Action Research


In Education

Online Learning

Australian Journal of Language and Literacy


Action research builds upon what is fundamental in the qualitative approach. It relies on people’s own words, both to understand a social problem and to convince others to help to remedy it. Action research is one means for teachers to be more reflective about their practice (Bogdan 2003). Bogdan suggests that teachers can act like researchers as part of their role. They can be more systematic in writing down their experiences; they can turn conversations into more productive information-gathering sessions. Incorporating the qualitative perspective means being self conscious, actively thinking and acting in ways that a qualitative researcher does.

When conducting action research, one must think about the process as research; data is the name given to the collected evidence. Bogdan (2003, p227) suggests that if you approach the task as a researcher and ask “research questions” you force yourself into a frame of mind where you undertake work more systematically - ask questions such as “what research do I need to do” rather than “what should I know about this”. While all researchers attempt to solidly document their views, the action researcher must also present recommendations for change.

Lincoln (1985) discusses both human and non human data collection, where human data involves interviews and observations and noting nonverbal cues that are transmitted while those interviews or observations are under way. Non human sources include documents and records, as well as the unobtrusive informational residue left behind by humans in their everyday activities that provides useful insights about them. A major advantage of direct observation is that it provides here-and-now experience in depth and perhaps this could also be achieved with informal individual conversations for students in the classroom. Observation maximizes the inquirer’s ability to grasp motives, beliefs, concerns, interests, unconscious behaviours, customs and the like. It provides the inquirer with access to the emotional reactions of the group introspectively and permits the observer to use his/her own build-on tacit knowledge and that of other members of the group. Observational data other than recording film or videotape, as discussed by Lincoln (1985, p275), include:
  • Running notes – taken at the time
  • Field experience logs written as soon as possible after the actual observation
  • Notes on thematic units
  • Chronologs; running accounts of behaviour organised along a fairly rigid time line.
  • Context maps; recording physical movement of students within the classroom
  • Entries according to some taxonomic or category system
  • Sociometrics; diagrams that depict various types of interactions
  • Debriefing questionnaires for the observer
  • Debriefing sessions with other team members
  • Rating scales and checklists.

Lincoln discusses documents and records as being a rich source of information, contextually relevant and grounded in the contexts they represent. Their richness includes the fact that they appear in the natural language of the setting and they are non-reactive.

Data analysis in qualitative research consists of preparing and organising the data, reducing the data into themes through a process of coding and condensing the codes and finally representing the data in figures, tables or a discussion (Creswell 2007). I see analysis as working with the data, organizing them, breaking them into manageable units, coding them, synthesizing them and searching for patterns. Bogdan (2003, p148) gives the following suggestions to help make analysis and interpretation an ongoing part of data collection:
  • Force yourself to make decisions that narrow the study.
  • Force yourself to make decisions concerning the type of study you want to accomplish.
  • Develop analytic questions
  • Plan data-collection sessions in light of what you find in previous observations
  • Write many observer’s comments about ideas generated
  • Write memos to yourself about what you are learning

Undoubtedly, my research will be influenced by my own education, interests and motivations. In particular, my criticism of the lack of new literacies in the secondary classroom has been recently influenced by 12 months teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) in South Korea during 2007 and my recent readings of other researchers and critics within the new literacy area such as Dillon (2006), Faber (2006), Jewitt (2008), Johnson & Kress (2003), and Kress (2003). However, my analysis for my research will largely be a critical reflection upon the extent to which social networking can help students become more critically aware of the world and those around us. Like Kellogg (1998), I will attempt a meta-analysis of the process at play during my research, paying particular attention to the pedagogical implications of the research experience for my own teaching.

