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The NCPEA Handbook of Doctoral Programs in Educational Leadership: Issues and Challenges, Chapter 5, authored by Frederick L. Dembowski.

As seen in an earlier chapter, there is variation in the structure and content of doctoral programs in educational leadership. Some of the features of these programs might be considered innovative by the more conservative. This chapter will discuss two innovations that have been developed and implemented in a collaborative doctoral program offered by Southeastern Louisiana University and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. These innovations include: The Action Research Practicum and The Qualifying Paper.

The Action Research Practicum

With the emphasis on the improvement of educational outcomes following No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and similar calls for educational improvements, an important research question is “What works and what does not work?” While traditional research methodologies may be used to answer these questions, there is another alternative: Action Research. Dick (1999) describes action research as

A family of research methodologies which pursue action (or change) and research (or understanding) at the same time. In most of its forms it does this by 1. using a cyclic or spiral process which alternates between action and critical reflection and 2. in the later cycles, continuously refining methods, data and interpretation in the light of the understanding developed in the earlier cycles. It is thus an emergent process which takes shape as understanding increases; it is an iterative process which converges towards a better understanding of what happens. In most of its forms it is also participative (among other reasons, change is usually easier to achieve when those affected by the change are involved) and qualitative. (p. 1)

O’Brien (1998) states that action research is known by many other names, including participatory research, collaborative inquiry, emancipatory research, action learning, and contextual action research, but all are variations on a theme. Put simply, action research is “learning by doing” - a group of people identify a problem, do something to resolve it, see how successful their efforts were, and if not satisfied, try again. While this is the essence of the approach, there are other key attributes of action research that differentiate it from common problem-solving activities that we all engage in every day. A succinct definition is,

Action research...aims to contribute both to the practical concerns of people in an immediate problematic situation and to further the goals of social science simultaneously. Thus, there is a dual commitment in action research to study a system and concurrently to collaborate with members of the system in changing it in what is together regarded as a desirable direction. Accomplishing this twin goal requires the active collaboration of researcher and client, and thus it stresses the importance of co-learning as a primary aspect of the research process. (O’Brien, 1998)

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Source:  OpenStax, The handbook of doctoral programs: issues and challenges. OpenStax CNX. Dec 10, 2007 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10427/1.3
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