How do we bridge the divide between research and practice? It’s a question relevant to many disciplines. In medicine, for example, there is always a frustrating lag between new research evidence about what treatment is effective (or not) and actual medical practice; similarly, recommendations based on research conducted in the laboratory may not be practical or effective to implement in the context of real-life conditions.
Action research (and its various spin-offs, such as design research and collaborative inquiry) marries research and practice from the get-go. It’s a natural fit for the field of education. When educators are research collaborators, testing and refining approaches that are of direct relevance in their classrooms and bringing the results back to the research table, there are benefits beyond knowledge-building: in professional development, sustained classroom innovation, and improved teamwork within and across schools.
Still, participating in action research is a big commitment. Teachers already have so many demands on their time and energy; schools are already stretched thin with their human and material resources. Is it really worth the trouble?
For Ellen Fritz, it definitely was. In her article, “The Problem with Physics,” (p. 19) she writes: “Action research eternally changed me. I wish this experience for every educator.”
In Manitoba’s Lakeshore School Division, a similar profound effect was noticed across the division as a result of a multi-year design research initiative. Authors Sheila Giesbrecht, Janet Martell and Leanne Peters report (p. 16):
“There is a renewed energy in all of the schools across Lakeshore School Division… Exploring data, undertaking action research, engaging in educational experiments and embracing open and flexible mindsets has become common practice.”
Like any worthwhile endeavour, action research can be a challenging and at times frustrating process. But it’s also a powerful tool, with the potential to kick-start professional growth and true educational innovation. In the pages that follow, you will find overviews of the research process and examples of action research projects that led to real change in Canadian public education. Perhaps they will inspire you to “take action.”
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Photo: Dave Donald
First published in Education Canada, November 2014