Participatory Action Research

Best Practices for the Scholar-Practitioner

Participatory ResearchWe live in the age of information. Of that, there’s no question. What we do question, and often, is how best to benefit from that information: what to do with it, how to share it, what we can learn from it.

Enter the online master of arts in learning technologies (MALT), master of arts in education (MAE), master of arts in education with teaching credential (MAETC), master of science in administration and preliminary administrative services credential (also known as the Educational Leadership Academy, or ELA), and doctor of education in educational leadership, administration, and policy (ELAP) programs.

Each of these programs offers students the opportunity to take classroom lessons and apply them to their actual workplace through Participatory Action Research (PAR). It is this scholar-practitioner approach that sets GSEP apart from other universities, and reinforces the merits of investing in higher education.

Dr. Linda Purrington

Dr. Linda Purrington

Under the guidance of three faculty members who are pioneering action research at GSEP—Dr. Margaret Riel, visiting faculty of education and cochair of MALT; Dr. Nancy Harding, associate professor for the master of arts in education programs; and Dr. Linda Purrington, lecturer and chair of the educational leadership programs—students gain a sophisticated understanding of how to transfer theoretical knowledge to actual work site situations. Students graduate with analytical skills that increase their value as employees and improve their leadership abilities.

Last year, Riel was elected chair of the Action Research Special Interest Group for the American Educational Research Association, consisting of more than 200 members worldwide. As chair, Riel has created a Web site and is helping to build a community of action researchers worldwide.

Dr. Margaret Riel

Dr. Margaret Riel

“Action research is a process of holding ourselves accountable for our continual learning,” said Riel. “Our charge in the learning technologies program is to empower students. They learn a set of problem identifying and problem solving strategies that help them approach their workplace from a learning stance.”

PAR, considered the backbone of the MALT program, aims to expand students’ knowledge of current and future technologies, and their roles in various learning settings. Students are tasked with planning, implementing, analyzing, and reflecting on an intervention that can be established in their workplace. The research is then documented in a portfolio that demonstrates the developments and implementations of their respective workplace innovations, and is presented at the end of the year.

presentation room

MALT hosted the third annual Action Research Exhibitions Conference on June 17 and 18 at the West Los Angeles Graduate Campus. Students unveiled their action research in three sessions each opened virtually by a world-renowned leader in the field. Highlights included, among others: Group Dynamics and Fostering Collective Efficacy Within a Multi-Divisional Corporation, Engaging the Disengaged, Development On-Demand: Media and Harmony in Corporate Education, Social Entrepreneurship: Engineering a Movement, and Achieving Project Management Maturity through Communities of Practice.

Similarly, students in the MAE and MAETC programs receive expert direction and support. Harding’s straightforward approach to problem solving guides students to create impactful solutions that improve the policies, procedures, and learning culture at the schools at which the students work and teach.

Dr. Nancy Harding

Dr. Nancy Harding

“Action research is exactly what it infers,” said Harding. “Students develop a hypothesis, collect on-site data, and determine whether or not the data proves or disproves their hypothesis, or changes it altogether. It is research with a leadership bent.”

The most recent cohort of students gathered at the end of June at all four graduate campuses to showcase their PAR projects, a capstone experience for candidates to demonstrate their professional competencies as delineated by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Teacher Performance Expectations and Teacher Performance Assessments.

Presentations fell into four categories: Curriculum and Instruction; Learning from Students; Education in a 21st-Century Context; and Classrooms, Parents, and Peers. Important topics discussed included A Joyful Noise Returns to the Classroom: A Study on Integrating Music into the Language Arts Curriculum, The Walls in the Educational Pipeline: Undocumented Students and the Challenges They Face in Pursuit of a Higher Education, Cliques in Kindergarten: Motivation or Hindrance?, and Promoting Positive Peer Interaction.

Equally dedicated to applying practical solutions to real-world problems, students in the educational leadership (ELA and ELAP) programs commit to planning, implementing, and evaluating PAR in order to improve student and adult learning. Projects are carefully crafted to address a compelling academic need or opportunity at the students’ school or work locations.

Kasey Thomas

To facilitate the process, learning circles are organized according to common areas of PAR study. Members of the learning circles meet regularly to discuss progress, elicit feedback, inquire about resources, and address challenges. Over the course of time, the learning circle members deepen their understanding and application of PAR by collectively discussing each other’s work.

On June 28, 14 ELA students shared and celebrated their final PAR leadership projects in an annual panel at the West Los Angeles Graduate Campus. On July 10, ELAP students presented their year-end projects, also at the West Los Angeles Graduate Campus. Attendees included faculty members, program alumni, and other members of the Pepperdine University community.


Subjects covered at this year’s ELA symposium included Going for the Green, a high school leadership project established to empower students to make good decisions throughout the school day with the aim of improving school culture, attendance, and academic performance; Discovering Why Math Matters, training teachers to improve math achievement for high school students by creating a tutoring program focused on connecting students with real-world situations; and Cultivating Student Leaders, service and leadership training for elementary students to introduce them to develop their interest in humanity.

Themes presented at the ELAP conference included Improving Classroom Instructional Practice through Participatory Action Based Research, Identifying the Role of Public Perception in Prospective Student Admissions at an Urban Catholic College Preparatory High School, and The Implementation of a Response to Intervention Model.

“Each student is making a wave of difference in each of the organizations in which they serve,” Purrington said. “They are truly the unsung heroes behind the scenes.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *