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Pros & Cons of School-based Studies

Posted on December 10, 2007

David Klahr (bio) outlines some challenges in school-based research.


One thing that is really important if you’re working in schools on curriculum-related materials, is that the school year has a pace and you’re not going to change that pace. It’s a general problem whenever you work with young children. You have to go into schools to get access to them, or a summer camp, and you often can’t get them, because there’s a vacation, or everybody has head lice, or weird things happen.

But you’re not tied to the semester per se, because you might be studying causal reasoning in pre-school kids. It really doesn’t matter whether you study them in October, or November, or December, but if you’re interested in an instructional unit that’s related to their normal instruction, then you have to be careful about where your study comes in with respect to the ongoing curriculum, and you have a narrow window.

This makes education research more challenging, because you have a narrow window — temporal window — in which to do the work, and if the topic is going to come up naturally in the second semester of the year and you can’t get your work done in the first semester, then you can’t use those kids, because now the teacher’s doing the stuff in the classroom, so there are a lot of complexities of that sort.

There’s one more IRB to get past when you work in schools. I always tell my friends who do infancy research they have it easy, because you don’t have to deal with school boards. You just — you go to the baby showers. You go to the hospitals. You get the list of everyone who just had a baby. Pittsburgh has a maternity hospital that produces 10,000 babies a year, so you get the list and then you’re dealing only with the individual people, but when you go to do school research of any kind, you have to get things past the Institutional Review Board of the school, and the schools are weary of researchers coming in, running their studies, and leaving.

So, they have a pretty high threshold before they say they’ll approve something, simply because what’s in it for them; so you have to have something that looks like it’s important that really has some potential for improving education in that particular school as well as contributing to the literature, so there are those added complexities.

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Excerpted from interview with researcher at the 2007 SRCD Biennial Meeting in Boston, MA.


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