Action Research with Technology

Session Title: Action Research with Technology: Personal Transformation, Organizational Learning, and Service Leadership
Session Type: Interactive Symposium
Chair: Margaret Riel

Presentors: Margaret Riel, Anne Smith, Dan Wood, Brett Martin
Discussant: Jack Whitehead

Abstract (120 words)
Emerging technologies help action researchers explore the complex ecologies that characterize workplaces. The session opens with research on the role of technology in action research. The second paper examines changes in assessment practices in a six grade classroom which shifted the way teachers related to students and changed students' identity and relationship to school. The third paper looks beyond schools to the workplace and how knowledge sharing technology shifted relationships between formal and informal learning. The final paper is a self study of leadership in the military as patterns shift from autocratic to democratic forms and leaders balance advocacy with open dialogue. The discussant will engage the panel and audience in a discussion of action research with emerging technologies.

Session overview (421--500 word limit)
Action research with a foundation in social justice is a recognized form of design research in which the researcher intentionally introduces change into a social system and then studies the way in which the system changes (Kemmis & McTaggart, 1998; Lewin, 1952; McNiff and Whitehead, 2006; Mills, 2001; Stringer, 1999; Whitehead and McNiff, 2006; Wells, 1994). In doing so, action researchers maintain a focus on their own actions leading to personal growth and on the evidence collected to create an understanding of how change takes place in larger social context. Action research utilizes a systematic, cyclical and rigourous method of planning, acting, observing, evaluating (including self-evaluation) and critical reflecting prior to planning the next iterative cycle. Action research sets the goal of addressing an identified problem in the workplace, for example, reducing the illiteracy of students through use of a new strategy (Quigley, 2000) or developing shared governance to increase the quality of nursing (Doherty & Hope 2000). It is a collaborative method to test new ideas and implement action for change. It involves direct participation in a dynamic research process, while monitoring and evaluating the effects of the researcher's actions with the aim of improving practice. At its core, action research is a way to increase understanding of how change in one's actions or practices can mutually benefit a community of practitioners (Coghlan and Brannick 2005).

Educational technology is an emerging field in which development follows an iterative process. The same progressive problem solving (Bereiter and Scardamalia, 1993) and issues of design experimentation (Nelson & Stolterman, 2003) that are embedded in action research are basic to the development of educational technology. Change is a constant dimension of the landscape such that expertise requires a high investment in continual learning (Bereiter and Scardamalia, 1993). In this session, action researchers who use technology tools in the process of changing their practices will be highlighted. The session will open with theoretical grounding of action research in three areas: practitioners' learning from and through practice, organizational change, and researchers' identity shifts from engaging in the research process. This will frame the action research approach for the panel of action researchers who will focus on how similar emerging technology was used to effect transformational changes in a range of complex settings. These short presentations will be followed by some reactions from one of the most respected leaders in the field of action research who will then lead the audience in a discussion of the role of emerging collaborative technologies on action research.

Theoretical Approach to Action Research and Role of Collaborative Technology (word count 486)
Margaret Riel

Action research is a recognized form of design research in which the researcher intentionally introduces change into a social system and then studies the way in which the system as well as the researcher are changed. We have conceptualized the process of action research as taking place in three areas simultaneously—(1) personal development of professional skills and knowledge; (2) collaborative knowledge development about organizational change in specific contexts; (3) generalizations of knowledge gained through and from action research.

In the first instance, action research is a form of self study through progressive problem solving (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1993) and reflective analysis of practice (Whitehead and McNiff, 2006; Schön,1983). Examination of how the practices of the researcher are transformed is a critical part of the reflective study. Technology provides tools for recording and sharing the reflective process. In the second instance, action research is a form of collective inquiry into an organizational change by engaging the participants in a group study to understand the forces of the change (Lewin,1948; Miner, 2005; Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002). Data collection and analysis tools support the examination of evidence of change. Finally, action researchers gain membership into the research community coming to share values of the role of empirical evidence and of active dialogue about the methods and findings of research. Action research is very similar to other forms of emergent, iterative, cyclic, and data-driven research. These include formative assessment (Black & William, 2003), grounded theory ( Strauss & Corbin, 1990), data-driven decision making (Mandinach, Honey, & Light, 2006), and design research (Collins, 1992; Schön, 1983). The important difference is that instead of a practitioner-researcher partnership, the practitioner incorporates the practices of research directly into their own practice. Communication technology provides opportunities to actively participate in the research community.

