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Proceedings of ECER 2004 round table on 'action research' and a VET framework of innovation
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'Action research' and a VET framework of innovation

DISCUSSION  > Concept of action research> Role of the actors > Process of action researchFinal remark

Role of the actors: researchers, practitioners/ teachers, stakeholders

Elly de Bruijn

I have one question I really want to address, also in reaction to Ludger's presentation. I know action research, we have it in the Netherlands too, I know all this literature etc., but we didn't manage to find out what the role of research is in relation to both innovating practise and developing conceptual knowledge. My ambition with this new methodology, linking these two, is to develop operational strategies on how the researcher is more than only a transmitter, how the researcher has his or her own agenda also at the front of the process, and not only at the back, an agenda of also developing conceptual knowledge from this approach. That is what triggers me. This is another angle than action research has, because in action research you stay local, you can combine, but you don't have a concept which drives and joins the actors. That's my problem, so to say, how do you do that.

Ludger Deitmer

Yes, I take the position that specific action research oriented tools are needed. These should allow a quite effective activity for the researcher to follow simultaneously scientific and practical objectives. So you need a double oriented instrument, a tool that is supportive to the actors in the pilot and also develops conceptual knowledge about the process for the researcher and his research activities like research publications. He may develop an ‘inter-subjective concept of truth’ (according to Fricke/Gustavson). This rather more subject oriented knowledge delivers, for example, an experience based conceptual framework for the implementation of a new curriculum as we face it in the curriculum discussion on ‘learning arenas’ or as a work based learning concept. It could be reflected experiences for the implementation of such kinds of curricula, but also theories of practise while comparing similar change processes at different VET locations and regions. In this sense it would be regional innovation research within VET, which describes important structural and social factors for successful change and the effects from this.
    So this was my point: to say that we don’t need, for instance, just a great chunk of quantitative data which is not relevant for the practitioners or for a qualitative interpretation and rather distant to the VET reality. It would be possible to do a rather distant oriented and summarising questionnaire survey after the end of an innovation process and to make use only of a small bit of that data in the final report. This might however be ineffective since there is little relevance for the shaping of the innovation process. 
    But what I want to point out is that the action research debate now-a-days is not so much an ideological discussion about action research as it was in former times,  but much more a pragmatic methodological discussion on relevant problem solving instruments and tools which can be used by the actors (for self orientation and supporting their own competencies for innovation processes) and which can at the same time be used for scientific conceptual development. In action research the practical and theoretical research processes are interwoven – the researcher takes part in the developmental problem-solving process and does innovation research about this process. He has to dismantle the interwoven processes and deliver better transparency.

Philipp Grollmann

We've heard a lot about innovation and very dynamic processes, about processes of accumulation of knowledge and action research. But what is the role of teachers? I know that from the German example, because I work for the same institute, so this questions is more addressed to the Dutch colleagues. There have to be structures for reflection and even reproduction of knowledge. So what place has that in your model?
    Also relating to what was said about Gibbons and Mode 1 and Mode 2. As I understand Gibbons, Mode 1 is a sort of precondition for development of Mode 2, in the sense that they say: the development of Mode 2 wouldn't be possible without the fact that there is much more participation in research and in higher education, which then, after a qualification period, spreads out to the world of practice. 

Elly de Bruijn

Yes, that was my other point: what is the position of the various actors that are involved in this whole operation, including teachers and, maybe, including students too. What you said about Mode 1 and 2: I don't agree with you. In my view, the idea is that you have Mode 1 to develop formal knowledge, with respect to reliable knowledge, including traditional, classical knowledge sources and local knowledge sources being Mode 2 knowledge. The interesting thing for me is how to combine these sources in a new methodology directed at innovating practice and accumulating knowledge also in respect to Mode 1 knowledge.

Philipp Grollmann

What I mean is that the practitioners probably need to be enabled to articulate their Mode 2 knowledge on the basis of Mode 1.

