Higher Ed Action Research in the Context Term Paper

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Higher Ed

Action Research in the Context of Higher Education

Conducting a scientific inquiry requires a highly formalized process which is outfitted with the proper controlling mechanisms, which has clearly identified goals and which is designed in such a manner as to prevent unwanted changing in the character of its major variables. This is called the research process and, as the primary text by Dick (2000) notes, this is an essential part of driving theoretical discourse and establishing usable findings. However, as Dick also notes, this is not always the most appropriate framework through which to approach a research problem. Often, the context in which findings are sought may be in a constant state of flux, always evolving, and sometimes even shifting dramatically according to unexpected events or the presentation of unpredicted needs on the part of a studied population. It is this unique research problem which informed the advent of Action Research. According to Ferrance (2007), Kurt Lewin coined this term to address an evolving research problem during his professorial tenure at MIT. (p. 7)Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Term Paper on Higher Ed Action Research in the Context Assignment

According to Lewin's landmark article published in the Journal of Social Issues in 1946, certain research problems with direct implications in a broader social sphere may be too fluid and multidimensional to truly understand within the confines of the formal research process. It is thus that Lewin would propose a method of planning, action and searching which he called Action Research. (Ferrance, p. 7) Lewin would initially use this as a way of measuring certain patterns and trends concerning racial, ethnic and socioeconomic inequality. This set of concerns is referred to as 'minority problems' in his initial research and demonstrates a clear need for a deconstruction of traditionally controlled research methods for investigation in contexts where factors cannot be controlled. It is thus that we are delivered a research mode in which, rather than controlling factors to conform to the design of the research, the research design achieves a high level of malleability such that it may conform to the needs suggested by observed variables. This inversion of the research process allows for adjustment, accommodation and pragmatism in contexts where restrictive modes of research might essentially be useless, irrelevant and outdated by the time of their delivery.

As the research discussion hereafter demonstrates, this has proven extremely valuable in such fields as higher education. The college or university is itself an institution highly subject to sociological trends and patterns; to conditions of socioeconomic distribution; to changing demographics where ethnic diversity are concerned; to evolution in terms of curriculum and pedagogy as ethnocentric tendencies are overcome; to changes in pedagogy based on both student and professorial cultures; and to a host of other features which are in too great a state of flux to be usefully measured by forma research. This justifies the discussion hereafter on the modes, methods and implication of action research within the field of higher education. The review of literature and discussion conducted hereafter are predicted to reinforce the view that action research is a necessary alternative to formal research and that findings produced from such research are inherently valuable to a field in such constant flux as that of higher education.

Action Research:

Before proceeding to a discussion on the different form and methodologies which apply to Action Research, we will seek here to establish a comprehensive definition for this mode of theoretical inquiry. A useful starting point is the discussion produced in Dick's text. This reports on the 'cyclic' nature of action research. Such a perspective extends on the sequence of planning, action and searching offered by Lewin, arguing that "action research is cyclic, or at least spiral in structure. To put this differently, certain more-or-less similar steps tend to recur, in more-or-less similar order, at different phases of an action research study. At the same time (so the action researcher hopes) progress is made towards appropriate action and research outcomes. A commonly known cycle is that of the influential model of Kemmis and McTaggart (1988) mentioned earlier -- plan, act, observe, reflect; then, in the light of this, plan for the next cycle." (Dick, p. 1)

This denotes that the process which enters into action research is intended to exist on something of a continuous loop. Whereas traditional research will tend to work toward an end goal, and in many cases will subject outcomes to incrementally scheduled evaluations, action research remains in a ready state of both implementation and evaluation. These exist in supplement to one another, with evaluation often merging seamlessly into the next planning stage. This allows researchers to essentially raise hypotheses in the midst of an observation process and to consequently 'test' these hypotheses, whether by simple observation or by the isolation of certain observable subjects or traits. As Dick indicates, this makes Action Research extremely flexible and, therefore, useful to a wide array of contexts. Particularly, Dick argues that this makes Action Research inherently sensible for preliminary or pilot research in a subject areas, with the nature of ongoing findings helps to produce myriad new directions for more controlled research investigation.

Dick also describes action research as most typically being cast within the context of qualitative research measures. As Dick indicates, though there is a clear value in deriving research from quantifiable outcomes, "sometimes numbers are not easily applied to some features of a study. If these include features of particular interest or importance, the choice is between qualitative research or omitting important features. In addition, developing a suitable quantitative measure is often difficult and time-consuming. It may be more time-efficient to use qualitative data. . . . It is also easier to be flexible and responsive to the situation if you are using qualitative methods." (Dick, p. 1)

Though quantitative methods may be used in combination with qualitative ones, Dick appears to suggest that the flexibility and responsiveness sought from action research is inherently best suited by qualitative investigation. Indeed, he goes on to indicate that responsiveness may very well be the key attribute distinguishing good action research, and that all aspects of the methodology selected to execute this research should reflect this ambition. This is, in fact, the reason that a more cyclic understanding of action research has emerged in more recent manifestations of the discussion, based on the view that responsiveness to findings is the only way to keep them current to changing patterns and research scenarios. Here, we are also given another cause to view action research as being sometimes preferable to more controlled modes of research which do not allow for this type of immediacy in response to research-yielded findings. As a result, many such findings become static and quickly outdate themselves. To the point, Dick indicates that "in many field settings it is not possible to use more traditional quasi-experimental research methods. They can't readily be adjusted to the demands of the situation. If you do alter them in midstream you may have to abandon the data collected up to that point. (This is because you have probably altered the odds under the null hypothesis.) But to achieve both action and research outcomes requires responsiveness -- to the situation, and the people, and the growing understanding on the part of those involved." (p. 1)

This is to suggest that where the findings of traditional research may be looked upon as an end-goal, action research views its findings as assumptions which must be immediately reapplied to a contextualized environment. If preconditions and research questions are too stringent at the outset of a research process, researchers might proceed with a misconception as to when field intervention is expected to end, as to when the research process will be said to have reached its stated goals and what the general scope of a research endeavor actually is.

It is thus that Dick's discussion takes on greater conceptual importance, with the author arguing in favor of inherently 'fuzzy' research questions and methods as one begins the action research process. Sometimes, the author argues, the hazy state of available knowledge on a given research subject may justify, and even demand, less precise and therefore less restrictive research preconditions. That said, Dick also indicates that several key features of traditional research should be maintained in order to validate the findings yielded by action research. Namely, Dick argues that the research method should at least be framed empirically such that findings cannot be proposed based on logical fallacy. Additionally, Dick indicates that critical assessment of gathered evidence is a key process regardless of whether the research is conducted traditionally or according to action research principles.

The collection of these features has rendered action research as a preferred method of internal review for institutions of high education. Many of such institutions have come to recognize the value of a research approach that allows changes in process, procedure and philosophy but which remains in place to monitor these changes. As this applies to the nature of education and the practice of pedagogy, research supports the notion that… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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