The data for this paper are individual and collective reflections of 15 action researchers enrolled in a Masters in Learning Technologies graduate program. The reflections will be examined for the degree to which action researchers both use and describe the role of technology in their descriptions of the outcomes of research. Prior findings based on data from five years of action research projects suggested that engaged learning, communication, and community building are the major outcomes of action research supported by technology. The role of technology to mediate change highlights both potential and limitations. Using students final individual reflections as well as a collective reflection on outcomes, the documents will be analyzed to see which forms of emerging technologies the students found as most valuable for outcomes in each of the three areas. Their reflections will be coded to understand the extent to which they conceptualize change at each of the three levels identified --earning more about oneself through ones interactions with others, understanding the forces and dimensions of change in local contexts, and sharing this knowledge with others --and the role that technology played at each of these levels.

The Art of Possibility: Creating More Successful Learners (work count 503)
Anne K. Smith
Language Arts Teacher, Arapahoe High School
2201 East Dry Creek Road, Littleton, CO 80122

The Alliance for Excellent Education (2008) and Linda Darling Hammond (2008) both encourage the transformation of traditional classrooms by focusing on reshaping their environment, recasting the role of a teacher and his/her instruction, and increasing student motivation. Students succeed in learning environments that are open, motivating and engaging where students and teachers are working together in successful partnerships (Jones, 2008; Tapola & Niemivirta, 2008). As the teacher, I wanted to remove the option of failure and use feedback to improve student performance. Beginning with the premise that all students want to succeed, I focused on cycles of change in student assessment which continued all year. Midyear, I was engaged in mentoring a student-teacher using effective student feedback as the basis of professional dialogue.

To create a learning environment which met the learning needs of all of my ninth grade students, we changed assessment practices. As a class, we agreed to eliminate the below average grade of D, added multiple opportunities for students to revise work based on teacher feedback, and generated a rubric for the assessment of all assignments. Students were asked to write reflective responses to a set of questions each six-week period. Analysis of their responses documented how this change was affecting their approach to learning. In the beginning the students needed multiple revisions to reach their goals, but by the end of the school year, students first drafts showed a marked increase in quality. At the end of the first semester, most students only need one to revisions on an assignment to receive their desired grade. Also, 13 out of 18 students chose ten (on a ten point scale) indicating their assessment of the improvement of their writing. Similarly, student's assessment of the process at first was mixed, but as the year progressed and student work increased, students came to value the ability to work towards mastery.

Cycle two involved working with a student teacher who joined our learning community. As teacher and student teacher, we experimented with various styles of feedback in order to improve the writing of the students. Exploring what forms of feedback allowed for the most student growth provided the opportunity for teacher and student teacher to have extended reflective discussions around teaching practices. This process helped me, as the teacher, to be a better mentor, teacher and leader.

In past years in a class of 30 students there were 5-6 failing grades. This year at the end of first semester, only two had failing grades; and at the end of the school year, only one student failed. Students came to see their teachers as coaches interested in their development as writers and learners rather than as judges of performance. The change in the students, student teacher, and myself evolved as we moved away from our traditional roles. Action research gave us the permission to try something new, to challenge assumptions, and changed the student-teacher dynamic. Students appreciated seeing their teachers engaged in continuous learning. The change in the relationships encouraged students to work harder.

Building Thriving Communities of Practice with Social Learning Technologies (word count 478)
Daniel J. Wood
Instructional Designer for a leading software manufacturer
PO Box 18597
Tucson, AZ 85731

In a rapidly changing world, corporations are pressed to submit new products and services with increasing speed to remain competitive. In this environment balancing innovation, knowledge-building and communication is essential for success (Schmidt, 2005). In order to achieve knowledge-building and sharing goals, many organizations have created Communities of Practice (CoPs). Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder (2002) describe CoPs as “groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis” (p. 4). Communities form the basis of learning within an organization through shared experience, knowledge, and drive to a common goal (Riel & Polin, 2004) and corporations work to formalize CoPs capitalizing on their benefits of knowledge building and communication.

