All reflections and assignments are completed on my Wordpress blog as required by the professor(s). Please refer to this blog as necessary.

Week 1- What is action research?

Traditionally, research invoked ideas of long hours in front of books, eye strain, and the general swelling of the brain. This was, in the traditional sense, only for the “experts” however. For those of us actually in the classroom, we typically weren’t involved in research. That was for the administrators and outside parties that were hired specifically for this purpose. Traditional educational research is extremely linear. The expert is given a problem to solve, they dig around for some ideas, might collect some data (from state standardized tests, etc), and then give their solution. It works. Or not. If they’re very good, they will go back to the start and begin again with a new research process using their own failed result as part of the data set. Action research is different. In this new paradigm, teachers are invited into the process as collaborators (Dana, 2009) and the process becomes much less linear and much more spiraled in nature (Elliot, 1988). The research is always building on itself and always improving and while books and study are still involved, there is a much greater emphasis on a hands-on approach to the research process. Feedback is given by the actual teachers as they actually contribute to the research process rather than sit back and wait to be told what to do. In action research, there is the innate mentality that the organization should be continually improving, not merely a binary goal: yes, we made it or no, we didn’t.

I have the ability to implement action research now in my own classroom. I am a practitioner and have 160 or students with which to do research. Or, I could expand it out and look to my coworkers or even further to include all teachers in my district. Even better, through the flattening of our world and democratization of information via the Internet, I have the ability to connect and perform detailed research with the best and brightest minds in my field. I have what is known as a PLN (Professional Learning Network) or a PLC (Professional Learning Community) that is comprised of teachers, administrators, parents, students, and more. In this generative, collaborative environment, we are able to work together to develop specific strategies for the classroom and then research the results of our implementation, reporting the results back to the PLN. For example, I was able to create a blended learning environment in my classroom after discussing its implementation with members of my PLN. It was a continual improvement process that involved trial and error and lots of evaluation/analysis of the situation.

Educational leaders are using blogs to communicate information in this flattened world. Through the use of blogs (and other services that are similar to blogging, like the microblogging service Twitter), educational leaders are able to communicate and share information (both input and output) for the process of student success and improvement. The blog can be used to convey results, ask for input on a series of questions, or even initiate research. Never has our world experienced such a dramatic shift in the medium information is being pushed through and, if leveraged properly, has phenomenal potential for the future of education.

Week 2- Background – Real Life Research Action Examples

I chose to utilize interviews of Dr. Kirk Lewis as well as Dr. Johnny Briseno. Dr. Lewis discussed how the entire school district is utilizing the same sets of data, though from different “lenses,” that is, a classroom teacher is primarily concerned about her students’ performance while the superintendent is more concerned about district-wide strategies moving forward. Dr. Briseno discussed the benefits of implementing both quantitative data (“We don’t make decisions without looking at the data first, that’s the bottom line”) and qualitative data (“Sometimes when you just look at numbers, it doesn’t tell you the whole story”).

Dr. Lewis suggests that leaders should always be reading and looking at the research that other districts (etc) have done and, most critically, find ways to make it “translate” to your own unique situation within your district. He says that because of certain similarities that exist naturally between districts, the training and retraining of teachers and staff about the disaggregation of data will enable the leader to begin seeing those similarities and begin making insightful analyses and applications for their own use.

Dr. Briseno suggests that when you are wanting to implement action research, specifically when you desire to see change implemented throughout the campus, to allow the teachers/practitioners to present to their peers. Teachers are going to be balanced in their use of quantitative and qualitative, especially with help if necessary, but because the other practitioners are hearing from their peer/coworker and not their superior/boss, they are more likely to internalize and implement what is given to them. Further, he points out that teachers are going to be able to give direct, specific examples of students that other teachers will know and what they are doing to work with that student as well as how effective it has been.

Listening to these scholars is a great reminder of just how complicated, diverse, and yet attainable action research is. There are so many factors and angles to consider, but with patience and perseverance, it can be implemented as a great tool for institutional change campus or even district-wide! I really liked what Dr. Briseno suggested when he was discussing the importance of looking at the individual children and not losing sight of the fact that each child is different with unique situations that may have impacted their performance on a standardized test. Did the child get enough sleep? Are there other problems at home? I also enjoyed the implicit suggestion by Dr. Lewis that the best course of action is through collaboration. I think one of the things that absolutely kills innovation and effective classroom practice (and, in due course, performance) is the notion that any teacher can be self-sufficient. Saturated throughout his interview was the notion that we should be generatively learning with one another and using the work that our peers and colleagues have completed, tailoring the methods/processes/actions to the specific scenarios presented by your district/campus.

