Evaluating the Impact of Collaborative Action Research on Teachers: A Quantitative Approach

Nov. 01, 2012

Source: Teacher Development, Vol. 16, No. 4, November 2012, 537–561.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors focused on findings from qualitative research on the effects of action research by reporting two linked quantitative studies.
They found that teachers who participated in collaborative action research experienced statistically significant improvements in attitudes to educational research and teacher efficacy.

The authors' first goal was to triangulate the findings from their quantitative inquiry with the results from qualitative studies in order to increase the generalizability of claims previously reported.
Their second goal was to identify potential moderators of action research impact on teachers.

The context of this research was an action research initiative of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (Canada) in 2007–08 and 2008–09.
The federation)union) invited teams of four to six Kindergarten to grade 8 teachers to submit proposals to participate in job-embedded professional learning by investigating a question related to their teaching practice and their beliefs about student learning.
The projects instantiated collaborative action research (CAR).

Research Questions

The authors were guided by three research questions:
(1) What are the effects of CAR on teacher attitudes to research?
(2) What are the effects of CAR on teacher efficacy (beliefs about their professional ability)?
(3) Are the effects of CAR on teachers’ attitudes and beliefs moderated by
(i) teachers’ backgrounds, especially prior research experiences,
(ii) their school context, and/or
(iii) the attributes of their CAR?

In study 1, teacher teams submitted proposals to their federation to conduct action research projects of their own design and received support from university-based facilitators.
Pre- and post-surveys were completed by 80 of the 167 teachers.
In study 2, the authors replicated Study 1 using virtually the same instruments and procedures with a new sample.
In 2008–09, teachers were recruited in the same way as in 2007–08, except they were asked to focus their CAR on mathematics teaching.
Pre- and post-test surveys were received from 105 teachers.

The typical participant was a female classroom teacher who had been teaching for 12 years and had completed a four-year undergraduate degree and four Advanced Qualifications courses prior to participating in CAR.


Study 1 provided statistical evidence that participation in action research had a positive effect on teachers’ perception of the value of educational research.
The study also provided statistical evidence that participation in action research contributed to teacher beliefs about their ability to engage students in classroom activities.

In Study 1, the authors found that one dimension of teacher efficacy improved (confidence in engaging students in learning activities) while two others remained unchanged (confidence in classroom management and confidence in instructional strategies).

Study 2 confirmed Study 1 findings that there was a statistically significant pre–post improvement on teacher attitudes toward educational research and on teacher efficacy.
This finding is important because teachers who are confident about their professional abilities implement a broader range of instructional strategies, including difficult-to-implement alternatives, and elicit higher achievement from students.

The findings of positive effects were robust.
There were statistically significant pre–post changes regardless of teachers’ qualifications, gender, and teaching backgrounds.

Teachers benefited more if they
(i) recognized the importance of the data analysis and process reflection stages of action research;
(ii) participated in action research that was rigorous and/or led to changes in their conceptual understanding;
(iii) worked in schools that fostered professional learning; and
(iv) had participated in research activities prior to these action research studies.

Lessons learned

The two studies reported here demonstrate that quantitative study of action research is feasible if it addresses the action research features that inhibit quantitative inquiry.
Even though the design of individual action research projects was emergent, there was sufficient structure (in terms of a budget, timeline, goals and tools to improve teacher reflection and practice) to enable pre-ordinate planning.

The contribution of these two studies to the corpus of action research literature is twofold.
First, the authors confirmed two important benefits of action research participation reported by qualitative researchers, improved teacher attitudes to educational research and confidence in teachers’ professional abilities (increased self-efficacy).
Second, they found moderators of the impact of action research that help identify conditions in which action research is particularly likely to benefit teachers.

The most important finding from this section is that action research is very robust: it is equally suited to early and later career teachers, to males as well as females, to the minimally qualified and to those with additional training.

Updated: Apr. 29, 2014