Source: Educational Action Research, Vol. 18, No. 4, December 2010, 555–569.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The present paper describes the efforts of a group of teacher educators in a university education department in UK used action research to examine their research situation, and what conclusions they reached.
The project was initially organized in Spring 2007 by new research staff who had investigated staff perceptions of and interests in research through semi-formal interviews, observations and documentation. They concluded that collaborative action research might be a good way forward for many of their colleagues, since collaborative action research would allow colleagues to find their own reasons for researching, related to their daily needs. It would be empowering.
The new research staff proposed the research question: ‘What kind of research culture do we want, and how can we get it?’
Over a year, all participants gathered at a series of whole-group meetings. Between meetings, group members conducted their own investigations, in which some people worked alone while others formed small groups. A joint informal blog was set up, and in addition each of the researchers reflected on what they had learned and wrote formally, although briefly, about it.
So there were three main sources of data: records of group discussions, some supported by the audio recordings; the blog; and the personal reflective writing.
Four major themes were identified in the researchers' analysis: benefits from their collaboration; greater understanding of themselves as researchers; broadened research perspectives; and barriers to their own research and how they might be surmounted.
All have also been identified by work in similar contexts.
First, collaborative action research made it possible for the researchers to take control of the context in which they were working, as their research question required, and within that come to understand who they were as emerging researchers.
Second, the researchers recognized that they would not be looking to produce generalisable knowledge from the project (Corey 1953), but rather to position and report the research in the context of issues surrounding the participants’ abilities to be research active.
A third feature of action research that made it highly suited to their situation was that it fostered a participative, collaborative and collegial environment.
Fourth, the project was cyclical, thus inviting both involvement and improvement (Kemmis and McTaggart 2005; Koshy 2005; Somekh 2006). The research journey, that process of enquiry, is as important for the researcher(s) as any specific outcome that might ultimately be realised. For their team this concept of journey and change was important.
Last, in keeping with the principles of action research, the study was research with and for its subjects, rather than research on or about them. Hence it was democratic, mindful of social justice (Griffiths 2009).
What happened and did anything change?
What collaborative action research helped the researchers realize was that it was not research per se that they understood the institution to be promoting, but a particular kind of research (published, often large scale, researcher identity laden, etc.). In discovering this, the action research study reported here was empowering because action research itself rejects the terms of power that are present.
That recognition was important for how they understood themselves within their institution and it was delivered by collaborative action research. For all of the researchers, collaborative action research helped them to see their situations more clearly and they felt stronger as a result.
Corey, S.M. 1953. Action research to improve school practice. New York: Teachers College Press. Griffiths, M. 2009. Action research for/as/mindful of social justice. In Handbook of educational action research, ed. B. Somekh and S. Noffke, 85–93. London: Sage.
Kemmis, S., and R. McTaggart. 2005. Participatory action research: Communicative action and the public sphere. In Handbook of qualitative research, ed. N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln, 559–604. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Koshy, V. 2005. Action research for improving practice: A practical guide. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Somekh, B. 2006. Action research: A methodology for change and development. aidenhead: Open University Press.