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Below you’ll find copies of the materials we used at the lauc-b workshop, Small Data Assessment and Action Research, on October 25, 2013.



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Action research is research done by the practitioner in order to improve his/her working conditions or efficacy.  The purpose of the research is to solve a problem the worker/practitioner is having or to investigate a phenomena he/she has noticed in the course of his/her working life.  The initial research question may be developed by the researcher alone or may come out of conversations or gripes with his/her colleagues.  The researcher talks about the problem with colleagues or “critical” friends in order to hone his/her question and to develop a methodology to investigate it.  Although it may seem counterintuitive, it can be important for the researcher/practitioner to resist using his/her expertise to try to solve the dilemma or answer the question.  Instead, at this stage it is vitally important to stay open to unexpected possibilities and allow one’s observations (rather than one’s assumptions) to guide the next steps. While applying an action research approach to an existing issue, the researcher shares news about his/her progress in collecting and analyzing data with the same “critical friends” in order to get input from people outside of the data collection/analysis process who are familiar with the problem being investigated by the researcher.  The researcher shares what he/she has learned with the same group of people and perhaps a wider audience formally or informally.

The goals of action research are to empower the practitioner as he/she should be regarded as an expert in his/her work.   For that reason, what we typically think of as a literature review for the purpose of initiating a research study often does not happen at the beginning of action research.  Instead, the practitioner/researcher might dip into the professional literature at multiple points as he/she identifies topics to explore.  Or it can be postponed until the end of the action research, when the researcher is ready to compare his/her working theories with what others in their field have learned through other types of research.  The process of conducting research can also improve the researcher’s affect in terms of valuing his/her own expertise.  It can be a way create or improve “best practices” and to challenge commonly held “truths” that have been unsubstantiated.  Often action research is the beginning of identifying deeper questions that sustain practitioners throughout their careers rather than solving a discreet problem and then coming to conclusion.

Action Research Powerpoint June 2011


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View more PowerPoint from srosenblatt
We created the avatar we used in our presentation by using Voki.

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In a world that is increasingly data-driven and one in which data is easily attainable, librarians have new opportunities to both contribute to research and use evidence to improve professional practice. Understanding basic data analysis also opens up opportunities for evidence-based practice not only in libraries but also in the university at-large. This workshop will introduce librarians to action research, show free tools for collecting and analyzing data, help generate ideas for individual research, and empower users to engage in action research and develop evidenced-based practices at their own institutions.

Action research is a method used in fields as varied as education and anthropology.  In an action research study the practitioner, in our case the librarian, is the researcher. The object of the research is to help the librarian answer questions or tackle problems brought up in the course of his/her daily work.  Action researchers collaborate with their peers to identify problems they’d like to explore then systematically design a research plan.  Data is then collected.  This data may already exist, as is the case with interlibrary loan or circulation statistics, or the data may be artifacts produced in the course of regular activity, such as student papers, IM chat transcripts, or emails to faculty.  Researchers may also decide that they need to create short surveys or checklists or they may begin keeping a log or journal to record their experiences.  Researchers then analyze their data, often with the help of their collaborators.  As researchers discuss their findings, they develop new understandings about their work.  These understandings often generate a new set of questions which leads to further exploration of the librarian’s or institution’s practice.  It is through this reflective discussion of the research process and findings that librarians develop their own theories based on their personal knowledge.  These compelling theories (Carr & Kemmis, 1986) can change the profession when librarians use them to inform their own praxis and disseminate them formally or informally. While the findings of an action research study can be published to increase the theoretical knowledge in our field, the primary goal of the research is to help the librarian resolve a dilemma or understand phenomena in his/her own workplace, which is why action research can be used by librarians working in a variety of settings.

Participants in this half-day workshop will learn more about action research and its application to library instruction, reference services, and collection development through a series of small-group exercises.  Participants will brainstorm research questions related to their areas of interest, practice qualitative and quantitative methods by analyzing data provided by the presenters, and learn about free tools for data collection and analysis such as Google Forms, Tableau Public, and TextSTAT.

At the end of the session, participants will be able to articulate a set of research questions.   They will also have the opportunity to work collaboratively to generate ideas about methods that can be used to collect and analyze data that will help them explore their own questions.

Carr, W. & Kemmis, S. (1986). Becoming critical: Education, knowledge, and action research. Philadelphia, PA: Falmer Press.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Participants will understand the concept of action research and how it can be applied to multiple aspects of librarianship.
  • Participants will gain experience using various methods and tools for data collection and analysis.
  • Participants will be able articulate their own questions about their practice and collaborate with peers to generate ideas for investigating these questions, including methods for collecting and analyzing data.

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