How Does Action Research Affect the Researcher?

The goal of action research is deeper knowledge and skill on the part of the researcher. "How does action research affect the researcher?" Josh Burker asked this question of his peers as they were at in the middle of their action research projects. We thought that answsers to this question from three different groups might provoke some good discussion. So we pose a version of this question to three groups:
1) Those currently in the middle of an action research project. (including the group essay by Cadre 11)
2) Those who have done formal or informal action research in the past.
3) Those who apply action research as an ongoing "habit of mind."

We hope that if you have had experiences with action research, you will want to add your comments here. Use the edit this page option at the top to add your comments.

1) What changes, if any, do you see in yourself while you are engaged in Action Research?

Viewing all of the challenging issues I face as questions, rather than problems is helping me sleep better at night. This wikis site, the book "Living the Questions" Hubbard, Power as well as Action Research by Mills, are guiding this process. I am feeling confident in facing the challenges that I was about ready to give up on 2 years ago. See attached PDF

I see myself as being more focused on a particular part of my practice, rather than being scattered. I am focused on helping teachers to use the technology we already have on campus.

I see myself as being more flexible because of the need to be responsive to the events that happen as I act within my community.

I begin to see connections--as I consider other people's perspectives, I see connections.

My actions are much more deliberate. Instead of trying to micromanage every situation, I have stepping back and allowing the students to create knowledge through their own interactions and actions. By becoming more aware of my own actions, I am allowing others the freedom and opportunity to make decisions and actions on their own. (Submitted by Josh Burker)

I am more aware of my actions and the affects they have on my enviornment and others while engaged in action research. I am also more reflective both in my action research and in my personal life. I think more than anything action research has instilled the habit of reflection in my everyday life. Action research has showed me the importance of reflection and the value of evaluation of your actions. - Kristen Dowling

I am begining to reflect more on my practice. I have found that it is helpful to evaluate my teaching because I am becoming critical and analytical.

Action research has made me more conscious of my actions and the affects of those actions. I am well aware that I have the power to influence positive change through my actions. Action research is a great way to live life and it has made a positive impact on mine. - Heather Walberg

Action research gradually helped me to be more focused, patient, as well as to have a better understanding of my action research environment. - Behnaz Nassernia

The action research that I have been engaged in has given me a new perspective through which I now view my ability to enact change. I am no longer the outside observer; rather, I am directly involved and affected by the very change that I am trying to create. It is an empowering and powerful experience and process. - Bradford Davey

I have always been a "doer" in all my activities, but never really felt empowered in those activities. Now, in my action research I do feel empowered. I know that my actions can bring about a change, not only in myself, but in my organization. I have also found that I am more mindful of my actions, conversations, and planning in all areas of my life. - Allen Haren

Action Research has empowered me. I no longer fear large projects; rather, I embrace them and try to break them down into smaller parts. Gathering, which I use to think was a huge project, can be broken down into little segments, or cycles, that seem to make the work flow more palatable. Before you know it, you have really learned something. I look forward to encouraging meaningful change as I progress through my career. - Scott James

Action Research gives me a license think more deeply about my true impact. No longer do I just react to problems in the workplace as they emerge. I now know how to ask probing questions and design successful strategies to find answers while studying my own thinking. The Action Research process encourages me to look beyond what's right in front of me and see the forest for the trees!
Christian Greer - Shedd Aquarium, Chicago

Cadre 11 Reflections on doing Action Research

(This is a summary of the reflections of Cadre 11 (2008-9) about what they have learned while in the process of conducting action research-- This was written by a team of 12 students beginning with reflective statements that were shared in a synchronous setting and then through group writing and reflecting.)

Action Research in Action

Action Research is an integral part of the Online Master of Arts in Educational Technology program at Pepperdine University, and it challenges individuals to think, act, and reflect as agents of change both within their immediate practice and on a broader stage as well. The knowledge building process of Action Research contains four critical components: 1) the cyclical or iterative process of action-taking 2) 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 the perception, values and beliefs of the researcher'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, it is important not to make assumptions without exploring your hypothesis. Moreover, when assumptions do not turn out as expected, it does not represent a failure, but an opportunity to conduct further investigation. The iterative nature of Action Research provides an opportunity to refine, organize, and develop a deeper analysis through investigation. The iterative process is integral in the building of 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.

