Professor Courtney Malloy PhD ’03 on bridging the gap between research and practice

Effective collaboration between educational researchers and practitioners can help solve intractable problems in our schools and communities.

By Courtney Malloy PhD ’03, Professor of Clinical Education

An illustration of a bridge made of books with two people walking toward one another.

(Illustration/Chris Gash)

As a professor at USC Rossier and an applied researcher and evaluator, it is common for me to talk with educational practitioners about using existing research and evidence to drive decision-making. At the same time, practitioners often tell me that some academic research feels inaccessible and inapplicable to the immediate needs of their local contexts. The goal of research, generally, is to produce new knowledge with an aim to discover new theories and revise existing ones. Bridging the research-to-practice gap requires finding ways to craft research and evaluation projects that are translational in nature. Translational research seeks to uncover ways that research can directly benefit society, and there are several things that educational researchers can do to translate their findings more effectively and efficiently into practice.

Partner with local schools
Researchers can partner with practitioners in local schools, colleges and other educational settings to identify immediate, pressing needs and design studies that help educators to evaluate existing initiatives and directly address problems of practice. A problem of practice is a persistent issue or challenge in a local context or workplace. Generating research topics based on input from the field helps not only to make the research more relevant and useful but also to build buy-in for the work itself. It can also be helpful to include educators on research teams or advisory boards to assist with the project from design to dissemination.

Key partners can inform a) the selection of data sources, b) the development of instruments such as surveys, tests, interview guides and rubrics, c) the data-collection processes, d) the interpretation of data, and e) generation of actionable findings.

Make research findings accessible
To increase the utilization of findings by practitioners specifically, educational researchers can work to disseminate findings in avenues most accessible to practitioners. Many educators do not have access to academic databases and journals, and these publications are rarely targeted to a practitioner audience.

Likewise, academic research conferences are not spaces intended to inform practitioners. In order to maximize the translation of research to practice, researchers can work to generate publications and products with practitioners in mind. Disseminating findings through practitioner-oriented journals and conferences can be helpful; digestible research and evaluation reports and briefs may also be worthwhile.

Symposia and panel discussions—both virtual and in person—can bring researchers and practitioners together to discuss findings and potential innovations. Moreover, community-based joint presentations offer an opportunity to share research results and implications for practice in local contexts. Researchers can also work alongside teams of educators in planning sessions designed to review data and evidence and determine next steps.

Work with practitioners to generate evidence-based solutions
Educational practitioners and researchers can also work together to craft and evaluate interventions and reforms that are aligned with evidence-based practice. Researchers have valuable knowledge regarding how to test the efficacy of existing strategies or examine how a successful practice works. Practitioners are experts in their respective fields and understand the unique needs and assets in their local contexts. Together, a team of academics and practitioners can work inventively on research and development efforts. Such collaborative endeavors leverage the strengths of both parties and have the potential to solve intractable problems in our schools and communities.

These kinds of strategies increase not only the likelihood that research and evaluation findings will be used but also the capacity for evidence-based decision-making and evaluative thinking in educational settings.

This story appeared in the USC Rossier Magazine Spring/Summer 2022 issue as “Bridging the gap between research and practice.”