How I Learned to (Mostly) Stop Worrying
and Love Action Research
Oxford Brookes University Library
Why Action Research?
“A paired samples t-test was used to
examine RQ1, which was
concerned with identifying students’
existing information literacy skills…”
“Drawing on the results
of a survey sent to
library directors and
Two years, total budget £7K (most of that for my time – few hours a week)
“What I really want to know is…”
What questions, issues or frustrations do you have about
how your users make use of your resources and services?
Or, what aspects of your users’ behaviour would you like to
know/understand more about, be more sure of, or have
better evidence for?
Delegates’ thoughts on issues they would
like to investigate:
How can action research help?
“Action research is a practical way of looking at
your work in any profession to check that it is as
you would like it to be.” (McNiff, 2010)
(Kolb’s reflective cycle)
(Rolfe et al, 2001; Eoyang, 2006)
Where do you start?
• You said – we did…
• Short internal reports – Library colleagues, organisation colleagues
• Internal meetings and conferences – poster if a paper is too scary
• Write up for an internal newsletter
• Tweet, Facebook etc
• Be brave – investigate professional journals!
Impact – how will anyone know?
What barriers have you experienced, or can you imagine,
to doing a piece of action research in your setting?
What’s stopping you?
Delegates’ thoughts on potential
barriers to action research:
(and how to tackle them!)
Time … agree some with management; incorporate into
your projects; set specific slots aside
Resources … any internal grants? Professional bodies? Use
what’s free or already available
Too complicated … keep it simple and small-scale to start with, try
one small project
Too small-scale – won’t be “valid” … Valid in your context; action research can have
“relatability” to similar contexts, rather than
“generalisability” (Bassey 1981)
No-one will participate … publicise well, targeted, explain why and the
benefits for them, have incentives!
Lack of support … online groups and fora (such as AR+, LIRG,
ILG); find a mentor
Fear! … start small; read around; take deep breath &
step outside your comfort zone
Why I’m glad I did…
“It was really nice to
give feedback and feel
like it was listened to.”
[Focus group participant]
“You’re so proactive, you
move us forward and get
us trying new things”
[course committee chair, Education]
“The Education Librarian’s
always doing research with
us to improve services…”
[Former focus group participant,
overheard touring prospective students
on an Open Day]
“Are you doing a
doctorate with this?
You should be!”
Brainstorm what research methods you could use to
gather the data you may need (focus groups, surveys,
statistics from your LMS, interviews, critical incident
… and list, just for yourself, up to 3 things you will do
when you get back to work to move forward!
How could you investigate your question?
Want to find out more?
Bassey, M (1981) Pedagogic research: on the relative merits of search for generalisation and study of single events. Oxford Review of Education,
- originator of the idea of “relatability” as opposed to “generalisability” in education research.
Eoyang, G (2006) Attractors: the info-letter of the Human Systems Dynamics Institute 3(1). http://www.hsdinstitute.org/learn-more/read-the-
- helpful and concise analysis of how to apply the “What? So what? Now what?” reflective model.
Elliott, J (1991) Action research for educational change. Milton Keynes: Open University Press
- Elliott argues strongly that action research is very closely linked to reflective practice, to the extent that they could be considered the same thing
McNiff, J (2010) Action research for professional development (Rev. ed.) Poole: September Books
- my day-to-day action research bible, always on my desk!
Rolfe, G (2001). Critical reflection for nursing and the helping professions: a user’s guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave
- originator of the What? So what? Now what? reflection model.
Winter, R (1989) Learning from experience: principles and practice in action-research. London: Falmer
- one of the classics of the genre in the field of education; particularly helpful on the principles and ethics of action research
Very quick and basic introduction to action research from Wikiversity:
ALA workshop on Action-Based Research for librarians: