Research Shows an Empty Backpack Is as Good as a Parachute

www.emilymeadows.org

@msmeadowstweets

Parachute pictured not from the study.

A study published in BMJ last year showed that parachutes are no more protective against death and injury than a standard, empty backpack[1]. BJM (previously the British Medical Journal) is a peer-reviewed publication, the study design was a randomized controlled trial, and the researchers were professors affiliated with Harvard Medical School and the UCLA School of Medicine. Results demonstrated that participants who jumped out of an airplane or helicopter wearing an empty backpack were no more likely to suffer trauma or death upon impact than those jumping with a functional parachute.

How’s that? 

Looking past the astonishing abstract, we learn that participants jumped from a parked airplane or helicopter, ‘falling’ no more than 60 cm to the ground. None of the participants – whether equipped with a backpack or a parachute – were harmed. The study’s outcomes were statistically valid, but extremely situation-dependent. Context matters.

Many of my readers carry passports from, were trained in, or work in schools where English is the dominant language. We tend to source our research from English language publications, which over-represent studies from Anglophone countries. Does work done in the U.S. or the U.K. have applications in Chile/Kenya/Germany/Qatar?

My doctoral research requires translating data across cultural lines, rather than linguistic ones. I have an interest in the Middle East, but find minimal journal articles reflecting my subject area there (LGBTQ+ inclusive school policy and practice). Therefore, I require a thorough understanding of the methodology and the theoretical underpinnings of any study I transport internationally, and a solid explanation for how – or whether –  the work can be appropriately applied outside of the original context.

International educators are familiar with adapting curriculum, policy, and school norms to include internationally diverse stakeholders. We’ve all got anecdotal stories of the challenges with administering American standardized tests, for example, outside of the U.S. (third graders in Kuwait asking what a bale of hay or a chapel is). My concern is when a grabby study headline (empty backpacks work as well as parachutes!) gets more attention than the details behind it. Next time you hear “research shows”, first examine the publication and consider if and how the findings could be effectually adapted to your context.

Which methods or criteria do you use to translate educational research to your international context?


[1] Yeh, R. W., Valsdotttir, L. R., Yeh, M. W., Shen, C., Kramer, D. B., Strom, J.B., Secemsky, E. A… Nallamathu, B. K. (2018). Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma when jumping from aircraft: Randomized controlled trial. BMJ. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k5094

About Emily Meadows

Emily Meadows is an alumni of international schools and has worked as a professional educator and counselor across the world, serving children and families in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. She holds master’s degrees in the fields of Counseling and Sexual Health, and is a PhD candidate researching inclusive policy and practice for LGBTQ+ students. Emily is a consultant on gender and sexual diversity and inclusion in international schools: www.emilymeadows.org
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