Action Research

Quick Reference

Getting Started with Action Research, by Mr Nicholas S Noakes

The Background of Action Research

The process of an Action Research project

Action Research resources

The Overview of Action Research

Action Research (AR) is an idea, which you can apply to improve your own teaching practice, as well as other facets of academic work such as curriculum design and course evaluation.

By making your teaching practice the subject of your research you can critically examine and modify it. The main difference between teaching per se and action research on teaching, is that you will need to adopt a more systematic approach to making observations and keeping records than may presently be the case. At various stages in a project, your findings can be communicated to colleagues through seminars, conferences and journal publications.

There is quite a large literature on action research including its theoretical underpinnings and historical development. Since the aim of this website is to assist you in getting started with an action research project, only a brief outline of the main theoretical ideas is presented here.

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What is Action Research?

Basically it is an approach to improve your own teaching practice. You start with a problem you encounter in your teaching practice. It could be a concern that students do not spend enough effort in reviewing course materials; or they have great difficulty learning a particular topic in the course. Faced with the problem, the action researcher will go through a series of phases (reflect, plan, action, observe) called the Action Research Cycle to systematically tackle the problem. In practice, things rarely go perfectly according to plan first time round. Usually you discover ways to improve your action plan in light of your experience and feedback from the students. One cycle of planning, acting, observing and reflecting, therefore usually leads to another, in which you incorporate improvements suggested by the initial cycle. Projects often do not fit neatly into a cycle of planning, action, observation and reflection. It is perfectly legitimate to follow a somewhat disjointed process if circumstances dictate.

The Action Research Cycles

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Why should I get involved in action research?

Built into action research is the proviso that, if as a teacher I am dissatisfied with what is already going on, I will have the confidence and resolution to attempt to change it. I will not be content with the status quo...
Jean McNiff, Action Research, Principles and Practice, McNiff,1988, 50

Acquiescence is not a characteristic of an action researcher. He is resourceful, committed, tenacious, and above all, curious. He will not be satisfied with a given system if he sees elements of the system as unsatisfactory. He will seek to change it. In doing so, he refuses to be a servant, but becomes an acting agent. He rises above the role of a skilled technician and becomes an educator.
Jean McNiff, Action Research, Principles and Practice, McNiff,1988, 50 own work within the politics of educational knowledge would suggest that it is largely up to teachers to gain the initiative within the academic community by strengthening the explanatory power of their accounts of professional practice.
Jack Whitehead, Action Research, Principles and Practice, McNiff,1988

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Special thanks to Dr. David Kember of the Educational Development Unit, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, formerly coordinator of the Action Learning Project; and Dr. Mavis Kelly, one of the authors of the booklet Improving the Quality of Teaching through Action Learning Projects, for providing CEI with a lot of useful materials on this site.

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