How to conduct action research (including best practices)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 2 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

One of the best methods of making measurable changes within educational institutions is by conducting thorough action research. This is a systematic research technique performed by educators to identify any issues within the school environment or everyday practices and amend them accordingly. This efficient, low-cost research method can rectify a wide range of issues in education to create an environment that benefits both teachers and pupils. In this article, we explore the steps of how you can conduct high-quality action, its benefits, limitations and the best practices for active research to create change schools.

What is action research?

Action research, or active research, is a unique method of analytical, investigative, evaluative and systematic research carried out by teachers to identify issues in schools and rectify them quickly and efficiently. It aims to provide educators with practical solutions to instructional, academic or organisational problems.

This form of research stems from the concept that improvements in education are most effective when teachers have the responsibility of identifying issues and amending them themselves and in collaboration with each other. The goal of this research is to question the values and assumptions often overlooked in educational institutions and to make improvements where possible.

How to conduct active research

This research process is a methodical and interactive enquiry process that combines data-driven research with problem-solving actions to bring organisational and personal change. To conduct active research, teachers can take the following steps:

1. Identify a problem area

To create educational change, the first thing for educators to do is to identify the issue at hand. Professional and personal experiences play a crucial role in teacher-led active research, so any topic worth investigating could be something that intrigues you or piques your interest. Keep the goal of action research in mind when identifying an issue and narrowing the focus of the research. This is important to make a positive change. It's also crucial to make sure the issue you choose is manageable, so make sure you take any budget, time and skill limitations into account.

2. Gather information

Once you have identified the issue, it's time to gather relevant information to determine your next steps. You could gather this information by talking to other teachers, administrators or counsellors in your district or school to get their opinion of your issue. Or, you could peruse curricular guides and teacher's manuals to find anything that might inform your subject. It's best to use a minimum of three data sources and organise them to identify any themes or trends. You can organise your data into different categories, such as schools, grade levels, classrooms and gender.

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3. Review the information

Once you have collected the relevant data and information and categorised it, start analysing it and identifying the primary themes. If the data you collected is quantifiable, you can analyse it without using technology or statistics, but if it's not, you can use tables and graphs to review it. Reviewing related literature can also shed light on any information collected. The sources for this information may include colleague discussions, district or school documents, teacher resource manuals, individual web pages, complete websites, research journals and professional books. This can help you make informed decisions about your research.

4. Make desired changes

Once you have reviewed your information in depth, reviewed relevant literature and interpreted your data, you can then design a plan of action. This can help you make measurable changes and study the results of each change to determine its effectiveness. It's best to change one variable at a time so that you know exactly which change has led to which results, so you can evaluate your actions accurately. Changing different variables at the same time can lead to confusion and inaccurate results. While you implement these changes, make sure you gather any performance data for evaluation.

5. Evaluate your results

The final and most important step to take is to evaluate the results of your changes. Carefully analyse any of the effects of your actions to see if they have led to any measurable progress. If the data gathered doesn't show any improvement, what actions and changes can you make to create a better result? Make a note of any further questions generated by the results and create a plan to make further improvements. Critically examining your actions throughout the process is the best way of making fast improvements, leading to a better result.

What's the difference between active research and formal research?

While formal research and active research may seem similar at first glance, there are several distinct differences between them. Formal research requires extensive training to develop general knowledge and acts as a review of past research using a primary source. It also requires a long time frame and rigorous control. Whereas active research knowledge applies to local scenarios and doesn't require extensive training. It addresses immediate problems using secondary sources and researchers control active research via triangulation over a fast time frame. Active research also uses more relaxed procedures that change throughout the process.

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Ethical considerations for active research

For active research to be ethically sound, it's essential for teachers to inform any participants of the research before carrying it out so that they have the chance to opt-out if desired. Providing each participant with an information sheet outlining the task they're going to complete and the purpose of the research is the best way to ensure transparency, but you can also share this information verbally. If pupils are the participants in research that required them to do something outside of a normal classroom setting, seek parental consent beforehand to avoid future conflict.

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Limitations

Active research is a valid, systematic tool used to identify areas for professional and personal improvement and to inform improvement plans across educational institutions. But because trained research professionals don't conduct the research, it's unable to have a significant effect outside the local community where it took place. Research that isn't stringently planned is also open to alternative conclusions and explanations because of researcher bias. It's difficult for teachers with preconceptions about their work to carry out completely objective research. Pupils may also give biased responses that could cause inaccuracies.

Best practices

If you have never carried out this type of research before, there are several best practices that are essential to follow, such as staying organised, being open-minded and using a wide variety of sources. By following these tips, you can increase the likelihood of making a measurable impact:

Stay organised

During the data collection stage of your research process, you have access to a huge amount of information from different sources and formats, such as videos, PDF files and web pages. It's essential to keep all of your information carefully organised to prevent any data from going missing and to ensure you can cite data quickly and easily. There are many methods of organisation you can adopt to keep your research project on track, such as keeping an annotated bibliography you can update over time and adding bookmarks to your Internet browser.

Be open to surprises

While you're carrying out your research project, it's essential to remain open-minded to surprising results. The key to conducting high-quality research is to find accurate answers to your research questions rather than verifying your existing assumptions. Looking for confirmation of your own ideas is a very limiting approach, as it involves being selective about the data that are worth collecting. This can prevent you from gaining a full understanding of the subject at hand, so while you're conducting research, keep an open mind throughout the process. This enables you to make new discoveries that can benefit your future research.

Use a variety of sources

When performing active research, it's essential to verify any information gathered from several sources. If you're gathering data from the Internet, for example, it's important to note that many websites are factually incorrect and unmonitored. There are many unreliable sources that offer incorrect information, so the best way to ensure the data you collect is accurate is to verify everything you find in your research process with several sources. These sources could be online, in industry books or elsewhere, but try to look as widely as possible for relevant information to ensure positive results.

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