The Action Research Disseratation with Dr.(!) Adam Stieglitz
In this special, first episode of season 3, Joe interviews our very own, newly "minted," *Dr.* Adam Stieglitz! The co-hosts discuss his Action Research dissertation and his experiences as a PhD student. Tune in to learn about the ups, downs, and adventures of Dr. Stieglitz!
Herr, K., & Anderson, G. L. (2014). The action research dissertation: A guide for students and faculty. Sage publications.
Coghlan, D., & Brydon-Miller, M. (Eds.). (2014). The SAGE encyclopedia of action research. SAGE.
Cousins, J. B., & Chouinard, J. A. (2012). Participatory evaluation up close: An integration of research based knowledge. Information Age Publishing, Inc.
Coghlan, D. (2019). Doing action research in your own organization. London: SAGE.
Stringer, E. T., & Aragón, A. O. (2020). Action research. Sage publications.
**If you have your own questions about Action Research or want to share any feedback, contact us on Twitter@The_ARpod or write to us at ActionResearchPod@gmail.com.**
[00:00:26] Adam Stieglitz. Yes. Uh, I don't, I think you get used to it after like a year or two, and then you're like, Oh, you're calling me Mister, Wait a second. Uhuh . It's like, but at least personally for me, I'd rather be called Joe. Or Projo or Dr. Levitan, But Mr. Levitan off the table now. I'm just saying. I don't know how you feel about that.[:
[00:01:07] That's usually how I prefer to go by. I like the first name basis. Overall. It feels good. I'm glad it's behind me. You know, was a really cool experience. It, it evokes all of the emotions and feels and, uh, I think the plan is to kind of dive into that. Yeah, that's what we're gonna do this because of this momentous occasion.[:
[00:01:53] Yeah, for sure. And, uh, I'm excited to talk about it. Um, I'm gonna do my best and hopefully we can do our best to [00:02:00] like, You know, kind of keep that, uh, bringing the discussion back to action research methodology as a methodology within a dissertation. Um, rather than like, you know, I, I feel like it, it could be easy to get into the, the, the nuances of my actual research and research question, which had to do with community resident perspectives on international service learning.[:
[00:02:42] Yeah. So why don't we start from the beginning as a young Adam coming into the PhD program at the University of Louisville. And, um, you know, what, what motivated you to, to do this PhD? What motivated you to take action research on as your methodology? Yeah, [00:03:00] there were, I think there's a few answers to that question.[:
[00:03:32] The students who were participating and they had very little voice in the process. And, you know, to summarize, I was like, Okay. You know, I looked into other avenues for kinda getting to the bottom of that issue. And there wasn't that much literature out there, There wasn't, there was more people calling for research on, on that sort of challenge, but it wasn't really out there.[:
[00:04:25] Um, you know, a couple names I'll throughout that have been on our podcast, Dr. Mary Braden Miller, um, who ended up being the chair of my committee and also a doctor Alfredo Ortiz . Um, both served as sort of mentors for me and my professional. Uh, endeavors and. When I eventually reached out to Mary about, uh, the idea of press, pursuing this challenge through doc studies, it was just all downhill from there.[:
[00:05:22] Basically, that's, that's what motivated you to do a PhD. For sure. Yeah. But what I'm hearing at least is like the original impetus was that you noticed a problem in the field that wasn't reflected or just a problem in your experience in your work that you, when you did a little bit of research, there was like nobody had any real answers for you.[:
[00:05:56] Yeah, that's what I heard. I'd say it's pretty spot on. Just to [00:06:00] build off a little bit more of like the former point that you were making while Yes. It had to do with. A challenge that I was personally experiencing and, um, that, you know, through research, getting to the bottom of that would help improve the situation that I was embedded in.[:
[00:06:50] Cool. All right. So you, you come in. And you know, already that you wanna do action research. Like this is something that you kind of, you had these connections with these action [00:07:00] researchers. You talked to Mary, Dr. Brien Miller, um, and, and you come into your PhD and you're like, All right, I wanna do an action research project.[:
[00:07:26] Because I know that at least in uh, you know, in from other testimonies from other PhD students, it can be a little bit daunting and confusing to figure out what kind of methodology you want to get into when you are thinking about your PhD dissertation. Yeah, I knew coming into it that action research was gonna be my methodology, cuz that kind of connects with this idea.[:
[00:08:11] You know, using, uh, uh, method, such a methodology for your dissertation. Um, but you know, to answer your question, when I kind of first landed in Louisville, cause I had been living in Peru up until then for like seven or eight consecutive years, and all of a sudden I was in Louisville and. In the Department of Education and Human Development, and I pretty quickly felt like I was on an island.[:
