by Susan Fowler

Susan Fowler, Professor in Special Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,

shares some of her insights on using Module 3: Communication for Collaboration to teach about evidence-based practice.

I am teaching a graduate class in special education for teachers (early intervention through post secondary education) and they are reading about what constitutes evidence based practice and how to translate research articles into practice or implications for practice.   This past week I demonstrated an evidence based practice (EBP) using the Communication module as my example.  I really like it for a number of reasons and so did my students!

  • The user can easily find the research summary on communication practices for collaboration. Right away, the user knows that the module was built on a literature review which relied on the findings of 15 studies  looking at the relationship between health care providers and parents and 8 studies  that looked at strategies or improving communication.  I could pull the literature review  (Nobile & Drotar, 2003) for additional background and to assess the quality of studies reviewed. So the evidence base for the practice was accessible.
  • The module provides the three categories of communication strategies and clearly defines the practices (3 or 4) that make up the strategy.  I really like the three tables and the clear presentation with practice, function and examples in Handout 3.1.
  • The module provides a checklist for identifying if a strategy and its practices are being used. This is great for recording number of  actions during a collaboration conversation and for describing examples.  My students and I could use it to score a videotaped conversation and reach consensus on the definitions.  This meant, we could define and measure a behavior that many at first thought was hard to assess in the abstract. 
  • The separation of  10 practices into 3 strategies helped my students see how they could teach or coach better communication.  They could start with one practice or a set of practices for one strategy.  Once they mastered a practice or a set, they could move on to the next one.
  • The module was clear enough that the students wanted to use it with themselves as a self-reflection tool before they tried to use it with a colleague. The “How am I doing” sheet was a big eye opener for them.  
  • The policy advisory section gave them the information that some thought they would need to convince their school administrators that the evidence based practice of communicating for collaboration merited future inservice training time.
  • Finally, they all appreciated the dilemma video example and how it drew them into the module.  They also liked the opportunity to choose how much of the module to explore.  They didn’t have to go through everything unless they wanted to do so.
  • After our discussion of the Communication Practices for Collaboration, each student found a different internet module on a promising or evidence-based practice mainly outside of CONNECT Modules.   They were far more critical of what they believed should be in the module, having experienced the CONNECT Modules example.  Some EBP modules did not provide references for the evidence base.  Some did not show how to measure and record the implementation of the practice, or ways to teach the practice.  Students reported that some took several hours to work through because they had no choices to skip sections.  None referenced legal policy  and the importance of teaching certain skills or behaviors.

Next semester the students will be implementing an evidence based practice in their classroom or agency. They have identified a practice already and written the literature review.  Many plan to use the format of CONNECT Modules for developing recording sheets to measure implementation of the practice and outcomes.  They also are looking at how they may need to adapt the practice based on their knowledge of their students or setting and cultural concerns.   Finally they need to address issues of sustainability of the practice over time and its social validity.

About the Author: Susan Fowler's research has focused on the lives of young children and their families between birth and age 8.  She looks at programmatic and policy factors that influence family involvement in the delivery of services to their young children, who are at risk for disabilities or identified as disabled.  She examines factors that influence professionals in their delivery and coordination of services.  Her research fits three clusters:  research and development of intervention strategies to enhance language, social and cognitive development in young children; development of guidelines and practices to help communities and programs coordinate delivery of services to young children and families, particularly as they leave one service system for another; and, increasing practitioners’  understanding of the roles that cultural and linguistic diversity may play in family’s participation in services. Susan was past President of Council for Exceptional Children in 2008 and former Dean of the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 2000-2006.

Community Questions

  • How do you teach  students about using evidence-based practices?
  • How have you used Module 3: Communication for Collaboration?
  • How do you envision using the module?