Why: the need for effective knowledge management to create self-improving systems?

Improving teaching and teacher knowledge – the challenge facing educators

“The challenges facing education systems and teachers continue to intensify. In modern knowledge-based economies, where the demand for high-level skills will continue to grow substantially, the task in many countries is to transform traditional models of schooling … into customised learning systems that identify and develop the talents of all students. This will require the creation of ‘knowledge-rich’, evidence-based education systems, in which school leaders and teachers act as a professional community with the authority to act, the necessary information to do so wisely and the access to effective support systems to assist them in implementing change…The results from TALIS suggest that in many countries, education is still far from being a knowledge industry in the sense that its own practices are not yet being transformed by knowledge about the efficacy of those practices.” (OECD, 2009a, p. 3).

The MESH knowledge management system has been developed by members of the charity Education Futures Collaboration set up by education sector organisations. This has developed from concerns shared by educators in different countries and discussed in a wide range of meetings and conferences during 2010-2014 e.g. ICET, ATEA, TEFANZ, ICORE, BERA, AACTE, TEPE, ECER, CFSA, UCET, British Council Global Education Dialogues (Dubai 2013 and Lahore 2014) AAOU . Following these discussions, the Education Futures Collaboration charity was created as an education sector led organisation supporting teaching as an evidence-based profession. This video explains the goals with respect to the UN’s Millennium Education Goals replaced in 2016 by the Sustainable Development Goals.

MESH builds on 25 years of national and international initiatives and experiments on how to harness the power of digital technologies to support teaching as an evidence-based profession. In a number of countries early investments by governments in web-based repositories for teacher knowledge have been lost when governments changed. This has led to the realisation that an independent, education sector run organisation is needed to allow for the building and sharing of knowledge. Leask (2011) summarises early (2000-2010) UK developments in knowledge management in education and local government sectors. Information on progress in other countries is invited. Please send information to enquiries@meshguides.org.

Education as an self-improving, evidence-informed profession – some knowledge management (KM) initiatives and some KM tools:

The OECD (2009, p.3) sees lack of effective knowledge management in education as inhibiting improvement. A simple web search will show you that developing and applying knowledge management tools and processes are of concern in all sectors. Knowledge management tools cover those used for finding, creating, using, sharing and managing knowledge (see the list below and Leask, 2011 for further information). In education, there is a wide range of tools but many of these are not known about widely or only operate effectively with widespread engagement. MESH has the potential to be the focal point for such a system but if someone has better ideas please tell us and let us combine energies and resources. We know we can only achieve a good knowledge management system for education if we collaborate to share and build knowledge.

An issue about the quality of research-based knowledge available which has to be addressed by educational researchers is the plethora of studies in any one area. Systematic reviews or rapid evidence reviews are a way of synthesising what is known and building a knowledge base through accumulating knowledge. Some teacher-researcher networks are experimenting with doing rapid evidence assessments now and there will be news about this in forthcoming MESHGuides newsletters. The Cochrane and Campbell Collaborations below and the UK EPPI Centre provide models for building databases of systematic reviews.

Below is a note about what needs to be available if teachers are expected to be evidence-informed practitioners. Some tools and processes are mentioned. Please send in your ideas too via enquiries@meshguides.org.

Finding research-based knowledge:

Imagine if teachers could easily access research summaries relevant to their particular context which are updated regularly and which are open to all. Currently copyright issues restrict access to much knowledge often even that which has been created using public money. This is because the costs of creating open access repositories have to be covered by someone and currently academic libraries and individuals pay subscriptions.

Web crawlers personalised to specific communities of inquiry are being tested as part of MESH. We are working with Bath Spa University on such a tool.

Creating research-based knowledge:

Creating yet more small scale studies which don’t add anything to the existing body of knowledge is an approach we do not feel is going to significantly help teaching become a research-based profession. There are a number of tools which cost the researcher nothing but which help in the production of research which can be seen to be internationally significant. The online collaboration platform supported by the Education Futures Collaboration provides a meeting point for educators interested in particular topics. The People Finder tool allows you to find people like you. Teacher-researcher networks can provide a powerful and cost effective means of producing reliable and valid data given certain conditions (Stenhouse, 1975) and the technology now supports world wide teacher-researcher networking. Networks can provide a cost-effective way of scaling up promising small scale research.

Online survey tools such as Survey Monkey and Bristol Online Surveys make it relatively easy to do low cost large scale surveys, across schools or countries.

There are many large scale datasets produced by governments and international bodies eg UNESCO which provide data which if analysed would provide firm foundations for educational practice and the targetting of resources.

Rapid Evidence Assessments provide a method for quickly synthesising research reports and providing a structure for building syntheses over time. More will be published in forthcoming newsletters about the approach we are taking with teacher-researcher groups working with academics to undertake mini-reviews or rapid evidence assessments which overtime can build into major reviews of, for example, a particular pedagogical tool.

Systematic reviews are in more depth than Rapid Evidence Assessments and are well established as a methodology but do require considerable resources.

Using research-based knowledge:

When research-based knowledge is easily accessible then all in the education system (teachers, policy makers, inspectors and others involved in education) can be expected to consider the relevance and application of research in the light of their professional judgement and their context. When this stage is reached then the expectation of use of research-based knowledge can be included in job descriptions and criteria for accountability.

Sharing research-based knowledge:

As mentioned, copyright issues mean that it is difficult for many educators to access academic journals. But in any case, the plethora of studies and the difficulties of comparisons make this an onerous job. MESHGuides are intended to summarise research-based knowledge. It is intended that individual Guides should develop over time as more evidence becomes known about. In this way, the Guides will come to represent accumulated knowledge. In some countries, researchers are expected to demonstrate that their research findings are used. MESHGuides are intended to help in the translation of research findings into practice.

