Enhancing the Impact of Research for the Improvement of School-Based Programs
Baker, Matt, The Agricultural Education Magazine
This issue highlights knowledge generated through research and translates that knowledge into actions that school-based teachers can take to benefit your practice. As I worked closely with these authors included in this issue, I gave pause to the impact that our larger enterprise of research has had upon practice. This led me to think more deeply about how we might improve the impact of our research enterprise, and thus motivated me to place some of those ideas down in writing, which I share with you below.
First, impactful research takes time. There is a natural time lag between selecting a problem, fitting the problem into a larger body of knowledge through existing or emerging theories, collecting and analyzing data, vetting findings through our scientific community, and then pilot testing these new discoveries through field trials in school-based programs. Although there are those who would like to discover that 'magic bullet' to revolutionize instruction, the current reality is, that the process takes time, dedication, and focus. This reality is no different for our field of study, than it is in medical research, plant breeding, livestock breeding, or natural resources management.
Second, research priorities change. The agricultural sciences and natural resources issues that attract funding are social constructions that politicians and our stakeholder community deem important. Without casting judgment, and often for good reason, these priorities change over time. Issues such as food security and hunger, climate change, sustainable energy, childhood obesity, and food safety are current priorities for USDA's National Institute for Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA, 2012). It is common for university-based agricultural educators to participate on multidisciplinary teams addressing these issues. The great news is that participation in these projects support graduate education and often includes the development of a school-based curriculum or professional development component for school-based teachers. However, these grants seldom provide sustained funding for a focused research effort related to the long-term resolution of school-based issues. For a more comprehensive look at the scope of research in our field, I would encourage you to peruse the American Association for Agricultural Education's 2011-2015 National Research Agenda (Doerfert, 2011).
Third, more stakeholder dialogue is needed. A substantial dialogue between university- and school-based faculty and industry partners is needed for the identification of high priority school-based issues and related research priorities. Once agreed upon, there is a need to identify long-term funding strategies so that our very best and brightest scholars can focus their time and energy in contributing to solutions. Perhaps we need to reestablish a national center approach to support rigorous long-term research and translation projects. This idea is not a new one. In the early 1960's, a National Center for Advanced Study and Research in Agricultural Education was established through federal funds. Over time, the Center's focus was broadened to include career and technical education. Thus, the Center's priorities changed over time.
Fourth, we need to reexamine the preparation of researchers. A number of noted scholars in our field have called for modifications in the way in which we prepare faculty at the doctoral level (Shinn & Baker, 2010; Shinn, Briers, & Baker, 2009; Shinn, Wingenbach, Briers, Linder, & Baker, 2009). However, to improve the research skills and conceptual ability of the future professorate, perhaps our faculty preparation model should include a postdoctoral experience. According to the National Postdoctoral Association (n.d.), "a postdoctoral scholar ("postdoc") is an individual holding a doctoral degree who is engaged in a temporary period of mentored research and/or scholarly training for the purpose of acquiring the professional skills needed to pursue a career path of his or her choosing" (para. …