Tag Archives: action research

Academic vs Applied Research

Academic and applied research are perhaps the only two ways that research can be performed. In this post, we will look at the differences between these two perspectives on research.

Academic Research

Academic research falls into two categories. These two categories are

  • Research ON your field
  • Research FOR your field

Research ON your field is research is research that is searching for best practice. It looks at how your academic area is practiced in the real world. A scholar will examine how well a theory is being applied or used in a real-world setting and make recommendations.

For example, in education, if a scholar does research in reading comprehension, they may want to determine what are some of the most appropriate strategies for teaching reading comprehension. The scholar will look at existing theories and such which one(s) are most appropriate for supporting students.

Research ON your field is focused on existing theories that are tested with the goal of developing recommendations for improving practice.

Research FOR your field is slightly different. This perspective seeks to expand theoretical knowledge about your field. In orders, the scholar develops new theories rather than assess the application of older ones.

An example of this in education would be developing a new theory in reading comprehension. By theory, it is meant explanation. Famous theories in education include Piaget’s stages of development, Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, and more. At their time each of these theories pushes the boundaries of our understanding of something.

The main thing about academic research is that it leads to recommendations but not necessarily to answers that solve problems. Answering problems is something that is done with applied research.

Applied Research

Applied research is also known as research IN your field. This type of research is often performed by practitioners in the field.

  • research IN your field

There are several forms of research IN your field and they are as follows

  • Formative
  • Monitoring
  • Summative

Formative research is for identifying problems. For example, a teacher may notice that students are not performing well or doing their homework. Formative applied research is when the detective hat is put on and the teacher begins to search for the cause of this behavior.

The results of formative research lead to some sort of an action plan to solve the problem. During the implementation of the solution, monitoring applied research is conducted. Monitoring research is conducted during implementation of a solution to see how things are going.

For example, if the teacher discovers that students are struggling with reading because they are struggling with phonological awareness.  They may implement a review program of this skill for the students. Monitoring would involve assessing student performance of reading during the program.

Summative applied research is conduct at the end of implementation to see if the objectives of the program were met. Returning to the reading example, if the teacher’s objective was to improve reading comprehension scores 10% the summative research would assess how well the students can now read and whether there was a 10% improvement.

In education, applied research is also known as action research.


Research can serve many different purposes.  Academics focus on recommendations, not action while practitioners want to solve problems and perhaps not recommend as much. The point is that understanding what type of research you are trying to conduct can help you in shaping the direction of your study.

Logical Flow in R: If/Else Statements

If statements in R are used to define choice in the script. For example, if there are two choices ‘a’ and ‘b’ and an if statement is used. Then if a certain condition exists ‘a’ happens if not, ‘b’ happens.

Before we explore this more closely we need to setup a scenario and a function for it. Imagine that James wants to donate $40.00 for every point his team scores in a game. To calculate this we create the following function.

CashDonate <- function(points, Dollars_per_point=40){
 game.points<- points * Dollars_per_point

Here is what we did

  1. We created the function “CashDonate”
  2. The function has the arguments ‘points’ and ‘Dollars_per_point’ which has a default value of 40
  3. The variable ‘game.points’ is created to hold the value of ‘points’ times ‘Dollars_per_point’
  4. The output of ‘game.points’ is then rounded which is the total amount of money that should be donated

The function works perfectly

Below is an example of the function working when James’ team scores 95 points

> CashDonate(95)
[1] 3800

Later, James comes to you upset. His team is scoring so many points that it is starting to affect his budget. He now wants to change the amount he donates IF the team scores over 100 points. If his team scores 100 points or more James wants to donate $30.00 per point instead of $40.00 dollars. Below is the modified function. Notice the use of the if in the script.

CashDonate <- function(points, Dollars_per_point=40){
 game.points<- points * Dollars_per_point  if(points > 100) {game.points <-points * 30

Most of the code is the same except notice the following changes

  1. We added the argument ‘if’ after this, we put the condition
  2. If the number of points was greater than 100 we now would multiply the results of the variable ‘games.points’ by 30 instead of the default value of 40

Below are two examples. Example 1 shows the results of the modified ‘CashDonate’ function when less than 100 points are scored. Example two will show the results when more than 100 points are scored.

