Action Research – characteristics

Action research is systematic multi-staged cyclical process, which seeks to improve practice through the implementation of informed and incremental change. Action research is not done in isolation but seeks out opportunities for collaboration and the participation of other agents.

Action research is characterised by clear stages, which include:

  • A consideration of action (reflection and reconnaissance);
  • Implementation of an action for improvement to individual practice;
  • The use of data collection on the action;
  • A review of the action through consideration of data;
  • The identification of further opportunities for improving intervention.

Throughout each stage the researcher’s learning is articulated and reinvested into the process. In the process learning occurs for practice, about practice and through practice.

Action research is a type of inquiry that is practical as it involves making change to practice and theoretical as it is informed by theory and can generate new insights.

  •  Action research is a methodology, which means it provides a framework for approaching a piece of research. This framework encourages us to look at our practice, assess where change may be valuable, to research the issues and possible actions, to implement and evaluate action steps and to articulate learning from the process. If you have always worked in natural sciences, and have mainly dealt in facts with a main concern for discovering whether something is ‘right or wrong’ or whether an intervention ‘does this or that’ this may all feel very strange. That is perfectly normal and one of your challenges in using action research will be to adopt the mind-set of an action researcher. To be clear though, you don’t have to disregard all your beliefs about research; for the purposes of action research you may need to just take a different view.  Action research is often small scale. You can only affect change within your own remit, so a lecturer forming a project to change academic workload allocation is unlikely to be successful, whereas a project that focuses on the use of multimedia in the classroom is likely to be much more manageable.
  • Action research follows a pattern, or cycle, which always involves planning, then making a change and then reviewing the situation to generate learning. There are many models of action research that break these key phases down in to smaller steps. You will notice similarity between action research models and models of reflection, this is because both activities are part of a family of approaches to developing practice. Compared to reflective practice, action research is more thoroughly planned, more formal, is likely to have an audience and is probably undertaken less frequently. Unlike reflection, it involves data collection.
  • Action research is undertaken through your practice. It is about your own practice. It should have benefit you, your colleagues and other key stakeholders. Any action research project relating to teaching and learning should complement your existing activities, interests and priorities.
  • Action researchers believe that the world can be seen from different perspectives; they recognise that the world is complex and messy. They try to understand and make improvements to practice in an environment where there are probably many viewpoints. Action researchers do not start out with the opinion that there is one way of seeing the world and their research can discover this. Instead they try to reach decisions and ways forward based on evidence and good judgment. These underpinning beliefs fit with an interpretivist epistemology.
  • Action research is often associated with education and health contexts, but it can also be found in agriculture, international development and management research. Do a web search or library search to see the number of disciplines and professions that make use of this approach.

 Please see here for a downloadable booklet on getting started with action research

What do you do? (what have I missed)

In trying to articulate the dimensions of ‘being an undergraduate researcher’ I have identified three domains of activity: Individual (desk based), Community and Work-based.  I have then identified some strands of activity with each of these three domains (with assistance from Ian and Jane and Stephen :-). 

Picture 1

So what have I missed? Is this a fair assessment of what a BA LTR researcher does? 

I have later added on the recommended minimum time allocation too. 

The clarification of the 10 hours of desk and community work is more easily quantifiable than is the time spent in research and inquiry and reflection and collaboration in the workplace . Whether it is possible, or even useful, to quantify the work-integraterd element is questionable. It created potentially a false seperation which is not in keeping with the ethos of work-integrated learning.

Different ways to learn and earn

The AA and Coventry University have, teamed up in a new approach to enable workers to learn and earn (this was in personnel today back in October). Since the Leitch report ‘learn and earn’ is an increasing market for HE, the challenge for HE is to fulfill this market. The partnership AA-Coventry collaboration has much in common with the BA Learning Technology Research degree – learners are in employment, learning for, at and through work, there are elements of problem based learning, evidence and competence based learning, the linking of theory and applied knowledge is a central tenet and the inclusion learners without pre-specified qualification levels. 

The BA LTR is not brokered by a particular company. Learners come as instigators of learning to the university and seek to learn through their own individual work context. With the AA partnership case, the company are in effect HE brokers or critical partners. 

Some comparisons (in time) between the two course experiences might be helpful to better understand the field of work-based learning. A few questions of personal interest to me would include: 

When the learner instigates the work based learning rather than the employer are the motivational factors different? 

When the company makes the partnership agreement with the university, is there the release of study time such that the learner is better able to manage their work-life-learning  balance,  than when learning is undertaken without the adoption of the direct employer  in to a relationship with the HEI? (A comparison of learner experience)

How can we equip learners in work undertaking higher education courses with the study skills to thrive? (A comparison of strategies)

One of the questions often directed to myself and colleagues about the BA LTR is about the sustainability of facilitating the course – ‘how is it sustainable to engage so intensively with your learners when they have so many different needs and contexts and personalised pathways?’. The BA LTR team have continually refined practices to cope with up-scaling the number of learners, central to this is the notion of community based learning rather than one-to-one support. The article acknowledges the intensity of such personalised courses. A further area for potential research might lie in a comparison of techniques for permitting personalisation with sustainability and scalability.  

An interesting project, I look forward then to the unfolding story.