Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Moving Research into Practice: Can We Make Dissemination Stick?

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Moving Research into Practice: Can We Make Dissemination Stick?

Article excerpt

In his 1993 Academy of Management Presidential address, Hambrick (1994) opined that academics

   seem to have a minimalist ethos: ... minimal
   innovation, minimal visibility, minimal
   impact. Each August, we come to talk to
   each other [at the Academy of Management's
   annual meeting]; during the rest of the year
   we read each others' papers in our journals
   and write our own papers so that we may, in
   turn, have an audience the following August:
   an incestuous, closed loop. Colleagues, if we
   believe highly in what we do, if we believe in
   the significance of advanced thinking and research
   on management, then it is time we
   showed it. ... It is time for us to break out
   of our closed loop. It is time for us to matter.
   (p. 13)

Following from the applied nature of the majority of their work, researchers in special education and related fields have long been concerned about communicating their findings to teachers, parents, and other stakeholders in meaningful and useful ways (e.g., Hood, 2002; National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research [NCDDR], 1996; Shonkoff & Bales, 2011; Winton, 2006; Winton & Turnbull, 1982). Yet Hambrick's advice to management scholars in 1993 continues to resonate for special education scholars, who for the most part continue to disseminate their findings primarily in traditional ways (e.g., journal articles, conference presentations, didactic trainings) that do not readily facilitate meaningful change among practitioners and other special education stakeholders (see Winton, 2006). In this article, we explore how the special education research community might further its pursuit of mattering more by thinking and acting differently about the dissemination of its work.

The first decade of the 21st century has been marked by considerable efforts toward making research matter more in education by defining and identifying evidence-based practices (EBPs; e.g., Odom et al., 2005; Slavin, 2008). The argument is simple: by researchers clearly identifying practices shown by trustworthy bodies of research to be effective, practitioners can know and implement what really works, thereby improving student outcomes. However, without addressing the "continuing, stubborn problem" of disseminating research in ways that are useful to practitioners (Hiebert, Gallimore, & Stigler, 2002, p. 3), the EBP movement is likely to have limited impact on teaching practice and student outcomes (Winton, 2006). After all, as Shonkoff and Bales (2011) noted, science does not speak for itself.

In this article, we define dissemination as "planned, systematic efforts designed to make a program or innovation more widely available" (Owen, Glanz, Sallis, & Kelder, 2006, p. S35)--what Dearing and Kreuter (2010) called active dissemination and what has also been referred to as diffusion, knowledge utilization, and technology transfer (Winton, 2006). In contrast, researchers have traditionally engaged in passive dissemination of their work, merely making information available for potential users to locate and interpret (Dearing & Kreuter, 2010). Although effective dissemination is clearly not a sufficient condition for implementation and diffusion of EBPs, dissemination plays an important role in the formation of educators' initial attitudes and beliefs about EBPs and therefore appears to be an important element in bridging the gap between research and practice.

Unfortunately, "university faculty seldom have the skill sets (e.g., social marketing strategies) needed for them to be successful in disseminating programs" (McKenzie, Sallis, & Rosengard, 2009, p. 114). Although scholars have conducted important, preliminary work providing models and examples of appropriate dissemination (e.g., NCDDR, 1996; Shonkoff & Bales, 2011; Winton, 2006), few empirically validated or theoretically based guidelines for effectively disseminating research in special education exist. …

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