the future. I’m excited to be a part of a network of such committed individuals all striving for the same goal. I look forward to learning even more as my career moves forward. 

Julie Adams is a Research Assistant at ETR and is currently working on a number of projects focused on youth and technology. She can be reached at

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