Bridging the Gap Between Researchers and Wider Audiences: Navigating A Community Literacy Collaboration In Real-Time

  • Post category:8.2 Article
  • Reading time:34 mins read

While campus-community partnerships are common, such engaged scholarship efforts often lead university researchers to community-centered presentations and publications; however, this type of scholarship and especially the venues in which it is often disseminated are of questionable value within the academy’s tenure and promotion process. Three literacy scholars who were invited to study the impact of community-wide Imagination Library implementation share challenges they encountered related to collaboration, communication, and dissemination of findings during the first two years of a five-year early literacy community partnership. Selected outcomes and implications for other community-engaged scholars include (a) investing in true multi-directional consistent collaboration and communication and (b) leveraging user-friendly technology tools and platforms to archive and share project work. The authors call for continued efforts to communicate beyond the academy with the audiences targeted for ultimate impact and continued advocacy for valuing non-traditional publications within the academy.

In addressing his experience of exclusion by colleagues in his own field, renowned cognitive psychologist Robert J. Sternberg (2014) caused quite a stir among academics when he described what some deem academia’s greatest shortcoming: academic tribalism. He explained that academics are “tribal” in that they are united by a common set of customs and traditions. According to Sternberg, “Tribalism does little good for academe other than giving academics a sense of belonging and affiliation. We all like to belong, but academics need to embrace intellectual inclusion rather than exclusionary ways of thinking” (para. 10). Becher and Trowler (2001) echoed Sternberg’s sentiment, describing academics as governed by norms that have evolved and become entrenched across time. Such norms are exemplified by the expectations of the promotion and tenure process gained through publication in discipline specific peer-reviewed academic journals. This notion of writing to meet the norms of the academy is particularly problematic for researchers, including ourselves, who seek to link their work in meaningful ways with practitioners in their field.

In this article we describe a collaboration with public partners seeking to improve kindergartners’ readiness for school learning through implementation of a community-wide book distribution program. We present the challenges we encountered in dissemination of research findings for public audiences, share our solutions, and close with calls for change. In the section that follows, we consider what existing literature suggests for publicly engaged scholars who seek to reach beyond the academy and facilitate communication between researchers and the world of practice.


In his seminal work, “The Scholarship of Engagement,” Boyer (1996) describes higher education’s longstanding commitment to the civic and intellectual work central to the nation’s progress. During the 1900’s, such joint efforts led to creation of the National Science Foundation and Department of Defense, offering millions of veterans a pathway and financial support to earn college degrees via the GI Bill and recruiting historically marginalized students across college campuses through affirmative-action programs. Although the United States has benefited immeasurably across time from networking with higher education, Boyer identified a shift within the academy toward prizing the individual work that led to a decline in the scholarship of engagement. Boyer argues that researchers must work alongside multiple stakeholders in families, schools, cities, communities, and beyond, using campuses as “staging grounds for action” (p. 20). Such collective impact efforts embrace the notion suggested by Ridzi and Doughty (2017) that significant social change rarely takes place as the result of the efforts of individual organizations, but rather, from larger-scale, cross-sector collaboration. Further, Poulos, Hamilton, Jovanovic, and Moretto (2015) claim that civic and democratic engagement between higher education and communities not only continues the academy’s historic commitment to uphold and serve the national good, but also is necessary to “ensure that a commitment to democracy as freedom, inclusion, full participation, and justice thrives rather than withers” (p. 44).

In related recent work with nonprofit practitioners and academic researchers, Powell, Winfield, Schatteman, and Trusty (2018) focus on the importance of developing pracademic relationships. In order to tangibly benefit communities, there must be significant time invested in developing trusting mutual relationships between academics and practitioners, where value is gained and problems are solved collaboratively. Central to this work is the mutually advantageous outcome of linking theory and practice in real-time, within authentic settings allowing academics to bolster their research efforts with practical application and deeper shared understandings among all stakeholders. Representing a departure from traditional unidirectional sharing of academic findings, pracademic knowledge should not only be mutually created and shared through multiple accessible venues, but also highlight ideas and insights that are useful, practical, and impact real-world settings.

