The Importance of Action Research

May 1, 2015

For many students, indeed for many of us, we have adopted this equation: FullSizeRenderRESEARCH = GOOGLE . . . or another so called “search engine.” That’s the exact issue – these are “search engines,” not research engines. If a person is doing a strict literature review, than a search engine is ideal. However for “research,” shouldn’t this involve RE-SEARCH? To look again or anew? And perhaps add to the body of knowledge?

As early as 1932, a version of the following quote has been cited by many people. Here’s my slight spin: If you copy from one person it’s plagiarism. If you copy from two it’s research.

Also in too many classes the minute students hear they have a research assignment the first question typically is How many pages does it have to be? Already that shows you have lost. The students are trying to finish before they even begin. Often before they know the topic. What would inspire students to delve into research with curiosity and excitement, a sense of adventure and an eagerness to ask questions and seek out authentic answers?

For quite a while now in my workshops, books and talks, I have been holding up a model that has taken traction all over the world, in schools and universities. Action Research—the MISO Method.

Media: Includes internet however it also includes books, television, newspapers, journals, maps (I love using maps), magazines, music, radio and more.

Interview: Finding out from an expert. With interviews you often hear information that hasn’t even arrived in the mass media.

Survey: Gathering from a broader population of people with vested interest in the topic (all the organizations addressing food security in Bangkok) or the general or targeted groups (what teens and adults know or think about the topic of food security).

Observation and Experience: Drawing from past or present opportunities for immersion in the topic in a myriad of ways—walking along a river to observe the volume or type of trash that has accumulated and project what might occur if nothing is disrupted.

During my five day consultation at NIST, an international school in Bangkok, I was fortunate to lead two 90 minutes sessions with students in grade 9 as they begin the process of Personal Project. Personal Project is a learning opportunity within the Middle Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate Programme (IB) to individually identify and delve into a topic of choice through investigation, planning, action, and reflection. This aligns well with the Five Stages of Service Learning, and also the process used in the IB CAS experience (Creativity Activity Service opportunity in the Diplomma Programme).

For these two workshops I engaged students in a sequence I developed called Four Corners Experience whereby in small groups students are guided to use newspapers to give an overview of many current local and global issues, select a topic, develop questions, and then categorize the questions into the MISO method—what would be the best way to get our questions answered: media, interview, survey, observation. When allowed only 10 minutes in a workshop session to carry out the research with limited resources, this is quite lively, a bit “frantic” as described by one student, and highly rewarding as information is gained in diverse and surprising ways. Every student participates. Students draw upon their collective interests, skills and talents to take part.

The students understood this was a practice session for skills they can apply to their independent work with Personal Project and any research assignment. For this short experience, and because we were time limited and they were conducting research with immediacy using limited tools, I stepped in to model an extended way of doing action research highlighting the power of INTERVIEWS and SURVEYS. They were interviewing each other, and a teacher who stopped by, however what about a veritable expert?

One student approached me asking How do we provide clean water?FB 3 I gave an answer however I thought, what if I reached out to an expert I know? Within three minutes I had texted and received an answer from my go to water expert and coauthor of Going Blue and Make a Splash! environmental advocate Philippe Cousteau (check out EarthEcho International, the organization he founded).  The students were overwhelmed with excitement to realize he had sent an answer to them! “Value water over cheap meat and cheap clothes and rampant consumption.” They continued to converse about this diving deeper into understanding. When I posted this question on Facebook the responses started coming and they are continuing—from Kuala Lumpur, Maine, Minnesota, and Costa Rica. References were made to and Learning is much more engaging when there are real connections to real people resulting in a dynamic of excitement and connectivity.

Similarly, during the second group a student approached me with a post-inPostit note: How can we educate people about domestic violence? Again I posted on Facebook and much appreciation for the responses. Every response adds to all of our knowledge as perspective and understanding deepens.

If student research is simply in front of a computer, make the shift. Explore Action Research, MISO style. These 120 students now have a new reference for what research can look like, sound like and feel like. When I asked, what will you use from the session, they said, “I have a way to come up with better questions,” “I will definitely use the MISO method (a statement echoed by most everyone)”, and “Interacting with people because you gain so many different perspectives.”

For more on Action Research, read chapter two of The Complete Guide to Service Learning. Or send me an email at for some basic documents to get you started. Or better yet, register for one of my two Summer Service Learning Institutes; read more below (on this blog) or here.

I look forward to hearing from you at


Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A.

Follow me on Twitter @cbkaye, and on Facebook and Linked In at Cathryn Berger Kaye. Read more articles on our website, and more blogs on a range of topics (check out the archives for many service learning stories and education ideas and best practices). Browse our ABCD Books Catalogue for titles to enliven learning and service.

UPcoming calendar items–contact me at for more information on speaking dates. 

Announcing Two Summer Service Learning Institutes!  

Education as Action: Foundations of Service Learning Institute, June 30-July 2, 2015 hosted at The Westminster School, Atlanta Georgia

An Advanced Service Learning Institute: Academics, Engagement and Purposeful Action–July 20-22, 2015 Carey Conference Center outside Albany, NY hosted by the New York State Association of Independent Schools

Credit available for international school educators.

Let me know your service learning questions and stories; you may inspire a blog–like this one!