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What the heck is Action Research?

May 5, 2014

In preparation for our Action Research Symposium this Friday, May 9, 2014 from 9:00am-7:00pm, I asked some of our SOLES Ambassadors who either have or will conduct action research to write a little bit about what it is.  Many of our graduate programs require action research as an exit requirement for the programs, so I thought what better way to hear what it is than straight from the scholars’ mouth?

Liz says:

What the Heck is Action Research?

 Good question. I am just a few days away from presenting my own action research project as my exit requirement for the Higher Education Leadership program. Even though I have been working on this project since January 2013, I really did not understand the true meaning of action research until just a few months ago.

 When I first applied to the program, I was told action research is different than a thesis because your topic should focus around the community you are a part of and how you can make a change within that community. In short, it is practitioner-based research. ‘Change’ is a scary word sometimes and the mistake I made was thinking the change I had to make had to be mind blowing.

 Action research entails a series of cycles (as many as you want) where you are taking action on something and then reflecting on it. There are several different versions of cycles to use as a guiding framework for your own research, or you can create your own model, like I did.

 A quick overview of my research: I am a co-advisor to an undergraduate organization called the Out-of-State Student Council. Part of my research entailed learning more about the struggles of undergraduate students at USD but the majority focused on the student council itself. When I started in my position, the council was pretty much run by a professional staff member and then when I arrived as a graduate assistant, I began co-advising. I found myself creating meeting agendas, sending reminders, having a large hand in organizing the events and leading the meetings. I quickly realized this organization needed more student leadership and ownership and the tasks I was completing could, and should have been done by students on the council. Therefore, I met with my supervisor and we brainstormed with students and created a student executive board. My cycles entailed interventions with students and after the first year of the new council, I collected feedback from them to determine what else we could improve. Like I said, not mind blowing but it definitely made a difference.

 When you complete an action research project through SOLES, you quickly find so many of the theories learned throughout the program are linked to your research and everything really starts to come together. You will put a lot of work into this project so you want to make sure it is something you are passionate about, but don’t let it stress you out. Make the most of it and don’t let it freak you out (I know, easier said than done).

 In one of my group meetings with my research chair, Dr. Getz, she said, “Your research is successful when your community can carry on without you.” That is when it all clicked for me and I knew I had made a difference for my students.

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Corey says:

Engaging with action research is a psychologically demanding yet rewarding practice. The purpose behind action research is to identify a problem in one’s immediate environment, plan a course of inquiry, and track cyclical change within oneself and other collaborators in order to create positive social or organizational change. Within this process, one should expect for the research to be ambiguous and in flux at various points. It is not a linear path simply tracking correlation between variables like a typical quantitative research process would do. Action research is about rejecting the view that the researcher is an outside and objective observer separate from the data. Instead, action research calls for the researcher to admit biases and aspirations and put them in the middle of the research process. Action research is also different from traditional forms of research because it calls for one to be a catalyst for passionate change and discover new theories that are useful for practitioners immediately in an organization. Action research is not about simply forming new theories that push knowledge into an esoteric realm. It is about connecting human lived experience with new knowledge and positive social change in the present.

I am currently beginning my action research journey by recognizing my own identity development as a man in higher education while simultaneously planning to work with undergraduate men serving on student conduct hearing boards. My hope is to learn things from these men so that together we can work as collaborators and develop new ways for the student conduct process at USD to challenge destructive conceptions of masculinity that I believe send a disproportionate number of college men through the conduct process (at USD and across the country). I will expect to repeat cycles of planning, implementation, and evaluation to focus on solutions as much as the process itself and encourage human development both within my collaborators and myself. Honestly, this is the first time that I am designing research that does not seem arbitrary or forced. It is an issue that I am passionate about addressing and am confident that my work over the next year will be extremely relevant and inform future colleagues and students in their attempts to engage college men in healthy and constructive ways at the University.

 For viewing literature related to my views and work with action research I recommend the following:

 Action Research (2014), by Ernest Stringer

 College Men and Masculinities: Theory, Research, and Implications for Practice (2010), Edited by Shaun Harper and Frank Harris III

Masculinities (1995), by R.W. Connell

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