[00:09:05] Um, which is really cool. Um, and yeah, I mean, I just, you know, I, as I could tell that from the research that I was doing, just in the nature of it being international and socially driven and kind of aligned with what. Uh, you know, a theory, a theoretical framework that outlined with pretty quickly, uh, like lawyers engaged scholarship.[:
[00:09:50] Form of methodology that was engaged and driven by change and iterative and so on and so forth. Um, but yeah, all this was kind of coming at me within like the first days [00:10:00] and weeks of being in this program. And, uh, I would say what what kept me grounded more than anything was Mary, uh, my advisor, um, a renowned action researcher.[:
[00:10:33] Oh man. It feels so great to be done. Um, I, you know, it was a grind. Any, anybody who's in or has been through a PhD. Program can attest to the fact that, you know, it's this anomaly of an experience that, you know, there's so much expected of you, and yet it's this thing that you only do once and there's no, [00:11:00] there's no, uh, you know, guiding principles of like, first you do this and then you do that, and then you do this.[:
[00:11:34] You know, whether it was finally getting my first lit reviewed, done. Um, finding that right article or even something as monumental as like passing comps. Shout out to Vanessa Gold, who I know just past your comps. Congratulations. Um, or, you know, when you finally start collecting dead, there's these little wins along the way, but.[:
[00:12:21] It's this whole life experience and now that it's behind you, the last thing I'll say is, you know, I think what probably a lot of people can relate to is there's kind of this like gray cloud. That's constantly over you through the entire experience, whether it's day one and year one or like all the way up till the end.[:
[00:12:59] [00:13:00] And you know, once, once it's done, that cloud just goes away and you remember who you were before, um, taking on this endeavor and, um, I've, I'm really grateful for doing it. I would do it all over again. Certainly. Um, but it does feel good to, to have it behind me, that's for sure. Awesome. Well, I'm so glad you had it behind you and just as like an outside observer, you're uh, you know, you're excited At the beginning there was a stretch there where you seemed a little, uh, a little stressed out, but now you seem like a whole new person.[:
[00:13:46] Mountains and we just end up talking for like four hours about action research. So, you know, that's just this, that's part of the ups and downs of doing a dissertation. Um, and, and it's really awesome to see that. And the, you know, the journey is as important as the. [00:14:00] Uh, maybe that's not true. I was gonna say the journey is important as a destination, but that's not really true cuz the destination opens doors to new journeys.[:
[00:14:27] But like it often came up in our classes and our doc seminars, etc. This idea of like a good dissertation being a done dissertation. And I certainly think that you can argue both sides of that. I land on this side of, I don't know, like I think this is an experience that you only do once. And granted, you don't wanna take a lifetime to do it, but you're gonna do something like this, take the time to do it right and put in the extra effort, right?[:
[00:15:20] So, um, well, yeah, I definitely think that the, you know, the journey and the destination are important. When you said that, it just like brought me back to like year two of my doc seminars when, you know, people were just kind of like glossing over the journey a little bit. And, um, in hindsight I would, I would recommend not doing that.[:
[00:15:57] In, in chapter five of my [00:16:00] dissertation, when I was kind of talking about, um, you know, hindsights and recommendations, I, I spoke a little bit about. Not doing action research for a dissertation. And I got a lot of pushback from my committee on that. And I, I don't think that I, it's fair to make such a blanket statement, but I, I think I wanna raise that point more than anything in hindsight would where I was coming from when I said that.[:
[00:17:02] Action research, iterative and context specific nature. And it's, it's, uh, the way that, uh, it enforces the importance of relationship building. I was coming into this. Uh, dissertation with an already preexisting action research project, right? So I had already been through various iterations, I had already had the time to, uh, taking the time to build strong relationships and stakeholders that were brought into my study, and I had a strong understanding of the challenge.[:
[00:18:04] Like, what is, what is my relationship with the challenge that I've defined and I'm addressing through this study? You know, who are the people that are gonna be part of it? To what extent can I communicate what I'm doing in action research, et cetera. Um, so that was pretty. That was a pretty big, I guess, a foundation for being able to, to justify action research methodology for me.[:
