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Action Research

Presenters: Susan Groundwater-Smith and Jude Irwin

Time: 4:30-6:30pm, 26 March 2009 (refreshments at 4:30pm for 5:00pm start)

Venue: 351, Education Building (A35), The University of Sydney


This presentation will be a conversation about action research in education (Susan) and social work (Jude). It will commence with an assertion that action research is not, in fact, a methodology but an orientation to inquiry with an obligation to action. As such it admits a number of methodological approaches but resists quasi-experimental ones of the grounds of the particularity of the context and the specificity of the purposes.

The major purpose of action research is one that is practical, leading to the development and improvement of practice. It is participative and inclusive of practitioners and consequential stakeholders, such as students in schools and users of social services. It uses evidence forensically, that is to understand particular phenomena, rather than adversarially, where the pressure is to prove one treatment may be better than another.

We shall argue that action research can make a powerful contribution to professional knowledge building. We shall claim that while formal knowledge (episteme) may be seen at one end of the continuum, action research is concerned with practical knowledge (phronesis) at the other. A task for the academy is to assist in the building and understanding of that continuum.

It is the intention of the presenters to see the audience attending the colloquium to be, in effect, the panel which will discuss the presentation. Consequently, at the commencement of the presentation a series of questions will be posed for the audience to reflect upon and further interrogate at its conclusion.

About presenters

Jude Irwin is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. Jude’s teaching, research, practice and policy interests span a number of areas including violence against women, children and young people, discrimination against gay men and lesbians and professional practice supervision. Her current research projects use action research and are aimed at improving collaboration between domestic violence and mental health services and working with residents in social housing areas to build community capacity. She is a member the NSW Ombudman’s Child Death Advisory Team, and until 2008 was a member of Child Death Review Team. Jude has published widely, including four co-edited books, numerous journal articles and several public reports.

Susan Groundwater Smith has long been associated with forms of action research and action learning and for a number of years was the international editor for The Educational Action Research Journal. She has had a particular interest in ethical issues in practitioner inquiry, see Campbell, A. & Groundwater-Smith, S. (Eds) (2007) An Ethical Approach to Practitioner Research, London: Routledge. She has also attended to matters in relation to ethics and quality in practice based research, see Groundwater-Smith, S. & Mockler, N. (2008) Ethics in practitioner research: an issue of quality, in J. Furlong & A. Oancea (Eds.) Assessing Quality in Applied and Practice Based Research. London: Routledge. Much of her work, over the past decade, has been supporting action research practice as an academic partner to a range of projects and acting as the convenor of the Coalition of Knowledge Building Schools, developing such practical resources as Groundwater-Smith, S. & Mockler, N. (2003) Learning to Listen and Listening to Learn. Sydney: MLC School and the Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney. In conjunction with a number of schools and projects, including acting as education advisor to the Australian Museum, she has created opportunities for young people to be consulted and taken seriously.

Session Archive

  • Presentation PDF

  • Note. The audio file of this seminar is not available (apologies)

Some references & recommended readings

Seminal works & classical readings

  • Stenhouse, L. (1979) Research as a Basis for Teaching. Inaugural Lecture University of East Anglia. In Stenhouse, L. (1983) Authority, Education and Emancipation. London: Heinemann Educational Books.

  • Elliott, J. (1991) Action Research for Educational Change. Buckingham: Open University Press.

  • Eraut, M. (1994) Developing Professional Knowledge and Competence. London: Falmer Press

Readings for “beginners”

  • Carr, W. (2006) Philosophy, methodology and action research. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 40 (4) pp. 421– 435

  • Carr, W. (2007) Educational research as a practical science. International Journal of Research and Method in Education, 30 (3) 271 – 286.

Issues, debates & methodological innovations

  • Groundwater-Smith, S. & Mockler, N. (2006) Research that counts: practitioner research and the academy. In J. Blackmore, J. Wright & V. Harwood (Eds) Review of Australian Research in Education, RARE 6, pp. 105 – 118.

  • Carr, W. & Kemmis, S. (2005) Staying Critical. Educational Action Research, 13 (3) pp. 347 – 358.

  • Lash, S. (2003) Reflexivity as non-linearity. Theory, Culture and Society, 20 (2) pp. 49 – 57.

  • Ozga, J. (2007) Co-production of quality in the Applied Education Research Scheme. Research Papers in Education, Policy and Practice, 22 (2) pp. 169 – 182.

  • Cornu, B. (2004) Networking and collective intelligence for teachers and learners. In A. Brown & N. Davis (Eds) Digital Technology, Communities and Education. London: Routledge Falmer, pp. 40 – 45

Intellectual roots & contexts

  • Gibbons, M., Limoges, C., Nowotny, H., Schwartzman, S., Scott, P. & Trow, M. (1994) The New Production of Knowledge: The Dynamics of Science in Research in Contemporary Societies. London: Sage.

  • Nowotny, H., Scott, P. & Gibbons, H. (2003) Mode 2 Revisited: The New Production of Knowledge. Minerva, 41, pp. 179 – 194.


I'd like to attend this seminar

It's an open event. Feel free to come. RSVP to p.brownlee@edfac.usyd.edu.au

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