Action Research Praxis in Higher Education

The point of departure for AR in universities is a pedagogical approach that combines multiple professional knowledges (from one or more disciplines) with engagement with local problem owners in real-life problems in context. This contrasts with conventional university training that generally and pur­posely disconnects theory from practice, teaching from doing, and relies heavily on teaching only explicit and propositional knowledge. The “banking model” (Freire, 1970), in which the student is a passive receiver of knowledge deposited in his or her head by the teacher, reigns supreme on campuses, despite overwhelming evidence that it is ineffectual and even counterproductive.


When any change project is proposed to a hierarchical group that does not want to change, excuses about resource constraints and administrative limita­tions proliferate. We call these “pseudo-constraints” to point out that the objections are no more than statements of an unwillingness to alter current behavior and distributions of power, an excellent example of Model I behavior.

One such constraint affecting AR teaching at every level is class size. At the undergraduate level at large universities, social science classes can often be given to hundreds of students gathered in one auditorium. The sheer size of classes is one important obstacle to creating a fruitful AR-based teaching that needs to be interactive and team based and linked to concrete groups of prob­lem owners.

These are pseudo-constraints because they are the results of existing insti­tutional choices and priorities. Where small class size is thought to be crucial, as it is in the United States in language and writing or composition instruction, art and architecture studio teaching, music teaching, and so on, most institu­tions manage to keep classes seminar size. A small class setting with personal connections between the professor and the students is expensive. So universi­ties, rather than teach the social sciences properly, engage in the disreputable pedagogical enterprise of“processing” lots of students and having departments compete to increase the size of their classes by using this metric to reward them with more faculty positions, office space, and other perks.

Course and curricular structures produce other pseudo-constraints. Students take many courses at once with very little institutional coordination among them. There is no justification for students doing this. They could just as easily take one course full time for a month at a time and have the same number of courses in a year. Such intensive courses would be superior situa­tions in which to develop AR (and most other forms of) teaching and learning. However, such reorganizations would require imagination and ambition that are generally lacking among higher education administrators.

Courses and semesters also are poor time horizons for teaching the prac­tice of AR. It is all but impossible for a full cycle of an AR project to take place on a typical academic calendar. Longer-term involvements over an undergrad­uate career are possible, but little or no effort is provided by institutions to make this happen.

Clearly these pseudo-constraints on the changes necessary to enable com­petent AR teaching and learning at universities are a result of an unwillingness to meet the challenges of Mode 2 knowledge production. The failure to do this soon will exact a very high price on most universities, and the public and politicians show this by increasingly withdrawing both their moral and finan­cial support from public higher education (Lyall & Sell, 2006).

Source: Greenwood Davydd J., Levin Morten (2006), Introduction to Action Research: Social Research for Social Change, SAGE Publications, Inc; 2nd edition.

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