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Being a Critical Reader of Research

Discover the sources of current state of research into computing education.

An initial challenge for research is accessing, selecting, and evaluating sources of existing knowledge. There is a range of sources you can refer to when researching what exists and is known already, but each one offers a different perspective and a different level of context, rigour, and relevance. In this step, I’ll explain the differences between these sources and look at how you might use them, as well as giving you a curated list to get you started.


Academic Papers

These document the work of one or more researchers as they present new ideas or evidence, and are usually aimed at other researchers in their field. These papers may: – Report on findings from a study of some kind – Set out a new theory or principle – Analyse a collection of existing studies – Review an existing body of knowledge in a field

Good research papers are methodical, analytical, and focused; they present evidence, make conclusions and identify future areas for study. They are therefore usually good sources of reliable information. However, researchers are by necessity writing for other researchers, using structures, terminology, and language that may not be accessible to everyone.

When searching for research papers:

  • Google Scholar is a great place to start, as it highlights different places where a paper is available and links directly to a PDF if available
  • ResearchGate catalogues many research papers; where papers aren’t immediately available the site enables you to request the full text from the author

News Articles

At the other end of the scale are news reports, which are aimed at the general public and are therefore more likely to be accessible, both in terms of the writing style and their availability. News stories can often provide high-level summaries of a piece of research, study, or initiative. However, these articles can often be oversimplified, or lacking in nuance and detail, and occasionally they miss the point entirely.

Blogs and Social Media

There is a wide variety of educational blogs across the internet, written from a range of different viewpoints. Some feature teachers blogging about their experiences in the classroom; others are written by leaders and content providers sharing their views; and some are written by experts (including researchers) writing about their field. These posts aren’t as rigorous as a research paper, though they may reference research, and are often a mixture of fact and opinion.

Translational Research

This is an area that seeks to adapt research materials from the academic world, aimed at other researchers, and adapt them to suit an audience of practitioners who may be more concerned with the implications for their classroom. The goal is to distill, condense, and simplify what is presented in research, without misrepresenting the original findings. However, as readers, you need to be confident that the translator is accurately representing the original work and ideas.

Considerations for Reading

Each of the sources above has its own associated benefits and challenges and therefore a degree of criticality is needed when relying on the evidence they present. Below are some questions that you might ask when reviewing research sources that will help you judge their value:

An illustration of a teacher reading research and considering the purpose, findings, context and methodology

  • Purpose: Is the source aiming to convince or inform the reader? This may influence the accuracy and validity of how they present the research
  • Findings: What has been learnt from the research and what does this mean for you as an educator?
  • Context: Does the source represent a broad range of contexts? Can the findings be applied to your context?
  • Methodology: Is the approach taken clear, sound, and appropriate? Is the data collected using appropriate tools? Is the research conducted ethically, without bias?

Reading and Reconnaissance

Before embarking on your action research project, you should do as much reading around your theme as possible to understand what has been investigated before and the strength of the evidence.

To complete this step, we’d like you to read at least one piece of literature related to your theme. To help, we’ve collated a selection of literature that you may find useful. You can also save a copy of this list to your Google Drive.

Your goal from reading is to find out from past study:

  • What is understood about your area of interest?
  • What is the strength of the evidence?
  • What contexts do previous studies relate to?
  • What could you try in your context with your learners?


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Improving Computing Classroom Practice Through Action Research

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