The Importance of Conducting Local Research and Building a Community of Practice for Developmental Education Professionals

By Katheryn McCoskey

Dev ed professionals in a meeting

This is the first in a series of blogs from developmental educators who participated in the 2019 Kellogg Institute run by the National Center for Developmental Education at Appalachian State University.

Education professionals who take their programs seriously ground and surround themselves with credible research in the field. This requires prioritizing time to locate, follow, and read current research articles and studies and, if funds and administrative support are available, to attend and participate in relevant conferences. Most developmental education professionals are practitioners, busy with the day-to-day teaching and support of students with challenging needs and lives. To truly be “scholar–practitioners,” as Dr. Hunter Boylan of the National Center for Developmental Education recently challenged the Kellogg Institute 2019 class to be, takes tenacity and is vitally important to the integrity of our programs and to our students. However, as practitioners study and apply research to the structural, curricular, and instructional aspects of their programs, we must also study and problem-solve within the realm of our local experience.

The challenges and opportunities at our own institutions and programs are in many ways unique, and we know our students best. We must use the research to further study our own colleges and improve student outcomes. Firing up the microscope to examine our own students’ demographics, success and retention issues, non-cognitive influences, and academic results may seem daunting, especially when many of our institutional research departments are unable to assist us due to their own workloads. We have to learn how to get and process the data needed to make local decisions. Regular, thoughtful discussion—sharing ideas and experiences, problem-solving, and brainstorming among colleagues—is invaluable for making local decisions as well.

Creating a community of practice within a developmental program is an effective way to build a foundation of trust and collaboration so that these discussions occur more often. In a community of practice, full-time and adjunct colleagues regularly come together to share research they have read or heard about, model and share best-practice instructional strategies and assignments, help each other address difficult students or class problems, and brainstorm about curricular and program improvements to better reach and support students. In my experience, a small stipend or professional development incentive can encourage faculty to participate. This use of resources requires the support of the college’s administration. After that, the meaningful connection of similarly passionate colleagues provides a satisfying, lasting incentive. Also, never underestimate the drawing power of basic hospitality in the form of cheerful communication and good snacks!

Developmental education is still “young” in research. As practitioners, we should stay abreast of and join in the important research that is being done in our field. We must include the study of our own unique challenges and situations and be courageous and creative in developing solutions alongside our colleagues.

Katheryn McCoskey is an English professor and the developmental education English lead at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kansas.