Home > Creativity, management, Military, Planning, Teaching, Uncertainty > Reflecting on the use of action research to guide curriculum development

Reflecting on the use of action research to guide curriculum development


from a project I am working on: describing why I believe Action Research is the right way to proceed with curriculum redesign projects.

The importance of using Action Research methodology.  The broad professional consensus is that we need transformational changes to our curriculum in order to understand an Army Change Management System which is struggling to adapt to an increasingly dynamic world. What was once a formal, scientific process that was designed, controlled and maintained by experts who valued certainty above all must now become a flexible, adaptive robust system that is owned and operated by soldiers in the field as well as the technicians in the Pentagon. The system is clearly struggling to adapt now, and lacks a clear way forward.  Muddling through is not going well. Our educational process must account for the new dynamism, and help us find our way out of the current maze.

To do that we must go beyond the formal, deliberate, change-resistant technical processes of yesterday. We can see the status quo failing faster everyday, and this is unacceptable.  We must find a way to solicit, incorporate and accommodate the wisdom and insights of multiple points of view, and integrate them into a solution in a rigorous way, informed by expertise and by the people who must put the system into practice everyday in their units. We must be able to learn as we go, to be open to new experiences and perspectives, and to document our process and insights in order to fully understand our journey.

Action research is just such a method. It is a time tested discipline of reliably achieving transformational change that matters in the midst of complex human systems, in ways that strengthen an organization and it’s people by virtue of its commitment to democracy, engagement, multiple ways of knowing, and a focus on practical results. In its more than 60 years of practice, action research is known for focusing on achieving large scale transformational change in practical ways in a wide variety of settings, professions, organizations and cultures. By acknowledging that explicit and tacit knowledge is within the community of practice and that collectively we know more than we do individually, action research is an appropriate method.

Action research is ideally suited for a learning organization that is seeking to develop mature, reflective practical thinkers who will be engaged in solving wicked problems of all varieties in the field. Participating in the research stimulates and develops precisely these qualities in the stakeholders.

If this were a conventional problem, it would be well-defined, easily classified and have a number of reliable procedures available to apply as remedies. We might hire an expert consultant, to fill in the knowledge and procedural gaps required to efficiently satisfy the problem requirements and perhaps even to help guide us through a typical implementation. This is the usual remedy for all sorts of common problems, but we would not be well served with this approach on this situation. In fact, an over-realiance on outside expert, formal knowledge, and a willingness to impose and quickly implement outside solutions  on a broad scale is what has helped bring us to this predicament where we see our existing systems incapable of managing the chaos and uncertainty of the world around us. Trying to solve this problem with traditional methods is likely to make the problem worse and waste crucial time.

By choosing an action research approach, we will improve our change management curriculum, gain insights into a method for solving other wicked problems, increase the capacity of our stakeholders to perform as members of problem solving teams in other settings, and offer insights to the proponents of the existing Army Change management Systems. The action research methodology supports and develops Army leadership values and improves our ability to meet our educational mission. Its academic rigor and documentation will meet our accreditation requirements.

Action research is the right methodology for this project.

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