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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). What is Action Research?. Basic Characteristics (and Strengths) of Action Research. Practical and directly relevant

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Solving problems through action research

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
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
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

Survey question commute time
Survey Question:Commute Time

Survey question summer term
Survey Question:Summer Term

Course evaluation survey
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
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 average sample standard deviation sd stdev in excel formula builder
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 relationships in survey results
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
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
Correlation Coefficient

  • Two common definitions in use (R and R2)


  • R= (SXY)/√(SXX)(SYY)


  • SXX=SUM[(X-XAVE)2]

  • SYY=SUM[(Y-YAVE)2]

Back to our example
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 of cross corelation coefficient pearson product moment

Focus groups
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
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
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
Questioning Route (cont.) LLI’s

  • 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?

Interviews LLI’s

Intensive interview purpose
Intensive Interview LLI’sPurpose

  • 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 interview characteristics
Intensive Interview LLI’sCharacteristics

  • 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 interview challenges
Intensive Interview LLI’sChallenges

  • 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
Intensive Interview Questions LLI’s(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 interview categories and subcategories
Intensive Interview LLI’sCategories 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 interview categories and subcategories1
Intensive Interview LLI’sCategories 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
Potential Research Topics LLI’s

  • 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
Potential Research Topics (2) LLI’s

  • 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 LLI’s

  • 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
References LLI’s(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)