[00:19:02] Your dissertation research fits into that methodology. Does that make sense? Yeah, I think that makes sense. So it's like to, to rephrase, And if I understood you correctly, action research could be a wonderful methodology or paradigm for dissertation research, but certain conditions need to be met. Or you need to be really thoughtful about what kind of relationships you're gonna build, where you are in the editor's cycle of a project, what kind of problem you've defined, if it's contextualized or if it's generalized.[:
[00:19:52] Right. It's, it's embodied, it's an inpractice kind of, uh, methodology. And, and correct me if I'm wrong, but your dissertation [00:20:00] was kind of one iteration of an ongoing action research. Project. Correct? Yeah. It was a very specific, like I, I did a participatory evaluation. That was the method that I used, right?[:
[00:20:36] Um, and that, and that really allowed me to focus, focus my dissertation, right? Because a dissertation has to be focused. It can't just be this like all over the place sort of. The messiness that oftentimes we talk about in action research, you have to kind of find a solution for that, at least in the case of your dissertation, right?[:
[00:21:13] That creates a little bit of a conflict or a clash when on one hand you've got the messiness of action research and I'm figuring it out and blah, blah, blah. And then on the other hand, you know, you might have, um, an audience that really wants to see some concrete. Data and a concrete research question and like, you know, I had to grapple with that a little bit.[:
[00:21:54] Right? So there are conflicts that can be created specifically. When you talk about the relationship [00:22:00] of action research and dissertation, you can, if you think about it in the forefront and you talk openly about it with your advisor, I don't think it's a problem, but you kind of have to know what you're getting into, um, with respect to that.[:
[00:22:34] Like you had a super supportive advisor and you still ran into some of these challenges. And people who may not have advisors who are supportive could run into challenges similar or, you know, maybe deeper. For, you know, the students that I'm supervising, I just don't want them cuz I'm sure they will listen to this at some point.[:
[00:23:14] But if you do have a project that you're trying to see, um, take place to see if it fosters change and then evaluate that change, that can be the grounds for dissertation. Um, so I just wanted to highlight that for, uh, you know, those of, um, my grad students in particular, but maybe other grad students who may be like, Oh, wait, so that means I need to be working for 10 years before I can do an action research project.[:
[00:23:55] But if you are engaging in a process and a project, you know, maybe because you [00:24:00] have, um, you know, some colleagues who are doing a project or maybe because you have been working on some kind of project for a while or maybe because you have some relationships with people who are who. Working on a project that could be a good grounds for an action research project because you're not doing like an explore exploratory study, which would lend itself more towards qualitative research or ethnography.[:
[00:24:38] Would be helpful for considerations. What do you feel about that as like, uh, generalizing it beyond, you know, cuz your experience is a little bit unique? It's actually not that, I mean it's similar to my experience, but like, you know, I'm now working with a bunch of grad students, um, at the PhD and master's level, uh, who are interested in this paradigm.[:
[00:25:21] Um, so I can only speak in my own experience. And, and for me that was a huge advantage, right? Was ha was like be being able to. Insert my dissertation research in an already preexisting action research cycle. And I think it's important that more PhD students are considering and understanding that action research is a, is a methodology, um, that they can consider.[:
[00:26:32] I mean, some argue that was like the whole purpose of, of higher education. So with all this innovative research being done, especially doctoral research, um, if you could. If there were more people, you know, figuring out how to incorporate this methodology into their research, I think that it gives higher education in itself way more credence.[:
[00:27:14] Because one of the things that's cool with action research, even if you're doing, if, if you are just starting and that is your methodology for a dissertation, you are just kicking things off. You can finish your dissertation, you can publish an article along the way, but in practice, given its iterative nature, you're continuing to go back to this complex challenge that is central to your research.[:
[00:28:03] Yeah, absolutely. So can you, um, talk a little bit more about your experiences doing action research in a relatively traditional program? Uh, yeah, I mean, I, I, I kind of touched on the fact that like, I felt a little bit like a fish out of water. I was constantly kind of defending myself, right? Like, because a lot of people in this traditional program, there's very conventional, um, attitudes towards, um, what constitutes.[:
