Understanding Change in Teachers’ Ways of Being through Collaborative Action Research: A Cultural–Historical Activity Theory Analysis

Mar. 30, 2010

Source: Educational Action Research, Vol. 18, No. 1, March 2010, 29–55.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Despite major efforts to change teachers’ practice through professional development activities, much remains as it always was. The authors claim that this rarely happens because significant change in how one teaches can only come about as a result of some realization about oneself as a teacher, and the resulting changes in identity.

The authors’ objective in this paper is to seek to understand the factors that affect changes in the teachers’ identities, or what the authors refer to as ‘ways of being’.

In recent years the authors have been studying the ways in which participation in collaborative action research (CAR) can result in changes in teachers’ ways of being. In this paper, the authors report on a study of teachers engaged in CAR to improve their implementation of digital photography in their teaching.


The whole group, which consisted of 28 participants, completed one cycle of action research as part of the evaluation of the program using empowerment evaluation methods (Fetterman and Wandersman 2004). The study continued with a subset of that group, which consisted of 5 participants, who engaged in a second cycle of action research.

The research design combines the use of ethnographic methods, participatory evaluation methods and action research (Feldman 1996; Fetterman 1989; Fetterman and Wandersman 2004; Quintanilla and Packard 2002).
The ethnographic methods used included participant observation, taped collaborative conversations, and analysis of documents and other teacher products.

In this paper, the authors use cultural–historical activity theory (CHAT) to understand why the data suggest that there was little change in the teachers’ identity by the end of the first cycle of action research, while those who participated in both the initial action research and the CAR group had a change in their identities.

Findings from Action research model 1: AR1

The authors found that most teachers focused their reflection on the impact of technology integration versus the impact of the action research project experience on their ways of being as a teacher. In regard to the former, the majority perceived the integration of technology (specifically digital images/imagery) as an extra, a positive enhancement, and/or a responsibility.

A handful of teachers provided evidence of more critical reflection pertaining to the experience of conducting action research and what they might do next. These teachers show evidence of questioning the validity of the action research study and/or perceive it as a way to improve their teaching.

In general, participation in the project was perceived more as a tool for improvement of practice rather than for transforming their way of being as teachers, which is in line with the CHAT analysis for AR1.

Findings from Action research model 2: AR2

Based on the analysis of the data, the authors believe that the five AR2 teachers experienced a change in their ways of being as a result of their participation in this second round of action research.

Changes in teachers’ ways of being in AR2
Generally speaking, all of the teachers were empowered to take on leadership roles through TI3CL program. They became advocates for increasing technology use and availability in their schools. These roles, and the resulting changes in how they were perceived by others and themselves, elevated and broadened who they were as teachers.


The authors believe that the use of CHAT analysis provide a way to expose the contradictions of practice that are both the affordances and constraints to change.

Feldman, A. 1996. Enhancing the practice of physics teachers: Mechanisms for the generation and sharing of knowledge and understanding in collaborative action research. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 33, no. 5: 513–40.

Fetterman, D.M. 1989. Ethnography step by step. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Fetterman, D.M., and A. Wandersman, eds. 2004. Empowerment evaluation principles in practice. New York: Guilford Publishing.

Quintanilla, G., and T. Packard. 2002. A participatory evaluation of an inner-city science enrichment program. Evaluation and Program Planning 25, no. 1: 15–22.

Updated: Jun. 23, 2010