Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Action Research v Professional Practise

The piece below was written for as part of my ‘class’ PhD in e-Research and Technology Enhanced Learning at Lancaster University.  It is reproduced below for comment and interest to others in the area of Action Research and Professional Practice.  Note, this is not written in a suitable academic style for Doctorate Study.

Action Research and Professional Reflective Practice


There is a tendency to consider any activity by an educational professional that somehow changes their working practice as ‘action research’, or ‘participatory action research’.  However, in the strict definitions of AR, there are some key features which differentiate everyday professional or Professional Reflective Practice, and Action Research.

Back to Basics

The first suggestions that there was this differentiation came in (Denscombe 2003), which states –

“A distinction needs to be made between the ‘reflective practitioner’ (Schön 1983) as one who strives for professional self-development through a critical consideration of his/her practices, and the action researcher who, while also being a reflective practitioner, adds to this by using research methods to enhance and systematize that reflection.”

(Schön 1983) focuses in the area of the social sciences and in particular healthcare.  Could the fact that most healthcare professionals are rarely encouraged to carry out their own research with patients have something to do with a need to state this distinction?

There is even a view that Action Research isn’t even a formal methodology in itself, as noted by (Lancaster 2005) “action research in fact, is more a strategy or approach to research rather than a specific methodology.”

So whilst one body of literature in the sphere of educational theory states that small-scale research as typified by action research will rarely have such a significant impact, there is a counter-argument supported by (Cohen et al. 2007) which supports the concept of Action Research as emancipatory, in particular situations, namely –

“…when it aims not only at technical and practical improvement […] but also at changing the system itself or those conditions which impede desired improvement in the system/organization.”

So the literature still seems confused on this issue.  At the most basic level, three differences have been identified.

Table 1 – Comparing Professional Practice and Action Research

Professional Reflective Practice Action Research
Focused on learning from experience Focused on learning from experience, plus the experience of others (through research)
Three cyclical Phases (adapted by McAlpine)

  • Reflection for Action
  • Reflection in Action
  • Reflection on Action
At least six cyclical phases (Wadsworth n.d.)

  • Stop and reflect
  • Raise a question
  • Plan to seek answers
  • Plan to seek answers
  • Fieldwork/Research
  • Reflection
  • Think of new actions
Focused on the individual – the individual as an agent for change in a specific situation. Action research should feed back into a knowledge ‘pool’, not just of the individual, but also of the institution, and through publication the wider world.


There is an understandable wish to promote any workplace-based experiences, and ‘Action Research’ is an impressive title to attach to any small-scale project.  By examining the criteria above however can help objectively consider whether this label can be objectively applied to the process being undertaken.  There is a tendency however to ‘devalue’ the term, which can only harm those researchers who are performing genuine Action Research.


Cohen, L., Manion, L. & Morrison, K., 2007. Research methods in education 6th ed., London ;New York: Routledge.

Denscombe, M., 2003. The good research guide for small-scale social research projects 2nd ed., Maidenhead ;Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Lancaster, G., 2005. Research methods in management : a concise introduction to research in management and business consultancy, Oxford: Elsevier/Butterworth Heinemann.

Schön, D., 1983. The reflective practitioner : how professionals think in action, Aldershot [England]: Arena.

Wadsworth, Y., What is Participatory Action Research. Action Research International. Available at: [Accessed February 15, 2010].


I’ve got a small butt

It’s official.

Since moving, I’ve been subjected to having my water metered, a new experience.  Whilst I’m still waiting for my first bill (nine months after moving into South Staffs Water’s area), I’ve been thinking what can I do to reduce my water consumption.  Showering less often was considered, but rejected by those closest to me… as they moved further away.

My garden is not populated with much fauna yet, this year is a settling in year and getting the feel for where the sun travels through the year is part of the fun of a new house.  But I also resent paying directly to water plants.

I can’t remember where I found the link, but I’m all for anything being subsidised, and anyone in the South Staffs area (Walsall, Sandwell and I believe large parts of Birmingham) can get a discount on a number of water saving gadgets over at .  Orders are fulfilled by a commercial organisation, but I still think I saved over a tenner, without the hassle of trying to get it home yourself.

So, here it is, a picture of my little butt installed by yours truly.  Those of you know know that I have two left thumbs when it comes to DIY will no doubt be amazed that I have fitted this myself, not as amazed as I was!

Note, installation does involve cutting about 3cm out of the downpipe.  Scary stuff, and it’s a little ragged but it doesn’t show in this picture.  Also, the diverter is about 1cm larger, so be careful when close to any clips.

I’ve tested it out, and the diverter device works as expected, feeding water into the butt until full, then diverting back down the drain, clever stuff.

So anyone hesitant, or DIY-phobic, then don’t worry.  Just need some plants to water now.

Two wheels good, four wheels bad?

I am designed for comfort, not speed.  Anyone who has seen me run for a bus, or a lecture will be aware of this.

However, I do aspire to be fitter and healthier.  I used to be out on my mountain bike fairly regularly, but age, dodgy knees and a dodgy back have set me back over the years.

But, partly inspired from local blogger Brownhills Bob, and the great tax/NI savings available through the Cycle to Work scheme, which are substantial for me, I spent a very useful hour at Chasewater Cycles, firstly at the weekend (the fact that the local micro brewery had an open day too was a pure coincidence), and then today to get more advice and a written quote.

I’ve gone for a Kona Africa Bike.  It’s a sturdy beast, designed for, you guessed it Africa.  It’s got some nifty features too, including a built in lock, and european-style rear brakes attached to the hub, just back-pedal slightly to slow down (I found out about this sort of bike when on a German Exchange trip in 1984, tootling along the Straße at a fair old rate of knots I started to back-pedal, and promptly disappeared over the handlebars.)

It also comes with a feel-good factor too, that for every two bikes sold in the ‘developed’ world, they commit to send one bike to Africa.  So I can get a warm glow without even straddling the crossbar.

I’ve not skimped on the accessories, lights, trip computer, another (two!) locks, pump and a reflective gilet should keep me and my steed safe.  All being well, it’ll be with me in a couple of weeks.

It’s not an inconsiderable commute for me, but I’m determined to give it a go.  It’s also Bike Week this week, so what better time to dust off that old jalopy in the back of the shed.