We are delighted to launch this practice guide on Action Research by Dr Lydia Arnold from Harper Adams University and Professor Lin Norton from Liverpool Hope University. The guide is accompanied by a separate document with case studies from across a range of disciplines and topics.
This resource has been written specifically for higher education practitioners who are interested in improving students’ learning experiences through the process of researching their own practice. We use the term ‘higher education practitioners’ to describe all who work in universities and who have a stake in students’ learning experiences. Although not exhaustive, this would include all lecturers and university teachers (including associate, part-time and hourly paid); professionals such as librarians and information technology experts; and support specialists such as counsellors, disability advisors, and those working in careers and employability. For all these professionals, action research would be equally useful whether early, mid, or late career.
The guide provides useful insights into what is involved through exploring the definitions that surround action research. The authors see action research is a type of inquiry that is:
- 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.
The authors also outline what the key characteristics are of action research, and are keen to stress the cyclical nature from planning to reflection. Arnold and Norton (2018) are also keen to show how action research aligns closely to the UKPSF framework and how there is opportunity for colleagues to work with others as part of scholarship and the development of professional standards.
The guide stresses the importance of how our professional values can be shaped and developed offering some good examples throughout the guide to help the reader understand how action research can be transformative for everyone involved.
The authors explore both what action research means (reflexivity) and what it does not (reliability), offering up some clear guidance so that others can navigate their approach safely.
The authors provide a very useful starting point for anyone considering undertaking action research; they should consider four areas of concern
- Concern of student needs
- Concern of staff development
- Concern for institutional priorities
- Pursuit of intellectual interest
Finally the authors helpfully give advice and guidance on presenting action research, reminding readers of the importance of publishing outputs, disseminating the learning and sharing among wider community groups.