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Tutorial 6:  Beginning the First Cycle

Tutorial 6:  Beginning the First Cycle

Tutorial 6: Examples of Framing the First Cycle Research Questions


Here are a number of examples drawn from years of working with students. More examples can be found in the e-portfolios of action researchers on the Center for Collaborative Action Research. These are just small stories to get you started in your own context.









After School Computer Club

Josh Burker was concerned when his computer club was only attracting boys. He started out thinking it was a marketing problem and he was planning on creating more engaging invitations and a more personal appeal to make other groups of students feel more welcome. His reading of the research literature suggested that there may be gender differences in the ways that students approach computers. He started to examine his activities and found that they aligned more with uses that boys were found to favor. So by watching what students in other groups chose to do with computers and reading studies about gender differences, he decided not to change the marketing but rethink the tech club activities. This is something that frequently happens in action research. The problem changes as you try to better understand it. He shifted the focus of the first activity in the after-school computer club to digital photography.


  • Value - I care about problems of equity and social justice, and I want to increase access to learning resources

  • Value in Context - If there are only boys in the tech club, have I done everything I can to ensure equal access?

  • Nature of the problem - How could I change the tech club to increase the diversity of participation

  • Overall Research Question: How do I improve the way I support all students to gain computer skills?

  • Proposed Action - Change the curriculum to activities that have been found to appeal more to girls and special needs students.

  • Anticipated Results -  More equity in participation by gender and special needs students

  • Cycle 1 Research Question - If I shift the activities of the tech club to digital photography (action), how will this affect the participation of girls and special ed students (Outcome)?




Learning To Read


In this case, Veronica Azizi wanted the involvement of primary-grade students' parents but was worried that their lack of confidence in English literacy was an issue. Her search for an action cycle leads her to an idea of how to use technology to create a powerful learning environment for the child and parent to engage in together. Her idea started with the idea of videotaping classroom lessons with students to send home to be viewed at home. By sending the video of the classroom lessons home, students could watch them as many times as they needed to learn the contact. Parents could see how their students were learning at school. Veronica realized that by sending lessons home, she was teaching literacy skills to parents as they worked with their students. By helping the parents develop their skills, they were better able to help their children learn.


  • Value: Teamwork and collaboration

  • Value in Context: I value high Parent-Teacher collaboration because I see it as essential for strong learning in the primary grades (general)

  • Nature of the Problem: Parents of my students are not native language speakers which makes it hard for them to support their children in learning to read. (specific)

  • Overall Research Question: How do I help parents to help me help their students to learn?

  • Proposed Action: create videos of classroom literacy lessons and send them home so parents and students can learn from them together

  • Anticipated Results: If Spanish-speaking parents have the opportunity to work with students and learn at the same time, they will be better able to support their students as they continue learning

  • Cycle 1 Research Question: If I videotape my students doing early literacy activities, and send these tapes home to watch with their parents, what effect will this have on the developing literacy skills of students and parents?



                              Hospital Training Sessions

Jason Melillo engaged in action research to promote the use of streaming video in the media department of a large hospital. He had recently moved into this position, and he had continued the approach that had been done in the past. He offered workshops and when necessary developed materials that were needed. But he was not seeing capacity developing. From this reading of social learning theory, he decided to shift the focus from training to "development on demand." He tried a different approach to helping those who came with needs to create their own projects. The sense of ownership and authorship they displayed in using the materials started a process of change that Jason had been looking for. He was able to move into a role of enabling the use of streaming media, not teaching about or creating it himself.

  • Value: I value innovative and participatory learning

  • Value in Context: I want the nurses and doctors I work with to be motivated to learn how to use new media tools

  • Nature of the Problem: To increase the use of streaming media in training sessions at the hospital

  • Overall Research Question: How do I improve my support of nurses and doctors in using video technology in their teaching?

  • Proposed Action: Increase the use of streaming media technologies among my colleagues

  • Increased innovation in teaching

  • Cycle 1 Research Question: If I encourage department leaders to create their first streaming media presentation with my support, how will this affect the use of streaming media in their future training sessions?






Educational Leadership in an Aquarium Setting

Christian Geer had recently been promoted to a leadership position at a time of reorganization of the educational team at an aquarium. Educators from the two divisions were coming together, and he needed a way to create a sense of ownership and control. He decided to use a learning circle approach and get people engaged in action research projects. By facilitating this process within his division, he helped forge new working relationships.

  • Value: Teamwork and Productivity

  • Value in Context: In my setting two divisions are being brought other, and I have to help them to engage in teamwork to get past competitive attitudes

  • Nature of the problem: Bringing groups of people who have their own identities and trying to create a cohesive educational team

  • Inquiry Research Question: How can I help my division become a cohesive educational team? (action research problem)

  • Proposed Action: use learning circles and distributed leadership

  • Anticipated Outcome: increased cohesion and productivity

  • Cycle 1 Research Question: If I use a learning circle approach with distributed leadership for our work (action), how will this affect the cohesion and productivity of our educational team (outcome)?


Doctor-Patient Interaction -

Medicine (Private Practice)

Michael Weinstein has a private practice and started with a concern that patients often come looking for solutions. By giving solutions, he worried that he was not fully engaging them in the process of healing. He began by using email before a visit as a way to increase the dialogue. By monitoring the conversations, he noticed that a change took place in one session when he switched from using the pronoun "1" to using the pronoun "we." So in a later cycle, he systematically shifted his use of pronouns to "we" and found that it had the effect he was looking for, it invited the patient to be a more active player in constructing a healing plan.


  • Value: Engagement

  • Values in Context: People need to be fully engaged with improving their health As a doctor, I do not want my expertise to dominate the path to healing

  • Nature of the Problem: Increase patient participation in my practice

  • Inquiry Action Research Question: How can I create a more collaborative approach to medicine in my practice?

  • Proposed Action: Implement a cycle of communication preceding appointments

  • Anticipated Outcome: Patients will be more engaged in finding solutions to their health problems

  • Cycle 1 Research Question: If I have patients connect with me before coming into the office by email, how will this affect the dialogue between us in the office?


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