Research Practice Partnerships in Education: Questioning the Status Quo

In contrast to the efforts of inquiry communities where practitioners and academics collectively focus on solving problems in real-world settings, educational policymakers have spent past decades trying to cure the ills of American classrooms through the uni-directional process of translating research to practice. Across this time, millions of dollars have been funneled into regional education labs, federally and state funded initiatives, and centers engaged in two primary endeavors. In an effort to ameliorate identified educational problems, evidence-based educational interventions are created based on research deemed credible by those directing and funding the intervention efforts. After development, such interventions are then implemented in real-world conditions in a wide variety of settings (Penuel, Allen, Coburn, & Farrell, 2015). One research-to-practice example includes the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001. This legislative mandate required states to develop and adopt standards-based curricula and administer aligned student assessments in order to receive federal school funding. Eight years later, Race to the Top, the United States Department of Education’s largest-ever competitive multi-billion dollar reform initiative, was created to catalyze and reward innovative efforts in K-12 education. Despite the implementation of these and additional large-scale research to practice interventions, the problems meant to be addressed by such attempts continue to offer increasingly complex challenges in American schools.

Bolstered by significant task force reports that call for changing the status quo in educational research (Donovan, Wigdor, & Snow, 2003; National Academy of Education, 1999; National Research Council, 2012), Research-Practice Partnerships (RPPs) offer a promising alternate approach for implementing engaged scholarship with inclusion of all stakeholders as valued contributors and active participants. Interest in RPPs has flourished in recent years, as they differ from conventional research partnerships in that they are long-term and mutualistic collaborations focused on real world problems of practice (typically in school settings). Further, RPPs continuously implement strategies to strengthen partnership relationships and produce mutually beneficial outcomes and analyses (Coburn, Penuel, & Geil, 2013). The success of RPPs has triggered a need for innovative ways to encourage and support the work of practitioner-researcher teams. Examples of such efforts include the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s blog, Carnegie Foundations Networked Improvement Communities, and recent investment of Institute of Education Science (IES) funding for RPP development. Thus, while the gap between research and practice remains a perplexing reality, efforts underway suggest that moving beyond “unidirectional research to practice” transmission has promise for the future (Easton, 2013, p. 18).

Connecting the Worlds of Research and Practice: Traditions, Tensions, and Outcomes

Few would argue with the notion that the academic islands of university research are dramatically different from the worlds of practice in which those beyond the campus navigate their daily lives. Moreover, multiple tensions undermine collaboration and communication between academics, policymakers, and practitioners, such as differences in interests and incentives; understandings about rigor and relevance; communication practices; concepts of time; and logic used to articulate and solve problems (Bartunek & Rynes, 2014). Consequently, much of the academic effort that represents the life work of researchers lacks impact on and traction with wider audiences (Martin, 2015). This disconnect is of particular concern in the field of literacy education in that most academic research findings rarely influence the lives of learners, nor the literacy practice taking place in K-12 classrooms (Dillon, O’Brien, & Heilman, 2000). In order to make this work useful to all stakeholders, ongoing communication must provide shared understandings and outcomes accessible to multiple audiences in digestible, easy to understand (Marciano & Watson, 2017; Martin, 2015) formats.

To facilitate communication across audiences, years of tradition have encouraged a translation metaphor in which scholars disseminate their findings in simplified and accessible formats so that non-academics can understand them (Penuel et al., 2015). Such is the stance in the 2014 U.S. Department of Education brief, “Going Public: Writing About Research in Everyday Language” (Dynarski & Kisker, 2014), which offers three basic rewriting suggestions for academic writers: (a) keep explanations simple; (b) focus on exactly what the reader needs to know; and (c) minimize any possibilities for reader misinterpretation. They recommend envisioning what readers might need to explain their new understandings to someone else and replacing research terms with simplified language.

Dillon et al. (2000) suggest an approach to educational research and dissemination that broadens the unidirectional approach of simplifying research findings for public consumption. They contend that researchers who are committed to social change are “motivated by a position or an issue and…philosophically and ethically driven to find an answer” (p. 10). By working collaboratively, researchers and community members can identify problems, generate theories, and work toward solutions that can realistically be implemented in real-world contexts. Dillon and colleagues recommend a pragmatic approach for such engaged literacy research, including a focus on problem solving using three dimensions: building communities of inquiry; selecting research problems with a moral obligation; and reconsidering traditions, methodologies, and how findings are communicated.

Next, we describe the community partnership and its current outcomes. Challenges and solutions related to collaboration, communication, and dissemination of research findings are detailed within Dillon et al.’s (2000) dimensional framework.

