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Marking Year One

Reflecting on the launch of Usable Knowledge, and reaffirming our goals for year two

September 15, 2015
Marking Year One

When Dean James Ryan and the Harvard Graduate School of Education launched Usable Knowledge one year ago, the goal was simple: to share new discoveries about what works in education with teachers, leaders, and policymakers in the field, and to share it in a way that was easy to understand and to use.

But that simple idea represents a departure from the way universities have typically operated. In the ordinary course of things, universities share findings with scholarly communities, by way of peer-reviewed publications, grant reports, conferences, seminars, and classes. And they share news about those findings with their alumni, students, and donors. Until recently, universities haven’t regularly shared their research, and the knowledge it generates, directly with practitioners — with wholly unaffiliated people looking for a better way to do their jobs.

That’s starting to change. At Harvard-based projects like Working Knowledge, as well as across the higher-ed landscape, via MOOCs and other forms of outreach, universities are beginning to share knowledge with people on the front lines of practice, creating resources that can help them in their work and in their lives. 

When we put together stories that highlight the new initiatives of our HGSE community, the audience we have in mind is varied and robust — the kindergarten teacher in New Jersey, the superintendent in California, the data specialist in Washington, the ed tech entrepreneur in Australia, the developmental economist in South America, and the parent in Boston or Boise.

As the polarizing forces in our politics continue to stake their positions in the education debates, all of these audiences need a source of reliable, trustworthy, and accurate information about what works. Usable Knowledge seeks to be that source.

In the 12 months since we launched, our site has been viewed about 454,000 times. Our readers come for all sorts of reasons — we’ve had passionate reactions to stories about disability, testing, the college-to-career pipeline, and digital ethics, among many others.

Our most popular story? By a wide margin, it’s “The Science of Resilience,” published in March. With more than 136,000 page views and an enduring life on social media, it’s a story that resonated because it asked and answered a question that all practitioners want to understand: Why do some children thrive despite adversity, while others don’t? (Hint: It’s about adults and relationships.) Other popular stories also engaged the big questions: How much does happiness matter in education? How can we give our children the best start in life? How can we give them the tools they need to become successful adults? And what is going on with our teenagers?

The launch of Usable Knowledge last year is more accurately described as a relaunch. The concept, and the title, originated in 2006, long before the flourishing of a new wave of media interest in education. Faculty at the Ed School, led by Kurt Fischer, Joe Blatt, and Keith Collar, recognized that the walls between research and practice should be breached — that what was happening inside these walls needed to get out. That’s been the operating principle of Usable Knowledge 2.0, one that will energize us as we enter our second year, expand our reach, and develop new stories that bring truth to bear on the issues facing educators, parents, and students.

As we grow, I invite you to share your feedback and engage — on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and by signing up for our monthly newsletter (see the envelope icon at the top right of every page). Comment on our stories, and tell us what’s missing. Your perspectives are critical as we strive to create content that is relevant, engaging, and — most of all — usable.

About the Author

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Bari Walsh
Bari Walsh is the senior editor of Usable Knowledge.
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