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In this issue of CDTL Brief on Research and Classroom Practices, NUS colleagues discuss ways of student engagement across various disciplines in the University.

August 2009, Vol. 12 No. 4 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Action Research in Teaching
Dr Grace Wong
Department of Real Estate


Action research is a systematic and structured selfreflective inquiry or a small-scale intervention in the functioning of a real world social situation, with a view to understand and improve the teaching of decision-making in classrooms. This article discusses the principles and action research that could be undertaken by lecturers in their classrooms. The term ‘researcher’ is used interchangeably with ‘lecturer’.

Principles of action research

As action research is a systematic, formative and problem-focused learning process that tries to comprehend and improve teaching and learning in classrooms, either by testing assumptions and practices or by making critical analyses of those situations. It could suggest relevant actions to enhance classroom teaching and learning in various disciplines. In fact, action research is particularly useful in the university, where different disciplines tend to require different teaching methods.

Action research is also likely to be a political process since the researcher’s actions could affect students, administrators and other lecturers. Thus ethical issues such as abuse of authority might arise if researchers do not abide by ‘researcher ethics’. However a protocol to obtain clearance from all participants involved may prevent such problems.

Although action research would involve the collaboration and participation of small groups of researchers initially, larger communities of researchers are expected to be included when the results are published or used by other researchers and academics for their professional development. Since the publication and sharing of the results of action research may raise the ethical issue of confidentiality, researchers should first clarify this matter with all participants before undertaking the research.

The process of action research usually commences with small changes before progressing to extensive reforms. This would usually occur through a self-reflective cycle comprising different stages such as idea identification, reconnaissance, planning, developing action steps, implementing action steps, evaluation and revision of the plan. An important part of action research is to collect several types of records including personal journals, published literature, qualitative evidence and quantitative data, all of which could be applied as a developed and critically examined justification for changes and improvements to classroom teaching.

Reasons for action research

The purpose of action research could be related to the researcher’s personal interest or professional development, whereby pedagogical assumptions and ideas could be tested and developed in real life practice for the benefit of teaching and learning as well as sharing with other lecturers.

Methodology of action research

The methodology of action research would include topic selection, specification of focus, determination of research approach, triangulation of data and data collection methods, data analysis as well as the refocusing of the action research in order to achieve reliable and valid results.

Although action research topics may encompass teaching methods, learning strategies, evaluative procedures, attitudes, classroom management, administration and lecturers’ continuing professional development, in reality, due to time constraints and restrictions in decision-making, the topics available tend to be limited to those where changes could be made by the lecturers themselves. As such, the focus of the action research could be derived from the selected topic by specifying the particular aspect for investigation, that is, the research question or hypothesis that states the relationship between the facts of the situation and factors operating in its context.

In order to ensure reliability and validity of the results, action research should incorporate the triangulation procedure, include introspective and empirical data, and adopt a variety of research approaches such as:

• quantitative and qualitative,

• individual and collaborative,

• complementary and intrusive, as well as;

• conclusive and illuminative/heuristic.

To collect introspective data like students’ and lecturers’ attitudes and private thoughts, data collection techniques may encompass logs, teaching diaries, journals, personal accounts, verbal reports and field notes, which could be described as the recording of classroom teaching and learning as well as self-evaluation. Depending on time constraints and types of resources required, empirical data could be collected using structured or naturalistic observations, evaluation and trailing, case studies, experiments as well as structured, semi-structured or unstructured interviews and questionnaires.

As the ongoing dynamic analysis, verification and validation of data against the hypothesis or research question are expected to refocus the action research such that appropriate changes could be implemented to achieve the intended effects, the data analysis stage of the action research process is the most crucial stage in pedagogical development.


Action research is a useful tool that could be employed by the individual researcher or in collaboration with other researchers to work through self-inquiry cycles of planning, action, observation and reflection, with a view to collect classroom data and records that could serve as a justification to develop ideas and action steps that improve their teaching and facilitate students’ learning.

Additional readings

Cohen, L., Manion, L. & Morrison, K. (2000). Research methods in education. 5th Edition. London: Routledge.

Elliott, J. (1991). Action research for educational change. Guildford: Open University Press.

Hubball, H.T. & Burt, H. (2007). Learning Outcomes and Program-level Evaluation in a 4-Year Undergraduate Pharmacy Curriculum. American Journal for Pharmaceutical Education, 71(5), Article 90, 1–8.

Hopkins, D. (2002). A teacher’s guide to classroom research. 3rd Edition. UK: Open University Press.


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Inside this issue
Action Research in Teaching
Major Challenges Instructors Face in Teaching Undergraduate Contemporary Life Sciences
Small Group Teaching—Get and Give 100% the ‘Old-fashioned’ Way: Perspectives from the Pathology Classroom
Two Strategies to Facilitate Active Learning in Large Classes
Using Short Stories as an Instructional Tool for Teaching Human Anatomy in the Classroom
Customising Continuous Assessment Exercises