Investigating the use of Action Research and Activity Theory to Promote the Professional Development of Teachers in Iceland
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
ABSTRACT This thesis investigates the use of action research and activity theory to promote the professional development of teachers in an Icelandic upper secondary school. The purpose of the research was to develop a new model to foster professional development through enhancing the participants’ agency to transform their practice. It was carried out with an action research group of twenty-one school professionals and an outside consultant. The group’s aim was to find ways to increase students’ sense of responsibility for their studies. The project combined the ideas behind the Change Laboratory, one of the methods of developmental work research established by Engeström and action research as elaborated by McNiff. I termed our approach the Change Room. There activity theory and the theory of expansive learning provided the participants with a conceptual framework, historical analysis and tools to analyse what changes might be appropriate in our classroom practice. The action research provided the participants with the method and tools to guide the participants when carrying out and evaluating these changes. The research focus was on tensions the participants experienced in their classroom practice. Through creative resolutions of these tensions the intention was to develop better practices and contribute to school development. The research used both action research and case study methodology. The research tools were documentary analysis, interviews, surveys, research diary and observations. The findings were analysed using deductive process based on activity theory. The teachers experienced tensions in their classroom practice between students’ active and passive learning, didactic and dialogic teaching methods, and the requirement to cover the syllabus and to promote deep learning. To resolve these tensions the teachers have developed teaching practices that enhanced active student learning and given more weight to the students’ voices. Participation in the action research group enhanced both individual and collective learning of the school professionals. Their agency to change practice was increased and they also developed more cross curriculum agency. The combination of activity theory and action research in the Change Room provides a new model for enhancing teachers’ professional development and collaboration that has potential to transform classroom practice.
The thesis is for a joint award of Doctor of Philosophy in Education from the University of Exeter and the University of Iceland. A co-tutelle agreement was made between the two universities regarding this joint award.
PhD in Education