Source: Educational Action Research, Vol. 21, No. 4, 2013, p. 532-548.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This study has two goals:
it investigates how to design a university undergraduate course on action research; and
It also explores how the students’ involvement in action research influences the construction of their personal educational theory.
The participants were two groups of students, who worked with the two authors.
One group consisted of 15 students of the Department of Philosophy and Social Studies at the University of Crete, in the last (fourth) year of their studies.
The other group consisted of 23 students of the Department of Preschool Teacher Education at the University of Athens, in the third year of their studies.
The students of both groups had selected to attend an elective one-semester course, ‘Teacher as Researcher’.
The authors organised an action research project on how to teach action research to undergraduate students with no teaching experience .
During this first cycle of their own action research, the authors collected data through their personal research journals, their discussions during the implementation of their planning, and through the students’ journals, the minutes of their party meetings, the students’ final research reports and an open-ended questionnaire.
Knowledge Generated by the Educators’ Action Research
The findings reveal that educational action research can be taught to students if it is praxis oriented, linking theory and practice within reflective action.
Students researched the practice they planned and implemented, investigating the teaching process and the factors that led them to a specific planning and implementation.
The authors' decision to present the main features of action research to our students in some introductory sessions proved particularly effective.
On the evaluation sheet, few students seem displeased with the introductory sessions, while many refer to them as necessary.
The students learned what educational action research is and became familiar with a methodology that allows them to learn through practice, while actually improving their practice.
By designing teaching activities in real educational situations, by explicitly connecting their teaching choices and educational theory and specific educational settings, by discussing reflection questions, by realising and testing their tacit theories in practice, most of the students changed their educational beliefs, a change often mentioned after engagement in action research projects.
So the students realised that the pupils can construct the meaning in the reading of literature; that the educational act can be an open process with internal value; that a teaching design can be flexible; that the disagreement between teachers and pupils or among pupils can be fruitful.
They also managed to practically link action research and collaborative action learning, approaching teaching as learning to a certain extent and realising that learning is predicated on active experience and improved through cyclical processes.
The Limitations of Teaching Action Research
With the guidance of their educators/critical friends, one group started to take account of academic theory and the other of specific educational context.
However, even if their participation in an educational action research project provided them with an opportunity to change their beliefs on the theory–practice relationship, in both groups the process was incomplete or led the students to one-sided views.
Unfortunately there was not enough time for the inevitably slow and gradual reshaping of the students’ attitude towards the theory–practice relationship, nor for supporting them to familiarise themselves with the different view on teaching and research we were trying to introduce through action research.
The inconvenience of student-teachers in relating theory and practice also relates to other factors, such as the culture of each university department.
In university departments that educate primary education teachers, following the tradition of vocational schools, practice is perceived as independent of theory, as a technique that can be enhanced.
This forces the authors to seek alternatives for planning the seminar for each department.
Another factor that should be incorporated in the re-planning process is familiarizing the students with reflection processes and with cooperative and dialogic practices.
Despite the constraints the authors faced, they can say that they succeeded in teaching action research to undergraduate students, avoiding the dominant positivistic approaches to educational research and the corresponding theory–practice dualism.
They engaged most of these students in processes that promote questioning, inquiry and reflection, critical dialogue for the interpretation of educational situations, collaboration, study of the self, and processes of formative evaluation, in a context of democratic dialogue and relative autonomy in decision-making on the part of the students.