Wonderings for Action Research

Staff development
How can administrators provide effective, technology-driven staff development to teachers of varying skill levels?
One of the major problems I notice is the growing gap between how teachers are expected to teach (technology-driven and differentiated) and how administrators conduct staff development. By engaging in this type of action research, teachers will gain from more beneficial learning experiences as well as have a model for what is expected of them in their own classrooms.

Curriculum development
How can “elective” technology classes be developed and implemented in such a way that they augment the core curriculum?
In our world of high-stakes, standardized testing, it has never been more important for students to have a deep understanding of each individual topic as well as their content areas being supported by their “elective” classes. This type of research will push administrators to develop strategies that will engage and support elective teachers while maintaining focus and concentration on student success in the content areas.

Individual teacher(s)
How can individual teachers receive more support regarding their integration of technology into their classroom?
Teachers everywhere are trying to incorporate technology into their daily classroom practice but, as many are “digital immigrants” (Prensky, 2001), they have a hard time making these connections. By providing more support and training in this area, perhaps even individualized instruction, I believe it is possible for more teachers, even the seasoned veterans, to begin using more technology in their daily lessons.

Individual student(s)
In what ways can technology be offered/provided for student use outside of the classroom, providing learning opportunities specifically targeted towards the mastery of the four content areas: math, science, social studies, and language arts?
In survey after survey, students ask for more use of technology. They want to get their hands on it and schools have a very authoritarian (dare I say “Nazi”) attitude towards the technology on their campuses. By providing more freedom and opportunities for students to utilize technology, I propose that it will be beneficial to their overall learning process and, with the development of new curriculum and training, allow them to have focused, targeted instruction (etc) towards mastery of the content areas.

School culture/community
How can the school increase parent involvement in the digital lives of their students through the use of community-wide meetings and/or social media?
Students today are living digital lives while parents are, by and large, completely oblivious to what is going on in their digital worlds. They ground the student but leave the computer plugged in, not realizing online interaction holds just as much “social capital” as a face-to-face interaction. This type of action research could potentially lead to a more engaged parent population, better relations with the community at large, and ultimately a safer student body and community.

How can I demonstrate and evangelize appropriate use of technology to my staff while building a basis of best-practice and research for classroom implementation?
Leaders should always be looking to be just that: leaders. This means, especially in regards to technology, they should be looking for ways to model what they want the rest of the staff to work towards. This should be an on-going reflective practice for the administrator as technology is always changing and there are always going to be new ways for them to model and implement best-practice.

What are teachers' current opinions and levels of satisfaction of Wired Wednesday and how can it be improved?
My campus has a weekly technology training called “Wired Wednesday” that is truly awful. It's a great idea but the content is suitable for someone who has never even seen a computer but delivered in a way that is beneficial to those who are computer experts. Unfortunately, this results in 30 minutes of training that fails to benefit anyone. By evaluating and making necessary changes to this training, our faculty could have a much more productive use of their time.

School performance
In what ways can technology be integrated into content area classrooms with the goal of increased performance on standardized tests?
Technology is a tool and needs to be seen as one that can be leveraged for student success. This wondering can lead to technology being used not for technology's sake, but for student success.

Social justice or equity issues
How can my campus increase access to technology and digital information for our economically disadvantaged students/families who do not have computers at home?
One of the greatest barriers to schools moving online is that of home access, particularly in those families who are economically disadvantaged. By increasing access to digital technologies, schools could not only increase the overall use and literacy of technology, but leverage its use for student success.

Week 3

The district that I work for has yet to engage any form of online technologies beyond that of the gradebook and attendance. As a young educator that likes to think of himself as fairly progressive in terms of teaching strategies, I think this is a problem. Our students are living online and we need to be engaging them in the spaces they are already. As such, I am wondering the best methodology for implementing a blended learning environment for our students with regards to three specific classroom environments:
  1. 1:1 (computer lab)
  2. 1:2 (half-lab)
  3. 5 computers in a classroom for student use with occasional access to a 1:1 lab
I have expanded my wondering to include these three environments because I believe each of the three will have different strategies for implementation of a blended learning environment. For example, it probably goes without saying that a 1:1 lab will be able to do far more online than a teacher who only has 5 computers in her room and must schedule their monthly rotation in a computer lab. I want to research how this process will develop and what we can do to make the learning of our students as effective as possible. In discussing various topics for research, my mentor was extremely excited about all of the ideas I presented him and he actually intends to proceed with two others while I research this one for my graduate work.
I will be utilizing a variety of outlets for the dissemination of my findings, primarily through my Action Research Blog and my wiki (links below, respectively). Additionally, I will be utilizing my coworkers heavily as I move forward. Through this process, there will be numerous discussions, questions, and informational meetings. Since I will not have access to my blog and wiki at school (blocked) I will mainly be using email correspondence on campus.
Also, I have found a great community of educators on social networks including Facebook, Plurk, and Twitter, where I will be sharing my findings and recommendations, as well asking for feedback and outside recommendations. Although they will not have direct knowledge of the research (outside of what I communicate to them) they will be able to ask questions and provide feedback for me moving forward.
Goal: Develop strategies for the implementation of an online learning space (blended learning) within three types of classrooms:
1- 1:1 computer lab
2- Partial lab (1:2 on average)
3- Traditional classroom (5 student computers for 30 students)
Action Step
Person(s) Responsible
Timeline (Start/end)
Needed Resources
Recruit volunteer teachers
G. Garner
August 16-Sept. 1

