Continuous improvement is being asked of the education community in Australia and New Zealand, as governments seek, at low cost, to provide for the swiftly rising needs for knowledge in the modern workforce. School education professionals need timely access to relevant, authoritative and easily assimilable information to help them play their role in meeting these demands.
The segmentation of the school education community affects the way that these information needs are expressed and met. Setting aside the question of national consistency between Australia's eight education systems - an issue that is already being taken up by the systems themselves (MCEETYA 2003, Holt 2003, Nelson 2003)* - there are of course further significant separations into government, Catholic and Independent sectors, and between school staff, teacher educators and officers in education authorities. When one adds the separate needs and viewpoints of the different learning areas, the distinct areas of curriculum, assessment and pedagogy, primary and secondary schooling, the urban/rural divide and specialist concerns such as ICT or school leadership, the school education community begins to approach the Hindu pantheon in its complexity.
Jillian Dellit (2003) addresses the issue of the dissemination of research information, in an article which summarises and responds to some of the topics raised in the major study, The Impact of Educational Research. The case she makes in relation to research may also be applied to policy initiatives and practical insights of school level practitioners.
Dellit underlines the value of distributing academic research more widely and more efficiently. One reason for doing so is that 'we would seem to run a high risk of unquestioned assumptions and culturally perpetuated bias in educational research, not to mention inefficiency, if dissemination relies entirely on the same group'. (p9)
However, wider dissemination of research is primarily a way to enrich the resources available to the education community and the public. While highlighting the importance of services such as the Australian Education Index and the Bibiliography of Education Theses (BETA), Dellit also draws attention to the value of the free legal information service AustLII, and to similar services in the medical field that provide simply written summaries of research to professional communities and the public.
Why does the Australian Consumers' Association produce a regular Health Reader but not a comparable Education Reader or Education Choice? Part of the answer to that question must lie in access to medical research databases with their capacity to generate plain language summaries and abstracts. (p10)
The need for wider dissemination of research applies not just to academics and formal research agencies. Rather 'a community-wide approach to research' is required with 'coordinated and collaborative action' that can 'free up rigid delineation of roles within the sector'. (pp 7, 13)
The interaction Dellit is calling for needs to go beyond simply sending and receiving finished packages of research findings. Practitioners in the different fields of school education also need to be able to discuss and debate their experiences, their working hypotheses and their works in progress.
There is already a trend toward more integration in the creation and spread of ideas within school education. Allan Luke (2003) has noted that education systems are increasingly turning to the external research community 'for substantive analyses, for policy formation, for ideas about how to remake the connections between curriculum, communications media old and new, and everyday classroom practice'. This has had the effect of 'opening public policy formation to stronger social scientific influence', which counters the insular approach sometimes found in education systems. (pp 89-90)
In Western Australia, the Department of Education and Training is making the academic work of a network of employees engaged in postgraduate research available to staff via a database of researchers, a website and printed monographs. (School Matters 12 August 2003).
The quality of research undertaken by individual schools is also being enhanced in Western Australia, where the 'Data Club' project helps staff in government schools to interpret and use the data collected when their students sit state-wide literacy and numeracy tests. (Wildy 2003) The ability to interpret data not only improves school decision making and resource allocation, but also performance reporting, and with it the quality of information gathered by education authorities. Elsewhere, efforts have been made to investigate the opportunities and barriers to collaboration between teacher educators and school teachers. (Peters 2002).
There is a widespread and growing recognition of the potential value of deepening the flow of ideas, discussion, policy development and research results between different areas of the education community. How are information services assisting this process?
The role of information services
There are many publications in the field of school education catering to specific systems, sectors, subject areas and various professional groupings. Most of these services try to inform their readers of relevant issues and ideas emerging from other parts of the education community. However, this work is necessarily secondary to addressing the specialised and distinctive needs of their immediate audiences. Online discussion lists play a major role in facilitating contact between active practitioners, but again have specialised concerns.
Curriculum Leadership attempts to complement these services by offering 'wide horizons' as a matter of course - seeking to introduce fresh ideas and to connect potential collaborators across geographic regions, or in related fields of activity. In this sense it complements broadly based journals such as EQ Australia, as well as the highly regarded directory of online resources provided by EdNA Online.
Curriculum Leadership presents academic research in a quickly assimilable form, providing a current awareness service and a quickly growing database of school education literature. It is a vehicle for 'horizontal' dissemination of quality information offered by policy makers, researchers and school practitioners. It is also a vehicle for carrying forward the process of discussion and debate in which knowledge needs can be identified, shaped and met.
The success already enjoyed by Curriculum Leadership testifies to the need for such a service: after one year of publication the journal has acquired over 3,300 registered readers. While much remains to be done, the journal is helping in a small way to fill a big gap in the needs of educationalists in Australia and New Zealand.
* Statements by individual State Ministers regarding national consistency were made available online for Queensland (Anna Bligh, 26 June 2003), South Australia (Trish White, 10 July 2003) and Western Australia (Alan Carpenter, 10 July 2003).
Dellit, Jillian, 'Collaboration, community and collective intelligence will eclipse the cartography of collision', The Australian Educational Researcher (AER) Volume 30 Issue 2, August 2003.
Holt, Joan, 'Ministers support national consistency', Curriculum Leadership Vol. 1 No. 21, 25 July 2003.
Luke, Allan, 'After the marketplace: evidence, social science and educational research', The Australian Educational Researcher (AER) August 2003.
Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs. Fifteenth MCEETYA Meeting, 10-11 July 2003. Joint Communique.
Nelson, Brendan, A national education framework for schools (Ministerial media release).
Peters, Judy, 'University-school collaboration: identifying faulty assumptions', Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education Volume 30 Number 3, November 2002, pp 229-242.
School Matters, Department of Education and Training. Western Australia.
Wildy, Helen, 'Data Club: supporting schools to use data' Professional Educator Volume 2 Number 3, 2003.