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Action research is a form of applied research typically undertaken for self-reflective inquiry in educational or social situations, based on the premise that the best way to understand something is to try and change it. Also called practitioner research, in an action research paper the emphasis is on the practitioner’s improvement of his or her own processes, enabling one to engage in action and pursue research outcomes simultaneously. It is especially practical in situations in which other research methods may be difficult to utilize, because typically when research methodology is adjusted mid-way through one’s work, data previously collected is discarded. However, the very nature of action research caters to dynamic studies by allowing for intervention and cyclical development of research in response to understanding developed as the project progresses.
Participants in action research are typically knowing and contributing participants in the study. Such research thrives on ongoing communication and reflection between and among participants - and fails to capitalize on its potential when the study does not accommodate cyclical evolution of the process. Data is gathered through observation, participation and intervention as the study progresses, and allows the researcher greater opportunity to lead the research in a way that is most attune with his or her own personal style and culture of inquiry.
Action research is an applied approach intended to produce real change, especially in the classroom. For example, a teacher in a small school, may wish to use action research to improve the transition from one grade to another. This will produce less stress for the students and less work for teachers. In conducting this research, there may be two main challenges. These include doubts of internal validity and practical issues.
In traditional research, variables are manipulated and tested against a hypothesis. The more relevant the variables to the issue, the more they are said to be valid. Describing and interpreting situations in context allows for the presence of confounding variables. As action research is conducted in a specific setting it is accurate to state that external validity is irrelevant. Internal validity refers to the measurement of the appropriate variables. As action research is a practical approach, if improvements in learning are measured, then the variables addressed in a small setting are valid.
There are typically three types of action research used in education:
When conducting educational action research, an educator will need time, expertise, and support to conduct the research. There may be fear that a principal or administrators will view the research as incompetent if no changes are noted. Also, researchers may be uneasy about parents approaching about research. The best solutions for these issues include taking ownership of the project. Also, collaborators may request in-service training to familiarize themselves with the action research approach. With the support of the administration, one can minimize the effects of these threats.
Action research may seem a waste of time to teachers who are more familiar with the scientific method. However, action research avoids the issue of trying to apply results from an experimental setting to a classroom. By using action research one can affect real change in the classroom by systematically assessing and addressing a problem.
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