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What is action research?

What is action research and how can it help you improve your teaching? Watch Lynda Chinaka explain in this video.

Action research is a powerful form of CPD (continuing professional development). It involves testing, evaluating, and embedding new practices in your teaching.

Embracing an action research approach can help you develop as a more reflective and evidence-focused educator, which will ultimately benefit your students.

What does action research involve?

A diagram of the Action Research process - a cycle of 'Identify action', 'Test action over time', 'Evaluate action' and 'Adopt/reject'

As the name suggests, action research is all about activity and action. The end result of an action research cycle is a decision about which actions you will start, stop, and continue within your practice to achieve a particular goal.

Action researchers use past evidence and experimental data to help them make this decision.

The stages of action research

The stages of the action research cycle in a teaching context are presented in the diagram above. An educator begins the process by identifying the issue to be addressed within the classroom or school.

This issue might be highlighted through conversations with others, through the educator’s own observations of practice, or through reading or learning about specific strategies or pedagogical tools during other CPD opportunities.

The educator works through the stages of the research cycle:

  • Identifying an action to take to address the issue, considering:
    • Which element(s) of teaching practice will change?
    • How will the success of the action be measured?
  • Testing the action overtime in their classroom or school, including:
    • Collecting data on any changes resulting from the action (e.g. through test scores, interviews, or observations)
  • Evaluating whether the action has improved teaching practice, based on the data collected
  • Deciding whether the action should be continued and whether it could be adopted by others

But it doesn’t stop there! As a result of this first cycle, there are likely to be follow-up questions or adaptations that could be made to your action that will inform future cycles of action research.

How does action research improve my teaching?

A challenge for both CPD participants and facilitators is how to embed new ideas and practices in everyday classroom teaching.

A participant may come away from a course inspired, motivated, and more knowledgeable; however, the real challenges lie ahead of them as they consider implementing changes to their practice.

For CPD to have a significant impact in the classroom, educators may need to:

  • Assimilate new knowledge and ideas
  • Adjust their attitudes or beliefs
  • Experiment with new practices
  • Reflect upon and evaluate the suitability of changes
  • Share new ideas with other educators and convince them to adopt new ideas

These challenges usually have to be solved by educators after their training or CPD experience, when they are back in school with all their day-to-day tasks. An action research approach provides structure and supports educators in tackling the challenges of implementing changes to their practice in a systematic way.

Small, simple changes

In addition, action research often focuses on small, simple changes, which means it can be carried out relatively quickly, but also that it can (and should) be tailored to each individual’s school environment or particular classes.

Computing education research is a relatively young but growing field in which existing research often relies on small samples of participants, and is often conducted in non-formal or higher education settings.

This makes it difficult for computing teachers to use research evidence to inform their practice. Action research can be used as a tool to help select, adapt, and critically evaluate ideas from this literature to implement in schools.

What is the impact on learners?

Engaging in an action research cycle enables educators to constantly adapt their practice in a methodical and evidence-informed way, focusing on the benefits to learners of each adaptation.

This helps educators be critical, selective, and deliberate in the choices they make for their learners and better equipped to advocate improvements beyond their classroom.

The open-ended and adaptable approach to teaching supported by action research means that educators can respond quickly to learners’ changing needs.

If you’d like to learn more about action research, and other classroom practices, check out the full course online, from Raspberry Pi, below.

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Improving Computing Classroom Practice Through Action Research

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