Saturday, 12 May 2012

A Brief History of Action Research

The idea of using research in a “natural” setting to change the way that the researcher interacts with that setting can be traced back to Kurt Lewin, a social psychologist and educator whose work on action research was developed throughout the 1940s in the United States. “Lewin is credited with coining the term ‘action research’ to describe work that did not separate the investigation from the action needed to solve the problem” (McFarland &NStansell, 1993, p. 14). Topics chosen for his study related directly to the context of the issue. His process was cyclical, involving a “non-linear pattern of planning, acting, observing, and reflecting on the changes in the social situations” (Noffke & Stevenson, 1995, p. 2). Stephen Corey at Teachers College at Columbia University was among the first to use action research in the field of education. He believed that the scientific method in education would bring about change because educators would be involved in both the research and the application of information. Corey summed up much of the thought behind this fledgling branch of inquiry. We are convinced that the disposition to study…the consequences of our own teaching is more likely to change and improve our practices than is reading about what someone else has discovered of his teaching. (Corey, 1953, p. 70)

Corey believed that the value of action research is in the change that occurs in everyday practice rather than the generalization to a broader audience. He saw the need for teachers and researchers to work together. However, in the mid 1950s, action research was attacked as unscientific, little more than common sense, and the work of amateurs (McFarland & Stansell, 1993, p. 15). Interest in action research waned over the next few years as experiments with research designs and quantitative data collection became the norm. By the 1970s we saw again the emergence of action research. Education practitioners questioned the applicability of
scientific research designs and methodologies as a means to solve education issues. The results of many of these federally funded projects were seen as theoretical, not grounded in practice. The practice of action research is again visible and seen to hold great value. Over time, the definition has taken on many meanings. It is now often seen as a tool for professional development, bringing a greater focus on the teacher than before (Noffke & Stevenson, 1995). It is increasingly becoming a tool for school reform, as its very individual focus allows for a new engagement in educational change. Action research emphasizes the involvement of teachers in problems in their own classrooms and has as its primary goal the in-service training and development of the teacher rather than the acquisition of general knowledge in the field of education. (Borg, 1965, p. 313)