Learning CirclesLearning Circles are a small group of people placed together to provide ongoing insight and guidance to each other. An Action Research learning circle is designed to create the conditions for collaborative exploration of issues and questions for the betterment of the group. Groups are primarily self-directed and inclusive, and in addition to facilitating collaborative exploration, the environment of a learning circle is a vital medium for shared cognition. Through dialogue members of learning circles apply meta cognitive processes to gain a deeper understanding of their action research process, including analysis of evidence collected in the course of research and recognition of personal development taking place. In this way the learning circle acts as a gauge for the action researcher, often seeing development and change for the individual that they may not recognize in themselves.

The learning circles were changed by the professor to maximize the opportunity for everyone to work together. Although, one participant wondered how learning might be different if the cadre were given a choice to select their own group members, she continued to say "group selection was great it forced me to accept diversity, and be open to learn from other perspectives. Understanding that each member had their own starting point helped me cope with questioning member’s participation. For the most part I enjoyed learning from others, even though at times I did not agree on all points discussed, but for the most part I think we have demonstrated that we can work together toward one common academic goal."

Dialogue is about building shared understanding with others in a non-combative way. It differs from discussion and debate in this way as the result of dialogue is not the winning of one idea over another, but the creation of a unique idea based on the input of all concerned. Action research provides the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue within a field of practice for the benefit of all those involved. Often, a conversation or brief question can help synthesize an idea or bolster an action. Action research has the potential to act as the catalyst for engaging in productive dialogue that yields insights into any workplace or environment. By listening carefully to others, instead of quickly jumping to a conclusion, one can keep an open-mind thinking before responding.

The dialogue that takes place in learning circles each week provides a connective backdrop to the action research methodology. Succinctly describing a course of action to another individual helps refine personal ideas and leads to knowledge building in the circle and, through reflection, the larger group as a whole. A constructivist view asserts that every experience is a learning experience, and the experience of communicating with others about personal actions and obtaining various perspectives is at the crux of learning circles. We 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.
Reflection and Meta-Cognitive Awareness
As a cadre, we have found value in written reflection. Through reflecting we have become more curious about our action research- the reactions and changes that are taking place within ourselves and with our fields of action have taken on a new life. This practice has permitted us to examine and question our beliefs and opinions. Before action research, many of us were resigned to continue our daily challenges without hope of change. As a result of action research, we see our role in our envrionments differently. Understanding how we learn gives us the opportunity to discover our strengths as learners, teachers, and leaders. 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 rather it requires mental acuity and a heightened sense of self-awareness. One recognizes the growth of the participants, but, more importantly, the researcher recognizes his/her 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, we have been developing a language for expressing our ideas. Conducting action research has forced us to challenge past assumptions, understand and appreciate our environment at a deeper level, stand by personal convictions, and, paradoxically, simultaneously open one's self up to the possibility of finding that previous personal understanding are misconstrued. 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 leading to new possibilities and new outlooks towards the future.

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 the conception of ourselves as teachers. Some are developing into a researcher with a marketing eye, which causes a change in observations and conclusions. Some identities as teachers and coaches have changed. Some have shifted from seeing one's self as individual learners - a singularly competitive individual - to developing a sense of one's self as part of a community of learners- collaborative and interdependent. This shaping of identity starts with identifying our own strengths and weaknesses, evaluating 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 both dialogue and discussion. We have moved from simply reacting to situations, to being reflective and making choices based upon personal and community learning. We have developed more confidence as speakers, listening more, and cognizant that we learn when we speak of the process of our research. The process of studying our actions and reflecting about the process and results continues to affect the way we work with students, colleagues, cadremates, professors, and others. Working with another individual has enhanced this process; we have learned as much from others as participants as we have from being researchers.

What has helped us out the most during the process?

The People: Learning circles and cadre.

The learning circles are without a doubt one of the most important parts of this process. We 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. Recognizing 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,