Managing research-based knowledge:

We know of many organisations who are doing what they can on an individual basis to manage research-based knowledge for teachers. Our view is that the job to be done is too costly for any one organisation to manage, that knowledge valuable to teachers is held in different locations around the world and that curation of existing knowledge is needed. This is why there is an international collaboration behind the development of MESHGuides and why the guides focus on the curation of knowledge. We also believe that all teachers should have access to research summaries in areas relevant to them, free at the point of use, regardless of their location and achieving this is one of our goals.

MESHGuides for updating your specialist subject knowledge:

Keeping up to date in the subject knowledge is a major challenge from teachers who not only cover many subjects but whose backgrounds are diverse. Over coming years, experts will be invited to contribute mini video lectures and summaries of the latest research in topical areas as a MESHGuides summarising the latest thinking and publications in the area.

As a science teacher I wanted to know the science behind every invention as it became available to the general public so that I could use up to date examples of applications of theory to practice in the real world. It is said that it took 25 years for research on plate tectonics to be included in geography curricula.

Ideally to keep up-to-date just with research in specialist subject areas and pedagogy, peer reviewed research summaries of advances in every subject area translated for classroom application would be available to teachers within months of new knowledge being published. For example, latest research in immunology is relevant to all biology teachers in probably every country. Latest research in neuroscience and memory is probably relevant to all teachers everywhere.

Good will and a small amount of effort by the knowledge holders together with digital technologies, providing a Wikipedia type resource (like MESHGuides) designed to be accessible for teachers, now make it possible for this new specialist subject content knowledge (which is separate to pedagogical knowledge) to be available within weeks to teachers. Video explanations are also helpful. Massolit, for example, is recommended by some teachers as they provide access to videos of subject specialists in the humanities talking about the latest work in various fields.

This page will be periodically updated with information on experiments in developing MESHGuides for subject specialist content knowledge. We are starting with examples from medicine, agriculture and art and design as academics in those areas have expressed a willingness to get involved. An invitation is extended to all subject specialists to get involved. Please register your interest here.

Marilyn Leask. Contact the project committee by emailing enquiries@meshguides.org.

Sources of videos on subject content knowledge include:

TED Talks; Ed Talks; MASSOLIT which focuses on providing short videos from leading experts in the Humanities: English Literature, Philosophy, History and the Classics. If you have experts you would like to hear on video please email Chris@Massolit.io. Princes Teaching Trust: The PTI provides subject knowledge updates for teachers in the UK.

Examples of Knowledge management initiatives:

Please add to the list by sending information to enquiries@meshguides.org.


Conexiones – A South American educational initiative. Contact Professor Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa.

Campbell Collaboration: www.campbellcollaboration.org

“The Campbell Collaboration (C2) helps people make well-informed decisions by preparing, maintaining and disseminating systematic reviews in education, crime and justice, social welfare and international development.” Volunteers, for the most part, world wide work in groups to create reviews. The Norwegian Government provides core funding.

Cochrane Collaboration : www.cochrane.org.

In their own words: “Cochrane is a global independent network of health practitioners, researchers, patient advocates and others, responding to the challenge of making the vast amounts of evidence generated through research useful for informing decisions about health. We are a not-for-profit organisation with collaborators from over 120 countries working together to produce credible, accessible health information that is free from commercial sponsorship and other conflicts of interest. It is funded through volunteer time and grants from organisations with an interest in particular areas. The Cochrane Review library is open to all to use”. Volunteers, for the most part, world wide work in groups to create reviews. Funding comes from a variety of sources.


The archive of the Evidence Informed Policy and Practice in Education and Europe initiative can be found here: http://www.eippee.org/cms/

European SchoolNet www.eun.org is a large network of teachers collaborating on projects.


UK Local Government Knowledge Hub www.khub.net

In their own words: “Knowledge Hub is a UK local government initiative harnessessing the collective conversation and intelligence of its members to drive social value. It provides a trusted and secure professional network and access to an established knowledge base of expertise, experience, good practice and innovation. Members need no longer constantly reinvent the wheel, but can rely on efficient, effective and reliable advice and solutions from peers. It is funded through local government subscriptions to the national Local Government Association”.

The Evidence-based Policy and Practice centre in the UK can be found on: https://eppi.ioe.ac.uk/cms/

The British Educational Research Association’s special interest group on Educational Research and Policy Making can be contacted through BERA on www.bera.ac.uk

Institute for Effective Education, The University of York has a website and newsletter focused on building the research base for education.

The Education Endowment Foundation is working to build a generic research-informed knowledge base for education

Our shared belief is that to teach every child so that they maximise their potential is hugely complex. A common misconception teachers encounter is that teaching children to learn by rote is sufficient. Rote learning provides the foundations for education but does not on its own help the learner in the application of knowledge. Where educational goals are that children should simply achieve rote learning, children can be asked for example to learn a list of dates and events and achieve 100% in a test testing just this. But to be educated is much more than this – it is to understand why these events happened, what we can learn from them in shaping the future, whose voices about these events are missing, how events have impacted and continue to impact on the global community. It includes being able to communicate these understandings orally and in written form to a high standard and to take and act on criticism of a view point and so on. MESHGuides, over time, will pull together and summarise research-based knowledge about what as a profession, we know about effective teaching and in particular how to overcome the barriers to learning key concepts that learners experience. Your collaboration and feedback is invited.