Addressing the information needs of school leaders
Since 2003 Curriculum and Leadership Journal (CLJ) has had the charter of providing high quality and relevant information to school leaders, in short form, in plain language and in a clear format; linked to further resources wherever possible. Its staff members have done so clearly aware of the time-poor nature of educators and school leaders.
CLJ has been a small part of a great wave of attempts to address the growing volume and complexity of information. Three trends in particular stand out.
One trend has been the increased use of filtering, as educators sift out what they need from the overabundance of information on the web. They may select a few key news feeds and email alerts, follow the commentary of a handful of world-recognised experts such as Sir Ken Robinson, or view the recommendations of friends and colleagues in personal and professional networks. Software makes it easy to store and organise the selected information – to ‘curate’ it – while social media makes it easy to share it with colleagues. Bookmarks on a personal computer become social bookmarks stored in the cloud, via services such as Diigo. Curation services such as Scoop.it and Paper.li allow educators to package items sourced from a range of social media, and present them attractively to peers. ‘Everyone is a media outlet’, as Clay Shirky said (2008).
CLJ has been a filtering and curation service. Each edition staff members have picked out a small amount of material from a very wide range of sources – printed as well as online – looking closely into each article and paper, discarding material that did not live up to its promise. Within the time and resources available, the journal has endeavoured to find the material that readers have identified as most helpful – essentially, material that helps teachers improve learning opportunities for their students, or which helps principals and other school leaders support teachers in this work.
Another way to cope with the volume and complexity of information is to read summaries of long texts. Marydee Ojala, editor of Online, declared (2004) that ‘the real trend in information is heading toward being short… information professionals are increasingly being asked to deliver executive summaries, a few bullet points for PowerPoint slides, and research snapshots’:
It takes a great deal of research and analysis time to pluck out the essence of what we’ve found so that we can condense it into the desired delivery format… our real value lies in deciphering what we retrieve, not in the retrieval process itself… We need to inform clients of the extensive information underlying what we deliver.
Many professional journals are, in this sense, summary services, sometimes (Mallette and Barone 2014) explicitly presenting themselves as mediators between education researchers and practitioners. Periodicals playing this role for the Australian school education sector include Professional Educator, Education Review, EducationHQ, Teacher and RD, not forgetting the excellent, free research summaries in ISQ Briefings.
The lead articles in CLJ have usually been summaries of longer works. In some articles, academic authors have provided condensed descriptions of their research, which they report in much greater detail elsewhere. In other cases articles have been prepared from the text of substantial reports from education systems or other organisations. Sometimes the journal has also had the chance to present articles from school staff who have taken part in research projects or other education initiatives.
In CLJ's Abstracts section efforts have been made to distill into one paragraph the key information in pieces published elsewhere, often also linked to further sources of information in the text.
Automated services are now being used to crunch out summaries of single or multiple documents. However the inevitability of this trend is contested (Campbell 2011). Such summaries lack context, and do not signal what information has been omitted.
Conditions of overload actually make it harder for educators to obtain quality, relevant information – information-seeking in today’s environment has often been compared to drinking from a fire hydrant at full blast (see eg Cain 2003). Overload, however, is not the only barrier to finding valuable information. Quality research and commentary may be sequestered away, held by organisations that do not have the promotional resources of commercial publishing houses or government departments (Lawrence 2014), or which disseminate their work only via small-circulation, print-only journals. Research and commentary may also be written in styles designed for specialist academics (Smyth 2011) or they may use uncommon technological platforms and indexing systems that make them hard to discover (Thomson Reuters 2013).
Many efforts are being made to free up these blockages. The Conversation website’s charter includes an aim to ‘unlock the knowledge of researchers and academics to provide the public with clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems’. Policy Online is ‘a research database and alert service providing free access to full text research reports and papers, statistics and other resources essential for public policy development and implementation in Australia and New Zealand’. In the fields of law and government, information flow has been improved by AustLII. Perhaps the fullest expression of this trend is in the fields of health and medicine, which have seen the rise of ‘knowledge translation’, an effort to clear every step of the path from researcher to the patient (Lang et al 2007, MacDonald et al 2011). The drive to free up information flow has additionally led to a powerful and still developing movement toward open access texts (Bush and Mott 2009), Creative Commons and open educational resources.
By diving into a very wide range of sources for education literature and news, CLJ has sought to play a part in this movement to free up the flow of information between academic researchers, educators, policy makers and the public. Sources have included print-only journals; academic, professional and education system journals and blogs; collections of conference proceedings; organisational and personal websites; the media offices of universities and education authorities; publishers; social media accounts; subject-based mailing lists; and mainstream newspapers.
The journal’s archive of past editions remains available. They may be accessed via the journal search engine or via Google (for example, to search the CLJ archive via Google for material on formative assessment, type “formative assessment” site:curriculum.edu.au/leader).
Readers are also invited to explore a range of other information services, including Scootle Lounge, ESA News and the wide range of resources available on the AITSL website, including the eNews, School Leadership eCollection and the Research Repository.
Many, many people deserve thanks for their contributions to the journal. As well as the loyal readers and twitter followers, there are the authors who have offered their work, and colleagues in Education Services Australia, AITSL, ACARA and elsewhere, who have offered suggestions and guidance. Most especially I would like to thank the brilliant and dedicated colleagues who have over the years helped with abstracting and editing – working through dense, demanding articles and papers, serving them up to readers in clear prose while retaining their rich content – as well as undertaking the humble but vital work of proof reading, and attending meticulously to detail in all sections of the journal.
Bush, Michael and Mott, Jonathan, The transformation of learning with technology: learner-centricity, content and tool malleability, and network effects, Educational Technology: The Magazine for Managers of Change in Education March 2009; p 3–20 (See CLJ abstract)
Cain, Lara Anne Using a thimble to drink from a fire hydrant: information anxiety and the third sector. QUT. [Working Paper] 2003.
Campbell, Karyn, Return of the editor: why human filters are the future of the web, Sparksheet 28 September 2011.
Lang, Eddy S, Wyer, Peter C and Haynes, Brian, Knowledge translation: closing the evidence-to-practice gap, Annals of Emergency Medicine Volume 49 Issue 3, March 2007.
Lawrence, A, Houghton, J, Thomas, J & Weldon, P 2014, Where is the Evidence: Realising the Value of Grey Literature for Public Policy and Practice Swinburne Institute for Social Research, Melbourne.
MacDonald, Jackie, Bath, Peter, Booth, Andrew, Information overload and information poverty: challenges for healthcare services managers?, Journal of Documentation Volume 67 Issue 2, p238–263, 2011.
Ojala, Marydee, Information, short and sweet (editorial), Online (now Online Searcher) September/October 2004.
Shirky, Clay, Here Comes Everybody: the Power of Organizing Without Organizations, Penguin, February 2008.
Smyth, Bruce M, Some reflections on research translation for policy and practice (editorial), Journal of Family Studies Volume 17, Issue 2, August 2011.
Subject HeadingsInformation services