> CashDonate(98)
[1] 3920
> CashDonate(103)
[1] 3090

Else Statements

Else statements allow for the use of TRUE/FALSE statements. For example, if ‘a’ is true do this if not do something else. Below is a scenario that requires the use of an ‘else’ statement.

The owner of James’ team decides that he wants to contribute to the donating as well. He states that if it is a home game he will give 50% of whatever James give and he will give 30% of whatever James gives for away games. The total will be added together as one amount. Below is the modified code.

CashDonate <- function(points, Dollars_per_point=40, HomeGame=TRUE){
 game.points<- points * Dollars_per_point  if(points > 100) {game.points <-points * 30}
 if(HomeGame) {Total.Donation <- game.points * 1.5
 } else {Total.Donation <- game.points * 1.3}

Here is an explanation

  1. At the top, we add the argument “HomeGame” and set the default to “TRUE” which means the other choice is “FALSE” which is for an away game
  2. The rule for points over 100 is the same as before
  3. The second ‘if’ statement talks about the logical statement for “HomeGame”. If it is a home game the results of ‘game.points’ is multiplied by 1.5 or 50%. If it is not a home game (notice the ‘else’) then the results of ‘game.points’ is multiplied by 1.3 or 30%. The results of either choice are stored in the variable ‘Total.Donation’
  4. Lastly, the results of ‘Total.Donation’ are rounded

Below are 4 examples

Example 1 is less than 100 points scored in a home game

> CashDonate(98)
[1] 5880

Example 2 is more than 100 points scored in a home game

> CashDonate(102)
[1] 4590

Example 3 is less than 100 points scored at an away game

> CashDonate(99, HomeGame = FALSE)
[1] 5148

Example 4 is more than 100 points scored at an away game

> CashDonate(104, HomeGame = FALSE)
[1] 4056


If statements provide choice. Else statements provide choice for logical arguments. Both can be used in R to provide several different actions in a script.

Introduction to Vectors in R

A key component of R is the use of vectors. Vectors a single piece of information that contents a collection of information. This probably sounds extremely confusing so an example will be provided.

Think of an organization such as a school. We will call the school Asia International School. Asia International school consist of an administrator named Dr. T, teachers named Mr. Bob and Mrs . Smith, and students named Sam, David, and Mary. In this example, the school is consider a vector or a single piece of information (Asia International School). The administrators, teachers, and students are the collection of information within the large piece of information that is the school.

If we wanted to write this example using the R programming language it would look something like the following…

  • > Asia International School(Dr. T, Mr. Bob, Mrs. Smith, Sam, David, Mary)
    [1] Dr. T Mr. Bob Mrs. Smith Sam David Mary

To be fair this is not exactly how it is done this is strictly an imperfect illustration of a very abstract concept.

A Real Example

In order to make a vector in R you need to use c() function. A function is a piece of code that does something to the information that is within its parentheses. For example, let’s make a vector that contains the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

  • > c(1,2,3,4,5)
    [1] 1 2 3 4 5

To get the second line you need you press enter

The c means combine. The information inside the parentheses is the information that is being combined into one vector. Going back to our school example, Dr. T, Mr. Bob, Mrs. Smith, Sam, David, and Mary were being combined into the school Asia International. In a vector, all information inside the parentheses is known as arguments.


This is just some of the most basic ideas about vectors. There is a great deal more to explore about the use of vectors which is considered one of the most powerful features of R. The challenge of learning R is with the abstract nature of programming. You have to think of things you want to do in terms of a code that the computer can understand. This is very confusing for most people.

Action Research Part II

In the last post, we began a discussion on action research. This post will conclude our look at action research. In this post, we will look at the following concepts

  • Steps in action research
  • Pros and Cons of action research

Steps in Action Research

How to approach action research is highly variable. Often action research will include research questions, the gathering of data, data analysis, and the development of an action plan

Identify the Research Question(s)

Action research is about answering questions. These questions can be used in many ways for example.

  • To ask about information needed to make decisions
  • To ask questions about how well something is doing
  • To ask questions about what people think or feel

The types of questions are endless. For further information on asking questions in research please click here.

Data Collection

All standard forms of methodology are appropriate for action research. Survey, correlational, experimental, and more can all be used. With action research, the approach is often simplified because it is not the rigor but results that are important.

However, there are several forms of data collection that are extremely popular in action research. Observation, interviewing, and document analysis are some of the most common forms of data collection in action research.

