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Using action research to investigate the use of digital information resources in further education

Rowley, Jennifer and Ray, Kathryn and Proud, Debbie and Banwell, Linda and Spink, Siân and Thomas, Rhian and Urquhart, Christine (2004) Using action research to investigate the use of digital information resources in further education. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 28 (3). pp. 235-246. ISSN 1469-9486

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Abstract

Within the Third Annual Cycle of the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) User Behaviour Monitoring and Evaluation Framework, six small-scale action research interventions were undertaken in further education (FE) institutions. The aims of these interventions were two-fold: (i) to develop understanding of the facilitators and barriers to the use of digital information resources by students in FE; (ii) to test the value of the action research approach in facilitating change and developing transferable knowledge in this context. The objectives for each intervention were developed in collaboration with the FE college site staff and students. The process generally involved identification and elaboration of the problem situation, development of an intervention that might help to overcome some of the barriers to more effective use of electronic information services and evaluation of the outcomes of the intervention. Both practical-deliberative and participatory action research methods were used, with interviews and focus groups used to determine the problem and assess the effectiveness of interventions. Six interventions are reported. These included: a database implementation, the development of a subject guide, training sessions, a major change project and a web site. The main findings on the use of digital information resources in FE were: (i) interventions can make the students more aware of resources available, but the immediate impact may be low; (ii) FE students are often part-time and work in subject/cohort groups in the FE college, therefore targeted initiatives which are aimed at 'their' group are likely to be most effective; (iii) incorporation of the use of specialized digital resources in assignments is constrained by student preference for books and/or the Internet, a lack of new products aimed at the FE student market and physical information technology (IT) problems or the perceived lack of IT support. The action research methodology offers benefits not available through survey-based methodologies. The challenges that arise from the integration of learning from different action research projects need to be balanced against the benefits accruing from embedding learning and knowledge creation in innovation and using research to promote change, rather than simply to measure it.

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