Session Title: Action Research with Technology: Transforming Work through Communication, Collaboration, and Community.
Session Type: Interactive Symposium
Chair: Margaret Riel

Presentors: Margaret Riel, Derrel Fincher, Josh Burker, Rita Schnepp, Bradford Davey, Sue Wolff
Discussant: Jack Whitehead

Please also visit the Center for Collaborative Action Research and the interact wiki for the Center.

Action researchers are exploring current and emerging technologies to support communication, collaboration, community, and knowledge-building. The session will open with a report of research that was done to understand the role of technology in action research projects completed in a graduate program at a major university. Next, two case studies involving children doing projects in after school clubs, and two others of adults in dispersed interdisciplinary project teams will illustrate ways that technology was used to effect transformational changes in the workplace. These short presentations will be followed by some reactions from a respected leader in action research, who will then engage the panel in a discussion of action research with current and emerging technologies.

Session overview
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, 1998; Lewin, 1952; McNiff and Whitehead, 2006; Mills, 2001; Stringer, 1999; Whitehead and McNiff, 2006; Wells, 1994). In doing so, action researchers maintain a dual focus on both their own actions leading to personal growth and on the evidence collected to create an understanding of the larger social context. Action research involves utilizing a systematic cyclical method of planning, acting, observing, evaluating (including self-evaluation) and critical reflecting prior to planning the next cycle. Action research has a set 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 engaged in the process of using technology tools in their process of changing their practices will be highlighted.

The session will open with a report of research that was done to understand the role of technology in action research projects completed in a graduate program at a major university. This will frame the approach for a number of case studies of action research with technology illustrating some of the ways which technology was used to effect transformational changes in the workplace. These short presentations will be followed by some reactions from one of the most respected leaders in the field followed by a panel discussion.

1) Research Report: Evaluation of ICT in the Service of Action Research
Margaret Riel and Derrel Finche

The number of informational technology and communication tools and the ways in which they support collaborative writing, interactive and iterative design, multimedia production, and sharing and casting of ideas is impressive. The collective effort has reached such a force in society that Time magazine ironically made the collective—“the whole world”-- the person of the year. In an Educational Technology program that places action research at the center, it makes sense that the action research will make use of technology in efforts of transformational change.

The data for this paper are the cycle reports of an average of 30 students each year for the past 3 years who completed their action research master thesis in educational technology. Each of these students conducted an average of 3 cycles of research for a total of 180 cycles of action research. Each of these cycles is coded for the presence or absence of technology as part of the action or practice that was researched. If present, these tools will be coded for 1) type of tool, tools (blogs, wikis, design tools, video editing, graphics, etc) 2) purpose of use (knowledge building, knowledge sharing, design work, decision making, dialogic problem solving, etc)., and 3) success of outcome as described by the action researchers.

We expect that this analysis will show the increase in the use of different types of groupware and will suggest a range of innovative use of technology. It may also indicate some valuable information of how to increase the likelihood of success when implementing change with technology. This will be of value to action researchers as well as to those who use technology in educational settings.

2) Digital Photography, VoiceThreads, and Issues of Inclusion
Josh Burker

This Action Research project centered on transforming an elementary Technology Club into a community more inclusive of girls and students on the Autism Spectrum. Technology was integral to the success of the metamorphosis of the club for both the students and researcher.

The initial assumption was that attracting more girls or special needs students to the Tech Club would involve more promotion of the club. However the literature reviewed suggested a need to reconsider the technologies used in the Tech Club. Technology applications that encouraged creativity, personal choice, and collaboration were found to be attractive to female students (Gordon, 2000, Hanor, 1998). Additionally, the researcher shifted to a more constructivist approach with student-designed projects as a way to increase the participation of all students (Bhargava, Kirova-Petrova, & McNair, 1999), including those with special needs (Lewis, Trushell, & Woods, 2005). This presentation focuses on the central role of the initial digital photography unit because this unit did result in increased diversity in Technology Club membership.

The digital photography unit challenged students to take photographs that revealed the world as they saw it. Students were not directed to a "right" approach, but rather were give the chance to share their unique visions of the world. While prompts like “take photos of colors and textures," were used, students had freedom to be creative.

Providing students a means of exploring aesthetics through their use of technology transformed the curriculum the Tech Club. The change in focus was successful in attracting a group five girls and 11 boys, three of whom were special needs students. These students completed all the digital photography projects that made up the digital photography unit. While additional procedures were needed to assure that boys did not monopolize access to technology, in general the girls and the special needs students found the experience engaging and demonstrated effective use of the technology.

