The annual Research Conference brings together leading education researchers from Australia and overseas. Hosted by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), the theme for 2018 is ‘Teaching practices that make a difference: Insights from research'. We'll be speaking to some of the presenters and keynote speakers in the lead-up to the August event.
In today's article, ACER CEO Professor Geoff Masters AO discusses the aims of the Research Conference and this year's theme.
Can you give us an overview of this year's Research Conference theme?
Geoff Masters: ACER organises the annual Research Conference as an opportunity to review the latest research and thinking in key areas of educational policy and practice. The focus of this year's conference is on teaching practices shown by research to make a difference to the quality of student learning.
It is now well understood that the effectiveness of classroom teaching is the key in-school determinant of how well students learn and what they achieve at school. Teachers and school leaders recognise this and are continually investigating ways to improve the effectiveness of classroom teaching. Key teaching challenges are to motivate and engage all learners; to diagnose the difficulties and obstacles that individuals are experiencing; and to implement effective interventions and teaching strategies to promote every learner's growth. Current research is providing valuable insights into these challenges and ways of addressing them.
Why has this theme been chosen for the 2018 conference?
GM: The study of effective teaching is an ongoing international priority in educational research. In recent years there has been growing interest in what is sometimes referred to as ‘evidence-based' practice. This idea originated in medicine, where it is important that treatments and interventions are backed by dependable evidence of their efficacy. The gold standard is research based on ‘randomised controlled trials' in which patients are randomly assigned to two groups, one of which is exposed to the treatment while the other is not.
In Australia, a number of interest groups are promoting the idea of evidence-based teaching as an alternative to opinions about what should work. In the past 12 months the Federal Opposition has announced its intention to establish an education evidence institute if elected. At the same time, the Gonski panel has recommended ways of promoting a national approach to the identification and promotion of evidence-based teaching practices. In this context, the theme of this year's Research Conference is very timely.
What do you expect participants to gain from the conference?
GM: Most importantly, participants will have an opportunity to hear leading Australian researchers and some international researchers describe their current research findings and to engage in conversations about this research.
The goal of every Research Conference is to connect the latest research to practice. So, attendees will come away with an understanding of some current research and, hopefully, ideas that they can begin implementing in their own contexts.
Having said that, I hope the conference reflects an appreciation that research has moved beyond the search for ‘silver bullets' – teaching strategies that just need to be implemented by all teachers everywhere. Again, the medical analogy is appropriate. A particular medical intervention or treatment is rarely appropriate for all patients. In the same way, a particular teaching ‘solution' is rarely appropriate for all learners.
Effective teaching involves the difficult work of diagnosing where individuals are in their learning and then implementing targeted (and often personalised) evidence-based strategies for promoting further growth. The best research is supporting such teaching.
Research Conference 2018 ‘Teaching practices that make a difference: Insights from research' takes place from 12-13 August at the International Convention Centre Sydney. Professor Masters will deliver a keynote titled ‘Evidence-based teaching to promote student growth'. This year's Karmel Oration will be delivered by Laureate Professor John Hattie on the topic of ‘The role of educator expertise in the Fake News world'. Professor Masters and Professor Hattie will also come together for an ‘In Conversation' session on evidence-based teaching practices to be facilitated by Anthony Mackay.