Multiple perspectives from both people directly involved in the action reseach and outside of the action research with our cadre are essential in the action research process. Fellow members of the cadre who we have had the privilege of working with, have contributed immensely to the overall understanding of action research and quality of work. There is a greater responsibilty level in being part of a learning circle concept. However, it would be more beneficial to have additional synchronous meetings with the whole class. We all benefited from touch points with our professor, Dr. Margaret Riel, interaction with our learning circles, and connections with others in both cadres doing similar work. Being able to have access to multiple people throughout the process, reflecting ideas off of our professor, having individual conference at face to face meetings, and keeping at least one member of the original learning circles who understood the direction of the action research and not afraid to push back were all essential to the success of the action research process and our own personal growth. As one cadre member stated, " For me, having my Learning Circle review and provide feedback on my cycle reports was a great help. Also having them to converse with has helped provide interesting ways of looking at my AR project." Another echoed the same sentiments, "For me the most helpful things have been discussing my action research with my learning circle and having access to Margaret. The LC's have been great for the process because I would receive constructive feedback on my action research, and the dialogue that we had during the meetings were always great." This concept of collaboration among cadre members in learning circles allows us the opportunity to be responsible for not only our own learning but to accept responsibility for the learning of the cadre membersas well. Learning circles were a non coercive and free environment that created and challenged new ideas. They are the lifeline of Action research.

Source Materials
Reference materials included within the structure of the course work have been key to our development as action researchers. A few of the books that have been particularly helpful in this process are: Doing Action Research in Your Own Organization by Dr David Coghlan and Dr Teresa Brannick; All You Need To Know About Action Research by Jean McNiff and Dr A Jack Whitehead; Dialogue: The Art Of Thinking Together by William Isaacs; and Dialogue at Work by Nancy M. Dixon. These books, combined with subject-specific literature reviewed as part of the Action Research process set a strong foundation for our work. A key outcome of the literature review was the finding others who think the same way or share a common interest about an issue. It was also valuable to find the voices of those that are in disagreement to our way of thinking in order to understand multiple perspectives when addressing the change within our field of action. Access to Pepperdine's online periodical databases was invaluable and, the ERIC database in particular helped in finding resources to gain a deeper understanding of action research project topics and idenfification of the critical voices contributing to it.Many of these source materials provide ongoing value to the action researcher and may be applied to any environment that entails learning and cooperation.

Shifts in my thinking
Participants in the Action Research process noted a shift in the idea that criticism is negative to the idea that criticism is useful, important and provides an opportunity for grow. Also, a shift in the definition of a "student" from that of a competitive role to one of collaborative/interdependence was seen by many. The identification of strengths and weaknesses, opportunity to evaluate ones own actions, and work on improving them for greater outcomes was a new mindset embraced by many. While any shift in thinking can be difficult to identify, many realized that it was okay to start one process and then switch to something else; that it is okay to change and go a different direction.

What technology has been the most important and why?

Various technologies have been employed through the action research process by the cadre to support their research. The following is a list of some of the key technology for the process including details of how it was applied and the way in which it impacted the work.


Google Sites
The organization of Google Sites kept the revision and feedback process organized, thorough, and easy to manage as it included the ability to request feedback and notify others when feedback was completed. Collecting the feedback on a single page using multiple colors to identify unique reviewers was effective and made for a great way to track progress. Google apps (I.E. Sites, Docs, and Groups) are really a revolutionary way to collaborate online and they are easy to use. They show a potential for how we will communicate and collaborate int the future.

Google DocsWeb-based word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, and form application offered by Google. It allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real-time with other users. This is perfect compliment tool for Google sites. It allows for easy embedding of Microsoft Office 2003 and 2007 documents.This tools used extensively to post action research documents on Google sites.

Skype is a flexible, easy to use text and voice-based synchronous tool that allows multiple individuals to engage in a dialogue at one time. The option to choose to interact via text or voice alone, or a combination of both adds to the dynamic nature of this tool. Skype has also been extremely useful in group meetings, allowing groups to connect anywhere and at anytime. It made meeting with groups very easy and productive. Skype is also good for Learning Circle sessions and, by using additional software, the session is able to be recorded for future use.

Psychology of Blackboard vs Google, Formal vs Informal, preference for one or the other comes down to personal inclination. As a group, we decided that we perferred skype with google sites as oppossed to Blackboard. Blackboard has its place, but the structure and usability of this tool tends to inhibit rapid collaboration. However the text forums were effective when professors were good at moderating them.

EtherpadIs a web-based collaborative real-time editor, allowing up to eight people to edit a text document at the same time, and see all of the participants' edits in real-time, each in their own color. Participants can permanently save revisions at any time, and it provides a separate chat box in the sidebar. This tool is great as it allows for real time collaboration that allows people to work together on a web-based word processor. An alternate view is that it can take away from participants ability to be active listeners to what is being said by someone in the group since attention is divided between different things.

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2. In what ways, if any, does doing action research as a formal process in graduate school affect the way you work after you have finished your degree?

