Developing practice through journal clubs

28 February 2019

A big challenge for research into computing education is how to effectively bridge the gap between this research and teachers’ practice in the classroom. A recent report suggests that journal clubs may be an effective measure for teachers who are looking to embed research-based approaches in their classroom.

How can new evidence be communicated so that it results in teachers applying it effectively with their learners? Whilst this challenge is not unique to computing, it is compounded by the lack of mature research in the area. In a new report, the authors discuss that although effective communication of new evidence (through CPD) is a challenge in itself, there is also a second challenge: teachers’ capacity to apply the evidence in the classroom. The environment in which teachers operate is structured and highly pressured, which makes them prone to forming habits that can be hard to break. Traditional training programmes might inspire teachers to try something new, but often the programmes leave them ill equipped to make lasting changes; teachers need the time to trial new practices and to develop the depth of their understanding. The new report found that journal clubs may provide a space in which teachers can collaboratively tackle both of these challenges.

What happens in a journal club?

Journal clubs themselves are not a new idea: they are in fact a well-established practice in the field of medicine, and a method through which new research and evidence are adopted by practitioners. In essence, a journal club sees professionals coming together to discuss and critique a piece or body of research. Through this discussion, they develop a shared understanding of what the evidence means in practice. This in turn allows them to make plans about how to apply the evidence in their setting, and to commit to seeing their plans through.

Journal club sessions occur on a regular basis, and each includes a opportunity to reflect on what application of research findings looked like, what worked, and what didn't. This combination of establishing a shared understanding, planning, and committing to action, followed by reflection has been shown to be an effective approach to making practical use of research evidence.

Trialling journal clubs in school settings

The report is based on a small study with two (outstanding) schools: teachers participated in a series of regular journal clubs and chose from a selection of curated research. Participants were observed to critically engage with the research and discuss its relevance to their setting. Several commented that they had been able to apply more ideas from the journal club than from traditional CPD. The collaborative aspect of journal clubs appeared to be particularly valuable; allowing teachers to discuss and adapt the research to their specific setting, and having them make a commitment to their peers, made teachers more likely to follow through on their plans.

The evidence suggests that teacher journal clubs are not only a feasible model for developing practice, but also an effective and impactful one.

Set up a journal club in your network

For many computing teachers there is an additional challenge, which is also an opportunity: often there aren't large teams of them working in the same school. This means they need to work with teachers from other schools and settings, which can give them access to a greater diversity of knowledge, experience, and views.

In the UK, there is already an established network of computing teachers: Computing At School. These local communities of practice are surely an ideal place to establish journal clubs.

To find out more and set up your own journal club, read:

About the author
James Robinson is the Senior Learning Manager at Raspberry Pi Foundation.