Ph.D. Training in Action Research

In our view, the most promising educational arena for AR is found in Ph.D. training. The students are more mature, can focus their attention on a partic­ular set of interests, and the Ph.D. program is of sufficient duration for major change projects to be possible. This creates a situation in which the students can be engaged in the field for a substantial period and can, accordingly, be exposed to regular and systematic AR activity.


The most direct way to do this is to create individual AR projects, where the advisor directly supports and guides the student both in the field and in academic reflection and writing. This mode of advising, both on change activ­ity and on academic work, creates the conventional one-to-one relationship found in most Ph.D. programs. It is easy to move this relationship into the craft mode of teaching and learning, both in the field and in the reflection and research process. This kind of alliance, characterized by in-depth cooperation, can be very valuable, but it is also a very demanding training activity requiring a great deal of the professor’s personal and economic resources. There is an obvious limit to how many supervisions and field sites a single advisor can handle. There also often is a problem of defending such students against the hostile reactions of disciplinary colleagues who dislike AR, create course and examination requirements that are useless for AR students, and tend not to distribute departmental largess to the graduate students they have purposely marginalized.


At NTNU, Levin has created a succession of Ph.D. training programs in AR (Levin, 2003). Since the core of an AR intervention is to create opportunities for collective learning by integrating local members and action researchers in the same reflection and learning process, this kind of Ph.D. training can only take place in real-life situations. Students and advisors share responsibility for the design of the learning processes and for enabling both reflection in action and reflection on action (Schon, 1983).To make such a program possible, Levin had to raise external funds to admit a cohort of Ph.D. students who then passed through the whole program together (Levin, 2003). These Ph.D. programs were linked to ongoing field projects with systematic interaction among fieldwork, seminars, and training on the university campus. The heart of the teacher- learner relationship in these programs was the creation of learning possibilities directly linked to concrete praxis either through mutual engagement in the fieldwork or in reflecting on shared work experiences. For this to be possible, Levin had to have the freedom and ability to be concretely engaged in the field project and be able to manage the art of reflection in action, making it possible for students to see and understand why and how actions were taken.

These programs were successful in the sense that they have created a new generation of well-trained action researchers in Norway, but there is a way in which such Ph.D. cohorts remain isolated. The broader reflections among more heterogeneous groups of students and advisors found in conventional Ph.D. programs are missing. Rather, the process is dominated by one-to-one relationships.


With funding from the Norwegian Research Council, Levin moved beyond the limitations of the local cohort-based Ph.D. program in AR to an interna­tional Ph.D. program. Linked to the module structure of the Norwegian Value Creation 2010 Program (funded by the Norwegian Science Foundation), a Ph.D. program was created. Levin selected a faculty of nine, including four non-Norwegians who were appointed adjunct professors at NTNU and five Norwegian faculty members from various research institutes around Norway. The Norwegian faculty accepted applications and admitted 24 students, including an American, a Dane, and three Turks.

Each of the applicants was expected to bring to the program an AR project already in progress. The teaching was divided into 4 years of four 1- week hyper-intensive teaching and advising sessions inwhich the full required number of course hours for a Norwegian Ph.D. was met. The faculty created the curriculum and delivered course work on theory of science, method, work research, innovations systems, and writing. All writing was to be done in English. Each student selected two Ph.D. advisors from within the program. At this point (mid-2006), the program is in its final year.

Since all of these students are in their thirties and forties and have full­time jobs, finding and making time for the Ph.D. work and keeping a sustained focus has been difficult for many. In addition, the limitations of sixteen 1-week meetings in terms of the social solidarity and social learning that happens with other kinds of cohort-based Ph.D. programs are clear. However, EDWOR has been successful enough that the program has been funded for another Ph.D. cycle, and the lessons learned are being applied in redesigning the process.


For too long, action researchers were silent about the problems of writing an AR dissertation and getting it accepted. Fortunately, now, more constructive responses are available. One of the most helpful documents to appear in recent years is The Action Research Dissertation (Herr & Anderson, 2005); we recom­mend it to all thesis and dissertation writers as a practical guide to negotiating the complexities of writing an AR dissertation.

As good as TheAction Research Dissertation is, a single book is not enough. Developing our own shared conventions regarding what constitutes high- quality AR writing belongs on the international network of action researchers’ agenda, as Bradbury and Reason (200 la) point out. Al of the issues of voice, multimode writing, intellectual property, and confidentiality that vex AR processes in university environments require the collaborative development of sensible responses from us on behalf of the students we train.

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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