2.2 Identifying the issue

Although action or practitioner research often implies a change or improvement in practice, there is very little point making that change if you are not first aware of exactly the issue or problem it is you wish to address.

As such, the first stage in practitioner research should be to identify the issue or, if you are not sure there is an issue, to fully understand your practice. This stage is also important in establishing a baseline against which any future changes can be evaluated.

Using the action research cycle, the questions below should provide a way of structuring your reflections and planning your practitioner research:

What is your question or concern?

The first thing to consider is what it is you would like to research. This depends very much on the nature of your role, whether you have direct contact with students, and, of course, your own particular interests.

For those with direct involvement with students, you may want to know, for example:

  • Why do some students appear not to act on your written feedback

The issue may not necessarily be problematic. You may want to discover the answer to questions such as:

  • Why do some students engage well in online tutor groups forums?
  • What is about your feedback and support which students find most helpful?

For practitioner researchers with less direct contact with students, or who have a responsibility for writing modules, the question or concern might be more general. Examples could be:

  • Does 'little and often' assessment improve student engagement on modules?
  • What methods of promoting online student collaboration work best?

In both cases you should start to consider the wider context for your research. The particular question you wish to address may sound new and interesting to you but could have been researched many times before. If so, is there a different angle you could take? There may also be institutional or discipline specific factors which have an influence on your area of research.


This is the stage at which you need to determine what kind of evidence you need collect to help make some judgment about what is happening, and to provide an answer to your research question or questions.

This would involve considering which student or other groups you need to approach, the time scale of the research, what methods you think are most appropriate, and how you might go about analysing the data you collect.


This is the stage of implementing your research plan and carrying out your research. So you need to recruit the students (or colleagues) to be in your research, devise your methods, such as questionnaires, observation and what questions you might ask.

Your research methods need to be appropriate to the particular stage of the research. So, if the purpose is to bring clarity to a current teaching context, then you need to ensure that your chosen method or methods do that.


In the obervation phase you will stand back and analyse and interpret your data. How would you check that your judgment about what has been happening is reasonably fair and accurate? This involves selecting the correct tools for analysis and getting to grips with what your data are saying.


Reflection can mean a number of things depending on the size and scale of your research.

In relation to individual practice, the first question is how your findings might affect that practice. Are there any lessons to be learnt and is there anything which needs to be changed?

With larger scale practitioner research, the same questions could be asked at module or even programme level. At this stage it may also be worth placing your research and findings within a broader context. Is there any existing research which could shed a light on your own findings or a wider institutional factor which may influence what you have found?

In both cases reflection should also involve considering whether further action research is required, either to explore further the issue identified or to change practice.

Last modified: Tuesday, 4 Mar 2014, 16:09