"Action Research is generally considered a process for achieving change and research at the same time. It is viewed as a spiralling, iterative process, with each cycle feeding into the next.
At the 'Plan' stage, the researchers determine the problem to be solved, the steps to be taken to solve the problem, and the methods to be used to evaluate how successful the solution has been. At the 'Act' stage, the agreed steps are taken. At the 'Collect' stage, the researchers collect data to determine whether change has occurred. At the 'Reflect' stage, the researchers analyse the data, discuss the findings, and determine to what extent the 'action' has helped to solve the problem. As a result of this reflection, further planning occurs, to decide what needs to happen next, and the cycle begins again.
Participatory Action Research places specific emphasis on power relationships, advocating for power to be deliberately shared between the 'researchers' and the 'researched'. Ideally, the 'researched', or the people who are expected to benefit from the action research project, are not 'objects' or 'subjects' or research but partners in the research process. They participate in planning, acting, collecting data, reflecting, and deciding how the action research cycle should continue in the next phase. In particular, the participants or co-researchers play a major role in nominating indicators, or criteria by which the project can be said to have succeeded."
(Life Drama, 2010)
"Designerly ways of knowing, reflection in action/reflection on action, tacit knowledge, the language of things etc. The theoretical dimension of design research is usually described in numerous and various ways that tend to subsume in elegant formulas the complex relationships between designers and thinkers. Many design research bibliographies show a tendency to overquote a set of common references that could be perceived as the doxa of design research - either in the French theory (Deleuze, Baudrillard), or in the fashionable sociology of systems (Latour, Tarde) or the pragmatic approach (Schön, Simon, Dewey).
The Swiss Design Network one-day Symposium of 2011 Practicing Theory aims at understanding what are the real theoretical contexts of designers practicing design research, how these theoretical backgrounds are formed, explored and broaden, and what use is made of them in the everyday practice of a research project in design. Not only will we seek to understand where from designers think, but also in what directions their research could possibly push the activity of thinking. The aim is not to re-design the ideal library of design thinking, but on the contrary to interrogate the dialog that design research establishes with the historical discourse disciplines such as philosophy, sociology, semiotics or cognitive theories."
(Genève, University of Art and Design Geneva, 2011)
"Design research - also known as developmental research or development research - is a research methodology that aims at developing theories, instructional materials and an empirically grounded understanding of 'how the learning works' (Research Advisory Committee, 1996). The main objective of design research is understanding and not explaining (Bruner, 1996). This objective implies different norms of justification than would be the case in comparative empirical research. One important feature of design research is the adaptation of the learning trajectory throughout the research; based on previous experience, the instructional sequences and teaching experiment conditions are adjusted. Therefore, design research is particularly suitable in situations where a full theoretical framework is not yet available and where hypotheses are still to be developed. The methodology of design research is addressed in many recent publications (e.g. van den Akker, 1999; Brown, 1992; Edelson, 2002; Freudenthal, 1991; Gravemeijer, 1993, 1994, 1998; Gravemeijer & Cobb, 2001; Leijnse, 1995; Treffers, 1993). In spite of varying interpretations of the notion of design research, there is agreement on the identification of two key aspects: the cyclic character of design research and the central position of the design of instructional activities. We now address these two issues.
The cyclic character of design research
Design research has a cyclic character: a design research study consists of research cycles in which thought experiments and teaching experiments alternate. We distinguish macro-cycles that concern the global level of the teaching experiments, and micro-cycles that concern the level of subsequent lessons. Gravemeijer argued that the cycles lead to a cumulative effect of small steps, in which teaching experiments provide 'feed-forward' for the next thought experiments and teaching experiments (Gravemeijer, 1993, 1994).
A macro-cycle of design research consists of three phases: the preliminary design phase, the teaching experiment phase, and the phase of retrospective analysis. In the last-mentioned phase, the reflection captures the development of the insights of the researcher. Following Goffree (1986) and Schön (1983), Gravemeijer called this ‘reflection-in-action' (Gravemeijer, 1993, 1994). As a result, new theories, new hypotheses and new instructional activities emerge, that form the feed-forward for the next research cycle that may have a different character, according to new insights and hypotheses. The process of the researcher's thinking should be reported, to ensure the trackability of this development for others (Freudenthal, 1991; Gravemeijer, 1994).
As far as the role of theory in design research is concerned, the term 'theory-guided bricolage' is used (Gravemeijer, 1994). The researcher is like a tinkerer, who tries to combine and integrate global and local theories, which may be issued from other domains, to develop a learning trajectory and a local instruction theory for a specific topic. This local instruction theory contributes to the development of the domain-specific instruction theory.
In our study, three full macro-cycles - indicated as G9-I, G9-II and G10-II - and one intermediate cycle were carried out. The first phase of preliminary design includes two related parts, the development of a hypothetical learning trajectory (HLT) and the design of instructional activities. This phase is followed by the teaching experiment and the retrospective analysis. Fig. 2.1 shows the three full research cycles. Cycle 1 started with a conceptual analysis that is described in Chapter 4. Each of the phases is elaborated on in Sections 2.3 - 2.6, whereas specific information on each of the cycles is presented in 2.7.
