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Research methods workshop series: Building Wisconsin’s capacity for education research

Research methods workshops: Building Wisconsin’s capacity for education research

By Joni Wackwitz
October 18, 2017

Teachers, administrators, and policymakers rely on data and research evidence to understand what works in education. For this reason, state and local education agencies need staff skilled in collecting and analyzing data, evaluating the effectiveness of policies and practices, and applying data and research to guide decisionmaking.

To ensure that Wisconsin’s state education agency staff have the research capacity for evidence-based decisionmaking, the state’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is partnering with Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest to host a series of six workshops on conducting, understanding, and applying research. A REL Midwest team, led by principal researcher Jill Walston, Ph.D., will share best practices for collecting and analyzing high-quality data, reporting the findings, and using the results to inform decisions.

“States, including Wisconsin, are increasing their emphasis on continuous improvement through the use of data to understand education needs, track progress, and build and apply evidence about effective strategies,” says Walston. “I’ve enjoyed talking with DPI staff to learn about the issues they face as they focus on collecting high-quality data and employing evidence-based decisionmaking.”

The request for the workshop series came from Kurt Kiefer, assistant state superintendent of DPI’s Division for Libraries and Technology and a member of REL Midwest’s governing board and the Midwest Achievement Gap Research Alliance. DPI collects a large amount of data on children, teachers, schools, and libraries, and Kiefer wants to ensure the agency uses best practices for managing, analyzing, and reporting the data. “The series also aligns well with our current Statewide Longitudinal Data System grant, which is focused on data use,” Kiefer said.

He and the REL Midwest team are working closely to develop the workshop materials and activities to ensure their relevance to DPI’s work. The first four sessions will provide an overview of research methods and best practices for collecting high-quality data using surveys, interviews, focus groups, and observations. The last two sessions will focus on data analysis, reporting study findings, and using research and data to inform decisionmaking.

Research methods workshop series sessions: 1. Research methods overview, 2. Survey development and administration, 3. Interviews and focus groups, 4. Observations and rubric development, 5. Data analysis, 6. Reporting and using qualitative data

Throughout, the workshops will emphasize the importance of conducting research to provide evidence and accountability for education practices and policies. “Building our staff’s capacity to recognize research opportunities in their daily work is invaluable,” says Kiefer. “The best time to think about research is at the very beginning. It all helps us walk the talk about being data-driven right here at DPI.”

Each in-person workshop will be 2.5 hours. The sessions will include time for sharing knowledge and best practices and time for discussion and activities around applying the knowledge to DPI initiatives. Follow-up activities or resources will be provided as needed to address specific requests or issues. In addition, REL Midwest will post the workshop materials on its website to make them available to other state and local education agencies.

Kiefer will select key DPI staff to attend the training. The intent is that those who participate will apply what they learn not only in their own work but also to support specific data and research needs at districts and schools across Wisconsin.

“REL Midwest is looking forward to collaborating with DPI on this continuing education opportunity,” adds Walston. “The training will support DPI staff as they strive to learn best practices for collecting and using data and research in their daily work, with the goal of fulfilling Wisconsin’s vision for education: ‘Every Child a Graduate, College and Career Ready.’”

Interested in partnering with REL Midwest?

We provide applied research, consulting, and training to support a more evidence-based education system. Contact us to learn more about our services, which are funded through the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education.

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Author(s) Information

Joni Wackwitz Staff Picture

Joni Wackwitz

Senior Communications Specialist | REL Midwest


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