Action Research in Education: Methods & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is Action Research?
  • 1:34 Methods of Action Research
  • 3:14 Observational Example
  • 5:12 Surveys Example
  • 7:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Jessica McCallister

Jessica has a Doctorate degree in Social Work

Expert Contributor
Jennifer Levitas

Jennifer has a Ph.D. in Psychology. She's taught multiple college-level psychology courses and been published in several academic journals.

Action research is often used in the field of education. The following lesson provides two examples of action research in the field of education, methods of conducting action research and a quiz to assess your understanding of the topic.

What Is Action Research?

There are many ways to conduct research. Each of these ways is used in various professional fields, including psychology, sociology, social work, medicine, nursing, education and so on. However, the field of education often uses action research, an interactive method of collecting information that's used to explore topics of teaching, curriculum development and student behavior in the classroom.

Action research is very popular in the field of education because there is always room for improvement when it comes to teaching and educating others. Sure, there are all types of methods of teaching in the classroom, but action research works very well because the cycle offers opportunity for continued reflection. In all professional fields, the goal of action research is to improve processes. Action research is also beneficial in areas of teaching practice that need to be explored or settings in which continued improvement is the focus.

Let's take a closer look at the cycle of action research. As you can see, the process first starts with identifying a problem. Then, you must devise a plan and implement the plan. This is the part of the process where the action is taking place. After you implement the plan, you will observe how the process is working or not working. After you've had time to observe the situation, the entire process of action research is reflected upon. Perhaps the whole process will start over again! This is action research!

Action Research Diagram
Action Research Diagram

Methods of Action Research

There are many methods to conducting action research. Some of the methods include:

  • Observing individuals or groups
  • Using audio and video tape recording
  • Using structured or semi-structured interviews
  • Taking field notes
  • Using analytic memoing
  • Using or taking photography
  • Distributing surveys or questionnaires

Researchers can also use more than one of the methods above to assist them in collecting rich and meaningful data.

While there are various methods to conducting action research, there are also various types of action research in the fields of education, including individual action research, collaborative action research and school-wide action research. For example:

  • Individual action research involves working independently on a project, such as an elementary school teacher conducting her own, in-class research project with her students.
  • Collaborative action research involves a group of teachers or researchers working together to explore a problem that might be present beyond a single classroom, perhaps at the departmental level or an entire grade level.
  • School-wide action research generally focuses on issues present throughout an entire school or across the district. Teams of staff members would work together using school-wide action research. As you can see, action research can be used in many educational settings.

We'll explore two examples of action research being used in the field of education. The first example discusses observation as the method of choice for collecting data in the classroom. The second example discusses using surveys as the method of choice for collecting data. The cycle of action research is emphasized in each of the examples.

Observation Example (Individual Action Research)

Step 1: Identify the Problem
You are a fifth grade teacher and have identified a problem in your classroom. The problem is that your students do not have much experience working in task groups, and you believe that they need to have more opportunities to do so. You want to assess the skill set of your students and observe their overall approach to group work. By doing this, you feel that next time you offer group work, you will have some new insight into what works well and what needs improvement regarding conducting group work in your class.

Step 2: Devise a Plan
Your plan includes having your students work together in groups for their upcoming science project. By doing this, you hope to explore a variety of information, such as how the students brainstorm together, how they interact with each other and how they distribute work among the task groups. You provide them an instruction sheet and a time frame to work from.

Step 3: Act to Implement a Plan
You act by assigning your students into groups and having them work through their science projects. This step can also be thought of as initiating and carrying out the plan.

Step 4: Observe
During this step of the action research process, you observe the groups of students working together. You take note on how they are progressing and what types of issues they are having, watch them brainstorm and form interesting ideas and even observe some students not getting along, arguing and not participating altogether. This is the observation and data collection phase.

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Additional Activities

Action Research in Education

Activity 1:

Imagine that you are interested in examining a specific problem that occurs in school. For this activity, you need to identify a problem (e.g., girls lose confidence in their math abilities when they reach middle school), devise a plan (develop an intervention for teachers to help increase the self-efficacy of female students in math), implement the plan (have the teachers conduct the intervention for two quarters), observe the outcome (circulate surveys questioning how the students rate their math competency), and reflect on the process (note whether the intervention was successful or not, and discuss possible areas of improvement). After writing down the five steps on paper, reflect on the process and how effective you think that action research was.

Activity 2:

You learned that individual action research is when one person, such as a teacher, conducts action research on his or her own. Do you think that this is a good idea? Are there ethical questions that might arise when one individual teacher decides to conduct action research without consulting a review board? List three possible pros and three possible cons of individual action research. For example, a pro might be that there is maximal flexibility for the teacher, who is the person who knows her class the best. A con might be that a teacher may unwittingly introduce a harmful plan that could have unforeseen negative repercussions on the students.

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