An Opportunity to Document Imagination Library Impact

In our rural Eastern North Carolina county, collective community discussions began in 2014 about how to increase the percentage of children who come to kindergarten ready for school learning, increase the percentage of children who are reading proficiently by the end of third grade, and ultimately improve high school graduation rates. Conversations among interested individuals and key groups were championed by a local speech and language therapist, who found in her home visits with young children that those who developed speech and language more slowly in their early years often shared a common factor: there were few or no books in their homes. She viewed these books as tools that parents and children could use for shared conversations about pictures, words, and stories. Such interactions not only build vocabulary and early cognitive understandings, but also lead to school learning readiness (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1997).

Early skills make it easier to learn later skills, and school readiness can have a long-term impact on success in kindergarten and beyond, including high school graduation and even chances of achieving middle-class status as an adult (The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2013). With only about half of the county’s children meeting state-determined benchmarks at kindergarten entry, the cause for concern was clear to us as literacy researchers and to the community stakeholders. Ongoing public meetings and strategy sessions were scheduled across the next year to determine how the community might organize an early literacy coalition. As university faculty with many years of work in public schools, in our regional International Literacy Association (ILA) affiliate organization, and in the local public library system, we saw this as an opportunity to be part of an effort having lasting, positive impact on our community. At these meetings, we collaborated with a variety of stakeholders, including other university faculty members, parents, elected officials, public school teachers and administrators, business leaders, representatives of non-profit agencies, health care providers, and county public library representatives. Members of a Steering Committee organized in early 2016 to identify possible funding sources and a structure for formalizing a community-wide early literacy coalition.

As these conversations continued, our area United Way affiliate, an early leader and advocate for coalition organization, garnered funds from a local family foundation and other funders to launch the coalition’s first initiative, a book distribution program providing books for the families of every enrolled child in our county aged 0-5. Well before participants began enrolling in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (DPIL) in early 2016, studying the impact of the community’s literacy efforts was articulated as a clear goal by funders and community members. Thus, our team of university literacy researchers was asked to co-plan and implement a five-year study, the Imagination Library Kindergarten Impact Study (ILKIS), to explore the impact of participation in DPIL on children’s school learning readiness, as measured by state-mandated and other selected kindergarten assessments. Because the belief that all children should have access to the resources and opportunities needed to become successful school learners undergirds our combined career experience in school psychology, classroom teaching, reading intervention, and literacy teacher preparation, our research team embraced this collaborative opportunity.

Collaborating and Communicating with Community Partners

Early involvement in our community’s literacy coalition planning, our commitment to the goal of impacting the lives of its literacy learners, and our years of collaborative work in schools, universities, and community organizations positioned us to build a community of inquiry around this initiative. As suggested by the dimensional framework of Dillon et al. (2000), we disrupted the traditional notion of a one-way distribution of services and knowledge from the university to the community by purposefully situating ourselves as equal partners. With little prior experience in long-term community-based research ventures, we engaged in numerous research team conversations and stakeholder conversations in which we advocated for the use of sound, objective research and acknowledged what all community collaborators brought to the table. Conversations with public stakeholders resulted in relationships that led to building a community of inquiry and the opportunity to invest our scholarship efforts in solving a mutually-agreed upon problem facing many communities today.

As faculty members and literacy researchers at a large state university, we were fortunate that the university’s provost was an early literacy coalition supporter and member of the Steering Committee. Support from the provost, local public school administrators, and United Way administrators helped us formulate a mutually agreed upon plan for gathering baseline data and documenting yearly data analyses from a selected sample of county students and their families. As a research team, we invested many hours in coming to common understandings about literacy, goals of the literacy coalition initiative as a whole, goals for the DPIL research project as a subcomponent of that initiative, and ways to measure goal attainment. We gained understandings about how non-profits must situate their goals for the community and potential funders, as well as how public school administrators and teachers experience mandated literacy assessment. During study planning, two of us participated in the university’s Engagement and Outreach Scholars Academy. Professional development workshops about engaged scholarship emphasized the culture of partnership and reciprocity that characterizes high-quality engaged scholarship. At the same time, ongoing conversations among all stakeholders resulted in greater shared understandings about reasonable strategies, expectations, and outcomes for research meant to document DPIL implementation and any impacts on school literacy readiness. We carefully planned for nuanced conversations with DPIL families to discuss the value of reading with children before they enter school, with an understanding that there is no expectation that children must be able to read before they enter kindergarten.

