1) What is Action Research?

How do YOU define action research?

Feel free to add your definition of action research on this page, either with or without your name, and if you like with links to your action research site.

Also visit our online tutorial course on Action Research

1) The Center for Collaborative Action Research, CCAR
This image was designed by a group of Pepperdine students working remotely

At the Center for Collaborative Action Research, Riel (2013) describes action research is a form of cyclic learning that capitalizes on day-to-day work experiences as opportunities to improve practice. Action researchers gain deeper understanding of the social, political, and physical forces that shape actions in complex social settings. It is a way of learning more from practice by questioning, listening, watching, acting, analyzing, and reflecting. Action research can be done in a formal way with results which can be shared across contexts or it can be conducted informally as a way of learning from and improving one's practice. When conducted formally, action research can provide new understandings of relationships that can become the basis of further study. When carried out informally, action research can become a habit of mind, a process of progressive problem solving that leads to a form of adaptive expertise (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1993, Bransford, Brown, & Cockling, 1999)

2) Action Research for Professional Development -

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Jean McNiff describes what action research is in this concise booklet


Currently she also allows for the download of her newest book: Action Research Principal and Practices

3) The Center for Technology in Educationexternal image cte.gif

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The Center for Technology in Education (CTE), at John Hopkins University has designed a great simple tutorial on how to do action research from beginning to end. This tutorial

4) Overview of Action Reearch
An Overview of the Methodological Approach of Action Research

Rory O’Brien, Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto

5) American Educational Research Association

Action research described on the American Educational Research Action Research (AERA) Special Interest Group (SIG) on Action Research
(the results of a group process to understand action research coming soon)

Your Definitions of Action Research -- Feel free to add your insights below this line.

This definition of action research has been developed through a collective process with the members of the action research SIG.

A Group of Students from Cadre 9 at Pepperdine's online learning technologies program define action this way:

Action Research is a recognized form of applied research that focuses on the effects of the researcher's direct actions of practice within a participatory community with the goal of improving the performance quality of the community or an area of concern (Dick, 2002; Reason & Bradbury, 2001; Hult & Lennung, 1980; McNiff, 2002). Action research involves utilizing a systematic cyclical method of planning, taking action, observing, evaluating (including self-evaluation) and critical reflecting prior to planning the next cycle O'Brien, 2001; McNiff, 2002). The actions have a set goal of addressing an identified problem in the workplace, for example, reducing the illiteracy of students through use of a new strategies Quigley, 2000) or developing shared governance to increase the quality of nursing (Doherty & Hope 2000). It is a collaborative method to test new ideas and implement action for change. It involves direct participation in a dynamic research process, while monitoring and evaluating the effects of the researcher's actions with the aim of improving practice (Dick, 2002; Checkland & Holwell, 1998; Hult & Lennung, 1980). At its core, action research is a way to increase understanding of how change in one's actions or practices can mutually benefit a community of practitioners (McNiff, 2002; Reason & Bradburym, 2001; Carr & Kremmis 1986; Masters, 1995).

This is a summary of the reflections of Pepperdine's masters in learning technologies, Cadre 11, students describing what they have learned while in the process of conducting action research:

Action Research in Action
Action Research is an integral part of Pepperdine's online program in learning technologies and can be viewed as engaging individuals to think, act, and reflect as agents of change within those confines. The knowledge building process of Action Research contains four critical components: 1) the cyclical or iterative process of action-taking leads to self-reflection; 2) the use of dialogue with other members of community through the use of learning circles; 3) the meta-cognitive awareness gained through dialogue and reflection; and 4) the shift in individual identity as knowledge building grows through the process.

Iterative Process
Action research causes the researcher to examine all of one’s perception, values and beliefs of one’s practice. One researcher noted that, after my first cycle there were many things I wish I had done better, but as an iterative process, I was able to incorporate those lessons learned into the design of my second cycle. In talking or writing about research, I find it important not to make assumptions without exploring my hypothesis. Moreover, when assumptions do not turn out as I may have expected, I prefer to view it not as a disappointment, but as an opportunity to conduct possible better/further investigation. This, is in fact, an opportunity to refine, organize, and develop a deeper analysis through investigation. The iterative process is integral towards individual understanding; however, the dialogue that takes place with other members of the community in the form of learning circles is critical toward formulating deeper understanding. A constructivist view asserts that every experience is a learning experience, and the experience of communicating with others about your actions and obtaining their perspectives is at the crux of learning circles.

