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Tutorial 6:  Beginning the First Cycle

Tutorial 6: Activities


A) Writing - Framing Cycle 1 Research Question

Getting Started: A research question is a blueprint for your action.

Identify an area of change that is possible for you to make that will move you in the direction of your visions and values. What do you imagine will be the outcome of the action? How might it move toward a different future? Your action research question involves trying to find a reasonable path to approach change and then trying to understand how effective it was in terms of your goals for change.  In Tutorial 3  you explored your values and framed an inquiry question, in this tutorial, you use the resources and examples to move from an initial general value to the action you will take and the change you will measure. The goal here is to help you frame your first cycle question.


  • Value: Select a core value. 

  • Value Translated to Context - Identify where values do not align with practice [area of concern].
                      My [area of concern] is not working as well as it could or should.

  • Nature of the Problem - Identify a problem you want to explore.
                      The problem or situation I want to improve is...

  • Inquiry Research Question: What is your overall Inquiry research question?  What skills or practices do you personally want to improve? (see Tutorial 3

  • Action to Address the Problem - Consider a specific intervention small in scope that will address the general problem.
                       My first idea about how to approach this concern will be to...

  • Anticipated Results - Identify an immediate outcome from the action you can measure
                       I will be watching for a change in the way...

  • Cycle 1 Research Question:  Compose your research question by describing (a) the action you will take and (b) the outcome you plan to measure or observe or document in some way.



Research Question

Take a look at how other action researchers have completed this chart. 

Your Timeline

B) Planning - Your Timeline for Taking Action

Now is the time to get started with your action. Check the resources for some advice on thinking about the scope of your action. This is not a huge project, and it is best to start small. You are examining the reactions to a plan or strategy that is helping you move forward with your plans.


Create, revise or revisit your timeline (part of your action research plan). Map out the activities and put dates to them working your way through to when you will be sharing your work with others. Three cycles are suggested as they help you see the recursive and iterative problem-solving that takes place in action research.  


What counts as a cycle will be different for each of you. They are not likely to be of equal duration or intensity. Your first action might only last a few days or a week and the second could be three months. Or the inverse is also possible. There is no need for each of your actions to be of equal duration. It is also possible for cycles to run concurrently as long as you have plans for how to write up the reports in a way that does not place all of the writing at the end of the session. The point is to experiment with your actions, learn from your research and apply what you have learned to achieve a progressively better outcome. Sometimes you will find that you need to take a step backward or sideways to learn how to move forward. There is no perfect number. We suggest three as a way to help you learn the process and go through the steps with us. Some researchers work in six cycles, and others do less than three. You might find you rethink what a cycle is as you move along.


  • __Intro

    • Description of the problem and why you care about it

    • Your overall Inquiry Research Question

    • Description of the context of the problem

  • __Planning

    • Reading the literature

    • Writing the lit review

    • Framing possible answers to your inquiry question

    • Forcefield Analysis

    • Logic Model

  • __Cycle 1

    • Cycle research question

    • Taking action

    • Data collection

    • Data analysis

    • reflection

  • __cycle 2

    • Cycle research question

    • Taking action

    • Data collection

    • Data analysis

    • reflection

  • __Cycle 3

    • Cycle research question

    • Taking action

    • Data collection

    • Data analysis

    • reflection

  • Writing Final Reflection

  • Assembling and editing the  report 

  • Presenting the Action Research


  • Your First Cycle of Action Research report

Tell us the story of what you did and what happened. In order to tell this story, you will need to have some way of documenting what happened. See Tutorial 7 for collecting data; and Tutorial 8 for ideas on analyzing the data.  Reflect on the story in light of what you have been learning in your other courses. What will you do or change for your next cycle of action-reaction-reflection and plan?

  • The Second Cycle of Action Research report

Again it will depend on the way you work within your community. In some cases, it will be difficult to distinguish the cycles, but your learning circle/critical friends/supervisor or colleagues should be able to help you do this. Map out the time this will take so that you can anticipate when you will be finished with cycle two. 

  • The Third Cycle of Action Research planned or started

These due dates will be determined by the flow of your action research. Some of you will have more than three iterations of your work. Three is a good number of cycles as you can see how these different passes help you shape your understanding of your workplace.


C) Reflecting - Spend some time reading and writing in your blog

Hopefully, you have been keeping a weekly blog. Now is the time to review what you have written. Are you writing about what happened (what someone could see) or why it happened (a reflection of your thinking)? Often novice action researchers write detailed accounts of things that are happening, but there is no record of their thinking about the events. The goal is to document both the actions and your thinking about the actions.

1) Personal Change-- How did you change during this cycle? You tried to solve the problem at your workplace. Maybe it wasn't a perfect solution but did you feel it worked? What does it mean to you when you say it worked? Why do you think it did or did turn out as you expected? Do you see yourself as a problem solver? What have been some of your experiences in solving problems in the past? Are you different in different contexts, for example, would you have been more likely to have solved this problem if it was located outside of work? In your past, how have you oriented toward problems like this? Did you wait for others to solve them or would you have done it differently? When you and others came up with your plan, was there a time when you worried it would not work? Was there something that you can point to that you learned about yourself that helped make it work? Have you changed the way you look at problems or at least common ones? Do you see yourself as different in any way? Do you think that others see you differently? 

2) Local Change-- How do you think this action affected others. Do you think they knew why you were taking the action you spearheaded? Do you think that they might have wanted a different plan? Were you surprised by their reactions? Did they appreciate your efforts to solve the problem or did they feel left out? Who owned the problem in the beginning? Who owns the problem now? Why do you think this is the case? What are the "norms"-- the unspoken rules-- that shape behavior? Did this project challenge any of these norms? Did you see any evidence of norms shifting? What about the division of labor within the group, has this shifted? Do you have a better understanding of the forces for change in your workplace?

3) Conceptual Change-- Did your ideas change in any way. This might be your idea about learning. Maybe you expected that it would be easy for others to learn a new system, but you realized that not everyone approaches a learning task in the same way. Maybe you understood something about the way ownership of the problem or your identity as a problem solver interacted with learning. Maybe there was something about leadership that you read and experienced in this cycle. Were there any principles of learning, change, or interaction that you learned? Think back on what you read, and look back on your notes. Were there any good examples of theoretical concepts? Did you see Vygotsky's "Zone of Proximal Development" in practice? Did you understand a better way in which Lave and Wenger's "legitimate peripheral participation" works in a community of practice? Could you see the connections between Bereiter and Scardamalia's "progressive probleming" and Bradford's "cycles of innovation" or adaptive expertise?


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