Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Is Australian Educational Research Worthwhile?

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Is Australian Educational Research Worthwhile?

Article excerpt

This research examines publication and citation data to assess the contribution of Australian educational research to teaching practice and policy making. Australia makes a significant contribution to international educational research, although its share of publications has been increasing over time, whereas its share of citations has remained relatively constant. Substantial turnover in leading research institutions is found over time. It might be possible to explain this turnover by the productivity of a small number of academic staff members. Finally it is found that Australian educational research is extremely relevant to educational practice.


Important volumes detailing the nature of educational research in Australia have been produced by Keeves (1987) and Keeves and Marjoribanks (1999). These works show that a substantial amount of excellent educational research is conducted in this country. Nevertheless, in recent years, lingering doubts about the quality and usefulness of educational research have emerged.

Although review panels have affirmed the quality of Australian educational research (see Lingard & Blackmore, 1998; McGaw, Bowd, Poole, & Warry, 1992), the report by McGaw et al. raised a disturbing issue. It suggested that `educational administrators and practitioners perceive much educational research to be irrelevant to their concerns'.(1) This troublesome notion has been articulated more potently by Harman (1998) who describes a debate over the quality of educational research currently raging in England and hints at its relevance to Australia. Specifically he reports on the ideas of Hargraves who `argued that a great deal of educational research is "frankly second rate" and "bad value for money"'. Add these concerns to Hattie, Print, and Krakowski's (1994) findings that 33 per cent of Australian academics in the area of education have never published anything, and a further 26 per cent have published no more than three papers, and the need for a focused examination on the quality and nature of Australian educational research is clear.

This paper supplements previous research by considering two important aspects of research quality. First, the visibility of Australian research as a component of the international educational research arena is examined. This involves an analysis of the quantity and source of Australian educational research published in major journals as well as a consideration of the recognition it receives in terms of citations by other scholars. This analysis of publication and citation rates will provide useful input to the debate over the standing of Australian research.

Even if Australian educational research is highly cited, however, this does not mean that it is useful to educational practitioners. Indeed, as follows from both the McGaw et al. report and the Harman article, it would hardly be surprising if most teachers and policy makers are found never to consult academic educational research, and believe research has no impact on their practices whatsoever. Even if this is the case, it is still possible that academic research is, in fact, very relevant to teaching practice and government policy. It could be that the dissemination of research to educational practitioners and policy makers follows an unrecognised pathway, for example through the media or teacher training. This study sheds light on this issue by providing a detailed review of Australia's most cited educational research.

Data and methods

Data presented here have been compiled from a subset of the publication and citation data from 1981 to 1996 compiled by the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) (see Bourke & Butler, 1998, 1993).

Several important aspects of this study should be noted. First, the focus here is limited to Australian research appearing in ISI indexed journals. A report by the National Board of Employment, Education, and Training (1994) suggests that only about 25 per cent of Australian publications in the area of education appear in ISI journals. …

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