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A New Academic Year

Welcome back to a new academic year.  As my first message as president of the division of research, I want to begin with two concepts that are not only central to our field but that are also currently of high visibility and interest in both research and popular culture.  The first concept is open science and transparency and the second concept is diversity and respect for differences.

With regard to open science, there has been a push to make research data available to others and to foster verification and replication in an effort to strengthen our confidence that when we say something works, we can expect it to work.  Yet, along with data transparency, we must welcome another form of openness in the scientific process – a willingness to consider ideas and approaches that may be outside of or counter to current thinking.

We must be willing to accept that in some cases there might not be fast and hard truths that always work out the same. It is conceivable that we could conduct five replications of an intervention with two trials showing a positive impact, two showing a negative impact, and one showing no impact without a clear pattern for the differences.  The point is that in the social sciences, and particularly in special education, the phenomena we focus on are dynamic, depend on many factors, and are often influenced by changing contexts.  What works probabilistically in the general population may not be relevant or impactful for a particular student in a particular setting. Fortunately, special education is the science of individualized data driven intervention.  Our research questions do not only focus on whether something works but also on figuring out how we move from what we know works in general to adapting this knowledge to specific settings with specific resources, needs, and constraints to promote the success of a particular child.

This brings us to our second concept--diversity and a respect for differences.  For special education, it is in our diversity that we find sameness in our community.  That is, we may work with different students who have different needs and we can get to the same or equally desirable outcomes in different ways.  We can learn from each other not only by sharing data but by also sharing our different ways of using data to address specific needs and circumstances.  This is where partnerships between researchers and practitioners is critical.  We need to have clear channels of communication that respect differences and diversity in our approaches as we collectively work for innovation and adaptive dynamic services that are responsive to the needs of the students we serve.

In future messages I hope to continue a dialogue about how we can foster effective partnerships between the practice and research communities.  I would also like to hear from you, both practitioners and researchers, about your processes of using data and the evidence-base to adapt services to promote meaningful outcomes and positive growth in the lives of our students.  Please feel free to contact me (tfarmer@pitt.edu).

Have a wonderful start to the new school year!                                   

Posted:  1 August, 2019

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