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Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in STEM
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in STEM

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1.4 Action research

Action research has been identified as an approach suitable for higher education research (Zuber-Skerritt, 2018), and as a methodological approach for SoTL (Hubball and Clarke, 2010, p. 4).

Action research is defined as any systematic inquiry conducted by educators and others with a vested interest in the teaching and learning process or environment for the purpose of gathering information about how their institutions operate, how they teach and how their students learn (Mertler, 2017).

Action research entails critical reflection: learning from experience (action) through investigating and trying to understand (research) the change process; thinking critically about and conceptualising what worked, what did not work, how or how not, and why or why not, and identifying what could be done better on the basis of this learning (Zuber-Skerritt, 2018). Action research has the following characteristics (Arnold and Norton, 2018):

  • practical, as it involves making change to practice
  • theoretical, as it is informed by theory and can generate new insights
  • collaborative, as it encourages engagement with others in the process
  • reflexive, as it requires practitioner researchers to keep their own knowledge, values, and professional activities under review
  • contextual, as it acknowledges institutional, national, historical and societal influences.

Action research (AR) typically has the following stages to encourage practitioners to:

  1. Look at their practice and assess where change may be valuable.
  2. Explore the context in which they are operating, and identify possible actions to enhance practice.
  3. Implement an action.
  4. Systematically evaluate the action.
  5. Articulate learning from the process.
  6. Re-assess practice and consider opportunities for a further cycle of research.

The HEA Action Research: Practice Guide by Arnold and Norton (2018) provides examples of AR projects, guidance on developing an AR project and a model for structuring and conducting an AR project.

You may like to consider AR as providing a guiding framework for conducting SoTL and specifically for projects where you are making a change or introducing an intervention and would like to investigate its effectiveness.