Action Research Report 2: Introduction of web-page to Stage
by Jennifer Petschler
1. Reconnaissance / Identifying
4. Data Collection
5. Data analysis and
7. Reflection and on-going
As part of the NSW History Project each participant has undertaken
an action research assignment. This paper focuses on the results
of action research carried out to create and include a webpage in
the teaching of Stage 4 History.
According to Cohen and Manion, "
action research is a small-scale
intervention in the functioning of the real world and a close examination
of the effects of such intervention" . These authors outline different
purposes for action research, one of which is to create "a means
of injecting additional or innovatory approaches to teaching and
learning into an ongoing system which normally inhibits innovation
and change" . Shirley Grundy specifies that in adopting action research
the aims are improvement and involvement, where improvement includes
improvement in practices, in the situation within which action is
occurring and in understanding both the practice and the situation.
The site for this action research study is a secondary girl's college.
While this school is not opposed to innovation or change, the nature
of school teaching with loaded days and a crowded curriculum means
that as in any number of schools, innovations can be inhibited as
suggested by Cohen and Manion.
This paper outlines the action research as it was implemented,
the structures which were aimed at allowing for data collection,
evaluation of data and reflection. As Cohen and Manion point out,
the "emphasis is not so much on obtaining generalisable scientific
knowledge as on precise knowledge for a particular situation or
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/ Identifying the 'problem'
The Stage 4 History Syllabus includes a focus on Contact History.
Within the site for this research Jacaranda texts are used as teaching
aids. Previously the methodology for teaching this area included
use of the textbook and some additional written material on specific
issues and personalities pertaining to contact between the original
inhabitants of Australia and North America and Europeans. While
the range of information was appropriate the limit to the variety
of tasks undertaken was a concern. It was felt that an assignment
towards the end of the course which brought together a range of
skills and was also engaging might produce greater balance in the
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The aim of this action research was to create a website for use
as part of teaching Stage 4 History and to undertake continuous
analysis of the website as an educational tool. The hypothesis was
that this would enable the effective use of technology in Stage
4 History beyond using word processor programs, as well as introducing
more interactive and engaging teaching and learning strategies.
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A website was developed with the assistance of Mike Horsley on
a particular incident in North American history - the Battle of
Little Bighorn. Students were able to work at their own pace and
were expected to undertake a set of tasks. This included completing
a workbook and submitting a written report. It was envisaged that
this would require three weeks of class time (seven 45minute lessons).
The aim was to not simply replace the textbook with the website.
Rather, the students had to navigate the site, identify and analyse
information and compare and collate information in order to complete
the required tasks. It was thought that the range of tasks would
cater for the needs of various students.
The website is made up of two parts. In Part 1 the students had
to access information to understand the significance for four images
presented to them. In gathering the information they were required
to identify the image and discuss what it told us about the history
area being studied. In Part 2 the students had to use the information
gathered to name the Battle of Little Bighorn as the event that
united each image, and write two historical recounts - one from
the point of view of a contemporary newspaper, and one as a recollection
of a Native American who witnessed/survived the battle.
Beyond preparing students for the content area, a lesson was given
to introduce the students to the site to explain the process and
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4. Data Collection
As the action research progressed I maintained notes recording
difficulties and experiences. Through this method the effectiveness
of the website as a teaching instrument was considered.
The students were very much 'co-participants' as they provided
insight and informed opinions about the usefulness of the website.
They were given time and space to provide feedback which was done
through class discussion after group analysis, and some written
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5. Data analysis
The nature of my own data was subjective. However, action research
is dependent on the experience of the researcher, and the lack of
objectivity is not as problematic as in more quantitative research
methodologies, so long as it is an acknowledged factor.
The feedback from the students was more problematic. As their class
teacher and the Year Coordinator students were initially careful
in their comments regarding their experience. Through small group
analysis and the class discussion, however, a more honest account
of their experience became apparent.
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In undertaking this project there were a number of positive experiences.
The design of the website was initially difficult, but the task
was made easier by the range of online guides and the assistance
of Mike Horsley. Having no training in FrontPage meant that the
time taken in design was beyond initial expectations, however, the
result was a working website. The HSIE department was supportive
of this project as were staff involved in providing computer assistance
within the school. The students were particularly enthusiastic about
undertaking this assignment as it was "different" and they had a
role to play in providing feedback. Finally, the support from the
school library was significant as it was possible to book the computer
area for the duration of the assignment.
There were, however, a number of difficulties. The timetabling
of junior History means that each class has two 45 minute lessons
one week and three the next. If a student missed a class it was
difficult for them to access the computers due to demand outside
of class to catch up on lost time. Into this precarious situation
came an unplanned factor. A serious bout of influenza swept through
Year 8, leaving many if not most students absent for a week or more,
all at different times. More computer time was booked and the due
date for the assignment was extended by two weeks. One problem with
this was that the reports for the class were due prior to the assignment
being completed, and as such only the workbook was used for this
purpose, with the written report being submitted later. A second
issue arose, which was that while computer time was made available
for these classes, limits to resources meant that other subject
areas missed out on equal access.