Bogdan (2003) suggests that, after data collection and the final observation of the study has been written, researchers need to take a break and let the material sit for a time and then come back to it fresh and rested, hence distancing yourself from the details of the fieldwork and allowing relationships between you and your subjects to be put in perspective. Bogdan (2003, p162), like Creswell (2007), suggests developing coding categories. He provides the following coding families as tools for developing coding categories that will be helpful in sorting data:
  • Setting/Context Codes
  • Definition of the situation codes
  • Perspectives held by subjects
  • Subjects’ ways of thinking about people and objects
  • Process codes
  • Activity codes
  • Event codes
  • Strategy codes
  • Relationship and social structure codes
  • Narrative codes
  • Method codes

Data interpretation refers to developing ideas about findings and relating them to the literature and to broader concerns and concepts. Analysis and interpretation rises not only from the data but also from the perspectives the researcher holds. Social values and ways of making sense of the world can influence which processes, activities, events and perspectives researchers consider important enough to code. Bogdan describes the basic approach to mechanically sort research data after it has been collected. Margins should be wide and text should be broken into many paragraphs. Pages could be numbered in chronological order according to when the data was collected. From Bogdan’s suggestions I shall organize my research data as given below:
  • Original files will be saved and stored and named file_original.doc then backed up and stored on a separate hard drive in organised folders.
  • After the data is ordered it will be carefully read at least twice during undisturbed periods of time.
  • Particular attention will be given to observer comments and memos – developing a preliminary list of possible coding categories, sketches of relationships and lists of ideas.
  • Particular attention will be paid to words and phrases that are unfamiliar or are used in ways which are unfamiliar.
  • Preliminary coding categories (thirty to fifty) will be assigned to units of data – these will be modified at a later time.
  • The data will once again be read through to assign the coding category abbreviations to units of data - each coding category will be assigned an abbreviation or a number (listing categories in alphabetical order before numbering).
  • All data with code categories will be backed up and stored in a safe place.

Interpretation ideas that I will use from Bogdan (2003, p184) include:
  • Revisiting writing that helps me understand the basic ideas behind qualitative research
  • Reading published studies related to my own research.
  • Purposely trying to evaluate my subjects and the situation I am observing.
  • Asking: What are the implications of my findings for practice? For current events? For the theoretical orientation I think I am operating from?
  • Speculating about the assumptions that the audience I am writing for might have. Strategizing about how to interpret to them the things I have come to understand.
  • Asking if there is a story of an incident from my research that captures a major insight or understanding I have derived from my work? Then telling that story and trying to work with it. Asking how it relates to my theory, findings etc?
  • Working on writing a clear paragraph summarizing what it is I want to tell readers.

When my teaching career comes to its end I want to be assured that I did everything possible to be my best as an educator and that I will have improved, even in a minor way, the learning pathway for students in the future. Whilst I want my research to make a difference and believe it will do so, if it doesn't improve student learning then I must be honest about my findings. I must not let my desire to demonstrate improvement influence the action research process. Like Munhall (2008), I believe that substance is what research is all about, where substance has to do with an important aim, excellent application of the method, deliberate and thoughtful reflection on the findings, accentuating the significance of the study and a meaningful critique.


Bogdan, R 2003, Qualitative research for education : an introduction to theory and methods, 4th edn, Allyn and Bacon, Boston, MA.
Creswell, JW 2007, Qualitative inquiry & research design : choosing among five approaches, 2nd edn, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks.
Dillon, N 2006, 'skills FOR A NEW CENTURY', American School Board Journal, vol. 193, no. 3, pp. 22-6.
Farber, S 2006, 'Technology-Infused Literacy Development: Why it's Critical', Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference 2006, AACE, pp. 1533-50.
Jewitt, C 2008, 'Multimodality and Literacy in School Classrooms', Review Of Research In Education, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 241-67.
Johnson, D & Kress, G 2003, 'Globalisation, Literacy and Society: redesigning pedagogy and assessment', Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, vol. 10, no. 1, p. 5.
Kellogg, DJ 1998, 'Exploring Critical Distance in Science Education: Students Researching the Implications of Technological Embeddedness', in SR Steinberg & JL Kincheloe (eds), Students as researchers : creating classrooms that matter, Falmer Press, London ; Bristol, PA, pp. 212-25.
Kress, GR 2003, Literacy in the new media age, Routledge, London
Lincoln, YS 1985, Naturalistic inquiry, Sage Publications, Beverly Hills, Calif.
Munhall, PL 2008, Qualitative research proposals and reports : a guide, 3rd edn, Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Sudbury, MA.