The work with early literacy coalition stakeholders broadened the network of community partners and contributed to the professional growth of the researchers to an extent we would not have imagined possible prior to this endeavor. In planning collaborative conversations and inquiry, we considered theories of change and created a logic model outlining inputs, strategies, and outputs across the duration of our study. Adapted from a similar model established by the Dollywood Foundation, the model established a mutually agreed upon initial research plan that we expect to evolve across time, based on our research findings. Meetings and conversations among multiple partners continue to impact our logic model, reflecting its dynamic function in guiding our work. These conversations have also contributed to our growth as researchers and experts in our field by helping us consider the value and relevance of our work to those who are most impacted by its outcomes. The hours spent building relationships with teachers and administrators in the 18 schools with student participants during the past two years have strengthened the researchers’ collective understanding of the public school system’s perspectives about early literacy instruction and assessment. Moreover, discussing this research across time with multiple public partners has led to a deeper reflection on the work and a more recursive and iterative research process than might have otherwise occurred.

Disseminating Partnership Findings to Public Audiences

The relationships we have built over time with public partners and the dedication and interest of the community have led to increasing opportunities to discuss this work with elected officials, groups across our university, and community audiences. Compared with previous academic writing efforts that had focused on sharing findings at professional conferences with academic audiences, crafting grant proposals, and writing for peer-reviewed journals (e.g., Anderson, Atkinson, Swaggerty & O’Brien, 2018), the need arose to create at-a-glance snapshots of data outcomes to share back with community partners. These snapshots were then used as a basis for creating literacy resources for local families – both drawing upon and furthering the strengths of the partnership.

Leveraging user-friendly technology tools. While none of us is a technology guru, we have some experience with digital tools as a result of teaching online courses at a university. That said, we found ourselves scrambling for appropriate digital platforms when faced with frequent community requests to share research findings. We turned to Edutopia blogger Todd Finley, who recommended Canva, a highly user-friendly and free graphic design site touted for its colorful web and print media graphics. We experimented first with Canva’s print media format, collaborating with the United Way and the public library to create quarterly digital newsletters that were distributed by United Way to all DPIL families. The initial newsletter effort led the team to create additional resources that were very different from the more traditional PowerPoint slides or Microsoft Word documents we were accustomed to sharing (Anderson et al., 2018). Selected examples include:

  • The ILKIS Study Logic Model was a digital graphic model depicting our long-term plans and inputs, strategies, and outcomes across the 5-year study. It was used as an overview graphic to frame our community engagement work for public presentations, partner sharing, and academic publication.
  • Findings from our research team’s (1) Baseline Year and (2) DPIL Year 1 were put into digital data displays for presentations and used as a basis for decision-making about parent resource content created among community partners.
  • Issues 1-6 of a newsletter for parents of DPILenrollees were created at the request of and in collaboration with the United Way and distributed quarterly to the parents/guardians of more than 5,000 county children.
  • Imagination Library Enrollment Resources were created to provide consistency in procedures and guide conversations for DPIL enrollment.
  • An Imagination Library Parent/Guardian Flyer (in both English and Spanish versions) was requested by the United Way and created in collaboration with this agency and the local partnership for children affiliate to be distributed with DPIL enrollment.

Archiving collaborative and academic work in accessible venues. This collaborative community literacy project has challenged us to look beyond the typical venues for documenting and sharing our academic accomplishments and community collaboration. While writing academic publications associated with our research project is both an important means of disseminating our findings to the broader research community and a necessity given current university expectations, we recognized early on that these academic publications on our CVs did not fully represent the nature and scope of this five-year partnership. As requests for information related to the research project mounted, it became apparent that a venue was needed for recording and tracking our research-related efforts, strategies, outcomes, and resources that was not only accessible by our community and public partners but could also be updated continuously.

Thus, we used the WordPress Blog format (supported by our university, and available free online) and integrated our existing Canva graphics to launch an ILKIS website. The creation of additional Canva headers and elements contributed to a continually evolving website that is now referenced on all of our work. The website serves as a public portal for an overview of our project, publication links (for both peer-reviewed articles and collaboratively created community publications), data summary graphics, and a variety of resources related to DPIL enrollment, DPIL books, and, more generally, shared book reading within the home. The recent inclusion of a Google Analytics widget allows for periodic review of website readership and demographics. In addition to showcasing the findings and contributions to both the community and the academy, this website shares this work with community partners and potential literacy coalition and research funders. It has enabled the research team to more easily honor multiple public speaking requests to share our work with a variety of audiences. For example, the annual public library elected officials meeting included state, county, and city elected officials; Board of Trustee Members; Friends of the Library and Library Staff; local School Board members; and representatives of the literacy coalition. Attendees left the presentation with an overview of the collaborative research project and an open invitation to engage in the effort. All 125 invitees received an email follow-up leading to continued feedback, further DPIL enrollment efforts by community partners, and continued requests for the creation of community literacy publications and presentations.


