Kurt Lewin was the social scientist responsible for giving this research paradigm the name Action Research.
He believed Action Research went through a circular process. That the researcher began by “identifying a general idea” this was followed by “fact finding, planning, action, evaluating, plan second action”. However new approaches will use Action Research as a form of “problem Solving”(citied in Action Research paper).
Action Research has several definitions, one definition is:
“research orientated towards direct practice” (taken from Action Research paper pg1).
While Carr & Lewin define Action Research as “a form of self reflexive enquiry” carried out by practitioners whose purpose is to “improve the rationality and justice of their practice ” ( Carr & Kemmin 1986:162, cited in Action Research pg 1).
Action Research evolved from Post Modernism when social scientists epistemology and ontological beliefs began to change. Through research findings they realised that people/participant/s experienced their world differently, that their experiences were subjective. Therefore research methods/designs needed to change to be able so that social researchers could gain an insight into the world of the individual (gathering rich sources of data).
The Action Research paradigm became very popular in educational research. It was used to improve professional practice.
Action Research can be used in education by the practitioner who wants to explore their own teaching style/practice. The practitioner may be asked by their institution to carry out Action Research on a work colleagues practice.
For instance a teacher may want to explore why there is disruptive behaviour in a specific lesson and particular group he teachers . He may have talked to work colleagues who have not experienced any behaviour issues with this group. The practitioner may want to explore why this is happening. They may look at the course syllabus, his/her teacher style (if it is appropriate for this group), how discipline group, group dynamics. As a result of his findings he hopes to identify explanations for the behaviour and a plan to change teaching environment to reduce disruptive behaviour.
Some Educational Institutions believe practitioners should use Action Research as part of their continuing CPD (continuing professional development).
Action Research can involve a variety of qualitative methods, these can include: 1:1 interviews, focus groups, participant observation. The practitioner may decide to use more than one method.
There is a risk that for the practitioner who decides to evaluate his own practice. How do you select students to participate ? How objective will the practitioner be in his/her selection of participants ? Is there a risk that the practitioner selects students who he knows will co-operate with study, who he /she has a good relationship so that any comments/interview data will be complementary of the practitioner ?
Will students feel they have a choice to participate or are they just selected/coerced ?
Will participants be honest in answers to questions particularly if the answer was negative ? Would there be fear of repercussions (lower grade marks etc).
When writing up the report, how objective will the practitioner be when wiring the results ? What if the report is critical of their teaching style ? Will the practitioner include findings that will reveal this or will this be left out of the report ? If so it does raise the issue of how validated the report is.
The purpose of Action Research is to allow the practitioner the opportunity for reflexive inquiry. That a practitioner who decides to use this research method has to be prepared to critically analyse and evaluate their practice if they want to make changes and improve. They most be prepared to take action as a result of the findings.
For the practitioner who has been asked by either the work colleague or institution to evaluate the practice of another work colleague. There is risk that working relationships can be harmed. Particularly if the findings are critical of the practitioners teaching styles/methods.
The researcher ethical dilemma will they be objective or subjective.
Consequences of research on the researched. Pressure from institution to produce report that contributes to improved practice. As Bogdan & Biklen (1992:223) state the purpose of Action Research is to “bring about social change” (citied in Action Research paper, page 1).
Action Research has come under criticism from positivists who question the validity and reliability of the results as findings are often unique to the specific research. That if that research was carried out again with a different group results would not be the same.
Participatory Action Research (PAR)
PAR also evolved from post modernism. Eldest and Lewin (1991) define PAR as “bringing participation into Action Research”. (citied in PAR: Considerations for Ethical Review, N. Knanloua and E Petera,C).
PAR is described as not a research method by an “ orientation to research” (Minkler & Wallersty: 2003 citied in PAR : Considerations for Ethical Review).
PAR as a research method would be used by social researchers whose purpose is to improve the lives of people through a process of “inquiry & change” (citied in PAR: Considerations for Ethical Review pg2). They study groups who experience social inequalities, oppression, vulnerable groups. The purpose of the research is to allow these groups to have a voice. That by publishing the findings the researcher is raising awareness of social inequalities as a result findings help to change social policy for the benefit of these groups. They want equality.
The research methods that PAR may use can include both quantities and qualitative methods. The researcher may use one or a combination of methods which may include: 1:1 interviews, focus groups, participant observation.
As an example where using PAR as a research method. As a Careers Adviser for my research I may decide to explore `why a high percentage of year 11 students leaving one inner city school are six months later unemployed `? .
As a PAR researcher I may want to look at the social background of each student: home background, are they from homes where low wage earners (low status occupations) ?, high unemployment?. I might want to look at how many of the students are from homes whose parent/s/carers are dependant on state benefits, size of family, family set-up (single parent) who received free school meals when at school. I may want to interview parent/s to find out their aspirations for their children. Might their be expectation that they leave school at 16 and find a job !These factors may contribute to their outcome. I would want to look at the school, type of education they received. Did they come from schools who have low percentage of students achieving 5 A-C grades at GCSE. Did teachers motivate students, did they raise aspirations ? Or did they make assumptions that they would follow career path of parent/s and hence did not encourage them.
I would want to look at SATS and CATS scores for each student to identify those students who underachieved. For this research I could use quantities research to gather data SATS and CATS scores . I could also use quantities analysis to display on pie chart the socio-economic backgrounds of the students. I would use qualitative methods, 1:1 interviews, focus groups to find out students experiences of school and to identify barriers. I would also use 1:1 interviews with teachers to explore how they taught , experienced these students, did they teach/treat them differently to other students ?
Of course this particular piece of research would be to ambitious for myself as a part-time Masters Student who is restricted by time constraints. This type of research requires time and perhaps more than one researcher to carry out research.
As mentioned above as a Masters Student important to be realistic about the type of research study that can be carried out within the time scale. To be honest with yourself about the limitations that a small scale inquiry will have on bringing about `social change` and `improving the lives of others`. What impact will a small scale research which involved 6-8 students have on shaping social policy ?
That as a researcher need to remember that the purpose of PAR research is to allow the minority (oppressed) to “tell their story” so that researcher can “raise awareness” of inequalities experienced by these groups. I believe that for PAR research to have an impact the research needs to be on a larger scale. That researcher would benefit from using both quantitative and qualitative methods of research. By using quantitative methods (statistical analysis) the researcher can reach larger numbers of the group. That as results considered more scientific by positivists results may have an impact to bring about social change.
That qualitative research would allow researcher and public to gain in-depth insight into the experiences of the individual. To gain a deeper understanding of their lives.
Could their be an ethical issue if as a researcher by exploring with the individual their lives, exposing inequalities, oppression, that raising questions could bring feelings to surface that the individual may have buried (participant may get upset/angry) that could cause adjustment difficulties when returning to this environment ?
An issue raised by social researchers is how the researcher chooses participants “ especially if they have been under-represented in the past” (Green et al 1995, cited in PAR pg4). Social Researcher needs to have a representative group if the research findings are to be considered validated.
Both Action Research and PAR have pros and cons. As a social researcher the type of research method/paradigm that would be used would depend on the research question and the type of outcome the researcher was looking for. For my own research I as yet do not have a research question however for my own professional practice I am considering a more humanistic approach when I could carry out an evaluative enquiry .