(#238) Practicality Over Bean Counting

If all we do is look for the “research to inform our actions”
we will drown in an ever-rising sea of mind-numbing numbers,
tables, graphs, and pontifications for more research.

A few weeks ago, a colleague mentioned in passing that he needed to “see the research” that backed up what an international speaker had said. He wanted data. He needed statistical information.

While I have never been a pure researcher (per se), I do respect those who toil for, gather and crunch numbers.  Evidence helps direct movement in a proper way (or away from an inappropriate direction).  And there is something powerful about evidentiary testimony that backs up a proposed initiative.

I get that.

But….

Image: koratmember/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: koratmember/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sometimes we get lost in the bean counting.  If all we do is look for the “research to inform our actions” we will drown in an ever-rising sea of mind-numbing numbers, tables, graphs, and pontifications for more research.  And sometimes I have found the pontificators to be suspect themselves as they have not bothered to share how to practically and powerfully apply the research.

As I read some time ago, are you “data informed or data driven?”  Do you live with the arcane or the actuality?

Consider this: As we tread water surrounded by the gathering data, we need to become more effective critical thinkers. Don’t mindlessly accept the latest research.  Some of the research adds nothing to the conversation.  As the Heath brothers offer in their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, some data is T.B.U.—True But Useless.

Video recommendation for the week:

If we don’t use our critical thinking skills, data may even create additional challenges.

What we need is more practicality.   Anecdotal evidence can be powerful.  And yes, it can even be worth generalizing the anecdotal information for future implementation.  If a colleague has had success with a particular strategy, do we really need to study it, gather data, and create benchmarks before we draw conclusions and pass along the methodology?

A few years ago a college brought me in to do two days of faculty training.  I was specifically advised to stay away from the research.  This school, the previous year, had completed two days of training in the same topic area on which I was to speak.  Unfortunately, while the researchers were noted and had great material, the faculty walked away with “that’s great…but how do I use it in my classroom?”  Telling us the metrics behind the making of a tool or how many times someone used a particular tool may be of interest. But unless those metrics can “inform” us how to move from theory to practicality, what good does the information do for us?

Image: kookkai_naki/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: kookkai_naki/
FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A coach or a teacher can teach you technique based on the best research. But has the coach been a regular practitioner of the skill she is teaching you?  How many paid engagements has the speech coach landed in the last five years?  The writing instructor–when was the last publication? When was the last time the music instructor performed?

The above is not meant as a slap.  I have worked with all of the above–and they proved invaluable to my development.  Their coaching and my trial and error in the practical (read: non-theoretical) environment brought results.

Many times in the past three plus decades of classroom experience I successfully went down a path with a student based on the circumstances in front of me—not the data in the research.  My effective colleagues constantly move to the edges of the box—and beyond—to bring meaning to their lessons. They rely, many times, on their instincts; not data.  And while their successes are anecdotal, they are no less noteworthy.

Again, the research plays an important role—but without practical suggestions for implementation what good does it do for our students, institutions, and community?  As always, balance is needed.

Demanding to see data before moving forward can become a wonderful excuse for more of the same, or worse, it becomes an excuse to poo-poo those who want to stretch and move beyond platitudes and bean counting.

Make it a wonderful week—H.T.R.B. as needed.

Check out my website (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/programs.html) for programming information as well as details about upcoming webinars  (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/webinars).

Information on my newest book, Choices for College Success (3rd ed.), can be found at Pearson Education.

(c) 2014. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.

 

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