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Action Learning for Research: Building Groups to Bridge Research and Practice

Thomas Crea

Associate Professor, School of Social Work

Action learning is a concept in which teams pool their knowledge and expertise to solve problems in real time. Action Research is a means of conducting research that pairs researchers and practitioners to develop methods and findings relevant and practical for those attempting to solve social problems. Teaching action research depends on alignment of classroom and practicum schedules, cooperation among group members, and synergistic relationship with field staff. The current classroom model makes it difficult for these three things to occur and can result in reduced student learning. This project proposes that the use of a newly developed learning application will help resolve these challenges and create a more dynamic learning experience for students.

A web-based application is currently under development in Boston College’s Center for Teaching Excellence to help avoid some major challenges to group work and to assist in project communication and planning over the course of the semester. The app is designed to assess student preferences and needs in group work settings. The tool then employs rigorous analytic techniques drawing from cluster analysis, the tool helps the instructor assign people to groups based upon those preferences and the instructor’s goals for the assignment. After groups are assigned, students work together to accomplish the learning task. When the learning activity is complete, students can use the tool to conduct a simple and fast evaluation of their group members’ performance. This information can then be shared with the instructor for formative assessment purposes and/or could be used to inform the next round of group formation.

The purpose of this project is to use this innovative technology to promote stronger and more efficient student groups, which are linked to social service agencies globally and in Boston. In using this learning tool, and integrating it within the existing Canvas system at Boston College, we hope to engage students in a process of action learning focused on field-based research, in partnership with field agencies around the world.