The study of dialogue and how it relates to discussion and debate has really opened my eyes to the deeper levels of communication. I am enjoying challenging myself to be an example of dialogue in an environment thick with discussion and debate. Dialogue is a tool that works well for me. Action research has provided me with the opportunity to engage in a dialogue with my co-participants that has been beneficial to the entire group. Often, a conversation or brief question can help synthesize an idea or bolster an action. Action research has been the catalyst for engaging in productive dialogue; I believe that I have gained an insight into my workplace as a direct result of communicating with those around me, and I think the feeling is mutual. I am learning to listen to others carefully, instead of quickly jumping to a conclusion; I am allowing myself to keep an open-mind, and I am taking time to think before responding. The dialogue that takes place in learning circles each week provides a connective backdrop to the action research method. Succinctly describing a course of action to another individual helps us refine our own ideas and leads to knowledge building in the circle and, through reflection, the larger group as a whole. I have been able to gain insights that otherwise would have gone unnoticed had we embarked on this adventure as individuals. In addition, focusing on time management improvement has helped a great deal. It is important to recognize that not all actions can take place at once and that we must learn how to choose which actions are best suited for and worthy of our attention. Over the course of my action research, I have found that written reflection goes hand-in-hand with the dialogue that takes place in our day-to-day work environment, as well as in the learning circles.

Reflection and Meta-Cognitive Awareness
I find value in written reflection. I have noticed how reflection is making me more curious about my action research and the reactions and changes I am seeing both internal to myself and external in my field of action. Through reflection I found myself analyzing concepts, evaluating experiences, and forming opinions. This practice has permitted me to examine and question my beliefs, opinions, and values. Understanding how we learn has given me the opportunity to discover my strengths as a learner and a teacher. Action research creates a mental disposition, or habit of inquiry and requires one to maintain a level of self-awareness at all times during the process. The ability to reflect on an action is only as strong as the level of active participation. This model of research is not a passive process and requires mental acuity and a heightened sense of self-awareness. You recognize the growth of the participants, but, more importantly, you recognize your own growth. It is important to record everything, to reflect often, to step away from the situation and think beyond the action just taken. Through reflection, I have been developing a language for expressing my ideas. Conducting action research has forced me to challenge my assumptions, understand and appreciate my environment at a deeper level, stand by my convictions, and, paradoxically, simultaneously open myself up to the possibility of finding that my own thoughts are way off the mark. It has been an incredible, transformative experience; because once the journey was embarked upon it was like stepping through the looking glass. The transformative nature of action research assists each learner in constructing and reconstructing his/her own identity.

Learning as Shaping Identity
We are constantly learning; the actions we took, the dialogue we engaged in, and the reflections written all shape our identity as learners. The action research process has led to a change in my conception of myself as a teacher. I am developing into a researcher with a marketing eye, which causes a change in observations and conclusions. My identity as a teacher and a coach has changed. I have shifted from seeing myself as an individual learner -- a singularly competitive individual - to - developing a sense of myself as a community learner, one who is collaborative and interdependent. This shaping of identity starts with identifying my own strengths and weaknesses, evaluating my own actions, and working to improve upon them for greater understanding. This is perhaps the most difficult undertaking. This shift involves becoming more curious-- more reflective in the moment--in dialogue and discussion. I have moved from simply reacting to situations, to being reflective and making choices based upon what I have learned about others and myself. I have developed more confidence as a speaker; I am listening more and cognizant of the fact that I am learning from those I speak to. The process of studying my own actions and reflecting about the actions and results continues to affect the way I work with students and my colleagues. Working with another individual has enhanced this process, as I have learned as much from him as an instructor as he has from me as a technology expert.

FROM: Reason, P, & McArdle, K., (2001) Action Research and Organization Development

in T.C. Cummings, (Ed.) Handbook of Organization Development, Bath:Sage Publications

Action research is a practice for the systematic development of knowing and knowledge, but based in a rather different form from traditional academic research. It has different purposes, is based in different relationships, it has different ways of conceiving knowledge and its relation to practice. We can define it broadly as "… a participatory, democratic process concerned with developing practical knowing in the pursuit of worthwhile human purposes, grounded in a participatory worldview… It seeks to bring together action and reflection, theory and practice, in participation with others, in the pursuit of practical solutions to issues of pressing concern to people, and more generally the flourishing of individual persons and their communities (Reason &Bradbury, 2001a:1)."

This definition brings together five dimensions of action research: it is pragmatic, concerned with addressing practical issues and making links between theory and practice; it is democratic both in the sense of involving people and in being liberationist - seeking to enable all people to create their own knowledge in learning organisations and communities of inquiry; it draws on an “extended epistemology” (Heron 1996) of many ways of knowing, valuing the experiential, narrative and aesthetic, alongside the propositional and conceptual; it is value oriented, asking how we can contribute to the flourishing—economic, political, psychological, spiritual— of human persons and communities, and of the wider ecology of the planet; and it is developmental, evolving over time from tentative beginnings toward more significant influence (Reason & Bradbury, 2001a).

