This blog entry addresses the way action research studies differ from traditional research studies when dealing with the improvement of an organizational system and its processes. It will address said paradigms in an educational environment while incorporating some of the Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP) categories and principals as a tool for improving processes.
Traditional research, also known as experimental or quantitative research, as I remember it as a highschooler and as an elementary teacher, is a very systematic process that demands a standard scientific method. First, we identified a problem, formed a question, did the research, and then predicted an answer to our question in the form of a hypothesis. Next, we performed some experiments that caused us to analyze the data to see if it backed up our claim. Then, we wrote up the observations making sure they were clear and concise and offered a solution. Lastly, we shared it with our teacher. Or, if you were lucky, it was published in your school newspaper.
Outside of the K-12 school experience, there is little difference. Traditional educational research is generally conducted by researchers or scientists from outside the organization looking in whose goal is to remain objective and offer generalized truths (Mertler, 2013; Stringer 2014). The researcher investigates his hypothesis using a treatment group or control group and manipulating independent and dependent variables. The research is linear in nature and provides explanations in the form of theories and practices. It entails two broad research methods, quantitative and qualitative. The quantitative method involves analyzing numerical data. I call it number crunching; it is not my favorite subject matter. The alternative method is qualitative where observational notes, interview transcripts, and journal entries are analyzed (Stringer, 2014). The collected quantitative and/or qualitative data may be beneficial to my initial research, but will it expedite change and improvement within an organization? Can it help my organization? The documents published in academic journals will be good reading material and a store house of information for the teacher researcher. I will no doubt be amassing vast amounts of the information in the form of educational issues, questions, and processes that others have garnered for my action research study. However, this is where the gathering will end. My organization, my resource lab, is quite different and cannot be restricted to someone else’s discoveries and ideals. This is where a thorough Action Research (AR) study can prove to be highly beneficial and by promoting analytical and pedagogical skills and fostering positive attitudes toward my organization and those I work with (Gajda,
Traditional research then seeks generalizations in relation to a small number of variables and is for the sole purpose of providing problem-solving solutions. Action Research, on the other hand, seeks localized strategies for specific issues, providing answers that impact and enhance all the people involved in the research. Action Research seeks to close the culture gap and close the distance between scientist and practitioner; making research methods and results attainable and applicable in the school and in the classroom. Action Research is a continuous, cyclical and systematic process of reflecting, evaluating, and improving the quality of professional practices and methodologies that are specific to a field or immediate environment. Combining action research experts, Lewins, Kemmis, Calhoun, and Wells, Geoffrey Mills lays out four steps of the interactive action research spiral: identify an area of focus, collect data, analyze and interpret data, and plan action while incorporating ongoing analysis and reflection (Mills, 2003). The stages or levels are as follows: identifying a common concern or issue, action planning, implementing, evaluating, reflecting, and self-evaluating. Therefore, the action research approach includes stages or levels and enables the improvement of an organizational system and its processes.
AR and Organizational System Processes
Action Research can improve an organization’s processes such as curriculum building, faculty and staff development, communication, decision making, future planning, and fulfilling an organization’s vision. AQIP has developed categories that guide these processes. Thus, using AQIP’s guiding principles and categories, these processes can be improved by participating in or leading an action research project. The process of the action research work can definitely help me resolve issues of professional practice as an educator. As I step back and evaluate what we do well in the resource lab, as I collect positives from the team, we will, no doubt begin to wrestle with some issues that may need improvement. Through the literature review, ensuing practical research, implementing the plan(s), and analyzing our resource room and its practices, we will be able to promote change. Furthermore, the reflection intermixed with my self-reflection will promote improved teaching success and effectiveness which will equal self-actualization which in turn will produce growth.
Regardless of the action research topic area that I facilitate in my organization, the Action Research process will reveal that we value people as we incorporate all parties into the research, gaining their input and expertise. Additionally, we will heighten the communication processes by working together collaboratively and we will make decisions and project future plans by consciously looking at the results and applying them to our own situations. As the Social Science Jargon-Buster postulates, “An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory” (
Appendix – Application – My Teaching Philosophy
After reading the AQIP materials and applying some of the categories/principles to the Harlem Children’s Zone agency in determining performance measurements and indicators, it occurred to me that the AQIP processes could be utilized in creating an effective teaching philosophy. Using this teaching philosophy would be an effective tool to power an action research program in contrast to utilizing a traditional, scientific method of research. Next step, redo my teaching philosophy to reflect these quality improvement principles.
Action research. (2007). The Social Science Jargon-Buster. London: Sage UK, 2007. Credo Reference. Retrieved from http://search.credoreference.com.library.capella.edu/content/entry/sageukssjb/action_research/0
Gajda, R. (2006). Action research. Encyclopedia of Educational Leadership and Administration. Ed. Fenwick W. English. Sage Reference, 1, 19-20. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com.library.capella.edu/ps/i.do?id=GALE|CX3469600019&v=2.1&markList=true&u=minn04804&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w
Mertler, C. A. (2013). Action research: Improving schools and empowering educators. (4th ed., pp. 1, 3-34). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Mills, G.E., 2003. Action research: A guide for the teacher researcher (2nd ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
Stringer, E.T., (2014). Action research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.