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ACTION RESEARCH

In schools, action research refers to a wide variety of evaluative, investigative, and analytical
research methods designed to diagnose problems or weaknesses—whether organizational,
academic, or instructional—and help educators develop practical solutions to address them
quickly and efficiently. Action research may also be applied to programs or educational
techniques that are not necessarily experiencing any problems, but that educators simply want to
learn more about and improve. The general goal is to create a simple, practical, repeatable
process of iterative learning, evaluation, and improvement that leads to increasingly better results
for schools, teachers, or programs.
Action research may also be called a cycle of action or cycle of inquiry, since it typically follows
a predefined process that is repeated over time. A simple illustrative example:
 Identify a problem to be studied

 Collect data on the problem


 Organize, analyze, and interpret the data
 Develop a plan to address the problem
 Implement the plan
 Evaluate the results of the actions taken
 Identify a new problem
 Repeat the process

Unlike more formal research studies, such as those conducted by universities and published in
peer-reviewed scholarly journals, action research is typically conducted by the educators
working in the district or school being studied—the participants—rather than by independent,
impartial observers from outside organizations. Less formal, prescriptive, or theory-driven
research methods are typically used when conducting action research, since the goal is to address
practical problems in a specific school or classroom, rather than produce independently validated
and reproducible findings that others, outside of the context being studied, can use to guide their
future actions or inform the design of their academic programs. That said, while action research
is typically focused on solving a specific problem (high rates of student absenteeism, for
example) or answer a specific question (Why are so many of our ninth graders failing math?),
action research can also make meaningful contributions to the larger body of knowledge and
understanding in the field of education, particularly within a relatively closed system such as
school, district, or network of connected organizations.
The term “action research” was coined in the 1940s by Kurt Lewin, a German-American social
psychologist who is widely considered to be the founder of his field. The basic principles of
action research that were described by Lewin are still in use to this day.

Reform
Educators typically conduct action research as an extension of a particular school-improvement
plan, project, or goal—i.e., action research is nearly always a school-reform strategy. The object
of action research could be almost anything related to educational performance or improvement,
from the effectiveness of certain teaching strategies and lesson designs to the influence that
family background has on student performance to the results achieved by a particular academic
support strategy or learning program—to list just a small sampling.
For related discussions, see action plan, capacity, continuous improvement, evidence-based,
and professional development.

Action research is often used in the field of education. The following lesson provides two examples
of action research in the field of education, methods of conducting action research and a quiz to
assess your understanding of the topic.

What Is Action Research?


There are many ways to conduct research. Each of these ways is used in various professional fields,
including psychology, sociology, social work, medicine, nursing, education and so on. However, the
field of education often uses action research, an interactive method of collecting information that's
used to explore topics of teaching, curriculum development and student behavior in the classroom.
Action research is very popular in the field of education because there is always room for
improvement when it comes to teaching and educating others. Sure, there are all types of methods
of teaching in the classroom, but action research works very well because the cycle offers
opportunity for continued reflection. In all professional fields, the goal of action research is to
improve processes. Action research is also beneficial in areas of teaching practice that need to be
explored or settings in which continued improvement is the focus.
Let's take a closer look at the cycle of action research. As you can see, the process first starts with
identifying a problem. Then, you must devise a plan and implement the plan. This is the part of the
process where the action is taking place. After you implement the plan, you will observe how the
process is working or not working. After you've had time to observe the situation, the entire process
of action research is reflected upon. Perhaps the whole process will start over again! This is action
research!
Action Research Diagram

Methods of Action Research


There are many methods to conducting action research. Some of the methods include:

 Observing individuals or groups


 Using audio and video tape recording
 Using structured or semi-structured interviews
 Taking field notes
 Using analytic memoing
 Using or taking photography
 Distributing surveys or questionnaires

Researchers can also use more than one of the methods above to assist them in collecting rich and
meaningful data.
While there are various methods to conducting action research, there are also various types of
action research in the fields of education, including individual action research, collaborative action
research and school-wide action research. For example:
Action research seeks transformative change through the simultaneous process of taking action
and doing research, which are linked together by critical reflection. Kurt Lewin, then a professor
at MIT, first coined the term "action research" in 1944. In his 1946 paper "Action Research and
Minority Problems" he described action research as "a comparative research on the conditions and
effects of various forms of social action and research leading to social action" that uses "a spiral of
steps, each of which is composed of a circle of planning, action and fact-finding about the result of
the action".
Action research practitioners reflect upon the consequences of their own questions, beliefs,
assumptions, and practices with the goal of understanding, developing, and improving social
practices.[1] This action is designed to create three levels of change[2] (1) self-change as the only
subject of action research is the person who conducting the research. This person is seeking to be
better understand the effects of their action in social settings and to engage in a process of living his
or hers values. The second level is a collective process of understanding change in a
classroom,[3] office, community, organization or institution. Action research enlists others, and works
to create a democratic sharing of voice to achieve deeper understanding of collective actions.[4] It is a
process of sharing finding with the community of researchers. This can be done in many ways, in
journals,[5] on websites, in books, in videos or at conferences. The Social Publishers
Foundation[6] provides support for this process.
Action research involves actively participating in a change situation, often via an existing
organization, whilst simultaneously conducting research. It can also be undertaken by larger
organizations or institutions, assisted or guided by professional researchers, with the aim of
improving their strategies, practices and knowledge of the environments within which they practice.
As designers and stakeholders, researchers work with others to propose a new course of action to
help their community improve its work practices. Depending upon the nature of the people involved
in the action research as well as the person(s) organizing it, there are different ways of describing
action research.[7]