Structural concerns- Part 1
In terms of the task itself, the original design of Part 1gave
students four areas of information and for each area they had the
same broad question to answer. Only the most advanced students were
able to complete this part of the task with confidence. At first
the students reacted by wanting to know where the answer was, and
they were dismayed to find they had to work it out. The class was
used to highly structured activities in the textbook where questions
are phrased to allow easy answers.
While this was initially rewarding, to see the students exploring
the information provided to try to understand it in order to find
a suitable response, it became increasingly clear that this system
was not really working. Instead of selecting pieces of information,
many in the class were getting lost in details and disheartened
by the process. The task had required analytical skill not yet developed
by many students, and the online information was challenging. With
the disjointed lessons and long absences the time taken by this
first part of the task was taking from the momentum of the project.
Structural concerns - Part 2
The second part of the assignment was supported by online examples
of each of the required recounts. While the students were more confident
with this part of the task, they used little of their own information
in preparing the recounts, as they were confused by their own responses
to Part 1. Regardless, the final presentation of responses (most
of the class only had time to complete drafts) was successful as
the students were happy to present work and were glad to get back
to the classroom to discuss the content as a class.
Having completed the assignment, students were given the chance
in small groups to discuss their experience and then share it with
the class. The groups were asked to consider how this assignment
compared with others they had done, whether they felt the questions
and timing was appropriate, and what their view of using the website
as opposed to textbooks and other texts was. Some students then
wrote their responses out and submitted them.
The general mood was relief that the assignment was over, and that
the end of term was near! In general most students liked using the
computers, but there were particular issues raised which countered
this. These included;
Frustration that the fourth image had little to do with the task
"The bison page was crap"
The lack of set questions -
"It feels like there is no right or wrong answer but you either
answer the question or you don't, so you can get it wrong. I guess
you could consider this a good thing but it created stress for me"
"The bit I found hardest was getting all the information together
from the bits you need and don't need because there was a lot of
"I couldn't get it"
Time - issues here ranged from not having enough time, to the
assignment taking too long. One feature of this assignment was that
the students had to access it from school, so could not complete
it as homework. While many found this a relief, others were frustrated.
"If we didn't get it done in the class we could not do it at home"
The students did agree that the assignment would not have worked
if they had simply been given the questions and had to search for
their own site, because they find this takes too much time and they
are aggravated by the time it takes to "find anything decent".
Modifications pursuant to concerns
In response to the problems with Part 1 of the task, the workbook
and website have been modified. One of the four areas for the students
to research has been removed as it has little relevance. Of greater
significance, the one general question for each area has been replaced
by specific questions for each image. While some of these questions
are in keeping with the "spot the answer" approach, others do require
analysis. This more structured approach will hopefully signpost
the more important areas of information to the students while still
challenging them to make connections for themselves.
These modifications will, it is hoped, also reduce the time required
to work through the assignment, thus maintaining momentum and taking
some pressure off the computer area in the library. The decision
to structure this task so that it is completed in class time will
not be changed in consideration of equity for the many students
who do not have computers at home.
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and on-going activity
The website with modifications will now be used by another teacher
and class in the second half of the year. This will allow for further
analysis of the effectiveness of the website and its place in the
Stage 4 History program. This is particularly important given the
problems encountered and changes implemented after the initial test.
In terms of the use of technology, this has provided both myself
and the site school with the opportunity to practice new skills,
and has contributed to discussion within the HSIE department about
incorporating different technology in a variety of year groups and
A significant concern at the beginning of this action research
was the nature of using school computers for extended periods of
time. This concern focused on access to computers, the stability
of the school system, and the different levels of computer skills
within the class. While access was not a problem with the initial
trial, pressure on school resources was clear as other subject teachers
were 'locked out' of their access. With the revised assignment it
is hoped that this situation will be partly resolved with less time
being required. The school system was stable throughout this assignment
period, but may pose difficulties at any stage.
In terms of students' skill in using the computers, the majority
were comfortable with this task and required little instruction
on navigating the site and moving between links. Those who did require
some assistance quickly learnt and were able to work independently.
The task of modifying the site was less difficult than expected,
and the set up on the school server, while cumbersome, does allow
for future modifications without outside assistance.
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In reflecting on this action research, I am acutely aware of the
difficulties in creating such a project in isolation. Without support
from both the University and site school, my personal lack of technological
skills would have prohibited the creation of the webpage.
However, the act of undertaking research while continuing as practitioner
was both rewarding and enlightening. I was able to reflect on my
own practice as a necessity rather than a luxury, and the connection
with the students involved was a wonderful experience, with shared
responsibility motivating them much more than a threatening deadline
In practical terms the website has been provisionally adopted as
part of the Stage 4 History program and I believe it met the aims
of drawing together many elements of the course in an engaging manner
- difficulties not withstanding.
As with many experiences in teaching, time proved an enemy. However,
in understanding the need to fit teaching and learning strategies
into timetables, and to fit additional projects into the working
day I was pleased with the work produced by the students and with
the modified webpage and work book as they currently stand. I look
forward to reviewing them at the end of the year with the assistance
of a colleague and a new class of students.