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Chapter 1. What Is Action Research?

Benefits of Action Research

❶In general, your portfolio might include, but is not limited to the following:.

Three Purposes for Action Research

The Action Research Process
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Teachers and administrators often work with university staff, intermediate service agency personnel, or members of an educational consortium when doing collaborative action research Holly , Sagor , Whitford et al. Collaborative action research frequently involves school-university partnerships and mutual support from each participating organization see Allen et al. The relationship is similar to the interactive research and development framework of the late s Tikunoff and Mergendoller Teachers engaged in collaborative action research generally volunteer to participate or seek out affiliation with local university personnel who have expertise in particular curriculum areas.

Professors, district office personnel, or principals may recruit teachers to explore an area in need of improvement or to field-test promising approaches. Recruiting teachers for field-testing is especially prevalent when agency personnel initiate the study.

As in individual teacher research, the data utilized by collaborative action researchers may be qualitative or quantitative. Data are more likely to be quantitative if the central office or intermediate service agency defines the study area.

The larger collaborative research team might also use a greater variety of methods than the individual teacher-researcher and divide the labor, focusing on different dimensions of a problem. For example, in a study of disciplinary action, one member might survey parents, a second member might interview teachers, and a third might count referrals and organize them by cause and consequences. The members of the research team are the primary audience for results from collaborative action research.

Depending on their involvement in formulating and shaping the investigation, students and parents may form part of the primary audience. If the school administration, the district office, or a university sponsored the research, then these groups also form part of the primary audience. Collaborative action researchers appear to share results with secondary audiences more frequently than do individual teacher researchers and participants in schoolwide action research.

This may result from the involvement of university personnel in the process, who, besides providing support to teachers, are exploring their own areas of professional interest. Because their university positions require them to generate and share knowledge, university personnel often have more time to write about the action research experience and more opportunities to present the results.

This writing and presentation is often done in collaboration with one or more of the participating practitioners. While the work between school or district practitioners and university personnel is collaborative and mutually beneficial, a major benefit to practitioners is the almost tutorial role university personnel play in helping them develop the tools of social science inquiry.

Some groups stay together for several years, conducting several studies in areas of common interest, while their technical skills and expertise in inquiry continue to grow. Such collaboration also generally improves collegiality. In schoolwide action research, a school faculty selects an area or problem of collective interest, then collects, organizes, and interprets on-site data.

Data from other schools, districts, or the professional literature are funneled into the collective decision-making process of the faculty, who then determines the actions to be taken.

The process is cyclic and can serve as a formative evaluation of the effects of the actions taken. Schoolwide action research focuses on school improvement in three areas.

First, it seeks to improve the organization as a problem-solving entity. With repeated cycles, it is hoped that faculty members will become better able to work together to identify and solve problems.

Second, schoolwide research tries to improve equity for students. For example, if the faculty studies the writing process in order to offer better instructional opportunities for students, the intent is that all students benefit. Third, schoolwide action research tries to increase the breadth and content of the inquiry itself. Every classroom and teacher is involved in collective study and assessment. In addition, faculty members may involve students, parents, and even the general community in data collection and interpretation and in the selection of options for action.

A school executive council or leadership team composed of teachers and administrators often shares the responsibility for keeping the process moving. These leaders spur the collecting, organizing, and interpretation of the data, disseminate on-site data and applicable professional literature for collective analysis and study, and support the actions selected for implementation by the learning community. School leadership teams or district administrators often initiate schoolwide inquiry because of their affiliation with a consortium that promotes action research as a major school improvement strategy.

Through exposure to consortiums such as the Center for Leadership in School Reform in Kentucky or the League of Professional Schools in Georgia, school leaders read about schoolwide inquiry, attend awareness sessions, or discuss it with peers who are using it.

They then work to apply schoolwide inquiry in their home settings. The data gathered from studying the school site and the effects of actions taken may be quantitative, qualitative, or both. The data collection can be as simple as counting types of writing elicited from students or as complex as a multi-year case study.

Faculty members might divide the labor as in the case of collaborative action research. They might also reach out to other schools studying similar problems and trying the same or different solutions. For greatest effect, the data should be collected regularly, and evaluation of actions taken should be formative. Relying on summative evaluations such as yearly norm-referenced tests will lessen the dynamism of the process.

Standard tests, however, can be used to corroborate the results of the formative studies. In almost all cases, multiple assessment measures are needed Calhoun , Glickman , Holly The audience for the results of schoolwide action research includes all the primary participants, at least the total school faculty. The faculty may decide to expand this audience to include students, parents, the general community, and the school board. Collective action may be the most complex type of action research, requiring participation from all members of the faculty.

This complexity, however, generates important side effects: Teachers reflect on aspects of curriculum and instruction they might not have if they had worked alone.

Schoolwide action research may feel messy and uneven, and conflict may arise during the first few cycles, but this is to be expected when a diverse community is learning to apply a complex process.

Collecting schoolwide data on an instructional initiative requires trust and mental and physical collaboration. Marshalling the efforts of all both takes and provides energy. Sharing the results from individual classrooms requires patience and understanding toward self and others.

