Action research, sometimes called participatory action research, has great potential for improving professional practice in many fields. As the Action Research Network of the Americas [ARNA] puts it:
Action research involves inquiry into areas of concern or challenge facing communities and practitioners. These concerns are most often linked to education, health and health care, social services, … and other social justice issues.
Practitioner-researchers identify the problem, develop actions to help alleviate some part of the problem, and evaluate the impact of the interventions… Action researchers systematically collect and analyze data to obtain credible answers….
Inquiry is fundamental, and most of us learn from experience all the time. We pay attention to what we’re doing or observing, come up with ideas for ways to make things better, and see how well they work. This might be called ‘action learning’, but action research demands more. I think it must be systematic, reasonably rigorous in its exploration of alternatives and analysis of findings, and published or shared so others can learn from the work and help identify possibilities for further improvement.
Action research is particularly appropriate to help introduce and expand multiple aspect of sustainability in our schools, because it allows individual teachers to introduce and test new ideas — and to reinforce each other. It not only encourages new approaches, it increases the capacity of individual teachers and schools to improve their own practice. And action research works well with descriptive approaches to evaluation, such as the descriptive processes developed by Prospect School and the Prospect Institute. [A selection of resources related to the Prospect School is available from the University of Vermont, which also houses the Prospect archive of children’s work.]
Locally, Moravian College offers an M.Ed. degree featuring an action research approach, and teachers who have completed the program have made significant contributions to improving school practice here in the Lehigh Valley. In keeping with a commitment to transparency and collaboration, Moravian makes their theses available online.
Education is not the only field where action research is appropriate, of course, but it is one where we’re already seeing results here in the Lehigh Valley.
Getting started with action research
Here is a list of online sources about Action Research, including examples of successful projects.