Educator Resources Teacher Leadership

Bridging education research and practice

Great strides are being made in education research. Despite those great efforts by great people challenges persist. In particular, effectively scaling up or replicating successful educational programs proves difficult. The solution to bridging the gap between research and practice is Design-Based Implementation Research (DBIR).

William Penuel, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder and founding member of a research-practice partnership with Denver Public Schools, gave a talk on DBIR at Washington University on Thursday, Oct. 13. He spoke to a capacity crowd of university faculty and students, as well as school administrators. The talk was sponsored by the Institute for School Partnership.

Designed by education researchers, DBIR is an emerging approach to relating research and practice that is collaborative, iterative, and grounded in systematic inquiry. It focuses on nurturing close partnerships between educators and researchers.

“Reforms that last and stick are ones where educators have a say in their goals, have a say in the materials that are developed and have a say in the process of how things get implemented,” Penuel said. “This is something reformers have learned time and time again.”

Penuel said DBIR is a future-oriented practice that answers the question of how to design programs and policies to make them work in diverse educational settings. DBIR considers the context of the schools and focuses on a model of co-designing with partners. In fact, he emphasized that long-term research, practice partnerships are the foundation to promoting equity at scale.

“You have to leverage the power of networks,” Penuel said. “You are going to do this warm hand to warm hand. That’s because the work of teaching is technical work, but it is also heartfelt work, and you can’t just hand over curriculum and have it sung into existence by a teacher. You really have to work through networks of colleagues and cultivate networks.”

During his talk, Penuel also touched on the reality that no single innovation works for all stakeholders in all settings. He said the environments of partnerships are constantly changing.

“There’s no permanent thing where we figure out what works and just run with it. We’re going to have to constantly navigate.”

For more information on DBIR visit

October 2016 | by, Myra Lopez

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