Can we Trust Education’s Action Research?

In  standard  research, there are  several   groups used .  Groups   are made up of the same type of  people  (age, gender, similar conditions, etc.). One group is called the “Control Group.”  The control group does not recieve the “condition” of the study. There needs to be many  members  in each group for the best possible results (hundreds of thousands). This is  considered  a large sample size. Also, each group should have the same number of  people .  Each group  participates in  a different side of the  study  being conducted.  For example, if a pharmaceutical company tests a new  medication  , they have one group that  receives  the drug and another group that  does not   receive  the drug .  The group that  does not  take the drug will instead take a placebo (sugar pill)  that will not have an  effect on the condition being  researched  . Also, all other conditions for each group are kept  the same  (except for the drug for the condition studied). Example,   sleep, exercise, diet,  etc.  To help justify  the results , the  researcher  assigning the groups, the researcher(s)  administering the study , and the person who interprets the results are all different people.  The  researchers of  the study do not  talk about the  research    until all of the  data  are completed .  This keeps a person’s opinion or bias out of the study.  This is called a “Double Blind” study.  Since the other conditions are nearly identical , the only  condition  that is different between the groups is the  factor  (drug) being tested .  Any  information  should then be a result of the one  condition  that was  researched  in the  various  groups.

Educators and education researches use a different   style  of research.  They use a style  called “Action Research.”  What is Action Research?  Action Research is a type of research that uses observation as part of the study .  There are no control groups, the person  running  the research is the same person that analyzes the  data , and there is only a small sample size, sometimes as  little  as twenty  children  .  Since there is no control group, and one person controls the entire  research  , there is no “Double Blind” standard used in Action Research.

So, why would they use Action Research?  A concern in educational research is that it is improper  to give something of value to one student and withhold it from another, even if the thing of “value” has not been determined to be of value.  Also, society isn’t open  to the idea of experimenting on children . It is very difficult to have a large research  group.  Usually research can only be  completed  at the classroom, school, or at most the district level.  This results in small sample sizes.

What are the possible  discrepancies with the  data  from action research?  When Action Research is being conducted ,  the first thing that happens is a hypothesis is stated  (What a researcher believes the condition  researched  will do).  Second, the educator applies the condition to the  research  (gives the material, etc. to his or her students) .  Finally, the researcher  compiles  the  data  .  Someone  using  this type of research needs to be very careful not to skew the  data  towards the hypothesis.  This is easy for someone to do without even knowing he or she  being aware of  it.  For example, let’s say you are teaching with a new  idea  because you believe the new method will help students understand a concept  more clearly  .  You see  that one of your the students prefers to use a method you  used  earlier in the year.  You then say to the student, “This “other” method is better and easier.”  The researcher just  changed  the results by  expressing to  a student that the new method is better.  The student uses the new method because your comment lets the student know that, that is the method he or she  should  use.  The problem is that the student understands the old way better and you just pushed a result towards your hypothesis.  Plus, students may use the old way on the assesment but make it  appear to be  like the new  method  .  This is so the student doesn’t disapointed theteacher.

Is Action Research a completely  negative  thing?  No, but when  using  Action Research, make sure you work hard to make the study as non-biased as possible.  When reading the results of a study that used Action Research, you need to understand that there is no  definitive  proof that the  research  is valid.  A lot of Action Research is  mostly  common sense.  So use your common sense and take it with a grain of salt.  I  can’t  tell you the number of times I have been told to use  researched strategies  in my classroom that will raise state test scores.  It always starts off with, “Research shows…”  I  teach  the condition of the  research because I am told to do so.  I follow the study’s guidelines and practices  . The  condition  does not  increase  our state test scores . I then  consult  the research and find out that the  parameters  of the study are specific and do not apply to our school’s  demographics  . The  research  was  used   out of state, so the two state  assesments  may not  be  comparable.  

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