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Examples of Action Research

Click one of the articles listed below to be taken to the introduction of each study.

Mills, G. (2000). "Come to my web (site)," said the spider to the fly: Reflections on the life of a virtual professor.

Fagel, L., Swanson, P., Gorleski, J., & Senese, J. (2003). Emphasizing learning by deemphasizing grades. Highland Park High School.

Annice, C. (2003). The use of technology to enhance mathematics achievement. Billabong Elementary.

1. Mills, G. (2000). "Come to my web (site)," said the spider to the fly: Reflections on the life of a virtual professor.

In this example the teacher researcher clearly identifies the focus of the study: "to study the effects of teaching action research via a web-based class on student outcomes and attitudes." The area of focus should involve teaching and learning, and the researcher's own practices. The research questions in this example also reflect a focus on teaching and learning.

This paper was presented at the 3rd Conference of the Self-Study in Teacher Education Practices at Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex, England, July 2000, and is included in the proceedings for the conference.

The purpose of this paper is to share the results of a 2-year study that focused on the effects of teaching action research via a Web-based class. In a market-driven economy in which many universities now find themselves, web-based delivery of education classes has become increasingly popular. This paper will share the findings of a study that looked at the experiences of teaching and learning action research in a Web-based environment.

In recent years, Oregon universities have moved to decrease the amount of "satellite" time associated with distance learning classes and to increase the amount of support made available to students "online." As a result of the Learning Anywhere, Anytime Project (LAAP) grant by the Oregon University System, the Education Department at Southern Oregon University is pioneering the development and implementation of completely Web-based graduate classes in education. This paper is based on my experiences of teaching a Web-based version of action research for two terms in 2 consecutive years.
         The Action Research course is a 10-week introductory, graduate-level class focused on the development, implementation, and evaluation of action research. One of the goals of the Web-based class is to maximize the interaction between the instructor and the students, and among the students. In order to encourage this interaction, students "post" their responses to weekly tasks as well as respond to other students in the class. Additionally, the class utilizes a listserv and a discussion board (chat room). In order to complete the course, students are required to write a review of related literature, respond to weekly postings and tasks, and complete an action research project. Students register for the class and request a copy of the required text by calling a toll-free number or registering online. The course is based around the text Action Research: A Guide for the Teacher Researcher (Mills, 2000) and is supplemented with PowerPoint presentations that can be downloaded from the course Web site. A complete overview of the class can be accessed at the following URL using the password "research" to enter the class:
         Action research involves teacher researchers in a four-step process that includes the following: identifying an area of focus, data collection, data analysis and interpretation, and action planning. In doing action research, teacher researchers have developed solutions to their own problems and as such are the authoritative voices as to what works in their particular settings. They exhibit a professional disposition that is encapsulated in their willingness to challenge the taken-for-granted assumptions that influence their daily instructional practices. By modeling the action research process for my graduate education students, I believe that I am able to nurture the development of a teacher researcher professional disposition and, in some ways, to demystify the process. My students are able to witness the development of an emerging action research project that involves them in the data collection process. They are also able to see a teacher who is committed to improving his own teaching through the use of an action research model. For many of my students, this is a revelation in itself—that someone who teaches at a university would actually want to improve his practice! Therefore, this paper is structured using the action research conceptual framework I use to teach action research.

Area of Focus Statement
The purpose of this study was to describe the effects of web-based instruction in a distance learning action research class on student outcomes and attitudes. This area of focus statement satisfies my central tenets of action research in that it involves teaching and learning, is something that is within my locus of control, is something I feel passionate about, and is something I would like to change or improve (Mills, 2000, p. 27).

Research Questions

  1. What is the effect of web-based instruction on students' communication with each other? With the instructor?
  2. How do students' learning styles effect their success in a web-based class?
  3. How do online resources meet students' needs to access course materials?

2. Fagel, L., Swanson, P., Gorleski, J., & Senese, J. (2003). Emphasizing learning by deemphasizing grades. Highland Park High School. (Ch. 6).

In this example the teacher researchers identified the focus of their study as "investigating how deemphasis of grades could, in turn, emphasize learning in the classroom." The teacher researchers were concerned with the large amount of pressure that was put upon students to receive good grades and they questioned the validity of the current grading system in assessing students' learning. The teacher researchers chose to study their roles in assessing student work and how it affected students' learning outcomes.
         Lauren Fagel, Paul Swanson, John Gorleski, and Joe Senese are all members of the Action Research Laboratory (ARL) at Highland Park High School (HPHS) near Chicago, Illinois. This project provides a good example of a team approach to collaborative action research and the kinds of analysis and interpretations that can flow from various data sources.

