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Are RPPs the Future of Education? A 2.0 Approach

By Debalina Maitra
 | Sep 17, 2019

RPPs_680wResearch–practice partnerships, or RPPs, are a relatively new strategy developed to address a complex research problem or complex problems under a generic problem space in education.

These long-term collaborations between practitioners and researchers are becoming an increasingly popular way of conducting educational research.

As a postdoctoral researcher in Chicago, I worked with an RPP with the goal of implementing equitable computer science education in Chicago Public Schools. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Chicago Alliance for Equity in Computer Science (CAFECS) is composed of computer scientists, mathematicians, educators, teachers, coaches, and district officials. My role as an equity-focused qualitative researcher was to analyze classroom videos to identify equitable practices and gaps in practice.

At the core of any strong RPP is equity. To ensure a full partnership, each organization involved in the partnership generally provides at least one principal investigator (or coprincipal investigator) to the partnership to take on a leadership role. After some extensive research, I learned RRPs are a common approach in STEM education but not as popular in other areas of education.

The reason is obvious—more funding goes toward STEM education. In most of the field of education, traditional ways of conducting research are more popular than collaboration with a multidisciplinary team. When I first got the call for my CAFECS job, I wondered how I would contribute to an NSF-funded grant that is heavily quantitative and computer science driven. Later I found my path, and I contributed to building an equity framework with its indicators. This work is still under progress.

As a millennial or Gen Y researcher, my education philosophy is moving toward a multidisciplinary approach that incorporates technology. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is building a simulation practice space for teachers that is based on artificial intelligence. In another example, I recently came across research in which students learn about computational thinking and robotics through Shakespeare’s literature. Therefore, to fit in today’s research-scape, acquiring new technological knowledge is essential. That’s why educators incorporating a hybrid approach of blending content area literacy and disciplinary literacy while researching and teaching is important.

In literacy, we often form RPPs to assess reading and writing. But my approach to an RPP in literacy/teacher education programs would be to think beyond just content area—students transferring content area skills to decipher discipline-specific areas yet getting engaged and reflecting is vital. Therefore, our knowing more about other disciplinary areas, researching them, and building a strong partnership becomes crucial, because our responsibility is to prepare a generation for jobs that don’t exist yet.

Another advantage of RPPs is that they bring together a diverse range of skill sets, as people from different areas of expertise come together and work on problem spaces and exchange insights. Additionally, securing funds to conduct research becomes easier with a multidisciplinary team with a diverse range of skill sets.

Finally, my strong recommendations are as follows:

  • If you are a practitioner, try to collaborate with teachers from diverse disciplinary areas. Reading, writing, language, and other content area skills are transferrable to disciplinary areas. This will equip the next generation of students with skills they need to succeed in the workforce.
  • If you are researcher, consider collaborating with multidisciplinary teams and teachers. Find the problem space and tackle it from all angles.
  • The dichotomous approach of researchers versus practitioners needs to be balanced.

Debalina Maitra has a PhD in literacy education from the University of Wyoming and a minor in qualitative research methods. Her dissertation research focused on academic writing and cultural identity of culturally and linguistically diverse undergraduate students. She is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher for CAFECS (Chicago Alliance for Equity in Computer Science), a NSF-funded research practitioner partnership grant in Chicago. Her research is focused on equity in computer science for culturally diverse students at Chicago Public Schools. She is particularly focusing on Hispanic students and trying to build an equity framework.

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