Train teachers on use of software
G. Garner
August 16- as needed; computer lab
Hands-on training with teachers; will cover features offered by LMS
Instructional planning/development
G. Garner
August 16-Sept. 1
Computer lab; course curriculum
Will meet with instructional specialist for online course evaluation/QA
Administer/collect feedback/data
G. Garner
Oct. 1 and every 6 wks thereafter
Google forms; email
Will email teachers for feedback about implementation
Evaluate/analyze data and feedback rec’d
G. Garner; all participants
March 30th
Any documentation kept/rec’d
Discuss implementation and strategies for future

Week 4- Refining my Action Research Plan

My peers seemed to like my action research project/plan. Specifically, they mentioned interest in seeing the acceptance rate among teachers on utilizing the new technology. One suggestion that was made involved the usage of smartphones and/or iPod Touches, especially since my project (implementing blended learning) could be greatly enhanced if “blended” could also mean “mobile.” I would love to incorporate this into my research, but would be going directly against district policies as well as facing an issue regarding access, since not all students have a smartphone and/or an iPod Touch. Another suggestion was to compare my district to similar districts and look at ways they have implemented blended learning within their district. Perhaps some of these strategies could be modified/used within my district? I think this is a stellar suggestion and one that I will be investigating. My site supervisor suggested that I delegate more of my tasks to others on our campus. This would provide two main benefits: 1) a lighter workload for me and 2) a richer experience for all teachers involved since they will feel more like a team working together than individual teachers completing the assignment of one of their coworkers. As soon as school starts back up (next week) I will be addressing some of my coworkers on this very issue, but as of right now, cannot adjust my plan (without talking to them first).
I met with my supervisor/mentor over lunch this week to discuss my action research plan. He was thoroughly impressed with my work and acknowledged that it was detailed enough to be able to provide an accurate, detailed timeline about how the project would be carried out over the semester. The only thing he wanted to caution me about regarding this plan is that it will be adding a significant amount of work on my end since I will be responsible for all parts of the plan and have chosen not to delegate anything. He noted that since I am responsible for the implementation, training, on-going monitoring/assessment, as well as final feedback (as well as any changes that come up mid-plan), there will be a lot on my plate and will probably result in some long hours. He suggested that I seek the help of other teachers willing to collaborate on parts of the project, but I am unable to show that change to my action research plan as of right now since we are not back to work yet and I have, thus far, been unable to reach my coworkers still enjoying their summer break.

Week 5- Quality Indicators for Research

Quality Indicator 1
Context of Study: Keeping the context of study in view is an important aspect of action research. You need to be aware of the various external influences and determinants surrounding your research since they could (and probably do) have direct influence over your final results. In my particular project, I need to be aware of writing my research and my findings in such a way that other districts reading my work understand our district. For example, many districts today are already implementing learning management systems such as Moodle or Blackboard but our campus (and hopefully district) will use this piloted research to investigate a way to implement a similar system. I will need to document (in addition to the findings of the research) similar products tried previously, demographic data, number of students, etc.
Quality Indicator 2
Wondering(s) and Purpose: The action researcher needs to be sure they have clearly defined and explained their wondering(s) and the purpose behind their research. Why was it a felt or actualized need? How genuine was the wondering? Was it really needed or was it in response to something already solved? In my own research, I need to assess and explain (thoroughly) what my research is and why it is so important that we learn best practices for implementing online learning environments for our students. I need to be sure that anyone reading my research will be able to understand why I chose my topic and experience the passion behind the decision to engage in research about online learning environments.
Quality Indicator 3
Principal research and design (Data collection and data analysis): This quality indicator is about the actual research itself. In my research with regards to this quality indicator, I need to be sure that I pull in data from multiple data sources, utilize multiple formats (journals, logs, reflections, interviews, test scores, etc), and pull in any existing research and/or literature regarding my selected topic: implementing online learning environments. I will want to get feedback from multiple sources including classroom teachers, administrators, and (of course) the students themselves. My research should be thorough and well thought-out. Anyone reading my research should know that this project was well-executed and very thorough.
Quality Indicator 4
Principal-Researcher learning: This is perhaps the most important indicator in all of action research. This involves the “take-away” from the research. What did the action researcher actually learn from the study? What were their findings and how did they come to their conclusions? In my research, I will need to use the data to create a thorough summary of my findings as well as answers to any data that doesn’t seem to fit my conclusion. For example, if rotational quizzes work in every class but one, I need to find out why they didn’t work in that one class. I need to make sure I am getting specific accounts from teachers as they move forward with the project so that their statements can be compiled within my findings. My final product should reflect an on-going process of learning and reflection and communicate a data-driven approach to institutional change.
Quality Indicator 5
Implications for Practice: This indicator should come about as a direct continuation of the previous quality indicator. In fact, failure to complete this indicator would perhaps be the worst of all since it would mean that so much work and learning was put into a project that, ultimately, was only for its own sake. That is to say, the research project should be about effecting real change, not just for the sake of learning or acquiring knowledge. The finalized plan should include ways that I have taken our research about implementing online learning environments and made changes to individual classrooms (including my own) and/or influenced administrators and district leaders in this topic of study. Additionally, I need to have prepared a plan of action for the months following the research. How will the research impact on-going, continuous improvement? Additionally, how will I follow-up this research? How can I translate my research to other scenarios? For example, if another school or another district wants to investigate how to implement online learning environments, I should be able to take my existing research and make necessary adaptations and use it to either spring-board change in a different environment or be able to start their own research as a type of continuation from mine.