The goal is always to try and triangulate whatever information is being collected. The type of collection method depends on what the research question is.

Data Analysis

Data analysis includes the same methods as other forms of research. The difference being that action research is much less complex in the approaches taken to analyze data. The primary goal is to create an accurate picture of whatever is under investigation.

Development of Action Plan

This final step depends on the original purpose of the study. If the purpose of the action research was to gather data to make a decision. The actual decisions that are made will be represented in an action plan. The action plan is a document that specifies the changes that will take place based on the findings of the study.

If the purpose of the action research was to assess how well something is working or to see which method is best or some other question, a plan may not be the final result. For example, if a teacher wants to see if lecture or discussion is better for the academic progress of students the results would indicate which is most appropriate. The teacher may not need to develop a plan for this but just be sure to include more or less lecture/discussion in their teaching.

Pros and Cons of Action Research


Action Research can be done by any teacher. The simplicity of action research allows anyone to do it. Results do not need to meet the rigors of publication. The results of teacher-led action research is improved classroom teaching

Action research improves educational practices. With data, schools can make plans to improve performance. Otherwise, schools are left to guess what to do. Problems are identified systematically at the school and even classroom level.


There is always a lack of validity with action research. The results only apply to the local context and generalization is often difficult. The sample size is often small with the population and sample being the same.


Action research is for strengthening classroom practice. The goal is not necessarily to write and publish but rather to empower local decision making and assist stakeholders directly.

Having said this, action research is an accepted form of research worthy of publication if it is conducted in a systematic fashion. The results may not generalize but they still can provide insights for other practitioners in the field.

Action Research Part 1

Action research is a topic that is spoken of a great deal in education and even other fields. However, this term is often used without people knowing exactly what action research is. Therefore, in this post, we will look at the following about action research.

  • What action research is.
  • Types of action research
  • Levels of participation in action research

Defining Action Research

Action research is research performed for the purpose of solving local problems or obtaining local information to make local decisions. This is important. According to this definition, action research does at least two things

  1. Solves a local problem through research
  2. Provides local data through research to make a local decision

In addition, two unique characteristics of action research is a local of generalizability or external validity, and lack of use of rigorous research approaches.

Action researchers are only concern with dealing with local problems in the local context. Therefore it is often difficult to try to apply the local approaches broadly. For example, the sample and the population in action research are often the same. This rarely happens in larger research projects. This means that excellent action research needs to be replicated in several contexts before it is generalizable.

Action research follows any of the most common research methodologies but not at the same level of mastery. Action researchers are normally practitioners in their respective field and not necessarily thoroughly trained scholar-researchers. The purpose of this research is to solve a local problem and not develop dense theories defendable theories.

Action Research Types

There are at least two types of action research. They are practical action research and participatory action research.

Practical action research involves dealing with a local problem by providing solutions to improve short-term performance and or provide information for making decisions. One result of this type of action research is an action plan which is plan that is developed based on research for the purpose of change

Participatory action research is the same as practical action research in that it deals with local problems and provides solutions or data. The main difference between these two forms of action research is philosophical. Participatory action research focuses on empowering individuals and bringing social change through research.

Participatory action research is about the participation of as many stakeholders as possible in the research process. This is one reason why participatory action research is referred to as collaborative research

Levels of Participation

Some believe that there are nine levels of participation in action research. Rarely, does one individual participate in all nine levels in a particular project. The table below provides the nine levels, with a description of what happens at that level, as well as who commonly participates at that level. Please keep in mind that this is not the steps of an action research project but a map of how people participate.

Level Participation Who Participates
9 Initiates a study Administrators, teachers, parents
8 Helps with developing research problems Administrators, teachers, parents
7 Designing the project Administrators, teachers, parents
6 Interpretation of results Administrators, teachers, parents
5 Review results Administrators, teachers, parents
4 Data collection Administrators, teachers, parents
3 Receive findings Administrators, teachers, parents, students
2 Know purpose of study Administrators, teachers, parents, students
1 Provide information for the study Administrators, teachers, parents, students

From the table, it shows that adults can participate at all levels in action research. Students normally do not participate beyond level 3 with exceptions being as they grow older such as high school and university students.


Action research is about change. Looking at a local issue and developing local solutions and or information for developing a local plan of action is the focus of action research. For this reason, action research skills are an important tool for people in the field.