In recent years many teachers and administrators have engaged in productive curricular and instructional improvement through each type of action research. Part of the promise inherent in the action research format is support of the current movement toward site-based decision making. In many cases, collaborative relationships have increased between school personnel and members of central district offices, intermediate agencies, and university personnel.

Using schoolwide action research has increased the problem-solving capabilities of schools, and even districts. As knowledge about the process accumulates and we explore action research, we will be better able to guide our school improvement efforts.

Assuming that the trend toward action research continues and more and better studies about its effects are produced, we will be able to make more informed assessments of its influence on student opportunities to learn.

These results should be positive, for action research has the potential to generate the energy and knowledge needed to support healthy learning communities. Our challenge as educators is to make this potential a reality.

Teachers Who Became Researchers. Knowing through Action Research. Action Research to Improve School Practices. Selected Papers on Group Dynamics. The School as a Center of Inquiry. The University of Chicago Press. Greater understanding from each cycle points the way to improved practice Riel and Rowell, Action researchers differ in the weight that they put on different factors or dimensions of action research for more discussion and examples, see Rowell, Riel and Polush, Each action researcher evolves his or her approach to doing action research as the conditions and support structures are unique.

To understand how action research varies, I describe two points, A, and B, along six dimensions. When someone engages in action research, they or others make choices that place them at some point along the continuum for each dimension. Some will argue that side A, or B, or a perfect balance between them, is ideal, or even necessary, to call the process action research.

Most will have very convincing arguments for why all action research should be done in the way they advocate.

The dialogue is healthy and helps us each understand the value of the positions we take. By understanding the boundaries we develop a deeper understanding of the process. If you click on the bar graphic, you can make your own choices and compare them with others. Theory from Practice - Using practices to generate theories beginning with values, needs and knowledge of human interaction B.

Theory into Practice - Using social science findings to inform patterns of change. Inside Expertise - Action researchers are empowered to locate problems of practice and develop methods to improve them B. Outside Expertise - Action researchers form partnerships with outside experts to guide the process.

Individual Process - Action researchers select their own questions to investigate B. Group Process - A group of action researchers select a common question or set of questions to investigate.

Problem-Based Approach - Action Researchers locate problems and engage in progressive problem solving in cycles B. Inquiry-Based Approach - Action Researchers explore effective practices to better understand and perfect them through multiple cycles. Identity Transformation - The primary outcome of action research is change to the way the action researcher thinks, acts and feels B.

Social Change -The primary outcomes of action research is the shift in the social context where people collectively change how they act, think and feel. Shared Practices - Action Researchers share what they have learned informally at their site B.

Shared Knowledge- Action Researchers share their findings in more formal context s. Authors and professors as well as practitioners often have very strong views about what are the essential and non essential characteristics of action research.

Movement to one or the other side of each continuum represents shifts in the action research approach. I like to think of action research as a disposition of mind as well as a research approach. It is a commitment to cycles of collective inquiry with shared reflections on the outcomes leading to new ideas.

Action research forms a path towards a professional "adaptive" expertise. Hatona and Ingaki set out a contrast between efficiency expertise and adaptive expertise. I have added innovative expertise and created this chart.

The yellow path can also be applied to the activist who is singled minded without researching the outcomes and consequences of action, The blue panel might be the path of researchers who do not apply their theories to change contexts.

The green combines inquiry and activism to engage in action research. When you balance these two very different learning approaches you follow the green path of action research leading to adaptive expertise and the acquisition of a deeper understanding of yourself and others. Action research involves a systematic process of examining the evidence. The results of this type of research are practical, relevant, and can inform theory. Action research is different than other forms of research as there is less concern for universality of findings, and more value is placed on the relevance of the findings to the researcher and the local collaborators.

Critical reflection is at the heart of action research and when this reflection is based on careful examination of evidence from multiple perspectives, it can provide an effective strategy for improving the organization's ways of working and the whole organizational climate. It can be the process through which an organization learns.

We conceptualize action research as having three outcomes—on the personal, organizational and scholarly levels. Action research is often located in schools and done by teachers, but it can also be carried out in museums, medical organizations, corporations, churches and clubs—any setting where people are engaged in collective, goal directed activity.

Equally important, not all teacher research is action research. Teachers can do ethnographic, evaluative or experimental research that is NOT action research. At the organizational level, action research is about understanding the system of interactions that define a social context.

Kurt Lewin proposed action research as a method of understanding social systems or organizational learning. He claimed that the best way to test understanding was to try to effect change. Action research goes beyond self-study because actions, outcomes, goals and assumptions are located in complex social systems.

The action researcher begins with a theory of action focused on the intentional introduction of change into a social system with assumptions about the outcomes. This theory testing requires a careful attention to data, and skill in interpretation and analysis. Activity theory, social network theory, system theories, and tools of evaluation such as surveys, interviews and focus groups can help the action researcher acquire a deep understanding of change in social contexts within organizations.

At the scholarly level, the action researcher produces validated findings and assumes a responsibility to share these findings with those in their setting and with the larger research community. Many people acquire expertise in their workplace, but researchers value the process of building knowledge through ongoing dialogue about the nature of their findings.