Using collaborative knowledge-building supported by social learning technologies, action research was applied to study the influence on the development of a CoP. This was a fourteen-member learning and development team at a multi-national software corporation of which the action researcher was a member.

 Three action-reflection cycles were taken to improve the personal practice of the researcher and to influence a positive change in the field of practice.

Cycle one involved the introduction and advocacy of the use of a wiki as a tool to mediate social knowledge building for employee learning content. Evidence from this cycle showed that nearly 70% of those on the team logged in to edit or add content to the wiki. However, even as many team members found new processes and tools that improved collaboration, both the advocating approach and a relatively narrow, project-oriented domain inadvertently excluded some from active participation.

Cycle two focused on team dialogue around the concept of CoPs and the use of a social learning technology, Microsoft SharePoint. This cycle was oriented toward the invitation to participate. Lave and Wenger (1991) have described this process of inclusion as legitimate peripheral participation. The emphasis was placed on listening deeply to others, as Isaacs (1999) indicated in his work with dialogue, and avoiding placing judgment, allowing others to fully share their opinions and feel included in the decisions and progress.

The third cycle involved an interview process to understand current and future use of SharePoint, to gauge understanding of the concept of CoPs, and to investigate future measures of success for technology implementation and community formation. Cycle three increased the level of personal interaction within the community and included significant indications of the change occurring within the field of action. Evidence collected from cycle two and three indicate that 100% of the team used the tool, with roughly 46% doing so regularly. In interviews, 90% of the team used a community of practice as a way of describing our teamwork.

The iterative nature of action research, through action-reflection cycles, provided the structure upon which both personal and organizational transformations were achieved.

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Crafting the Compound Lens of the Learning Organization (word count 491)
Brett W. Martin

The representation of learning organization isn’t one that is passively inherited by members of an organization; it is a state of being perpetually reaffirmed through the actions of its members. Intrinsic to a learning organization is the understanding by individual members that their thought, reflection, and action forms the catalyst for the attainment of collective goals and actualization of an overall vision. In addition, the operational environment of an organization is fluid and dynamic, and such conditions require collective faculties to comprehend. Therein lies the challenge: how can the personal experiential insights and accumulated tacit knowledge of members of an organization be brought forward in a way that fully actualizes the potential for the organization as a whole? It is the active pursuit of a better experiential understanding of this that informed my action research.

Scaffolded by the theoretical underpinnings of Peter Senge (The Fifth Discipline), the path I sought to attain this increased level of clarity involved engaging my group of co-participants in a focused dialogue on our core animating principles in the hope that it would benefit the entire group, provide me with a better idea of my place, and the coherence of some of my thoughts with the principles of the center. In the second cycle of my action research I sought to translate my deeper understanding into an opportunity to influence the thoughts on what future actions would benefit the center, but found that my own combination of advocacy and inquiry was out of balance.In the third cycle I sought to find if I made the reasoning behind my views explicit, and inquired into the views of my co-participants, would I gain a better assessment of where both those views and I stood in their perception?

In the first two cycles, evidence of a productive dialogue was collected through video and audio recordings, and evaluated by the repetition of times in which people assented to what was being said both non-verbally with nods of the head, verbal reinforcement, agreement, and the way in which participants built off of one another’s statements. Evidence of the positive impact of the dialogues was collected in the third cycle by directly asking participants and evaluating their responses.

The initial purpose of this action research project was to establish what connections, if any, existed between the barriers to growth I perceived in my place of work and those recognized by my co-participants. At the outset, however, the view I had of where that path was distorted because it was seen only through my own lens, unaided by those of the group. Engaging in a dialogue arranged our individual lenses in a way that crafted a compound lens, and the clear vision which emerged was corrective of my own view, while my own lens contributed to the overall focus of the group. The end result was comprehending future actions that will enable us to authentically retain our designation as a learning organization.


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