Indeed, it may be argued that action research is uniquely suited to the conditions within the classroom. So reports the text by Ferrance, which indicates that "action research is a process in which participants examine their own educational practice systematically and carefully, using the techniques of research. It is based on the following assumption. . . teachers and principals work best on problems they have identified for themselves." (p. 1)
The implication here is that the constant state of flux revealed by day-to-day activities within a course and in interaction between professor, students, content and other entities justify the use of a research framework which is similarly mutable. As the source by Ferrance argues, the improvement of one's own practice of education may well be based on the ability of the instructor to evolve in harmony with an evolving understanding of the community systems, social networks, cultural inclinations and academic parameters that will shape conditions such as student performance, class participation, completion of assignments or academic integrity. And because of the state of responsiveness and flexibility inherent to action research, Ferrance indicates that cross-breeding of findings between instructors is also extremely valuable. Unique to this mode of research is the receptiveness of an existing research process to findings from an external research process. Ferrance argues that "working with colleagues helps teachers and principals in their professional development." ( p. 1)
Participatory, Practical and Teacher Action Research:
It is also useful to note that there are specific categories of action research which help us to highlight the most common methodologies which are typically employed to this end. Accordingly, we consider Participatory Research as an important incarnation of Action Research. Here, the subjects of the research process are not simply observed, but instead take an active role in identifying and evaluating emergent research problems. Dick indicates that traditionally, this has been a valuable method for use in therapy or counseling disciplines. Indeed, its practical implication have become of greater interest in the field of higher education where students are likely to function as a valuable source for knowledge, insight and observation on their own shared needs. Dick indicates that "the extent of participation may vary. In some instances there may be a genuine partnership between researcher and others. The distinction between researcher and others may disappear. On other occasions the researcher may choose for whatever reason to maintain a separate role. Participation may be limited to being involved as an informant. The participants, too, may choose something less than full partnership for themselves under some circumstances." (p. 1)
This differs from Practical Action Research which will instead create certain desired outcomes amongst the studied subject population and will use particular consultation and action approaches to attain these goals. Once attained, these goals would be evaluated, with a return to practical action following. This is given a useful example in the text by Ferrance, which finds that in research with a classroom of students, practical action driven by individual student assessments and interventions ultimately does produce positive collective outcomes. Ferrance reports on this while highlighting the responsiveness that we have established as requisite to this research approach. According to the case scenario described above, "individual teacher research usually focuses on a single issue in the classroom. The teacher may be seeking solutions to problems of classroom management, instructional strategies, use of materials, or student learning. Teachers may have support of their supervisor or principal, an instructor for a course they are taking, or parents. The problem is one that the teacher believes is evident in his or her classroom and one that can be addressed on an individual basis." (p. 75)
This practical action approach also implies some of the key features of Teacher Action Research, which takes the conditions of Action Research which are already favorable to the goals of education and which casts them into a research framework specific to the needs of the discipline. Here,...
Ferrance indicates in support of this approach that "Action research emphasizes the involvement of teachers in problems in their own classrooms and has as its primary goal the in-service training and development of the teacher rather than the acquisition of general knowledge in the field of education." (p. 8)
Here, Ferrance also restates a previously indicated benefit of action research, which is its natural capacity collective use. The flexibility accorded to the approach means that peer groups may share their findings in ways that can help to move forward the popular practice of education. It is here that we can appreciate the value of teacher action research in the higher education context, where there is likely to be a community-wide interest in measuring and responding to needs in different elements of education.
Certainly, this capacity for sharing speaks to a key advantage in the use of action research. In addition to the pragmatic ability of researchers to apply such findings to a wide range of learning and instructional contexts, research produced thusly may be taken into myriad alternate directions depending on how findings are ultimately contextualized.
As also intimated here above, one of the core disadvantages related to action research is that concerning its empirical viability. Though all valid research will achieve some level of empirical proof, the greater aptness of qualitative than quantitative research methods denotes that may action research findings will be inherently less-than-concrete. That said, using such findings as preliminary directives for more complete and comprehensive research tends to erase this disadvantage.
Action Research Presentation:
With this basic discussion produced above, we can see that the action research approach is best suited to a study subject that is in a constant state of flux. Therefore, it is proposed here to study the connection between the enrollment of foreign exchange students and performance difficulties in linguistic or compositionally driven courses of study. This would be a participatory action research endeavor which would consult foreign language students at the selected institution as part of an ongoing effort to find action-based resolutions to the stated research problem.
In Preparation for the study, it would first be appropriate to identify all courses in which the exercise or demonstration of linguistic skills, both verbally and compositionally, have been shown to be necessary. Consequently, all instructors involved in such courses (i.e. English composition, literature, history, etc.) would be asked to participate in the process of observation. These instructors would be subsequently instructed to ask foreign language students in their respective courses to participation in the action research process.
The Planning phase of the study would involve the initial observation of performance levels in composition and reading for foreign language students throughout the university as a way of identifying preliminary areas of deficiency. Observations would be based on general academic performance rather than on any particular research-driven data-collection instrument.
This observation would segue into the Action phase in which all participating students and instructors share in the engagement in educational intervention. Specific outside-of-class consultation between professors and foreign language students would be directed by apparent deficiencies as identified in the Planning phase, but would also retain a responsiveness to emergent individual needs, including learning deficiencies beyond linguistic barriers.
The Results of this intervention should lead to a greater understanding of the needs of foreign language students, with the success of outside-of-class tutoring being measured for each individual. Progress would therefore be tracked individually. Any shortcomings on the individual level will contribute to a reconsideration or expansion upon the areas of need identified in the planning phase. As per the cyclic nature of action research, these results should naturally contribute to a reentry into the planning phase.
Dick, B. (2000). A Beginner's Guide to Action Research [Online]. Available at http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/arp/guide.html
Ferrance, E. (2000).…
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