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Evidence-Based Instruction for Higher Education

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will explain the importance of using evidence based instruction to improve and support teaching in higher education. We will also provide resources for higher education teachers to find current research and peer reviewed articles.

Building Half a Brain

Traditionally, students enter college around age 18. However, at this stage in their development, their brain is only halfway finished developing. Around their mid-twenties, when most students graduate from college, their brain has, or almost has, developed into its fully matured state. This places higher education instructors in the precarious position of being among the last educators to help these half-brains transition from adolescence into adulthood. No pressure there!

The Power of Research

In order to accomplish these lofty goals of building brains and ushering students into success in higher education, teachers will need to make use of a vast, rich history of educational research to provide evidence-based instruction.

Many of these resources are available for free if you know how to find them. Reference databases like ERIC (Education Resources Information Center) and JSTOR (Journal Storage) can provide peer-reviewed journal articles on a wide variety of topics.

The Higher Education pages on the websites for the National Education Association (NEA) and the U. S. Department of Education (DOE) each include several relevant websites and news articles. These lists provide a wealth of current educational resources for university instructors to have at their fingertips.

The DOE Provides a variety of primary and secondary sources
DOE Seal

Valid Research

Before diving into how to navigate these various research resources, let's take a look at what makes research valid. This will help later when we discuss search parameters on ERIC and JSTOR. Valid research follows the principles of the scientific method and is conducted by qualified researchers.

Usually, valid research is a study conducted with a generalizable sample size. This means the sample in the study is both relevant and large enough to make a generalization of a wider, similar population. In order for educational research to be considered valid and relevant, it should be peer-reviewed or examined by well-qualified research partners who look over the study and provide assurance that the research measures what it claims to measure, based on the best evidence available at that time.

When an educational research center or university conduct research, that research is usually peer-reviewed and then published in academic journals. So, another way to assure that the research you choose is the best available is to restrict your search to journal articles.

Finding Research

ERIC.ed.gov and JSTOR.org are primary research databases that contain valid research on nearly any topic you can imagine. Both of these reference resources provide opportunities to narrow your search parameters to include only journal articles with the characteristics of valid research. They both have advanced search options that can help narrow the scope of your journal article search. On ERIC, you even have the option to restrict your search to only peer-reviewed research. Both ERIC and JSTOR allow access to full-text articles that describe in detail different topics relevant to teaching in higher education.

JSTOR now has books!
JSTOR Icon

In addition to using these sites to find research into best practices and evidence-based instruction for higher education, helping students learn how to navigate these sites will improve their own research skills. Students will need to know how to make valid evaluations of others' research as they progress through their college careers. By illustrating how you use these reference sources in designing a course, you can also model effective research for your students.

If investigating primary research found in journal articles is a little too involved, instructors may want to check out some secondary research, like literature reviews, research analysis, and compilation articles written by people who have become experts in distilling the primary research in the journal articles into a digestible format for instructors.

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