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We hope to show that an action research approach to teaching can be used to improve teaching and learning practice.Action research has been used in many areas where an understanding of complex social situations has been sought in order to improve the quality of life.
We have decided to take a group-based action research approach to the development of an introductory undergraduate module on the use of computer-mediated communications, entitled Elements of Information Management: communicating effectively in the networked organisation.
This activity has been supported by funding from Sheffield University Curriculum Development Fund, enabling one of us to devote time to formalising a suitable action research approach.
We believe that an action research approach can contribute very positively to activity within the tertiary sector concerned with teaching quality issues, and with national Teaching Quality Assessment initiatives.
As "reflective practitioners" (Schon,1983), we can achieve greater ownership of the evaluative process by becoming systematically self-assessing, alongside, and feeding into, external assessment processes: "Through systematic, controlled action research, higher education teachers can become more professional, more interested in pedagogical aspects of higher education and more motivated to integrate their research and teaching interests in a holistic way.
However, more recently, a number of initiatives at national and local levels have been established to create the conditions for innovation in these activities, and teaching/learning is becoming recognised as a more valid area of enquiry for academics across all disciplines, rather than as the unique preserve of specialists.
Action research methodology offers a systematic approach to introducing innovations in teaching and learning.Among these are industrial, health and community work settings.Kurt Lewin, often cited as the originator of action research (Mc Kernan, 1991), used the methodology in his work with people affected by post-war social problems.We hope to develop a model based upon our experience which will be transferable to other curriculum development initiatives.Our curriculum design seeks to address two major objectives in undergraduate education: firstly, to enable students to experience "deep" learning; and secondly, to facilitate the development of transferable skills.It is reflective in that participants analyse and develop concepts and theories about their experiences.Action researchers are accountable in that they aim to make their learning process and its results public, both to each other and to other interested practitioners, using accessible terminology.This, in turn, can lead to greater job satisfaction, better academic programmes, improvement of student learning and practitioners insights and contributions to the advancement of knowledge in higher education." Despite progress in understanding of the way in which people learn and the design of learning environments, teaching practice in higher education often remains unaffected.Traditionally, lecturers have not been encouraged to draw upon theoretical developments as a means of improving curriculum design and delivery.Action research into our own teaching practice is an important source of learning for the group.Here, we describe the nature of action research, and describe its use in the on-going development and evaluation of a new undergraduate module.