Carr and Kemmis (1986,cited in Waters-Adams, 2006), best define action research as focused on improvement of professional practice in context, and understanding why and how the practice improved. I was aware that this research basis was very specific and probably the results and/or impact would apply within this isolate situation. However, there was no reason to believe that the findings could not be then extended to other contexts for further investigation.
The starting point of this research was using Barrett and Whitehead’s (1985, cited in Waters-Adams, 2006) six questions. The ‘concern’ was that industry specialists, who were new to teaching in an adult learning environment, may not have the knowledge and skills required to support adult learners. This could impact on the learning experience. Also, as outlined in the background, these teachers would not be able to attend classroom based and commit to long training qualifications to address this concern. Having previously successfully developed and facilitated online training for facilitators of informal learning, I discussed this concern with the Head of Staff Development and suggested a ‘strategic action’ (Kemmis and McTaggart, 1982, cited in Water-Adams, 2006) – to run a pilot online training course which would give these new teachers a basic teacher’s toolkit of strategies to facilitate adult learning. After consultation with the Vice Principal (who is overall in charge of staff development, I was given the remit to develop and pilot a short online training programme as a potential module and, if successful, to be made available to all unqualified teachers, new to City Lit from the next academic year.
The starting point of the action research process is an action plan (Fig 3). The planning process is an exploration of the ‘problems’ being addressed and the intervention that could be used to resolve these; “then the intervention is carried out” (Elliot, nd, cited in Hopkins, 1993).
The actual ‘intervention’ was to create a four-part mini course, using Moodle as the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) (Fig 4).
The ‘book’ tool was selected to organise information. One ‘book’ would contain induction information (Fig 5), including the learning objectives, how to get started and navigate the topics, assessment, study skills information and the actual course structure. Indicative study schedule would be provided; course would be available for access to participants any time from 28 April to 31 May. The second book, to be called ‘Effective teaching and Learning’ (Fig 6), would include the learning material. This book would be divided into four main chapters related to the following four topics: a) Adult learning; b) Planning learning; c) Facilitating Learning; and, d) Checking learning. Previous trainees had recognised that “multi-media learning material (…) supported their learning preferences (Hill, 2008, cited in Bhote, 2013:15). The resources within each chapter would include an audio presentation and a link to the speaker’s notes, as well as a link to the the reflective log for each chapter.
The literature referred for this research will include general research in technology supported learning. Specifically the only source that relates to online or blended training for teachers will be ‘Effectiveness of Blended Learning in Initial Teacher Education in Lifelong Learning: A Review of a PTLLS programme’ (Bhote, 2013). No similar sources have been found. Consequently there is no previous data for comparison from other sources. This could impact on the impartiality of the results. However, as a professional with a vested interest in teacher education, I was aware that the evaluation would need to be carried out with the support of others in the team in order to exclude bias.
The main aim of the research would be to gather an insight into online training as a viable option for these teachers. The main data to be used for analysis would include levels of participation, to be gathered from data available from the VLE, levels of learning, to be gathered from the reflective logs and impact of learning, to be gathered from the informal visit to discuss development of teaching practice. The teaching experience, i.e. how long they have been teaching, was gathered from the application form. At the start of the online course, the participants were requested to complete an individual learning plan (Fig 7) in which they had to identify three individual targets for their learning on the course. This was done in order to relate the impact of online learning on achieving individual training goals. The four reflective logs each had identical questions (Fig 8), specific to their learning from each chapter and reflection on its impact on their practice.
The ‘assessment’ would be through moderation of the on-going reflective logs written by the participants on completing each section of the online course. An informal visit to the participants’ classroom sessions to observe their teaching practice would also be arranged, followed by a discussion on how effectively the course supported their professional development. This would be audio-recorded. The logs, the observation and the professional discussion were to provide the qualitative data to evaluate the efficacy of this programme. The reasoning behind using this methodology was based on previous experience of action research related to evaluating blended and online learning programmes. According to Dick (2000) action research focuses on qualitative methodology as it offers flexibility of making adjustments during the research process. He also states that “qualitative information increases responsiveness”. The language of the questions used in the reflective logs, the criteria given for the informal visit and the questions for the follow-up professional discussion would enable all participants to be part of an organic research process, whilst providing the required data. In this instance quantitative methodology would be used to provide a comparison between number of pilot group who engage with the programme and number completing the programme successfully. Though the final numbers would not be informing the success of the programme overall, it would be useful to link to the qualitative data, inasmuch as gaining an insight into the reasons behind the numbers who did not engage with or complete the programme.
As a consideration to ethical research, participants would be informed about the purpose of the research; they would be assured that the results would be used anonymously (Fig 2) and would be not be shared with department manager or with staff development. Consent would be obtained from the participants. This ethical considerations for this research process are discussed in the Background.
Besides the Head of Staff Development, others supporting the research process would include the e-learning co-ordinator and teacher education co-ordinator, both of whom were familiar with previous blended and online learning development. There would be regular communication through meetings during the whole process. There are a ethical considerations for working with a team. Winter (1996, cited in O’Brien, 1998) identifies collaboration as the main focus of this team work. This has to be embedded throughout the process, including agreeing on potential outcomes, methodology, sharing of information and appropriate involvement.