Educational action research offers three important ways to enhance teaching and learning as it really happens.
You can listen to a conversation on how and why I got involved in action research here.
Firstly, teaching is not only about information transfer in a neat clinical way. Teaching incorporates the multiple issues around individual humans working together as they teach and learn. At a formal level educational action research can include an eclectic range of research methods to show this. One researcher, Nigel Mellor, described how he ‘opened his project with a relatively unformed questioning, not with a wish to change, simply to understand what I was doing. However, as soon as I began to look, I wanted to improve some aspects of what I did, but by no means all’ (Mellor 2001, p. 465-466).’ Gradually he found that ‘new understandings of concepts such as analysis, data, theory, and writing began to evolve as he gradually embraced a positive view of the ‘mess’ ..of daily teaching.’
Secondly, educational action research gives us opportunities to ask why do I teach as I do? And why is this important? The answers to these questions are as basic as reminding myself about why I became a teacher and what motivates me to stay in the job. Educational action research also provides teachers with ways to research their practice with a view to making changes that are relevant to the particular circumstances in which they are working. This can be a very fulfilling experience. For me, I felt that, ‘My voice as an experienced teacher is silenced within the education system in which I work because the system is steeped in an epistemological tradition that prioritises abstract objective knowledge over personal experiential knowledge’, (McDonagh 2007 p.14). Educational action research enables me to make my ideas and actions heard.
Finally, the core personal and professional ideas that teachers hold can become the criteria by which their research claims can be judged. Teachers can test their evidence base in terms of their own learning and so claim with some confidence that they are achieving their values-based aims of contributing to improved learning and teaching as well as to professional development. ‘We are critiquing the dominant notion of teachers as implementers of others’ ideas and instead we create our own ideas and actively study them’ (Glenn et al. 2008).