James, Milenkiewicz, and Bucknam (2008) define Participatory Action Research (PAR) as..."The action research (AR) portion of PAR is defined as a multistage type of research designed to yield practical results capable of improving a specific aspect of practice and made public to enable scrutiny and testing. This iterative process is bolstered through the strategic use of standard research methods--but AR differs from scientific research practices in a number of ways. The traditional view of scientific research sees research as a distinct and measurable construct in which scientists must remain neutral, without directly influencing the results of their experiments. PAR blends participatory research, defined as research conducted in circumstances where diverse practitioners work together to achieve reliable results. In local context this implies groups of citizens who have an equal say in all aspects of the study. PAR offers a practical and effective approach for educators to study, asess, and improve their own practices, because PAR researchers intentionally make changes through the action cycle as they progress with the project. While the scientific view insists on absolute quantifiability, the PAR view appreciates subjective reflection as a form of data, giving credence and respect to intuitively driven moments and epiphanies" (p. 8).

James, Milenkiewicz, and Bucknam (2008) describe "PAR as incorporating the highest values and principles for human justice and democracy including:
*The belief in human capacity
*The unyielding commitment to social justice and equity
*The value of collaborative work both to individual educators and to their schools
*The norms of professional and public accountability
*Mutual inquiry as a means to honor others, empower ourselves, and adapt to a changing environment" (p. 2)

Participatory Action Research is a collaborative, research-based, and results-oriented approach for leading second-order, systems-oriented change. In PAR, the researcher is an actor in their own research. As a principal actor, the researcher studies the problem, plans, implements action, assesses results, and reflects upon outcomes in a series of cycles and over time. They also concurrently study their own leadership practice and the practice of others throughout the iterative cycles. This multi-dimensional and ongoing learning promotes individual and collective capacity building and leads to new and better ways of thinking and "being". PAR is transformative. (Dr. Linda Purrington, Academic Chair, ELAP Ed.D. Program, Pepperdine University)

Add your definition here.. (use the edit this page button at the top of this frame.) if you use references please add them to the list at the end of this page.

References mentioned in these definitions

Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M., (1993) Surpassing ourselves: An inquiry into the nature and implication of expertise. La Salle, IL: Open Court.

Bransford, J., Brown A., and Cocking, R , Eds. (1999) How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School. Washington, D.C. National Academy Press.

Carr, W. & Kremmis, S.(1986). Becoming Critical: Education, Knowledge, and Action Research. London: Falmer Press

Checkland, P., Holwell, S. (1998). Action Research: Its Nature and Validity. Systemic Practice and Action Research, Volume 11, (Issue 1, Feb),p 9-21.

Dick, B. (2002). "Action research: Action and research" Accessed on Feb 3, 2007 from http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/arp/aandr.html .

Doherty C, & Hope W. (2000). "Shared governance--nurses making a difference." Journal of Nursing Management 2000 March 8(2):77-81.

Hult, M., and Lennung, S. (1980). "Towards a Definition of Action Research: A Note and Bibliography," Journal of Management Studies (17:2), 1pp. 242-250.

James, E.A., Milenkiewicz, M.T., & Bucknam, A. (2007). Participatory Action Research for educational leadership: Using data-driven decision making to improve schools Thousand Oaks:CA, Sage Publications, Inc.

Masters, J. (1995) 'The History of Action Research' in I. Hughes (ed) Action Research Electronic Reader, The University of Sydney, Accessed online on Feb 26, 2007 at http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/arr/arow/rmasters.html .

McNiff, (2002) Action research for professional development. Accessed online Feb 2, 2007 at http://www.jeanmcniff.com/booklet1.html .

O'Brien, R. (2001). "An overview of the methodological approach of action research.". In Roberto Richardson (Ed.), Theory and Practice of Action Research. João Pessoa, Brazil: Universidade Federal da Paraíba. (English version) Accessed online on Feb. 2, 2007 from http://www.web.ca/~robrien/papers/arfinal.html .

Quigley, B., 2000, ‘The practitioner-research: a research revolution in literacy’, Adult
Learning, 11 (3), 6-8.

Reason, P. & Bradbury, H. (Eds.) (2001) Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice, Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA, 512p

Reason, P., & McArdle, K. L. (2004). Action Research and Organization Development. In T. C. Cummings (Ed.), Handbook of Organization Development. Bath: Sage Publications.

Yorks, L. (2005) Adult learning and the generation of new knowledge and meaning: Creating liberating spaces for fostering adult learning through practitioner-based collaborative action inquiry. Teachers College Record Volume 107 Number 6, 2005, p. 1217-1244
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11909, Date Accessed: 10/18/2007 3:25:00 PM