The role of design
A second characteristic of design research is the importance of the development of a learning trajectory that is made tangible in instructional activities (Gravemeijer, 1994). The design of instructional activities is more than a necessity for carrying out teaching experiments. The design process forces the researcher to make explicit choices, hypotheses and expectations that otherwise might have remained implicit. The development of the design also indicates how the emphasis within the theoretical development may shift and how the researcher's insights and hypotheses develop. We agree with Edelson, who argued that design of student texts is a meaningful part of the research methodology:
(...) design research explicitly exploits the design process as an opportunity to advance the researchers' understanding of teaching, learning, and educational systems. Design research may still incorporate the same types of outcome-based evaluation that characterize traditional theory testing, however, it recognizes design as an important approach to research in its own right. (Edelson, 2002, p.107)
This is particularly the case when the theoretical framework involved is under construction:
(...) it [the research] started with only a partial theory and has proceeded with the explicit goal of elaborating that theory before attempting any summary evaluation. The lessons that are emerging from this effort are being shaped by the concrete, practical work of design. (Edelson, 2002, p. 112)"
(Paulus Drijvers, Maria Hendrikus, 2003)
Fig.1 David Coghlan & Teresa Brannick (2001).
"Several well-known action researchers speak about why they choose to do action research."
(Bob Dick, Southern Cross University)
Jean M. Bartunek; Hilary Bradbury; L David Brown; Mary Brydon-Miller; Dawn Chandler and Bill Torbert; David Coghlan; Bob Dick; Olav Eikeland; Werner Fricke; Davydd Greenwood; Ian Hughes; Elizabeth Kasl and Lyle Yorks; James G Kelly et al; Patricia Maguire; Robin McTaggart; Peter Reason; Shankar Sankaran; John Shotter; Ernie Stringer; Marja Liisa Swantz.
"For [Donald] Schön, reflective practice is always employed as a methodological approach to particular problems, arising from professional tensions - my work as a mining engineer and my moral obligation to indigenous knowing or the environment, my desire to heal and the politically motivated organisational changes in the health professions, my desire to produce innovative content in games and the 'safety-first' attitudes of transglobal publishers. For Schön, it is always the problem which motivates reflective practice, and it is always the solution which is its reward. For Schön, the activity of reflective practice is fraught with personal difficulty - identifying and acting on problems, and prizing and constellating around solutions. Structurally, Schön's thesis must always face difficulty and resistance, both from a cultural/sociological perspective (resisting the ascribed wisdom of the professions), and from a personal perspective (resisting the disempowerment of particular professionals). This resistance is first sought, and subsequently followed through the process of reflection: by being able to look inwardly and pay attention to the experience of self, we become aware of the incompatibilities of self and other. Schön suggests that it is only through a sustained and methodological attention to these incompatibilities, conflicts and contradictions that allows for the emergence of a more integrated and satisfying professional voice, and which allows for the transformation of one's professional context.
All of this makes reflection seem like very sober and dour stuff, but as any reflective practitioner will tell you, the process of reflection is often joyous, filled with delight, and a reward in itself. In creative work in particular, we consistently seek out and circle this difficult, yet shimmering surface of delight, aware that a concentration on practice is far more intimate and sure-footed than a concentration on the product. An obsession with ends tends to create a projective knowing or longing for outcomes and results and we become like Joyce's Mr Duffy, who ' lived at a little distance from his body'(Joyce, 1914, 119) . It is important to acknowledge that through sustained enquiry into the incompatibles, conflicts and contradictions we find the compatibilities and the delights as well. We find that which is thriving, useful, fresh, innovative and alive in our own practice, or in the practice of others. By taking on the work of continuing self-reflection, we make ourselves open to the unfamiliar, and become connoisseurs of our own emotion and experience. Even as reflection sometimes traces through painful and difficult paths, this process allows for a deeper professional and personal 'embeddedness' within conflicting and contradictory situations. For although contradictions arise, they need not bump into one another and be regarded as 'problems to be solved'. This problem centric approach seems inevitably to suggest nostalgia for the very stability which is resisted. Confusion, contradiction and incompatibility can be celebrated, as we allow ourselves to be extended through the endarkening process of allowing and admitting.
Schön's work emerges from an appreciation of the critical and political impasse of the individual within emergent forms of social organisation. While Schön's work is largely focused at organisational change, learning theory and the empowerment of the individual through its manifestation as a 'methodology for reflective practice', it does not overtly address the more systemic issues of production and consumption, and the relationship of the professional to the process of public deliberation. It is, true enough, that the professions were and are in crisis, and that they are constantly called to adapt their practices within an ever-changing landscape of professional activity, but the question of why and how this landscape has turned from stasis to flux is never systematically addressed. Schön's critics observe that although his approach 'substitutes responsive networks for traditional hierarchies, his theory of governance remains locked in top-down paternalism' (Smith, 2001). What is disquieting about the reflective practitioner, as proposed by Schön, is that they are seemingly in the dark about the joys inherent in reflection itself (by being ideologically bound to problems), and further cloistered by the complex trajectories of social, technological and political systems which consistently seek to refine and refigure the professions. Whereas Schön succeeds in re-animating the role of the individual professional, he displays a kind of paternal naiveté when approaching the crisis of the professions - reflection becomes like a panacea for the larger (and mostly disregarded) problems of inequity, including the role of labour, the decentralisation and mobilisation of capital and the continuing diversification and segmentation of symbolic exchange."
(Chris Barker, 2006)
Barker, Chris. (2006) The Changing Nature of Practice in a 'Networked Society'. Published in the proceedings for Speculation and Innovation: applying practice led research in the Creative Industries, Queensland University of Technology
Joyce, James. (1914) Dubliners, London: Grant Richards.