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Education Studies Research

This guide provides resources for educational research aimed at students enrolled in research programs at OISE.

Introduction to Knowledge Syntheses in Education

What are knowledge syntheses?

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) (2016) defines knowledge syntheses as: "'the contextualization and integration of research findings of individual research studies within the larger body of knowledge on the topic. A synthesis must be reproducible and transparent in its methods, using quantitative and/or qualitative methods." In other words, “knowledge synthesis” refers to types of literature reviews that follow an a priori project plan, called a protocol, to systematically collect the literature on a given topic, evaluate its suitability through a rigorous screening process, and synthesize in a manner appropriate to the included study types. Common knowledge synthesis methods include systematic reviews, scoping reviews, rapid reviews, meta-analyses, realist reviews, narrative reviews, among others.
 

How are they used in the educational research?

Although knowledge synthesis methods such as systematic reviews and meta-analyses emerged primarily in the health sciences, they are gaining in speed in the social sciences and fields such as education. The chart below shows a general trend in the publication of meta-analyses and systematic and scoping reviews indexed in ERIC and Education Source, two key academic databases in the field of education.

 

Methods and Process

What are knowledge synthesis methods?

Common knowledge synthesis methods include systematic reviews, scoping reviews, rapid reviews, meta-analyses, realist reviews, narrative syntheses, and many others types of reviews. Methods most commonly used in the field of education include scoping reviews, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses. Researchers should review each method carefully to determine which (if any) best suits their particular research question(s). The two links below point to guides that will help you understand and explore which method might work for you.

What is involved in a knowledge synthesis project?

All knowledge synthesis projects are comprised of a series of stages, which can be generally summarized as follows:

  • Research question: Formulate a clear, answerable research question
  • Protocol: Write a protocol that details the specific methods you will use and steps you will take in the review
  • Search: Design, test, and conduct a systematic, reproducible search to find articles and other sources relevant to your question
  • Screen: Examine your search results to determine whether the items you located match your study's inclusion and exclusion criteria
  • Appraisal: Assess the content of the studies included in your review
  • Synthesis: Summarize the knowledge you have found in the appraisal stage
  • Writing: Write up your methods and results for publication

Librarian researchers at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, have produced an excellent video about Conducting Systematic Reviews, which is an excellent overview of the process also a very relevant resource for all knowledge synthesis methods (26 mins).
Note: The step list above is adapted from the McGill University Library guide on Systematic Reviews, Scoping Reviews, and other Knowledge Syntheses.
 

Following standards and guidelines

Researchers conducting knowledge synthesis projects must ensure that their studies adhere to an established set of standards and guidelines in structuring and reporting methods uses. For example, the PRISMA Guidelines (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) provide a minimum set of items for reporting in systematic reviews and meta-analyses.

Getting Started

Workshops

  • Check the University of Toronto Libraries Workshops Calendar for upcoming knowledge synthesis workshops.

Selected methods texts

Video tutorials

  • Series of ERIC video tutorials focused on advanced systematic searching in the ERIC database, a key education database.

  

Locate Existing Reviews in Education and Related Fields

It is highly recommended that researchers determine whether a review has already been completed on their topic before proceeding. Searching for knowledge syntheses can be done in academic databases such as ERIC or Education Source. Additionally, there are some excellent databases dedicated to the collection of systematic, scoping and other reviews types in various fields.

Cochrane Collaboration

The Cochrane Collaboration is an international, not-for-profit organization that aims to help people make well-informed decisions about health care by preparing, maintaining and promoting the accessibility of systematic reviews of the effects of health-care interventions. The Cochrane Library contains existing systematic reviews and the Cochrane Handbook provides guidelines for conducting systematic reviews.

EPPI

The EPPI-Centre is based in the Social Science Research Unit in the Department of Social Science, UCL Institute of Education, University College London. The EPPI is a specialist centre for: (i) developing methods for systematic reviewing and synthesis of research evidence; and (ii) developing methods for the study of the use research.

MDRC

Located at the Institute of Education in London, the MDRC is a database of reviews of educational interventions, located at the Centre for Evidence-Informed Policy and Practice in Education.

What Works Clearinghouse (WWC)

Run by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) within the U.S. Department of Education, What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) was established in 2002. The goal of the WWC is “to provide educators with the information they need to make evidence-based decisions. We focus on the results from high-quality research to answer the question “What works in education?””

Support for Faculty

Consultations

Faculty members embarking on a knowledge synthesis project are welcome to book a one-on-one or team consultation with an OISE librarian to discuss the search component of their project. Librarians have experience to help:  

  •     Discuss your research question and explore the type(s) of evidence you want to find;
  •     Review where to look to locate any existing reviews on your topic;
  •     Discuss what tools (such as academic databases or grey literature sources) might be suited to your question; 
  •     Provide an overview of how to conduct a comprehensive search of the literature in academic databases; and  
  •     Connect you with appropriate resources and services at OISE and across campus to support other aspects of your project.

Systematic & Scoping Review Collaboration (SSRC)

The Systematic and Scoping Review Collaboration (SSRC) connects University of Toronto researchers who would like to partner with librarians as co-authors in the planning, execution and writing of knowledge syntheses studies. Learn more who can use the SSRC, and what projects are eligible. Please note that the SSRC is only available for faculty members and not graduate students. It is also dependent on the availability of librarians to participate in the research.

Support for Graduate Students

Consultations

Graduate students members embarking on a knowledge synthesis project are welcome to book a consultation with a librarian to discuss the search component of their project. Librarians have experience to help: 

  •     Discuss your research question and the type of evidence you want to find;
  •     Review where to look to locate any existing reviews on your topic;
  •     Discuss what tools (such as academic databases or grey literature sources) might be suited to your question; 
  •     Provide an overview of how to conduct a comprehensive search of the literature; and  
  •     Connect you with appropriate resources and services at OISE and across campus to support other aspects of your project.

Librarians cannot:  

  •     Develop your search terms or search strings;
  •     Run your searches; or
  •     Advise on whether your research question is suitable for the method (for this, work with a methods expert in your field of research.

Software for Knowledge Synthesis Projects

The University of Toronto Libraries has subscriptions to several software tools that may assist in your knowledge synthesis project. Please note that librarians do not provide Covidence or NVivo support, but we are happy to discuss citation management software tools with you.

Citation management software

Citation management software is vital in the data collection stage of knowledge synthesis projects. It can help you save time by allowing you to collect citations from online databases and library catalogues; organize, edit, and search through the citations you've saved; de-duplicate articles, and share your citations and collaborate with colleagues on projects. There are many citation management options to choose from and you can find an excellent Citation Management Guide here.

Covidence

Covidence software is designed to facilitate knowledge synthesis at the screening stage. The University of Toronto Libraries provides free subscriptions for current faculty, students, and staff. Request a Covidence account here.

NVivo

NVivo software is designed to facilitate qualitative data analysis. It can also be used at the analysis stage of a knowledge synthesis project to examine and code themes in your data set. The University of Toronto Libraries provides free subscriptions for current faculty, students, and staff. Request and NVivo account here.