During the second year, VoiceThreads, a technology that allowed students record verbal reviews of photos was incorporated. Additionally, students could draw on the photograph to point out details as he or she talked. This technology revealed that students had a good sense of what made a "good" photograph and that when asked, they could speak to the reasons why a particular image appealed to them. Students learned how to use, adapt and incorporate the language of aesthetics and design as they discussed their photographs. This project also appeared to be one that invited the participation of girls and encouraged individual students' voices to emerge.

Technology was also vital to the success of sharing the results of the Action Research. Computer journaling (blogs) provided ongoing documentation of the actions and how reactions to the deliberative work to make Tech Club a more inclusive community. Digital tools such as digital cameras, laptop computers, and web pages documented the students' work and also served as their recording tools. Publishing on the web at the Center for Collaborative Action Research provided the action research community with research that is useful in planning new action research projects. Technology and Action Research, used together, transforms the Action Research process by making it more accessible to the Action Research community and other academic communities.

3) IT takes a Village: Leading a Distributed Team with Technology
Rita Schnepp, Sr. Manager of Network Engineering, Pepperdine University

This action researcher lead a university project to reconstruct a major section of a multi-campus computer network so that the organization could conduct high definition video conferencing with universities throughout the world. The project would also add critical bandwidth, stability and redundancy to the organization-wide network and would lay the foundation for future emerging technologies. The use of these technologies would increase the university's ability to expand knowledge with an ever-widening group of intellectuals.

The action research centered on the development of leadership skills in a distributed context as the expertise needed involved the creation of a diversified project team. The project team consisted of six individuals located in these four locations: San Francisco, CA; Durham, NC; Irvine, CA; and Malibu, CA. The paper described how the distributed team built the foundation infrastructure for high definition video conferencing and how, this and other teams may come to utilize this high definition video technology to coordinate their work in future projects.

An irony of this project is that this dispersed project team could have used the very high definition video technology that they sought to integrate into their network infrastructure. But in laying the foundation for this technology, the team would first have to utilize simpler social networking tools to collaborate on this project (Lundy, Drakos, 2007). The importance and effectiveness of simple commercial tools, open source tools, and Web 2 technologies cannot be understated and they were key to this team's success.

Some of the collaborative technologies used by this dispersed project team were as follows:

Wiki: a free or commercial collaborative web interface tool for sharing, analyzing and developing data in a very short period of time
OpenPGP: an open source tool and the most widely used email encryption standard in the world; RFC4880
WebX: a commercial product for live, interactive, and secure desktop sharing
MRTG: "multi router traffic grapher” an open source engineering tool for measuring traffic and bandwidth on a computer network
Terminal Servers: commercial appliances for allowing remote configuration of electronics in a secured environment
Accellion File Transfer Server: a commercial product for the secure transfer of large files, maps, etc.

The project culminated in two high definition video conference demonstrations: the first between two major US universities and the second between a US campus and a US affiliated university in Qatar. Future goals for the organization include the development of smart classrooms for video conferencing throughout the university.

Looking to the future, plans are in the works for dispersed project teams, such as this one, to test the effectiveness of this high definition video conferencing method as the main collaborative means of planning and executing university projects of varying types.

4) Promoting the Use of Video Literacy in the School
Bradford Davey

Student Provocateurs was an action research project that brought digital visual training to middle school students immersed in imaginative discovery and creation. Students worked in all aspects of film creation including story boarding, scripting, blocking, acting, rehearsing, and filming, while collaborating to create and communicate a shared vision. Students were tasked with gaining attention for an issue important to them through the use of film to strengthen their voice, a role traditionally given over to literature.

For more than 500 years, a print-based literacy has driven society, but that is changing. While live and recorded images have been broadcast to homes through television for the past 75 years, people in recent decades have been creating their own video, and in the last few years, sharing them with the world on the internet. Current notions of literacy in schools have not kept pace with these developments.

Collectively called 21st Century literacy skills (Prensky, 2004), today's students need to be able to compose words combined with images, create audio and video, publish in blogs, podcasts, and social networks, and integrate all of these with collaborative tools (Yancey, 2004). Focusing on specific task training is not the answer, because unless students gain core visual literacy and "resources of the imagination" (Speer, 1989 p.300) are developed; students will not be move fluidly to the next iteration. Action research was employed to help schools begin to address these core literacies.

The project utilized Web 2.0 tools to allow seamless collaboration among the group members working on film scenes and also for communication between student teams and the researcher. Digital video was uploaded and rough-edited on Scenes were shared with other teams though The student teams communicated about scene development through voice and text over the internet using Skype and Instant Messaging.