The Project
The scene is a common one for teachers: Papers are returned to students who immediately search for the grade, sigh, take out calculators, tabulate quarter grades, and then compare grades with their neighbors! The rich comments and constructive feedback on the papers usually go unheeded—the all-important grade is the prime focus of the students' gazes!
         This study was conducted at Highland Park High School, one of two large public high schools in Township District 113. Our student population consists of 1509 students with an ethnic makeup of 3% Asian American, 2% African American, 13% Hispanic American, and 82% White. Ninety-two percent of the student body is college-bound, and the parent community strongly encourages high student achievement. Many students enroll in Advanced Placement (AP) classes, strive to become members of the Highland Park Honor Society, and compete to become senior class valedictorian or salutatorian. This ARL group, which was made up of an English teacher, a health teacher, and a history teacher, was concerned about the immense amount of pressure placed on students to receive good grades. We questioned the number system teachers use to assign grades, and we wondered whether grades actually represent what students have learned. We discussed the role of the teacher as assessor, questioning whether we act as true evaluators of student work or simply as "sorters" of students. We lamented the all-encompassing role grades play in the HPHS academic environment. We decided to conduct research in this area, investigating how a deemphasis of grades could, in turn, emphasize learning in the classroom. The research questions were as follows:

  1. How does an elimination of number and letter grades throughout the year (with the exception of quarter and semester grades) affect student attitudes toward learning?
  2. How does an elimination of number and letter grades throughout the year (with the exception of quarter and semester grades) affect our teaching styles, use of assessments, and choice of curriculum materials?
  3. How does an extensive use of student self-assessment affect student growth, improvement, and achievement over the course of a school year?
  4. How does deemphasizing grades allow us to enrich our teaching?

3. Annice, C. (2003). The use of technology to enhance mathematics achievement. Billabong Elementary. (Ch. 5).

In this example the principal at Billabong Elementary believes technology needs to be incorporated into school curriculum in order to prepare students for the 21st century. The focus of this action research project is to investigate the impact of the school's investment in technology on student achievement in mathematics. The research questions illustrate the area of focus by addressing current teaching practices and the effect on student learning outcomes.

The Project
Children learn at an early age the concept of light refraction. Peering into fishbowls, children see that the fish, rocks, plants, and toys appear larger than life, their movement, shape, and size distorted by the refraction of light. We have all been puzzled at some time in our lives by this illusion and the contradiction between what we see and what we get as we attempt to reach in and touch the inhabitants of the fishbowl. Can the same be said for the use of technology in mathematics reform? Is what we see in classrooms really what we get? Are students and teachers developing a functional and appropriate use of the technology, or are they just playing at the computer? Are teachers and students making connections between the use of technology for presenting models and the concepts that the models represent? How is the use of technology to enhance curriculum and instruction in mathematics affecting student outcomes in mathematics? It is this final question that drove the schoolwide action research project at Billabong Elementary School.
         Billabong Elementary School is a large K–7 school that has embraced the use of technology as a key component of its mathematics curriculum reform efforts. Visitors to the school—and there are many—are given tours. The teachers at Billabong Elementary consider that they "teach in a fishbowl," constantly on display to the outside world. In many ways, the school looks different from traditional schools, and visitors to the school are invited to look into classrooms through the large windows that provide them with snapshots into the inner sanctum of our classrooms.
         The principal of Billabong Elementary is described by his teachers as a "visionary leader," and the school has a large collection of computer hardware and software because of the principal's grantwriting efforts. One key component of the principal's vision has been the introduction of technology to the school. In large part, this technology has been made possible through school-business partnerships that he has forged. The principal is committed to the use of technology at Billabong because of what he sees as the gap between the "real world" and the "school world"; he thinks that one way to bridge this gap is to embrace technology in an effort to prepare children for the 21st century.
         As a site council responsible for guiding staff development efforts in the school, we decided to focus on the impact of our extensive investment in technology on student achievement in mathematics. In particular, we wanted to know:

  1. If our use of technology was successfully meeting the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Standards; and
  2. How those Standards were being interpreted into classroom practice and student outcomes.

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