[00:28:59] [00:29:00] Um, research where you've got, uh, there's a defined line right, between being a researcher and a subject of study, and that's a fine line that you can't cross. And, you know, for me, purposely creating part, using participatory methodology to offer voice to those that are most affected by the challenge that I had identified through my research.[:
[00:29:42] And, um, again, kind of being able to like, thank God I had, um, a team. Supporters, you know, that constantly can take that. Believed in my research and, and pushed it forward and. Just to say too, I also kind of had a realization at some point where, you know, [00:30:00] there's traditional research shouldn't be necessarily to like swept in the rug or push in a corner, right?[:
[00:30:24] So I, I, I ate a little bit of humble pie as well, um, in that program. Um, so, um, those were kind of like the day to day things that were think that I would think about, whether I was in the classroom or talking to other students in my cohort or, or faculty as well. Awesome. So thinking about all this stuff and all, you know, kind of where you've been, where you ended and, and the journey, is there anything that you would've done differently?[:
[00:31:17] And for me it's always kind of happened organically and because of that somewhat informally, but since again, this is about action research and dissert and dissertations, I kind of wish I had done a better job of capturing. My thoughts and my reflective process and sharing that with my dissertation. But honestly, it's hard to do.[:
[00:32:06] Um, I think as far in my, in my particular, um, journey. Um, I was following the lead of my advisor and I would do it all over again that way because she was so critical to my success and such a big supporter. But, you know, I was also in a program where there wasn't very much, very many, um, peers or people in my cohort studying anything even similar to what I was doing.[:
[00:32:58] But those are kind of the, the initial things that I [00:33:00] would've done differently, I suppose, off the top of my head. Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, I think that, you know, there's always things, there's always things that, uh, You know, if you knew, but you didn't know at the time. So, you know, um, I don't know if there's anything that you think of, like, Hey, is this for advice for somebody doing this?[:
[00:33:41] Um, one of the things that was cool for me that kind of emerged through the process was again, like having, um, Experience in the field and then being able to work all the literature and conceptual frameworks and theoretical [00:34:00] frameworks and make sense of them through my experience. So, you know, even if like, you know, like in my case I talked about the years of experience and um, the field of study that I was involved with, but certainly for anybody that maybe perhaps doesn't have that, um, you have experience, I guarantee you that is relevant to your interest.[:
[00:34:45] It's really, it was really cool for me to apply those frameworks, uh, to my live reality. Intentionally awesome. All right. So here's one more question that I think I have for [00:35:00] you. Um, were there any resources that were particularly useful for you when you were doing this action research dissertation? Yep.[:
[00:35:27] Um, and it was, it was a resource that I kind of, uh, went back to quite a bit throughout the, um, framing of my study. Um, there was also a book, um, by kauflin 2019 called Doing Action Research in your Own Organization. There's, uh, the Sage Encyclopedia of Action Research. Um, Published by Coffin and Brad Miller in 2014, and that's, that was like such a great, uh, resource is encyclopedia with a chapter for every letter in the alphabet where it just goes [00:36:00] over all sorts of action, research terminology and methods.[:
[00:36:27] Um, so there was a book called Participatory Evaluation Up Close. An integration of research based knowledge by cousins in Shard, um, that I would also recommend if someone was going down the participatory evaluation realm. And of course, the action research type worked by, uh, Ernie Stringer and, uh, Alfredo Ortiz Agon.[:
[00:37:23] Um, but. We've had discussions with our team about this upcoming season, and so I just wanna mention that, um, we're gonna continue to do our best to keep offering those sorts of insights. So at least as well for me personally, I think I'm, you're gonna start hearing me shift a little bit more to talking about Cafe is and the, the real experiences that I'm having here doing action research, um, which would be separate from my dissertation, but I'm also really excited to continue bringing in the members of our.[:
[00:38:23] Yeah. Thank you very much. Everybody at the, uh, Educational Action Research Journal team that helped make that happen. She gave us some really great feedback that we're gonna incorporate into our podcast. And one of the things that, uh, Adam mentioned, uh, I don't know if you wanna elaborate on that, was like, she was like, Yeah, it's really helpful to get Adam.[:
[00:39:00] So, uh, we really appreciate the feedback, the positive and the constructive. So, um, just a little shout out. All right. Well thanks everybody for listening. Hope it was, Hope it was insightful.