Alliance-Based Research Meets Educator Needs
SEDL resumed operation of the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southwest in January 2013. The REL Southwest is moving research into practice using an innovative approach. In 2013, we worked with members of six research alliances to develop research agendas that identify specific and meaningful research questions related to the focus of the alliance, each of which addresses a high-priority area of education for the southwest region. The alliances include educators, state administrators, and policymakers as well as researchers; this is a departure from previous academic and researcher-driven projects and allows us to identify research that will help practitioners and policymakers answer questions about the challenges they face educating their students on a daily basis.
This approach is designed to alter the way educators are using research and the way researchers are doing research. The RELs are part of a large-scale national program implementing this innovative alliance-based research model. In the first year of the contract, REL Southwest staff focused on working with the members of each alliance to identify a research agenda, educating practitioners and policy makers about what types of questions may be answered with research, and developing the research methods and designs appropriate to address those questions. The REL Southwest process (see figure above) for creating a research agenda was presented during a cross-alliance webinar, Framing Your Research Agenda Using a Research Continuum, to prepare all alliance members for their face-to-face work sessions.
In the remaining years of this contract, the REL Southwest, in collaboration with our alliances, will be engaged in designing and conducting research studies identified in the agendas. As a first step, REL Southwest staff are conducting data inventories in all five of the states in the region. A large part of our mandate is to use existing data sources whenever possible and to help alliance members understand how these data sources can be used. While the evidence that can be collected from existing data and research has limitations, this use of state-specific data allows research to be more relevant to educators and policy makers.
Good research leads to more good questions. By showing alliance members how to make use of their data to answer their questions and how a research agenda can be developed and adapted over time, the REL Southwest aims to build a body of knowledge around key issues in the southwest region related to improving outcomes for students.