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In Event: Knowledge Brokers and Boundary Spanners: Strengthening Ties Between Research, Policy, and Practice in Education
Extant literature has established the importance of teacher networks in a variety of educational processes and outcomes (Authors, 2014; Coburn & Russell, 2008; Cole & Weinbaum, 2010; Penuel, et. al., 2009; Daly & Finnegan, 2009; Daly & Finnegan, 2011; Spillane et. al., 2009; Yoon & Baker-Doyle, 2018; Moolenaar, 2012; Penuel, et. al., 2012; Baker-Doyle, 2011; Frank, et. al., 2011). These networks are powerful levers for social capital and organizational trust, but also the flow of information and resources throughout the school community. Teachers’ ties both within and outside of the school therefore constitute important potential avenues of influence for research use in school practice.
In this paper, we couple those ideas with the concept of knowledge brokers - those that link otherwise unconnected people or groups - (Authors, 2016; Neal, et. al., 2015), and knowledge mobilizers – those that move knowledge into action (Cooper & Levin, 2011) – considered important levers for the flow of information between research and practice. However, these roles are frequently examined in the context of intermediary organizations, with little inquiry as to how school-based educators may serve in these capacities, and how their role in school networks may enable or constrain connections between research and practice.
Using the pilot data from the Center for Research Use in Education’s SEE-S instrument, administered in spring and fall of 2017 to 1,628 educators (response rate of 55%) in more than 60 schools, we identify school-based educators who assume brokering and mobilizing roles with in their school, either formally or informally. We describe those individuals and their backgrounds, the activities they engage in as brokers and mobilizers, as well as their self-reported networks for research based information.
Latent class analysis on knowledge sharing activities in school identified a class of 86 educators likely to be most influential in the flow of research into the school. These school-based brokers and mobilizers are predominantly classroom teachers (59%) and are newer to the profession than others in our sample. They report sharing primarily professional development materials, external research products, and results from formal school or district data analysis, most often in the format of the actual product or strategies developed from original products. In doing so, they engage in a wide range of activities such as evaluating research quality, evaluating the needs of teachers and schools, providing support or technical assistance, and providing formal learning experiences or discussions about the information. We also conducted ego analysis of their self-reported networks for research-based information. Early findings suggest teacher-brokers’ networks for are significantly larger and more heterogeneous than other educators’ and were more likely to include independent research organizations and research databases.
Together, the results of this inquiry help us understand the people, practices, and sources that constitute avenues of influence for research in school based improvement. Knowledge of school-based brokers and mobilizers can be useful in harnessing existing relationships between and within research and practice communities, assessing and strengthening research knowledge accessed through networks, and enhancing supports to educators serving in these critical roles.