The goal of this action research project was to create a demonstration that would help educators understand the importance of video literacy skills and to provide some of the tools that might help them introduce these skills into the curriculum. The project illustrates what students can accomplish with video literacy education while strengthening their collective voice. The final film and its segments can be viewed at, a website created for this film project.

5) Conference Reflections as a Collaborative Knowledge-Building Activity with Technology
Sue Wolff, City University of Seattle

ABSTRACT: As more groups confer and learn online, there is increased need for facilitators of the learning process who assist with transforming online conversations into stored and retrievable formats that aid in building community knowledge (Riel, Polin, 2004; Scardamalia, 2002) around learning conversation (Baker, Jensen, Kolb, 2002). This paper will discuss action research that involved summarizing a three-week online conference about community meeting platforms organized by an interdisciplinary organization of community of practice practitioners. Changes to the researcher’s practice and trajectory as a learning facilitator highlight how action research with technology worked with the organizational objective to explore approaches to summarizing synchronous conference calls and asynchronous discussion threads. The researcher created a survey format using notes from a final teleconference with the goal of engaging participants in the reflective process of the learning-knowledge cycle (Kolb, 1984) by prompting them to reflect and add to the group’s learning story (Wenger, 1998). Responses from the survey were posted in a conference wiki and used to build the group’s final report.

Discussant Comments Jack Whitehead

The discussant brings a perspective from a different country on the use of technology in action research. After some initial comments on the papers, the discussant will lead the presenters in a panel discussion about action research and technology.


Bhargava, A., Kirova-Petrova, A., & McNair, S. (1999). Computers, gender bias, and young children. Information Technology in Childhood Education. 1999, 263-74.

Bereiter, C. (2002) Education and Mind in the Knowledge Age. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 526 pages.

Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M. (1993). Surpassing ourselves: An inquiry into the nature and implications of expertise. Chicago: Open Court Publishing Company.

Coghlan, D., & Brannick, T. (2005). Doing action research in your own organization (2nd ed.). London: Sage.

Doherty C, & Hope W. (2000). Shared governance--nurses making a difference. Journal of Nursing Management, 3(2), 77-81.

Gordon, D. T. (Ed.). (2000). The digital classroom: how technology is changing the way we teach and learn. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Letter.

Hanor, J. H. (1998).Concepts and strategies learned from girls' interactions with computers. Theory into practice. 37, 64-71.

Ibarra, H. (2003). Working identity. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Kemmis, S. & McTaggart, R. (1988). The action research planner (3rd ed.). Deakin University Press, Ed.). New York: Hyperion Books.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge: University Press.

Lewis, L., Trushell, J., & Woods, P. (2005). Effect of ICT group work on interactions and social acceptance of a primary pupil with Asperger's Syndrome. British Journal of Educational Technology. 26, 739-55.

Lewin, K. (1954). Studies in group decision. In D. Cartwright & A. Zander (Eds.), Group Dynamics: Research and theory. London: Tavistock Publications.

Lundy, J., Drakos, N., (2007). How to Use Social Software to Support Your Learning Ecosystem, Gartner, ID #: G00152296.

Mills, G. E. (2003). Action research: A guide for the teacher researcher (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall.

McNiff, J., Whitehead, J., & Lomax, P. (2003). You and your action research project. (2nd ed.). London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Nelson, H. & Stolterman, E. (2003). The Design Way -- Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World. Educational Technology Publications. New Jersey.

Prensky, M. (2004). Digital Game-Based Learning. McGraw-Hill, New York, New York.

Quigley, B. A. (2000). The practitioner-researcher: A research revolution in literacy. Adult Learning, 11(3), 6-8.

Reason, P. & Bradbury, H. (Eds.). (2001). Handbook of action research: participative inquiry and practice. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Speer, L. (1989). Before holography: A call for visual literacy. Leonardo, 22, (3/4), 299-306.

Stringer, E.T. (2007). Action research (3rd ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.

Tapscott, D. (1998). Growing up digital. The rise of the net generation. New York: McGraw.

Wells, G. (1994). Introduction: Teacher research and educational change. In G. Wells et al., Changing schools from within: Creating communities of Inquiry. Toronto: OISE Press.

Whitehead, J. & McNiff, J. (2006). Action research, living theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.

Yancey, K. B. (2004). Using Multiple Technologies to Teach Writing. Educational Leadership, 62(2) 38.


Paper 1:
Center for Collaborative Action Research

Paper 2)
Voice Threads

Paper 3)
Accellion File Transfer server
Stonebranch File Transfer
Terminal servers

Paper 4

Instant Messaging
Student Provocateurs

Paper 5
WebCrossings (also contained wiki)