When it comes to using research to inform practice, teachers tend to want succinct tips and strategies that can work in their own classrooms. Researchers can use social media channels to tailor their messages from their research findings and disseminate where teachers are already active. In this guest blog, Dr. Sam Van Horne, University of Delaware, describes the work that researchers conducted as part of the originally IES-funded Center for Research Use in Education. The goal of the center was to understand the gaps between researcher and practitioner perspectives on the usefulness of research in practice so that the center can address issues around how researcher communicate about their research, how practitioners can use research more effectively in their classrooms, and how to build stronger connections between the two communities.
Using a large cross-sectional survey of school-based practitioners, we found that practitioners report consuming research through multiple channels, and more than half of reported using social media in the last year with the goal of improving their practice. Social media channels, therefore, provide education researchers with an opportunity to connect with practitioners, but where are researchers likely to find teachers on social media? And how can researchers distill their findings for sharing in mediums that are vastly different than traditional academic forms? Here are some recommendations based on our research.
- Finding and Connecting with Educators on Social Media: One review of research about social media use among teachers found that Facebook and Twitter are some of the main sites that teachers use. But teachers also use Pinterest and Instagram as methods for learning from other teachers about teaching strategies. Posting in multiple channels may make it more likely that a message can reach educators. To find educators, researchers can search for public lists on education-focused topics or see who is using hashtags like #edtwitter, #TeachersofInstagram, or #EduTooters. By following lists, researchers can efficiently find educators to follow and tag (i.e., add the educator’s username to a social media message) with their messages about research-informed practice. This can aid with directly engaging practitioners and beginning conversations about applying research to practice.
- Using Hashtags or Tagging Specific People on Social Media: Social media networks like Twitter can overwhelm users with the volume of content being shared, so it’s critical to use tools like hashtags to find a practice-focused community who may be interested in applying research findings. Users search for content with hashtags that are discipline specific or likely to reach educators, such as #edutooters on Mastodon, #edutwitter on Twitter, or #teachersofinstagram or #teachersfollowteachers on Instagram. The key is identifying teachers or knowledge brokers (i.e., people or organizations who support practitioners in applying research evidence to teaching practice) that may be interested in the message and who may retweet or boost the message to their own followers.
- Tailoring Messages to Focus on What Practitioners Can Do: When the audience is identified, researchers can ask themselves, “What do I want this group to consider doing based on these research findings?” Then, social media messages can incorporate those ideas rather than just summarizing research findings. Social media messages describing how research can inform education practice should be economical and capture interest. Links to the original paper can be appended to a post for those who want to read more.
- When possible, include links to publications or resources in publicly available repositories and not to versions in subscription-based journals. IES grantees can increase the visibility of their research by submitting their publications as grantee submissions in ERIC. This not only fulfills public-access requirements but also gives practitioners access to important information for improving teaching practice.
- Incorporating Visual Elements to Attract Attention to Education Research Findings: Messages that incorporate visual elements or video are better suited for sharing on social media. The visual abstract is a succinct summary of research findings that is well-suited for sharing in social media platforms, and researchers have found that visual abstracts are more often shared on social media platforms than plain text about research. You can find guidance on creating visual abstracts here, though the authors suggest collaborating with a designer. These visual abstracts are suited for visual platforms like Pinterest or Instagram. Some journals make a regular practice of posting brief video messages from authors who explain their research study and the significance of the findings. Animations can also attract more attention to messages about research.
Disseminating education research on social media is not a “one-and-done” practice but should be part of a professional social media presence. Many guides exist for developing a professional social media presence, such as these for Twitter and LinkedIn. In addition to posting about research and its implications for practice, researchers can post about research or general issues in the field. This helps with building a following that will be more likely to see posts about research. There are other benefits to disseminating research on social media channels, including providing researchers with metrics about how many times their messages are shared or retweeted (or boosted, on Mastodon), as well as enabling research about optimal ways to share research to reach the broadest audience. In fact, Dr. Farley-Ripple, a leader of CRUE, and colleagues have received funding from the National Science Foundation for a research study to investigate the effectiveness of different dissemination strategies on social media, including the effectiveness of the translational visual abstract.
Connecting with educators on social media is a process. Researchers can begin by creating a presence on social media networks where educators are found and then post often about education and use hashtags to help make messages visible to educators. Messages can be succinct posts that include recommendations or strategies that are feasible for educators to adopt or include multimedia messages like the translational visual abstract to attract attention in a medium that is suited to visuals. Over time, it’s possible to learn what works and what doesn’t and adapt strategies for reaching educators, while keeping in mind that the tools and networks available now will undoubtedly adapt and change themselves.
Sam Van Horne is a Data Scientist at the Center for Research Use in Education and the Center for Research in Education and Social Policy at the University of Delaware.
This blog was produced by Corinne Alfeld (Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov), program officer, NCER.