A four day workshop titled Introduction to Exploratory Action Research (EAR) was organised by the Department of ELT, Gauhati University from 18 to 21 September, 2017. The workshop, led by Dr Richard Smith of Warwick University, UK, and Dr Amol Padwad of J.M.Patel College, Maharashtra, India (and also the national Secretary of AINET, India), was supported by IATEFL TDSIG, AINET, the British Council and ESRC, UK.
Thirty highly motivated participants from a variety of teaching and training contexts attended the workshop and committed to conducting mini-EAR projects in their own contexts.
Padmini Bhuyan Boruah, PhD
Associate Professor, Department of ELT, Gauhati University
This report comes from Padmini following the EAR event at Gauhati University in India – an Introductory Workshop on Exploratory Action Research – an event that we at TDSIG were proud to support.
During the four days of the event, the workshop leaders Richard Smith and Amol Padwad involved the group in a series of hands-on activities that enabled them to reflect on their own and others’ classroom issues and evolve a systematic plan for exploring issues in their own contexts. Among the areas participants worked on were (a) understanding the various stages of EAR (b) possible motivations to do research (c) selecting a topic for exploration (d) formulating research questions (e) considering possible sources and kinds of data and finally, (f) preparing a time plan for exploration. The key learning points emerging out of the workshop included understanding the value of ‘exploring before acting to change a situation’ (Amol) and ‘asking the right kind of questions’ (Richard). The two workshop leaders also helped participants understand the value of non-academic research and the cyclical process of exploration and research.
Daily events and activities
The first day began with a brief inaugural function, which was addressed by the Vice Chancellor of Gauhati University Dr Mridul Hazarika, the two workshop leaders Dr Richard Smith and Dr Amol Padwad, the Head of the Department of ELT, Gauhati University Professor Anita Tamuli and Dr Padmini Bhuyan Boruah, the workshop coordinator. In the academic sessions that followed, Richard and Amol began by personalising and demystifying the concept of ‘research’ through a series of peer activities that resulted in participants sharing information about themselves and their classroom concerns, and engaging in a ‘speed-research’ activity.
The second day saw participants working in jigsaw group activities to read, discuss and reflect on the research explorations of two teachers from the Chile Champion Teachers project, and using this experience to decide on a possible topic for research and formulate their own research questions. Participants also put up mini posters of their research questions, and the workshop leaders invited everyone to comment on, ask questions about or provide suggestions on these. Consequently, at the end of the second day, participants were able to understand the value of exploring one’s own and others’ perceptions and behaviour, and of using these as research prompts.
On the third day, participants filled in grids detailing research questions, decided on research tools and completed a time plan for their own research. They filled in a week-by-week grid of the ‘things to do’ for their own exploratory action research project. The plan included informing and taking permission from stakeholders, discussing the plan with colleagues who may be involved, planning dates and time for collecting evidence, designing research tools, and collecting and analysing evidence. The home assignment for the third day was to prepare a poster to be displayed on the next (and last) day, describing their research plan,
On the final day of the workshop participants put up their posters and reacted to one another’s presentations by asking questions, offering suggestions and finding ways of working collaboratively on each other’s research journeys. ‘Research buddies’ were made, and the workshop ended with plans for the rest of the academic session.
The four days of workshop activities were shared on various platforms such as Facebook pages and groups, Twitter, email groups and Whatsapp. Support and interest from teacher research enthusiasts across the world poured in through social media, and especially through a ‘Facebook live’ webcast in the ‘Teachers Research!’ Facebook group. Video recordings and photographs were used to record the event. The participants and workshop leaders also found opportunities to bond though socializing activities (after working hours) such as a ferry ride on the Brahmaputra river, exploring local markets for ethnic fare, and walks.
The participants were asked to fill a detailed feedback form on their workshop experience. Below is a set of sample responses reflecting their perceptions and perspectives on the workshop:
“I was almost certain about what my students should do, and I somehow overlooked their perception. This exploratory action research workshop opened my eyes and I am quite motivated to explore my concerns differently.”
“…I learnt how exploring the situation can lead us to take more informed decisions when we do action research.”
“For me, the best part of the workshop was coming across so many ideas given by the fellow participants.”
Some of the suggestions made by participants included continuing dialogue and discussions online, engaging in research in small groups to motivate one another, forming mentor groups from among participants to support research plans and activities, a publication on the findings of the research projects that will hopefully follow, and a collaborative seminar with other teachers’ organizations to disseminate the idea and practice of exploratory action research.
Follow up plans
As a follow up, the group plans to meet at the end of November in the Department of ELT, Gauhati University, to share the achievements, issues and challenges faced during participants’ exploratory journeys. If adequate funding can be organized, the Department plans to host a teacher research conference early next year (2018). It also hopes to publish a collection of the exploratory action research (success and challenges) stories that the workshop participants will have experienced in the coming months.
The Department of ELT wishes to thank its sponsors, especially IATEFL TDSIG, ESRC, AINET and British Council, India for making the workshop a possibility, and looks forward to further collaborative events in the near future.