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Action Research

The goal of such research is to enable the practitioner to bring about an improvement in their own practice (Birley and Moreland, 1998; 34).

As such it is:

  • focused on one’s own practice
  • develops through reiterations of incremental changes
  • aims at creating change, either individually or institutionally, through a “bottom-up” approach (Kemmis and McTaggart ,1988)

It is therefore an essential element of any professional or practitioner development, since it promotes a greater awareness of one’s own practice (Selepe, 2001).

The Action Research Cycle

The action research cycle consists of four steps – those of planning, acting, observing and reflecting. Usually represented (and just as badly drawn) in a cycle, thus:

Action Research CycleHow you conduct these separate steps is up to you. Other parts of this site deal with the different methods of observation. The essential elements of these steps are that they are:

small – the idea being that the research is responsive to any findings that may occur, i.e don’t carry out a second action before you’ve had a chance to reflect on your first

practicable – an incredible innovative plan is no good unless you can implement it simply, and its effects are open to observation

inclusive – action research usually has not only catalytic validity, but is also accountable, disseminated to colleagues, and above all, shared by the people who are being acted upon and observed (i.e. tell your students what you’re doing and why). This is because the leading action research gurus have mainly also had a humanist agenda about social change and altruism. It’s not essential, but perhaps still desirable.

re-iterated – the cycle can be gone through as many times as is necessary, or until you run out of time.

Reflecting on action research

Don’t be tied precisely to the model. Each step can be re-iterated a few times before moving on to the next. The whole research programme can be seen as one huge action research cycle. Essentially AR is a process of testing, observing, thinking, changing and in its simplest form can be applied daily to how one conducts … well …anything.

Keep a journal of what is happening and some day it will keep you (West). Each point of reflection can contribute to any continuing investigation being conducted (in this sense it is a formative evaluation). Combing these into an overall reflection (or a summative evaluation) is an effective way to get reports or research papers written (Childs, 2002).

Developments of the model

This basic cycle has been adapted into a spiral by (Carr and Kemmis, 1986) since this more accurately reflects the notion that one would (preferably) be in a different position when one completed the cycle than when one started. In this representation, “plan” is replaced in later iterations by “modify”.

Kolb learning cycle Kolb (1984) adapted the action research cycle as a learning cycle, essentially unchanged, although the labels of the different steps are different. This learning cycle is a basic part of experiential and contructivist theories of learning.

Other versions of the action research cycle have been developed for specific disciplines or marketing purposes, include five step one, six steps ones, ten step ones . There is also the Deming Cycle of Plan, Do, Study, Act, which has the weakness of lacking clarity about what the separate steps entail.




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