Elly de Bruijn

My point is that in your discourse you have still the researchers knowing it, and the practitioners have to be informed about the formal knowledge, and then they can operate. In my idea, in this circle, in this community, there are also teachers participating and maybe some students. So you have these various actors and the researcher, all having an agenda for participating. The agenda of the researcher is also addressed to developing conceptual knowledge, concepts which he or she wants to develop further, but from the agenda of the teachers other knowledge can be important, and together they make a new concept. So in our approach we have circles, knowledge circles, in which teachers participate, managers, researchers, consultants. They all participate in that, with the ambition of making and using the knowledge which works in relation to their own targets. So in this new methodology the ambition is to use these different targets to make the process work. 

Philipp Grollmann

But who is going to solve the concerns, the practical theory, where would be the place to conserve this knowledge?

Elly de Bruijn

That was indeed one of my discussion points: someone has to coordinate the whole operation. In our example we have particular researchers or consultants, people that have more or less both expertise, that coordinate those communities. 

Philipp Grollmann

That is what I found interesting with Ludger, because you were talking about action researchers and practitioners; my conception of action research was always that the practitioners are actually the researchers.

Ludger Deitmer

Yes, that's absolutely right. It may have been not so clear in my presentation, but really what we want to do is to support the practitioners by action research driven concepts and tools, so that they are able to do also their own research. There is a need for moderation and facilitation by the researchers in this accompaniment process. It could be too much for the practitioners to be also researchers at the same time, because they are more or less developing curricula, they are preparing new learning arrangements, they are looking for methods, they are implementing these methods, they are experimenting with these - so they have rather a constructive and developmental orientation. The researchers could have a supporting role, for example providing the criteria for shaping the learning arrangements. Criteria delivery, which is rather complex and a theory driven task, could be one of the accompanying roles of the researcher undertaken in such action research processes; or delivery of meta-data on how to structure the teaching material; or analysing the conditions for the change process, the pre-knowledge for the change process. All this is more an activity on the side of the researcher; but he may discuss this with the practitioners. 

Elly de Bruijn

Teachers are not researchers. Yet, they are creators of knowledge - that is the difference. That's why I don't talk about action research, that's why I want to invent a new term.

Pekka Kämäräinen

I will try to respond to the question of researchers' own agendas. I would argue that a general concept of ‘action research’ may lead to a blurring of possible roles whereas the more focused concept ‘accompanying research’ may provide some clarification. 
    Regarding the role of researchers, it strikes me that the concept ‘action research’ is often used in a sense that plays down the need of theoretical thinking. For example, in the Scandinavian action programmes for promoting innovations in working life, action research was introduced as an instrument to facilitate democratic dialogue. The researchers insisted on being facilitators of dialogue between the interest groups in working life. Thus, the researchers tried to support the creation of a social space for dialogue without making explicit use of their conceptual tools. 
    As a contrast, several projects of ‘accompanying research’ have had the task to work with new educational concepts that have been drafted at the level of policy development. Thus, the projects have faced the challenge to interpret the pilot concepts as cornerstones for actual implementation and to re-conceptualise them in terms of providing feedback for further policy development. 
    Recently, the German accompanying research projects have played such a role in the pilot projects that have introduced the curricular innovation concept ‘learning arena’ (Lernfeld). The concept stands for the combination of subject-based learning and practice-related learning and for the shaping of collaborative learning environments. When working with such concepts, accompanying researchers are not merely passive observers or facilitators of debates between educational authorities and practitioners in the field. Instead, researchers are needed as co-developers and as providers of conceptual support within open-ended innovation processes. This kind of involvement has been documented by the report of the pilot project SEDIKO that worked with the introduction of the new ICT-related occupational profiles. By exploring the possibilities to shape connective (ICT- and substance-related) learning arenas the project reached a genuine intermediate position.

Petr Viceník 

I think that Elly is solving the action research at a macro-level, it means changes in curricula at national level, so that all partners are involved. It’s important to let the partners work, so all mechanisms that are used in the communication to find some solution must be functioning. We did some similar research in the middle of the 80s, during the communist period, so it was a little bit different, relations between different partners, but they were also functioning. But we as educational researchers made a very simple mistake, we followed only our aims, if a new curriculum will be functioning or not. At the end of the 80s there was a revolution, and immediately after that the concept of our reform was generally refused, because social partners were not accepted. But this concept was in fact very good, it was well prepared, so after two years all schools returned to the concept of the reform. So it’s very important that all social partners are in function. It would also be important to involve researchers from other disciplines, sociologists etc., to follow the movement between the social partners. 

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