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### Solving Problems Through Action Research

R. Jack Hansen

(OLLI at Furman)

E. Michael Brady

(OLLI National Resource Center

University of Southern Maine)

Basic Characteristics (and Strengths) of Action Research

- Practical and directly relevant
- Focus is on solving problems and/or advancing practice
- Empirical
- Participatory
- Welcomes “mixed methods”
- Is often iterative (reflection-action cycle)

Limitations of Action Research

- While still “systematic” it is often less rigorous than other types of research
- Can sometimes get “messy” (product of democratic and participative processes)
- Findings are not generalizable to other contexts and therefore may not be deemed worthy of publication

Course Evaluation Survey

- How do you rate the course “Introduction to Shakespeare?”
- 1 Poor
- 2 Fair
- 3 Good
- 4 Very Good
- 5 Excellent

Course Survey Results

- Typical: average of all responses
- But, same result can have very different meanings
- One possibility: every respondent rates the course as a 3
- Other extreme: half rate it as 1 and other half as 5
- Same average, very different interpretations

Characterizing the AverageSample Standard Deviation (SD)“STDEV” in Excel Formula Builder

- SD=Square Root{Sum[X-M]2/(N-1)}

for all values of X in the survey

- X is the value for a given response
- M is the average of all responses
- N is the number of responses
- SD for all responses of 3 = 0
- SD for half responses 1 and other half 5 is 2.19
- Bottom line: look more fully at results if SD is large

Identifying Relationshipsin Survey Results

- Action research often benefits from understanding how two quantities are related, e.g.,
- Relationship between number of courses taken and distance driven
- Relationship between number of courses taken and years since retirement
- Relationship between number of courses taken and price per course
- Requires cross correlation coefficient to quantify

Notional Example

- Question 1: How many courses did you take last term?
- Question 2: How far do you drive one way to get to class? Respond 1 if 0-5 miles, 2 if 5-10 miles, 3 if 10-15 miles, 4 if over 15 miles
- Question 3: How long have you been retired? Respond 1 for 2 years or less, 2 if 3-5 years, 3 if 6-10 years, and 4 if over 10 years.

Correlation Coefficient

- Two common definitions in use (R and R2)

_________

- R= (SXY)/√(SXX)(SYY)
- SXY= SUM[(X-XAVE)(Y-YAVE)]
- SXX=SUM[(X-XAVE)2]
- SYY=SUM[(Y-YAVE)2]

Back to Our Example

- Correlation Coefficient, R, between courses taken and distance driven is -.942 (very high and negative)
- Correlation Coefficient between number of courses taken and years retired is -.235 (very low)
- So what?

EXCEL CALCULATION OFCROSS CORELATION COEFFICIENT(PEARSON PRODUCT MOMENT)

Focus Groups

- Usually involve 6 – 10 people
- Often multiple groups are used
- This is a data collection procedure
- While not exclusively the data are primarily qualitative (open-ended questions)
- The goal is a focused discussion (not a “free-for-all” or “anything goes” conversation)

Some Key Issues

- Recruitment
- Moderator (facilitator)
- The Questioning Route
- Recording data
- Analyzing data
- Communicating results

Example of Questioning Route: Study of Peer Teaching in LLI’s

- Round Robin Introductions (including brief statement of background; which course(s) do you teach?)
- What is your preferred method of teaching?
- When you volunteered to teach at OLLI what did you expect? How did your expectation match up with your actual experience?

Questioning Route (cont.)

- How is teaching older learners similar to and different from other teaching experiences you may have had?
- What are the greatest challenges you face teaching your peers?
- In what ways might the university provide greater support for OLLI faculty?
- Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experiences teaching older learners?

Intensive Interview Purpose

- In-depth exploration of a particular topic, experience, or feeling
- Concentration on intense interactions with a smaller number of people than survey
- Allows identification of key themes or attitudes, but not quantitative assessments (e.g., a certain percentage of people hold a certain attitude or have had certain experience)

Intensive InterviewCharacteristics

- Focus on thoughts or feelings at depth seldom experienced in everyday conversation
- Few open-ended questions
- Explore subjects statements in depth (“that’s interesting, tell me more”)
- Return to earlier statements or ask for clarification if helpful to the participant in expressing feelings, events, views

Intensive InterviewChallenges

- Formulating helpful questions
- Selecting participants
- Deciding when enough interviews have been conducted
- Identifying from all interviews together what the key themes and subthemes are

Intensive Interview Questions(Hansen and Haas)

- Retirement, e.g., how did you feel as the time approached?
- Retirement and relationships, e.g., how has retirement impacted family relationships?
- Retirement and feelings of self worth, e.g., now that you are retired what are some things that make you feel good about yourself?
- Retirement and spirituality, e.g., what are some spiritual or emotional challenges you face now?

Intensive InterviewCategories and Subcategories

- Impact of retirement on friendships (a theme we thought might be important and turned out to be so)
- Subthemes
- Dynamics altering friendship network drives need for making new friends
- Challenges of relocation
- Value of long-term friendships
- Challenges for individuals in certain vocations (e.g., clergy)

Intensive InterviewCategories and Subcategories

- Giving care to a loved one in retirement (theme that emerged in response to question of how time is being spent)
- Subthemes
- Aging parent
- Spouse
- Sibling
- Adult child
- Young grandchild or grandchildren

Potential Research Topics

- Popularity of various types of course offerings and other programs: kinds of courses or programs that are growing in popularity among OLLI participants.
- Emerging retirement trends: How retirees of the baby-boomer generation might approach this phase of life differently than their predecessors
- Personal dimensions of retirement: impact of retirement on such personal matters as family relationships, friendships, personal growth, and feelings of self worth

Potential Research Topics (2)

- Variability in retirement attitudes among different ethnic and other groups of retirees and pre-retires very little understood about this topic
- The potential for electronic course delivery and community building among retirees may well be of growing importance as OLLI participants become more computer literate

References

- Standard deviation and correlation
- Wikipedia
- Wolfram MathWorld
- Intensive interviews
- Constructing Grounded Theory, Kathy Charmaz, Sage Publications, London (2006)
- Interview-based study
- Shaping a Life of Significance for Retirement, R. Jack Hansen and Jerry P. Haas, Upper Room Books (2010)

References (cont.)

Overview of Action Research

- Action Research (3rd Edition) by Ernest T. Stringer (Sage Publications, 2007)

Primer on Focus Groups

- Focus Groups by Richard Krueger and Mary Anne Casey (Sage Publications, 2009)

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