What is Action Research?

Traditionally, research invoked ideas of long hours in front of books, eye strain, and the general swelling of the brain. This was, in the traditional sense, only for the “experts” however. For those of us actually in the classroom, we typically weren’t involved in research. That was for the administrators and outside parties that were hired specifically for this purpose. Traditional educational research is extremely linear. The expert is given a problem to solve, they dig around for some ideas, might collect some data (from state standardized tests, etc), and then give their solution. It works. Or not. If they’re very good, they will go back to the start and begin again with a new research process using their own failed result as part of the data set. Action research is different. In this new paradigm, teachers are invited into the process as collaborators (Dana, 2009) and the process becomes much less linear and much more spiraled in nature (Elliot, 1988). The research is always building on itself and always improving and while books and study are still involved, there is a much greater emphasis on a hands-on approach to the research process. Feedback is given by the actual teachers as they actually contribute to the research process rather than sit back and wait to be told what to do. In action research, there is the innate mentality that the organization should be continually improving, not merely a binary goal: yes, we made it or no, we didn’t.

I have the ability to implement action research now in my own classroom. I am a practitioner and have 160 or students with which to do research. Or, I could expand it out and look to my coworkers or even further to include all teachers in my district. Even better, through the flattening of our world and democratization of information via the Internet, I have the ability to connect and perform detailed research with the best and brightest minds in my field. I have what is known as a PLN (Professional Learning Network) or a PLC (Professional Learning Community) that is comprised of teachers, administrators, parents, students, and more. In this generative, collaborative environment, we are able to work together to develop specific strategies for the classroom and then research the results of our implementation, reporting the results back to the PLN. For example, I was able to create a blended learning environment in my classroom after discussing its implementation with members of my PLN. It was a continual improvement process that involved trial and error and lots of evaluation/analysis of the situation.

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Educational leaders are using blogs to communicate information in this flattened world. Through the use of blogs (and other services that are similar to blogging, like the microblogging service Twitter), educational leaders are able to communicate and share information (both input and output) for the process of student success and improvement. The blog can be used to convey results, ask for input on a series of questions, or even initiate research. Never has our world experienced such a dramatic shift in the medium information is being pushed through and, if leveraged properly, has phenomenal potential for the future of education.

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