Part Two

At the outset of this course, I will admit I was pretty intimidated. It is one thing when “research” means going to the library or performing a query on a database and reading the findings of someone else. It is an entirely different matter when you are the one creating those findings and developing your own material that, in theory, could be published and then researched by someone else sitting in a library. However, in studying the concept(s) of action research, it became readily apparent that this “new” approach to research has far-reaching benefits. Imagine if staff development was facilitated via action research rather than something you have to sit through a few times a year? “Inservice education for school principals is often viewed by principals as something ‘done to’ them by others… A somewhat different approach…can be found in the concept of collaborative action research.” (Stevens, 2001)

As we learned more of the benefits behind action research as well as the way action research is differentiated from other types of research, I became more and more comfortable with the process we were undertaking. In my previous notions of research, which I learned fell under the categories of “process-product” (Shulman, 1986) and “qualitative,” there is a greater focus on outside practitioners, shaping the study according to a desired outcome, and/or explaining something that has already happened. (Dana, 2009) While this still has value (in most instances), it doesn’t lend itself to real, actual change. Action research, on the other hand, seems as though it were developed specifically for schools, particularly in the age of accountability and high-stakes, data-driven testing. I now know that I can leverage action research to investigate something that hasn’t happened yet, analyze data as it is happening, and be able to reflect and make changes in near real-time.

Once we were given the task of developing our own “wondering(s),” I was sure that I would struggle to develop a topic (let alone a list of topics) that would be worth researching. After all, I am only a classroom teacher! What could I possibly research that would actually mean anything? Even the book we are using assumes that you are already in administration. However, after delving a little more deeply into the concepts and principals of action research, I realized that while I may not have the leverage afforded administrators, the key to the success of the research rested in the fact that I am, in fact, a classroom teacher. Since classroom teachers are the practitioners themselves (Dana, 2009), I know that I have been given a great opportunity to make great changes that will ultimately lead to a more beneficial and relevant experience for our students.

I began discussing with my mentor about what type of research would be most appropriate and most feasible given all of the various restraints. For example, I would love to research the use of Twitter or Facebook, but would not be able to complete that research since it is blocked by our district. (Ironically, the reason it is blocked is because nobody has presented them with a scenario or set of research where it is used effectively in education. (Orbaugh, 2010)) We developed several “wonderings” that were all great ideas, but ultimately decided on one for me that would be the most relevant for my current assignment: What is the best way to implement an online learning environment with regards to three specific classroom environments (1:1 lab, 1:2 half-lab, 1:10 traditional classroom) (Garner, 2010)? Two of the other wonderings we developed may still be in effect, but not under my leadership or guidance. The first of which dealt with developing a positive relationship with community members in bringing relevant technology training to them through weekly meetings. The second wondering would investigate how technology trainings and other professional development opportunities for teachers could result in higher retention and implementation rates. These two both seemed to be geared more towards administration (according to my mentor) compared to “my” wondering and so it was decided that I would leave both of them to other administrators.

I have enjoyed the process thus far and have realized that I will be using action research for years to come, even if I don’t formally call it “research.” The process underlying action research is so beneficial and so valuable that I believe it should be utilized in a myriad of scenarios and something that all practitioners should be utilizing and implementing.