While we do not claim to have traversed the landscape of academic and public partnerships in a novel manner, these reflective insights will guide the next three years of work on the project and be of value to others who are considering opportunities to invest their research efforts in the scholarship of engagement. Similar to more traditional academic research, the early stages of community-engaged scholarship require a thorough examination of the literature. The work of Dillon et al. (2000) is particularly pertinent to literacy research. Reflecting on their three dimensions for engaged research, it seems that they are applicable across multiple fields of inquiry. With respect to Dimension 1 – building communities of inquiry – we cannot emphasize enough the importance of time for building trusting relationships, establishing common language, understanding the problem or problems from multiple perspectives, and setting common goals. Building trust is often a slow process, taking time to ensure that all voices are heard and all perspectives are honored. Dimension 2 – selecting research problems with a moral obligation – is at the heart of the scholarship of engagement and exemplifies shared university and community commitment to address our nation’s civic, social, and ethical challenges (Boyer, 1996; Poulos et al., 2015). As literacy researchers, joining our community’s effort to improve literacy outcomes for children went beyond a commitment to be active scholars. It was tantamount to a moral imperative. Literacy research strongly supports the importance of grade-level reading proficiency by the end of third grade as a critical benchmark toward gaining a high school diploma and subsequent college and career success (The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2013). Moreover, the need for literacy within a democratic society serves multiple purposes by empowering individuals with the skills and confidence to actively participate and to hold their governments accountable (Unesco, 2009).

We suspect that identifying research priorities with a moral obligation would be relatively straightforward in most disciplines, if indeed university researchers had the freedom to do so without concern for meeting more traditional research expectations. We encourage researchers to follow their hearts as they explore community research opportunities and to work toward increased acceptance and recognition of engaged research at their own universities. For us, Dillon et al’s (2000) Dimension 3 – reconsidering traditions, methodologies, and how findings are communicated – has been the most challenging and enlightening. As we have worked with community partners toward shared goals and as we have created and shared resources with a broader group of community stakeholders, we have learned more about our topic of inquiry, our community, and ourselves as researchers than possible through more traditional research methodologies.

A Call for Greater Recognition of Engaged Research and Publications in Academia

The construct of academic tribalism (Becher & Trowler, 2001; Sternberg, 2014) never consciously surfaced as we took on this work, but it offers perspective as we look back on the past two years of our research partnership to question why the outcomes we have crafted for and with community partners are not assigned concrete value within the academy. With a collective investment of almost thirty years in adhering to the norms of the academy, we have rarely questioned the fact that the tenure and promotion process almost exclusively values publication in peer-reviewed journals. As junior faculty we were well-schooled in the publish or perish mindset and consequently continued this trajectory even after some of us became tenured. We admit that many of our past research efforts were not thoughtfully planned with the dimensions that Dillon et al. (2000) suggest. Nevertheless, as former members of the practitioner tribe, valuing the input and outcomes of all research stakeholders is a necessity in our current roles as engaged outreach scholars (Boyer, 1996). That said, while investing our efforts in engaged scholarship writing outside traditional peer-reviewed journal venues, we must also meet current university norms and concurrently publish in academic journals. Part of the solution to resolving this tension is contingent on current limits of journals themselves. They must be willing to accept non-traditional publications, be open to larger readership, and exhibit the kind of characteristics that foster scholarly work of value to both academia and the public. Writing for wider, public audiences requires significant time that is not consistently valued in our current climate, leading us to propose multiple questions. While researchers may be genuinely interested in engaged scholarship and writing for the multiple audiences with whom they collaborate (Dillon et al., 2000), will they choose to do so? Unless and until universities have successfully moved along in valuing this kind of work, is it indeed futile for faculty members attempting to get this work recognized? If so, how can scholars be encouraged to engage in meaningful pragmatic inquiry with the potential to offer viable alternatives for impacting real-world educational problems and settings? Such disconnects and incongruencies fuel our resolve to think more deeply about the inquiry in which we are engaged and question the status quo within our own institution and beyond.

