Introducing the First Action Research Student Choice Awards

Student Choice Awards

This summer (2017) during an Action Research Plus committee videoconference (AR+, the initiatives enabled through this very website), Hilary Bradbury, Dusty Columbia Embury and I hatched the idea of getting my PhD students at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas, involved in engaging action research knowledge through AR+.

Even before we had a solid idea of what this engagement might look like, Dusty named it “The Student Choice Awards” (SCAs), which immediately resonated with the three of us. It would then fall to me to build and implement the SCA’s with my 15 PhD students in the course “Qualitative Research Methods” in Fall 2017.

I produced a framing document for the students that expressed that the SCA’s were designed to help better understand which ARJ articles—and thereby AR projects, themes, sectors, methodologies, etc.—PhD students find most relevant. I then laid out a process by which the students could fairly easily review the titles and key words of all 128 ARJ articles from the last 5 years or so (Jan 2012-Jun 2017), choose the 5 that most resonated with them, then 3, then 2 and finally 1 (for a description of the methodology, click here). We ended up with the 15 blogs presented here, which are inspired by 13 SCA “winners”—i.e. the one article that most resonated with each of our students.

Figure 1 Word cloud formed from key words from 128 ARJ articles

Figure 1: Word cloud formed from key words from 128 ARJ articles

What does it mean that there are winners, what was won and who did the “winning”? To answer these questions, it is important to understand that most of the students in the class are practitioners in their professions, or come from practice-based educational backgrounds. For example, their degrees include bachelor’s and master’s in fields such as Molecular Biology and Genetics, Healthcare Administration, Business Administration, Strategic Management, Sociology, Communications, and Fine Arts. Their current jobs include working as educators with “at-risk” youth in K-12 public education, in law enforcement, network and information security (for a national law firm), military, finance and technology in a religious nonprofit setting, college instruction in kinesiology, and management of a start-up nonprofit organization.

They are direct implementers, managers, directors and founding partners. They have up to 25 years work experience in some cases! The group is very diverse as over a third are international students and two thirds come from minority groups and would be considered “people of color”. Only two of the fifteen had ever read an article from ARJ!

What is striking to me is that a group of mostly practitioner doctoral students should be actively engaging journals like ARJ which are targeted to both academics and professionals engaged within the fields and disciplines of Healthcare, Education, International Development, Management, Social Work, The Arts, Gender and Race and other interdisciplinary fields. In figure 2 I share selected research interests from some of the students in this class, many of which directly align with ARJ’s realms of inquiry.

If, as renowned civil society practitioner / academic L. David Brown says is true, that ARJ “offers a greatly-needed forum at a time of growing recognition around the world that engagements between researchers and practitioners are central to generating both new knowledge and innovations in practice relevant to many critical problems”(1), then why aren’t our PhD students actively engaging the journal?

Figure 2: (Action) research interests of some of our students

Reem’s research interests are in the area of education reform, evaluation, and distance education.
Inci’s research interests include doctoral students’ learning experiences, refugee studies, entrepreneurship education, emotional intelligence, and educational research.
Hussain is passionate about youth development and wants to focus on youth entrepreneurship research
Alicja’s interests include social entrepreneurship, international business, and non-profit organizations.
James is passionate about solving problems at any scale using a people-centered, research-driven, systems approach.
Diana strives to better comprehend and bridge numbers with words to provide rich and meaningful data.
Willie is passionate about reducing recidivism, and hopes to help prisoners become the change they wish to see in the world.
Todd has a passion for solving complicated challenges in difficult environments to facilitate the success of others.
Brittany’s research interests include black females, children, Disney influence, and action research
LeWayne is utilizing his professional experience and industry certifications to establish a cybersecurity education framework for school systems to help protect children against the risks of the internet.
Melinda’s research interests include Third Culture Kids, Cultural Competence, and any form of art.
Sam hopes to be able to teach undergraduate students pursing an education career in the near future.

The reasons practitioners and others who might benefit from journals like ARJ do not actively engage are of course myriad and systemic. The SCA’s effectively bypassed this question by bringing the key words directly to the students and giving them a chance to match them with their own current and emerging interests. In figure 3 I present a Word cloud based on the key words from the 13 winners.

Figure 3: Key words from the 13 SCA “winners”

Figure 3: Key words from the 13 SCA “winners”

So, what was won and who did the “winning”? Students became more aware of specific experiences that engage knowledge through action and generate practical action informed by knowledge, in fields that are directly relevant to them. They also became more aware of the existence of action research practice through a journal that aims to “offer a viable alternative to dominant ‘disinterested’ models of social science, one that is relevant to people in the conduct of their lives, their organizations and their communities” (2). Finally, they were able to produce their own knowledge through the blogs produced here. The authors of the 13 “winners” will hopefully gain new insights into how their valuable work is directly relevant to practitioners and emerging researchers who are in their PhD processes. Action Research Journal has seen and will hopefully see additional increased readership (and use/application of AR over time) at least through these 15 students, but hopefully more via exposure through AR+. And I have personally won by better understanding how relevant indeed AR literature is to my students and to the overall PhD program to which I belong. I am eager to continue bringing the articles and key words to the students as they develop more awareness of what they are seeking with and through AR in their PhD processes.

I invite you to read through the different blogs and see for yourself what each of our students valued in what they read, and what each expressed as insights for other practitioner/academics who are seeking “participative, action oriented inquiry into questions that matter – questions relevant to people in the conduct of their lives, that enable them to flourish in their organizations and communities, and that evince a deep concern for the wider ecology”(3) Enjoy!

Read the blogs

Alfredo Ortiz Aragόn