Research for educators is most effective when it’s conducted with educators. But how can researchers effectively engage and work with education practitioners? There are a number of models for research-practice partnerships. In addition to our research alliances, Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest uses networked improvement communities (NICs) to conduct rapid research cycles in authentic school or district settings. A NIC brings together educators, researchers, and other stakeholders to identify a problem of practice and test an intervention to address the problem. NICs use Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycles, which consist of the following steps:
For example, REL Midwest’s Iowa Learning and Technology NIC pairs researchers with teachers, principals, instructional coaches, and area education agency staff to test, analyze, and revise strategies meant to help teachers identify and use technology practices that facilitate deeper content knowledge among students. Check out this previous REL Midwest blog post and our resource roundup for more information on the Iowa NIC and the overall NIC research process.
REL Midwest has led other NICs as well, and we’re always learning about the best ways to work with educators. Participating in a NIC helps schools and districts build their skills in data collection, analysis, and systematic planning to address challenges.
In the spirit of continuous improvement, we published a report that summarizes lessons learned from two REL Midwest NICs in Michigan and Minnesota. Drawing on our work with NICs, we offer some takeaways for others who may be interested in facilitating a NIC to address a problem of practice:
What happens after you conduct a rapid research cycle or two? The Iowa NIC is developing an evaluation framework with insights to consider when designing and evaluating the work of your NIC. For more information about this upcoming work, visit our Work in Progress page.
In addition, REL Northeast & Islands is developing a toolkit about continuous improvement and NICs, which will include a workbook, templates, and a video. Visit the project’s Work in Progress page for more information.
Want to know more about NICs? Browse this set of resources, including a podcast and a documentary, for more information about our former NICs in Michigan and Minnesota. We also have an Ask a REL reference desk response on research-practice partnerships, which includes more NIC resources.