Colin's Sandbox

Changing direction?

by on Nov.09, 2013, under #seaccr

Over the past few days (weeks?) I’ve been slowly coming to the realization that my action research project just isn’t working out as I had hoped.  This is leaving me with a pit in my gut: it feels like failure and it’s not where I wanted to be.  I’ve been trying to get data from the teachers for the past week but so far have only received one response – and this isn’t nearly enough.  To be effective this project will have to have a snapshot at the start and at the end.

Come on now – it’s not as bad as all that.

The hardest part in this project has been the communication aspect as well as the proximity to the work.  I am not physically near any of the participants, nor have I met any of them face-to-face, making me a researcher at distance.  I am finding out more and more that action research requires ACTION by the RESEARCHer; it is not enough to hope to guide others’ actions through your research as the project continues through your findings.  Without an explicit spelling out of the role of the researcher early on in the process, and some sort of familiarity between yourself and the various participants, the humble researcher-at-a-distance is setting themselves up for frustration.

I’m not sure where to go from here.  I’ve sent off a last ditch salvo of emails at the participants in attempt to salvage what I can.  Not going to lie to you – there’s definitely a little whelp inside of me who wants to grab them by the lapels and say something ridiculous like “ANSWER ME!  Was the training effective or not?  Are you more comfortable with technology in your school than you were before? How might you continue learning about mobile devices going forward? Huh? That’s all I ask! My research paper depends upon this data!!”, professionally I am not in any position to badger them – they are my organization’s customers after all – and guess what?  They’re probably very busy and setting up a quick phone interview or answering an email with more than a quick one liner probably just isn’t on their radar at all.  Being the husband of an overworked teacher I understand 100%.  But really all I need is that last chunk of data – I feel confident that I’ve got the ability to whip out meaningful analysis and conclusions in short order.

So what have I learned to this point, particularly with a project such as mine?

  1. To restate / rephrase an earlier point – doing an action research project from afar is not advisable.  You have to  be in the mix. Unless you have a direct stake in the outcome it might not even fit the definition as action research.
  2. Spend a sizable amount of time and energy ahead of time floating your idea around to others, looking for a good devil’s advocate or two to find weak spots in your proposal.
  3. Setting aside the earlier question of whether or not this actually is action research or not, if you are not the person actually delivering the training you need considerable, frequent two-way communication with the person who is.  You need to have their trust that what you’re finding has merit.  You need to trust that they will consider your findings, and provide feedback along the way.
  4. The more people at the top who are involved (the people guiding the action, that is), the more time you need to allot for communication.  People are busy with their other obligations.  They often don’t communicate in the same ways that you do.  Their priorities are not the same as yours.
  5. See #1

In talking it over with Dr. Graham I potentially have another option, that is, picking up the pieces and doing a study about my experience of doing a study.  This feels about as satisfying, from my perspective, as losing the big game and having your dad ask, “But what did you learn?  And most importantly, did you have fun?”.  Yes I can see the more important lessons that are there to be uncovered, but in the moment it is most dissatisfying, because I feel that I should have seen this coming.

2 Comments for this entry

  • colin osterhout

    That’s been brought up before – the reward piece. I’ve even mentioned that to others so its funny that I didn’t consider it at the beginning. The next go around I wouldn’t balk at considering it. I think you’d have to include it in the report write up though just to be on the safe side.

  • Tracie Weisz

    Colin – you bring up a lot of good points about researching from a distance. The most difficult piece of my research was the district-wide survey I sent out on Survey Monkey. I had to send out 4 emails reminding and begging them to respond. In those emails I had to invoke as a hostage our personal relationships to appeal to their sense of friendship and obligation – YOU LIKE ME, REMEMBER? I’VE DONE FAVORS FOR YOU, PLEASE DO THIS FAVOR FOR ME!! I finally got about a 70% response through this kind of badgering, and that occurred in a situation where I knew everyone personally! I routinely ignore random surveys from people I don’t know, mostly because I am busy and it’s of no benefit to me – I think that’s just the way it is. This sounds weird and cheesy but I guess you could try offering something – free gig-sticks? candy? gift cards to Office Max? We do that kind of stuff to kids all the time when we want them to bring back things they couldn’t care less about; surveys from their parents, signed forms, PL874 cards, what ever – and it works. Honestly I don’t know if that’s the answer you’re looking for, but it sounds like you are at a point where you can resort to drastic measures, or abandon this and go another route. Sorry Colin – this is a tough situation. Too bad you are bound by some time constraints of the class or you’d probably not be as stressed by it.

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