Action research as a formal process taught me to look at the data, and pay attention to the needs of my environment. I also have more confidence to make positive change. Since action research works in cycles, modifications are necessary, as well as encouraged. There is no fear of not getting it right the first time.

The change was incredible! Action Research opened up a whole new world for me. Not only did it help me learn to better reflect on my own practice but it also taught me that I could help others by documenting my experience. Action Research is a powerful way to advance the field while building your own leadership skills and inspiring others to share expertise.
Christian Greer - Shedd Aquarium, Chicago

The learning circles are without a doubt one of the most important parts of the Action Research process. I have been able to gain insights that otherwise would have gone unnoticed had we embarked on this adventure as individuals. Fellow members of the cadre who I've had the privilege of working with along the way has contributed immensely to my overall understanding of action research and to the quality of my work.

One feels an immense responsibility to their circle and this responsibility is one of the key driving forces for the circle. One of the greatest benefits of the circle has been having at least one member of the original Learning Circle who understood where I was going with my AR and not afraid to push back. Embracing your responsibility to push each other makes the circle even more productive.

Having a learning circle to converse with has helped provide interesting ways of looking at my AR project. Having them provide feedback, proof read drafts, bounce ideas, and add additional perspectives are quite beneficial. It becomes even more meaningful when you are able to connect with other in the cadre doing similar work.

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3. And for those who feel that they have adopted action research as "a habit of mind," what has changed?

Developing a PAR (Paticipatory Action Research) project forced me to healthily formalize behaviors and mental processes that I had adopted early in my teaching career. I remember my first experience teaching college students-- I clutched a lectern and read detailed notes on post-modernism to a room full of first year college students. It was a painful experience for all involved. I prepared franticly for the lecture in a desperate attempt to compensate for something that I could not pinpoint. My whole lecture grew from graduate school readings, so it was developmentally inappropriate for the room of students who I was asked to "teach". I compensated for my lack of relevant pedagogy with content. UGH. When the lecture ended, I asked the students for honest feedback, then I sat with my journal reflecting on the dissonance that I was experiencing. Fortunately the students were brutally honest, burning feedback into my memory:

"...Mike, I had no idea what you were talking about"
"...slow down... we can't write as fast as you talk/think..."
"...I think you'll be a good teacher one day, but you need to relax (and get more comfortable with the material)..."

My journalling on that day was also painfully profound. I wrote things that dammed my future as an educator, and I wrestled with my professional identity during the weeks that followed. In hindsight, my despair & dissonance fed each other, and I got lost in melancholic self-criticism. Although my reviews for that term were quite good, I did not develop comfort with myself as a teacher until at least three years after that memorable first lecture.

Collaborative action research could have helped me through those painful couple of years. Thinking with others about the literature surrounding my actions (lecturing, developing assessments, or grading) would have given my reflections context. The collaboration would also have given me direction and support during those fragile first steps into my teaching career. Because of this, I reveled in my reflections throughout my action research project and I learned to appreciate the many critical friends that I developed during the process. It was so profound that I have tried on numerous occasions to share the paradigm with my colleagues and students.

I still keep both a personal and professional journal, and I make a few of my reflections on teaching public via my blog or local publication. I also work with several other colleagues on a project to develop the scholarship of teaching and learning (see: across six college campuses. There are other ways that I have tried to share the transformative nature of PAR, but listing them would be antithetical to the real power of collaborative action research. Truly practicing PAR forces a person to enjoy their professional journey; it does not inspire them to celebrate accomplishments as static moments of individual glory. Ultimately, PAR has helped me constantly feel grateful for the many networks that involve me, and it has inspired me to engage in frequent critical self-inquiry as a professional responsibility. -MD

(MRIEL NOTE: Mike's Action Research Project is featured in the Center for Collaborative Action Research

Our greatest learning has been what we discovered about ourselves. We learnt that we can make a difference without too much effort by following a systematic plan of intervention. Action research has been a powerful tool for us to work together to bring about positive change in our school. Because we hold up our values of mutual respect and fairness as our criteria by which we judge our own behaviour, we make sure that our interventions do not impose change on the learners, but allow them to develop their own potential for change and improvement. We view the learners with a different attitude now – we no longer see them as trouble makers, but as children who are suffering from social injustices and who only need a little bit of positive input to change.
N Mcguca and C Tame-Gwaxula - teachers on an action research project in South Africa

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