Educational action research methodology merged with case study

Dr Petronilla Whitfield, Senior Lecturer, BA (Hons) Acting

Teachers possess a tacit knowing in their practice; they often know more than they can say, but their knowledge is sometimes unconscious or not articulated (Polanyi 1983). To develop the effectiveness of their teaching, they can reflect on their actions-in-practice, asking themselves: what am I doing? Why am I doing it? What is the effect of my actions? What action could I take to lead to a different outcome?

In Petronilla’s presentation she explained how her methodology choice is driven by the professional, the personal, and the political (Nofke et al 2009 ) and how she has utilised a verstehen approach (Gadamer 1997) in working with her dyslexic acting students in her PhD study, and ongoing research.

Her methodology is educational action research underpinned by case study; two separate methodologies, which are sometimes enveloped into one. Elliot has defined action research as ‘the study of a social situation with a view to improving the quality of the action within it’ (1991). Thus, alongside case study, it has proved a valuable methodology for the development of teachers and the advancement of educational research. McNiff underlines that the action researcher is prompted into action by the realisation they are ‘not living in the direction of their values’ (McNiff 2006). To change a situation one needs to fully understand the participants involved and their circumstances through the ‘lived experience’ of a case study environment, a deep observation, based within ‘bounded’ and ‘naturally occurring circumstances’ (Simons 2009). A criticism of case study and action research can be that the findings are subjective, rather than objective generalisations.

In this presentation, Petronilla elaborated on how she validated her findings through the use of the critical friend, validation group, and the participants’ voices. Finally, she presented the powerful role of narrative in promoting shared knowledge, and how ‘little stories’ can foster an understanding of individual worlds, stimulating questions about how those worlds may be changed, challenge working practices, including in educational settings (Cotton and Griffiths 2007).