 Collaborative Action Research


 Participatory Action Research
 Community-Based Action Research
 Youth Action Research
 Action Research and Action Learning
 Participatory Action Learning and Action Research
 Collective Action Research
 Action Science
 Living Theory Action Research
There are also a set of approaches that share some properties with action research but have some
different practices.[7] These include:

 Appreciative inquiry is a way of starting with what is working well and then using action research
to improve it.
 Lesson study places the teaching of a shared lesson as the action and has a set of protocols for
understanding the outcomes.
 Practitioner research does not have to be action research, as practitioners can engage in any
form of the many forms of research.
 Reflective practice/self study is the first part of action research but does not require the
practitioner to make the results public, to share the results of the learning with others. Many of
these approaches will be described in these resources.
 Teacher research can be any form of research that teachers do, including action research, but
not limited to it. At George Mason University, teacher research is described in a way that is very
similar to what most authors understand as action research. At some point, they suggest that
action research can be a synonym of teacher research. The description of action research
posted on this site is more closely aligned to what we have called reflective practice. This shows
the variation in the way that people working in the field have of conceptualizing these terms.
 Action inquiry draws on action research and recasts evaluation research to help navigate
complexity when enacting collective leadership.
 Improvement science is explicitly designed to accelerate learning-by-doing. It's a more user-
centered and problem-centered approached to improving teaching and learning that is highly
similar to action research supported by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of
Teaching.
Process[edit]
Action research is an interactive inquiry process that balances problem-solving actions implemented
in a collaborative context with data-driven collaborative analysis or research to understand
underlying causes enabling future predictions about personal and organizational change.[8] After six
decades of action research development, many methods have evolved that adjust the balance to
focus more on the actions taken or more on the research that results from the reflective
understanding of the actions. This tension exists between

1. those who are more driven either by the researcher's agenda or by participants;
2. those who are motivated primarily by instrumental goal attainment or by the aim of personal,
organizational or societal transformation; and
3. 1st-, to 2nd-, to 3rd-person research, that is, my research on my own action, aimed primarily
at personal change; our research on our group (family/team), aimed primarily at improving
the group; and 'scholarly' research aimed primarily at theoretical generalization or large-
scale change.[9]
Action research challenges traditional social science by moving beyond reflective knowledge created
by outside experts sampling variables, to an active moment-to-moment theorizing, data collecting
and inquiry occurring in the midst of emergent structure. "Knowledge is always gained through action
and for action. From this starting point, to question the validity of social knowledge is to question, not
how to develop a reflective science about action, but how to develop genuinely well-informed action
– how to conduct an action science".[10] In this sense, engaging in action research is a form of
problem-based investigation by practitioners into their practice, thus it is an empirical process. The
goal is both to create and share knowledge in the social sciences. Online tutorials [11] offered by the
Center for Collaborative Action Research[12] describe the process of engaging in action research from
framing the inquiry question to sharing new knowledge with the community.

[2]

Major theoretical approaches[edit]


Chris Argyris' action science[edit]
Chris Argyris' action science begins with the study of how human beings design their actions in
difficult situations. Humans design their actions to achieve intended consequences and are
governed by a set of environment variables. How those governing variables are treated in designing
actions are the key differences between single-loop and double-loop learning. When actions are
designed to achieve the intended consequences and to suppress conflict about the governing
variables, a single-loop learning cycle usually ensues.
On the other hand, when actions are taken not only to achieve the intended consequences, but also
to openly inquire about conflict and to possibly transform the governing variables, both single- and
double-loop learning cycles usually ensue. (Argyris applies single- and double-loop learning
concepts not only to personal behaviors but also to organizational behaviors in his models.) This is
different from experimental research in which environmental variables are controlled and
researchers try to find out cause and effect in an isolated environment.

John Heron and Peter Reason's cooperative inquiry[edit]


Main article: Cooperative inquiry

Cooperative, aka collaborative, inquiry was first proposed by John Heron in 1971 and later expanded
with Peter Reason and Demi Brown. The major idea is to "research 'with' rather than 'on' people." It
emphasizes the full involvement in research decisions of all active participants as co-researchers.
Cooperative inquiry creates a research cycle among 4 different types of knowledge: propositional (as
in contemporary science), practical (the knowledge that comes with actually doing what you
propose), experiential (the real-time feedback we get about our interaction with the larger world) and
presentational (the artistic rehearsal process through which we craft new practices). At every cycle,
the research process includes these four stages, with deepening experience and knowledge of the
initial proposition, or of new propositions.

Paulo Freire's participatory action research[edit]


Main article: Participatory action research

Participatory action research (PAR) has emerged in recent years as a significant methodology for
intervention, development and change within groups and communities. It is now promoted and
implemented by many international development agencies and university programs, as well as
countless local community organizations around the world.[citation needed][dubious – discuss] PAR builds on
the critical pedagogy put forward by Paulo Freire as a response to the traditional formal models of
education where the "teacher" stands at the front and "imparts" information to the "students" who are
passive recipients. This was further developed in "adult education" models throughout Latin America.
Orlando Fals-Borda (1925–2008), Colombian sociologist and political activist, was one of the
principal promoters of participatory action research (IAP in Spanish) in Latin America. He published
a "double history of the coast", book that compares the official "history" and the non-official "story" of
the north coast of Colombia.

William Barry's living educational theory approach to action


research[edit]
Main article: Living educational theory

William Barry (Atkins and Wallace 2012) defined an approach to action research which focuses on
creating ontological weight.[13] He adapted the idea of ontological weight to action research
from existential Christian philosopher Gabriel Marcel (1963). Barry was influenced by Jean McNiff's
and Jack Whitehead's (2008) phraseology of living theory action research but was diametrically
opposed to the validation process advocated by Whitehead which demanded video "evidence" of
"energy flowing values" and his atheistic ontological position which influenced his conception of
values in action research.[14]
Barry explained that living educational theory (LET) is "a critical and transformational approach to
action research. It confronts the researcher to challenge the status quo of their educational practice
and to answer the question, 'How can I improve that I'm doing?' Researchers who use this approach
must be willing to recognize and assume responsibility for being a 'living contradictions' in their
professional practice – thinking one way and acting in another. The mission of the LET action
researcher is to overcome workplace norms and self-behavior which contradict the researcher's
values and beliefs. The vision of the LET researcher is to make an original contribution to knowledge
through generating an educational theory proven to improve the learning of people within a social
learning space. The standard of judgment for theory validity is evidence of workplace reform,
transformational growth of the researcher, and improved learning by the people researcher claimed
to have influenced...".[15]

Action research in organization development[edit]


Wendell L. French and Cecil Bell define organization development (OD) at one point as
"organization improvement through action research".[16] If one idea can be said to summarize OD's
underlying philosophy, it would be action research as it was conceptualized by Kurt Lewin and later
elaborated and expanded on by other behavioral scientists. Concerned with social change and,
more particularly, with effective, permanent social change, Lewin believed that the motivation to
change was strongly related to action: If people are active in decisions affecting them, they are more
likely to adopt new ways. "Rational social management", he said, "proceeds in a spiral of steps, each
of which is composed of a circle of planning, action and fact-finding about the result of action".[17]

 Unfreezing: Faced with a dilemma or disconfirmation, the individual or group becomes aware of
a need to change.
 Changing: The situation is diagnosed and new models of behavior are explored and tested.
 Refreezing: Application of new behavior is evaluated, and if reinforcing, adopted.

Figure 1: Systems model of action-research process

Lewin's description of the process of change involves three steps:[17] Figure 1 summarizes the steps
and processes involved in planned change through action research. Action research is depicted as a
cyclical process of change.

1. The cycle begins with a series of planning actions initiated by the client and the change
agent working together. The principal elements of this stage include a preliminary diagnosis,
data gathering, feedback of results, and joint action planning. In the language of systems
theory, this is the input phase, in which the client system becomes aware of problems as yet
unidentified, realizes it may need outside help to effect changes, and shares with the
consultant the process of problem diagnosis.
2. The second stage of action research is the action, or transformation, phase. This stage
includes actions relating to learning processes (perhaps in the form of role analysis) and to
planning and executing behavioral changes in the client organization. As shown in Figure 1,
feedback at this stage would move via Feedback Loop A and would have the effect of
altering previous planning to bring the learning activities of the client system into better
alignment with change objectives. Included in this stage is action-planning activity carried
out jointly by the consultant and members of the client system. Following the workshop or
learning sessions, these action steps are carried out on the job as part of the transformation
stage.[18]
3. The third stage of action research is the output or results phase. This stage includes actual
changes in behavior (if any) resulting from corrective action steps taken following the second
stage. Data are again gathered from the client system so that progress can be determined
and necessary adjustments in learning activities can be made. Minor adjustments of this
nature can be made in learning activities via Feedback Loop B (see Figure 1).
Major adjustments and reevaluations would return the OD project to the first or planning stage for
basic changes in the program. The action-research model shown in Figure 1 closely follows Lewin's
repetitive cycle of planning, action, and measuring results. It also illustrates other aspects of Lewin's
general model of change. As indicated in the diagram, the planning stage is a period of unfreezing,
or problem awareness.[17] The action stage is a period of changing, that is, trying out new forms of
behavior in an effort to understand and cope with the system's problems. (There is inevitable overlap
between the stages, since the boundaries are not clear-cut and cannot be in a continuous process).
The results stage is a period of refreezing, in which new behaviors are tried out on the job and, if
successful and reinforcing, become a part of the system's repertoire of problem-solving behavior.
Action research is problem centered, client centered, and action oriented. It involves the client
system in a diagnostic, active-learning, problem-finding and problem-solving process.