As faculty and researchers at a university with “public service and regional transformation” (East Carolina University, 2014) as its mission, we acknowledge our university’s commitment to engaged scholarship. Indeed, we would not even be engaged in this work without the considerable support and encouragement we have experienced across multiple levels. Yet, even at a recognized Carnegie Foundation Community Engaged Institution with a large and growing Office of Community Engagement and Research, explicit recognition of and credit for the work and products of engaged scholarship have not impacted formal tenure and promotion protocols. Toward that end, we will engage in continued advocacy for more formal recognition of writing for and with public partners across the university.

Bridging the Gap and Increasing the Value of Partnerships

The calls of literacy education experts such as Reinking (2010) and Dillon et al. (2000) remind us that literacy inquiry should shift to a more practical or pracademic (Powell et al., 2018) paradigm that improves human well-being, addresses pressing problems in authentic contexts, and communicates research outcomes with public audiences in understandable language. Next, we describe the changes that can honor the intent of such research efforts and raise academic scholarship value beyond peer-reviewed venues.

First, as we have navigated our research partnership with community partners in real-time, the inputs, strategies, and outcomes represented in our ILKIS Logic Model have evolved and changed, the result of ongoing dialogue taking place with community audiences. We see these multi-directional communication and planning efforts as aligned with the Research-Practice Partnership model suggested by Penuel and others (Coburn et al., 2013; Penuel et al., 2015) and view their Research+Practice Collaboratory (TERC, 2018) as a potential resource for framing our continued project efforts “as a form of joint work requiring mutual engagement across multiple boundaries” (Penuel et al., 2015, p. 182). The Research+Practice Collaboratory website, as well as the National Results and Equity Collaborative (n.d.) and Literacy Funders Network (2010) websites are examples of the sort of digital hub suggested by Martin (2015), who offers that investment in and use of such collaborative tools has the potential to “strengthen the ‘connective tissues’ that link research to policy and practice, and vice versa” (p. 19). We envision use of the collaborative tools made available by others while continuously building our ILKIS website into a more localized digital hub that will be routinely accessed by a variety of community partners.

Second, when academics submit their work for publication in peer-reviewed journals, they select the venue most fitting to share their work. If, indeed, they hope to negate one of the tensions dividing academics, policymakers, and practitioners (Bartunek & Rynes, 2014), then venue choices should be accessible by non-academics, particularly in order for community audiences to have access to research funded by public funds. Eve (2014) argues that open access (OA) journals not only allow any internet-enabled reader across the world the opportunity to locate, retrieve, digest, and apply featured research, but also benefit researchers by increasing the audience size for and impact of one’s work. Because our research team received the support of our state university to conduct this long-term study, our choice to publish this piece in this particular OA journal is not unintentional. We encourage academics to move beyond the limits of paywalled journals only available through university libraries and submit to OA venues. Further, we endorse the suggestion that academics should share research via free informal venues, such as blog posts, social media, or the kinds of examples we have featured in this article (Berlatsky, 2014; Eve, 2014; Marciano & Watson 2017).


While the long-entrenched norms of the academic tribe have been questioned and debated in recent decades, it would be naive to expect that attaching greater value to informal collaborative work created within engaged scholarship partnerships will happen overnight. This sort of work currently “doesn’t come with the reputational returns that academics usually want and is seen as an ‘add-on’ that has to be done amid an academic’s already-busy schedule” (Berlatsky, 2014, para. 26), yet we believe it to align with our university’s mission and with the engaged scholarship tenets that Boyer (1996) called for years ago. We further assert that the importance of such pracademic partnerships should be emphasized, so in addition to noting these accomplishments on our CVs and advocating for the value of these publications within the tenure and promotion process at departmental, college, and university levels (Powell et al., 2018), we invite academics to amplify this message within a collective call for change.


The research described in this article was supported through the funding and efforts of the following divisions of East Carolina University: Academic Affairs-Office of the Provost, the Office of Community Engagement and Research, the College of Education-Office of the Dean, and the Department-Office of the Chair of Literacy Studies, English Education, and History Education. We wish to thank Graduate Research Assistant, Stephanie Wangerin, Master’s of Public Health candidate in the East Carolina University Brody School of Medicine, for her contributions to the publications featured in this article.


