McPherson and Nunes (2004) propose a view of action research (AR) in an educational context that is comprehensive and systemic in approach. They argue that only by taking a holistic view of the context for learning can a researcher hope to arrive at useful conclusions.
The authors argue that AR is particularly appropriate for the researching of online learning, 'an ideal research methodology for the study of educational informatics' (2004, p.10). AR mirrors the learning philosophy of experiential learning and reflective practitioner that is often used and it avoids the situation in which we have 'the mere recording of events and formulation of explanations by an uninvolved researcher, typical of positivism' (p.8). They give a brief overview of AR frameworks, concluding that the seven stage model offered by Cohen et al (2000) is perhaps one of the best for AR in education. However, they then largely dismisses this framework as being 'too generic … its major drawback is failing to provide clear links to the pedagogical, ethical, institutional, policy and even administrative issues that often constrain this type of research' (p.18). Instead they propose their own comprehensive framework that is more systemic in nature.
(McPherson and Nunes, 2004, p.28)
Their evaluation framework is equally comprehensive, covering the achievement of the programme's objectives, the quality of the course material, tutor support, the environment, face-to-face elements and measurement of the achievement of students' expectations.
For someone, like me, embarking on AR on a small scale in a focused project, this framework is rather daunting and frankly would need a team of researchers to implement. The authors explain that their framework is addressed at elearning courses in HE and this may explain the complexity. Does all AR in a learning context need to be so all encompassing?
Can we argue that this framework, devised prior to 2004, does not seem well suited to learning that integrates formal and informal learning, with a lower teaching presence and peer learning in social online communities, taking advantage of social technologies (networked learning)? In particular, the framework assumes that there is instruction, educational content and a curriculum, elements that are less important, perhaps, in a CPD event for teachers in a learning community.
Cohen, L., Manion, L. & Morrison, K. (2000) Research Methods in Education, Routledge.
McPherson, M. & Nunes, M. (2004) Developing innovation in online learning: An action research framework, Routledge.
About my research
My research was set in the context of the European Commission’s eTwinning initiative and it looked specifically at the use of eTwinning Learning Events (non-formal learning). It examined how the community influences the development of teachers’ competence in online collaboration and discourse, and it considered the contribution of social aspects and online moderation.
I am very grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Julie-Ann Sime from Lancaster University, and to my eTwinning soulmate, Tiina Sarisalmi, for their invaluable support. And to my examiners, Prof. Marilyn Leask from the University of Bedfordshire and Dr. Don Passey from the University of Lancaster, for their valuable advice.