Learning: in, through and as action research

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Chinese University of Hong Kong]On: 20 December 2014, At: 01:31Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Educational Action ResearchPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/reac20

    Learning: in, through and as actionresearchMarie BrennanPublished online: 01 Mar 2013.

    To cite this article: Marie Brennan (2013) Learning: in, through and as action research, EducationalAction Research, 21:1, 1-3, DOI: 10.1080/09650792.2013.761916

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  • EDITORIAL

    Learning: in, through and as action research

    Through a number of happy coincidences, most of the articles in this volume focusin some way on researcher accounts of issues of learning and pedagogies. Workingacross a range of perspectives, using diverse theoretical resources, in relation toquite different settings, the articles provoke the reader to reimagine learning andteaching in ways that undercut dominant modes of scientized, measuring, target-ing, benchmarking and accounting for learning in almost every educational setting,both formal and informal. Mainly drawing from humanities traditions, the research-ers here make their explorations and analyses explicit, sometimes poetic, construct-ing a range of narratives to illuminate possibilities new to those participating, aswell as potentially to other audiences. The final article on ethics in collaborativeresearch provides an important staging post from which to view recent reports oncollaborative action research projects, raising another set of provocations from expe-rienced action researchers, familiar with both university institutional ethics and thelived interactive work of projects on the ground.

    The scale of action research reported here is also varied, from a long-term pro-ject conducted over many cycles, to reports from a single cycle, to an analysis ofthe ethical demands and criteria required for collaborative action research projects,to a reflection on a fragment of a much larger project. While there is no neat shar-ing of definitions of action research, all articles demonstrate systematic and schol-arly engagement with issues of action research, as well as with the substantivescholarly themes emerging from their diverse fields of practice. The paper on ethicssituates itself in longstanding debates about action research, developing a set ofeight principles that can be used to plan and reflect upon, even evaluate accounts ofaction research projects that espouse collaboration in their approach.

    The first two papers offer explorations of museum education in the United King-dom. Both are substantial studies working across multiple institutions at a timewhen even non-formal education settings such as museums are being drawn intothe audit culture (Power 1999) that affects schools and universities, demonstratingthe spread of an audit culture rather than the open-inquiry mode of inquiry neededfor action research to work. What we see in these papers are the creative ways inwhich museum educators and their colleagues use action research to test theiroptions for understanding their context and improvement of practice. In the firstpaper, Communities of Practice and Participatory Action Research, Ampartzakiand her colleagues take on a difficult task, focusing on a methodological process inorder to make the point that participatory action research provided a rigorous frame-work through which to manage the development of synergy between a museum anda university department. Well located in the literature on action research, communi-ties of practice, propositional knowledge and situated knowledge, the particularstudy makes for a stimulating read, raising issues of young childrens learning in

    Educational Action Research, 2013Vol. 21, No. 1, 13, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09650792.2013.761916

    2013 Educational Action Research

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  • museum pedagogies and systematic improvement through cooperation in a commu-nity of practice. It is a significant contribution that, in these difficult times for manyinstitutions with educational agendas, learning in the non-school setting is able tobe fore-grounded through such a systematic study as this paper provides. The sec-ond paper on museum education raises the problem of how museums best supportlearning in schools, particularly in schools that have tended not to engage withmuseums. Bringing together three regional museums with an external facilitator,Foreman-Peck and Travers report on the challenges for each site in developing theirrelationships with schools such that each museum educator could perform actionresearch according to their own interests and needs, while sharing emergent lear-nings across sites. Aiming to identify what is distinctive about museum pedagogyand how it might support learning in schools, this paper not only analyzes thepotentials of museum education but also reflects on the problems facing facilitatorsof learning outside schools as they seek to interface with schools, in a highly politi-cized context.

    The next two papers examine how action research might offer new insights andpractical outcomes to primary or elementary school teachers. Kuntz and his colleaguesfocus on the creativity of teachers that can develop through collaboration. The project,based on work with nine teachers in one elementary school, found that a teachersexperience of agency and ability to work creatively was very much dependent on acontext that allowed for flexibility and ongoing collaboration across the teacher group.The literature on creativity and pedagogy, related to innovation in pedagogical prac-tices that show up in the narrative of the groups development and articulated in thewords of teachers, is clearly laid out, and the project demonstrates what can beachieved through group collaboration despite a context of significantly changingexternal constraints. Senior and Vicars, in their project, work to interrupt the deficitdiscourses surrounding primary school boys who do not achieve well in schoolliteracy tasks; their institution of a drawing group for boys who did not or could notreach required standards of literacy allows for a different reading of literacies in andout of school, and a role for action research in providing insight into a positivereading of popular cultural capital as literacies that are normally excluded from theclassroom. The university-based authors, working as teachers with the drawing group,also need to manage the politics of interfacing with the classroom teachers andprincipal, to understand the implications of their findings for classrooms.

    The fifth paper in this volume takes what some might see as a new approach toinclusive education, defining it within the scope of education for environmentalsustainability as an inclusive relationship with the world. This paper by Gedneand Gedne is taken from a complex project that analyzes how teacher-educationstudents were asked to use an online environment to reflect upon their environmen-tal education subject and their views of inclusive relationships with the world froman educators perspective. One group of students who volunteered for the project did not manage to participate well in the online environment, raising questionsabout its effectiveness as learning support in that context. Nevertheless, the contri-butions of the remaining groups provided data, examined through discourse analy-sis, which was able to generate a set of 15 categories about how pre-serviceteachers communicate about inclusive relationships. Online engagement with otherscontributed to more critical engagement in issues, while identifying that the studentsstill needed to learn how to problematize other perspectives and their own.

    2 Editorial

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  • Another tertiary education setting, this time in health education, is the focus forthe sixth paper in this volume from McAllister and colleagues. Evaluating SensitiseTake Action and Reflection (STAR), a transformative learning framework, pro-vided the opportunity for systematic development among a team of researchersacross nursing, nutrition, public health, occupational therapy and paramedical sci-ence health professions in one university. Working on the framework together, andexploring its potential for sensitizing students to critical awareness of social justiceissues in their field of practice, the 25 academics involved over three cycles ofaction research were able to test out ideas for transformative learning and developexemplars for other educators. Further arenas for research have been delineated inthe paper, which offers a process for working across disciplines on university teach-ing for empowerment.

    The final paper, as noted above, provides a challenge to many of the typical eth-ical discussions that occur in the context of university ethics committees, suggestingthe need for more clarification in discussion among action researchers, as well asby human ethics research committees. In offering a set of eight principles for use incollaborative action research, Locke, Alcorn, and ONeill are not providing ananswer to ethical dilemmas but rather helping to focus on the nature of thosedilemmas, in order to be able to address them more adequately in design and prac-tice. With their argument well located in previous action research and ethics litera-tures, the authors also offer specific reflections on the ethical dilemmas of particularcases, helping to problematize and make more complex, through such illuminations,how action researchers might understand and work on such issues as collaborationand voice. In returning to the question of ethics committees, this article argues forthe importance of asserting both the centrality of researcher relationships and thespecific traditions of collaborative action research more strongly. Inviting actionresearchers to be more explicit about the ethical dimensions of their projects is afine way to develop those traditions, contributing to the growth of the field ofaction research.

    ReferencePower, M. 1999. The Audit Society: Rituals of Verification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Marie BrennanCo-Editor

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