Anderson, K. L., Atkinson, T. S., Swaggerty, E. A., & O’Brien, K. (2018). Examining relationships between home-based shared book reading practices and children’s language/literacy skills at kindergarten entry. Early Child Development and Care, 1-16. doi: 10.1080/03004430.2018.1443921.

Bartunek, J. M., & Rynes, S. L. (2014). Academics and practitioners are alike and unalike: The paradoxes of academic-practitioner relationships. Journal of Management, 40(5), 1181-1201. doi:10.1177/0149206314529160

Becher, T., & Trowler, P. R. (2001). Academic tribes and territories: Intellectual enquiry and the culture of disciplines, 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press.

Berlatsky, N. (2014, November). Why isn’t academic research free to everyone? An interview with Martin Paul Eve. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Boyer, E. (1996). The scholarship of engagement. Journal of Public Service and Outreach, 1(1), 11–20.

Coburn, C. E., Penuel, W. R., & Geil, K. (2013). Research-practice partnerships at the district level: A new strategy for leveraging research for educational improvement. New York: William T. Grant Foundation.

Cunningham, A. E., & Stanovich, K. E. (1997). Early reading acquisition and its relation to reading experience and ability 10 years later. Developmental Psychology, 33(6), 934–945. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.33.6.934

Dillon, D. R., O’Brien, D. G., & Heilman, E. E. (2000). Literacy in the next millennium: From paradigms to pragmatism and practicality. Reading Research Quarterly, 35(1), 10-26.

Donovan, M. S., Wigdor, A. K., & Snow, C. E. (Eds.) (2003). Strategic Education Research Partnership. Washington, DC: National Research Council.

Dynarski, M., & Kisker, E. (2014). Going public: Writing about research in everyday language (REL 2014-051). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Analytic Technical Assistance and Development. Retrieved from

East Carolina University (2014). Mission Statement. Retrieved from

Easton, J. Q. (2013, June). Using measurement as leverage between developmental research and education practice. Presentation at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia.

Eve, M. P. (2014). Open access and the humanities: Contexts, controversies and the future. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from

Literacy Funders Network (2010). Literacy Funders Network Powerline. Retrieved from

Marciano, J. E., & Watson, V. W. M. (2017). “Now we need to write something that people will read”: Examining youth choices as perspectives of literacy research. eJournal of Public Affairs 6(2) 60-85. Retrieved from:

Martin, S. (2015). Practical approaches to increasing the utilization of research. Public Administration Review, 76(1), 18-19. doi:10.1111/puar.12509

National Academy of Education (1999). Recommendations regarding research priorities: An advisory report to the National Educational Research Policy and Priorities Board. Washington, DC: Author.

National Research Council (2012). Using science as evidence in public policy. Washington, DC: Author.

National Results and Equity Collaborative (NREC) (n.d.) Retrieved from

Penuel, W. R., Allen, A. R., Coburn, C. E., & Farrell, C. (2015). Conceptualizing research-practice partnerships as joint work at boundaries. Journal of Education for Students Placed At Risk (JESPAR), 20(1-2), 182-197. doi:10.1080/10824669.2014.988343

Poulos, C., Hamilton, C., Jovanovic, S. & Moretto, K. (2015). Our work is not done: Advancing democratic engagement as purpose and product of higher education. Journal for Higher Education and Community Engagement,7, 34-46.

Powell, E., Winfield, G., Schatteman, A. M., & Trusty, K. (2018). Collaboration between practitioners and academics. Journal of Nonprofit Education and Leadership, 8(1), 62-79. doi:10.18666/JNEL-2018-V8-I1-8295

Reinking, D. (2010, December). Beyond the laboratory and lens: New metaphors for literacy research. Presidential address at the Literacy Research Association, Fort Worth, TX.

Ridzi, F., & Doughty, M. (2017). Does collective impact work? What literacy coalitions tell us. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Sternberg, R. J. (2014, February 26). Academic Tribalism [Blog post]. Retrieved from

TERC. (2018). A Research Practice Collaboratory. Retrieved from

The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2013). Early warning confirmed: A research update on third-grade reading. Baltimore: The Annie E. Casey Foundation. Accessed June 25, 2018.

UNESCO. (2009). Overcoming inequality: Why governance matters. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.


Terry S. Atkinson, Kimberly L. Anderson, and Elizabeth A. Swaggerty are faculty members in the Department of Literacy Studies, English Education, & History Education at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, where they teach undergraduate and graduate literacy education courses and are actively involved in community-engaged research focused on early literacy.