Engaging in this dialogue, through writing or presenting at conferences, is part of the process of action research. Action Research and Learning Circles. The questions asked by action researchers guide their process. A good question will inspire one to look closely and collect evidence that will help find possible answers.

What are good examples of action research questions? What are questions that are less likely to promote the process of deep sustained inquiry? The best question is the one that will inspire the researcher to look at their practice deeply and to engage in cycles of continuous learning from the everyday practice of their craft.

These questions come from a desire to have practice align with values and beliefs. Exploring these questions helps the researcher to be progressively more effective in attaining their personal goals and developing professional expertise. Good questions often arise from visions of improved practice and emerging theories about the change that will move the researcher closer to the ideal state of working practices. If I [insert the action to be taken], how will it affect [describe one or more possible consequences of the action]?

We will look at two examples, one from education and one from a business setting. Suppose the researcher is worried about designing the learning context to meet the needs of students who are currently not doing well in the classroom.

The general question might be: How can I personalize instruction to match the diverse needs of my students?

This forms a good overall goal which can then lead to a number of possible cycles of action research, each with a separate question. I find that a help research question has two parts. If I listen to students, will I have better understanding of them? This question suggests an action and possible outcome but is vague in both in the description of the action and in the possible outcome. It is not clear what is going to be done to increase attention to students and what evidence will help evaluate the action.

If I set up community circle time to listen to students describe their learning experiences in my classroom description of the action , in what ways, if any, will the information about their learning processes lead to changes in my teaching practices description of the outcome that will be studied?

Now it is clear what the researcher intends to do and what a possible outcome might be. In listening to students, the researcher might discover information that will lead directly to an experiment in instructional design or might refocus the overall goal to one that was not apparent when the researcher began the inquiry.

The following is another example, from a business setting where people in diverse offices are working in ways that would benefit from greater coordination.

The action researcher might identify the problem as one in which poor communication results in decisions being made without attending to the issue of how a decision affects the larger system. The researcher might see a role for technology in forging a solution to this problem, such as creating a database for storing and sharing documents.

The overall research question might be:. How can the development of a common location for shared knowledge and the use of interactive communication tools increase the collaborative effectiveness of team-based decision-making in our different regions? The next step is to define what kind of communication tool will be used and how the researcher plans to measure collaborative effectiveness of the distant teams.

Cycle questions that might evolve should be specific with respect to the actions taken and the outcomes that will be monitored:. If I create a wiki to share documents and increase coordination, to what extent will the teams use this means of storing information to coordinate their decision-making? A second cycle question that might follow when it is clear that other teams failed to use the wiki as effectively as the researcher had hoped:.

How will making all day support available on instant messenger for questions about the use of the wiki affect the use of the wiki to organize group work? Writing enables contribution to the body of knowledge that exists beyond the researcher. The final report serves the purpose of sharing the knowledge gained through action research with others in a community of practice.

Action researchers will need to decide what to write and to whom to write. The following is the recommended template for the Master of Arts in Learning Technologies thesis for Pepperdine students.

However, there are multiple ways that an action research report may be organized. The significance of the problem you are addressing. The reader needs to be invited to think about the problem at the widest level.

This should answer the question—Why should I read this; why should I care about this study? This is not about the context but about the problem and how it is linked to your vision for a different future.

There are two parts to this. One, is the local context this section, and the other, is the professional context review of literature. These can come in whatever order makes sense to you.

What previous work informs your understanding of the problem? What theories or predictions about outcomes come from past studies? How is what you plan to do similar or different from what others have tried? The overall question is the over arching problem selected.

The cycles questions are sub questions that helped address this larger issue in different ways. Each cycle is a discrete experiment—taking action as a way of studying change. Your report needs to include either a detailed report for each cycle as follows or a report of the cycles in a more summary format. Description of what was planned and why this is seen as a effective change.

Might include some guesses about what will happen. A strong question sets out both the action and expected reactions. The first part of the question clearly states what you will do in very specific language.

The second part shares your best guess at an outcome. The reactions of others that you expect to result from your action.

Individual Teacher Research

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Action research design is an educational research involving collecting information regarding current educational programs and outcomes, analyzing the information, developing a plan to improve it, collecting changes after a new plan is implemented, and developing .

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Action research is a powerful tool that can improve the quality of an organization. Through action research the researcher collects data to diagnose problems, search for solutions, take action on developed solutions, and monitor how well the action worked.

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Selecting one type of action research over another has important implications for the school renewal process. From my work with action research as a consultant, coordinator, and researcher, I have gathered data on action research from 76 schools in three states. Action Research is an “on the spot research aimed at the solution of an immediate classroom problem.” Kurt Lewin says, “Action Research is applying scientific thinking to real life problems (classroom problems for teachers) and represents a great improvement over teacher’s subjective judgments and their limited personal experiences.”.

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In distinction, there are some forms of action research where research is the main emphasis and the action is almost a fringe benefit. I regard all of these as action research. This definition is capable of encompassing a variety of research and intervention methods. Critical action research is a specific type of action research that adopts critical approach towards business processes and aims for improvements. The following features of action research need to be taken into account when considering its suitability for any given study.