Assessing Digital Learning

What’s the ACTION Plan, Stan?

This has been an OUTSTANDING course, and I truly love what I have learned. We have learned the steps that action research can take, and how to find conclusions and give recommendations based on our findings. By looking at the past, we can make better plans for the future. You can look at my outline and literature review by clicking the links here and below.

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In this final blog post, I want to take you on a tour through the four steps of doing action research: planning, acting, developing, and reflecting. As we go through each step, we will highlight each topic to be covered in each section and where that phase in the program will take us. The diagram below illustrates each step in the process and the timeline of implementation. This entire action research process is scheduled to take place over a seminar year at the HOBY organization, running from August to August of the following year. The professional learning and innovation plans will be scheduled to take place at the same time as this program. Please take a look at the map of our journey below and read the description of each phase immediately following it.

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Phase 1: Planning

If we use the past as a guide, we can learn so many things about HOBY. HOBY has a good base of volunteers, but it seems like more and more, seminar sites are having a harder time recruiting volunteers to serve in their life-changing programs. The key factors to consider in this phase are identifying the topic of research, gathering information, reviewing the literature, and developing the research plan to be used. This brings us to the topic and the purpose of the area that we are researching. The topic of this action research plan will be on volunteer retention and incentives. The purpose of the study will attempt to provide a solution for a problem that many seminar sites are having with their volunteers. HOBY has always had a long history of getting people to volunteer, and this era is certainly no exception. The Louisiana seminar site has, at some points, had too many volunteers. But, this is not the case in other states. Other seminar sites lack large numbers of volunteers. So, this is a problem that many have to grapple with. From here, we can look at the fundamental research question, “What incentives are needed to make volunteers stay motivated and pursue more service?” In this first phase of the action research design, we can begin to think about how we would want to implement this plan. As stated before, I want to implement this action research plan over an entire seminar year. This particular phase of the program would take place over August to October of the seminar year. This is the time when most of the seminar planning is done in sites around the country. The first key thing to do would be to establish a committee in the HOBY organization to decide how all of this would go into action, oversee the research process, and make recommendations to the national board of directors as to how volunteers can be retained on the organization. This committee could be a task force that will work in conjunction with other staff members on professional learning and the innovation plan that could decide how all three of these plans could be implemented at the same time. From here, the action research “task force” could decide the next steps to take to ensure a smooth research process.

Phase 2: Acting

This is the phase of the program where the “task force” can begin to look at how they want to collect the information that they need to get. The key phases in this process involve the methodology part in the program. What kind of data will we collect? How will we interpret the data? I think that the best way we can look at this is to begin to decide what kind of research needs to be done. The big question is, “What is our research design?” I think that in this case, an exploratory mixed-method design would best serve the research that is to be done at HOBY. This is a two-phase approach to research where qualitative data is collected first, then quantitative data to explore the topic of interest. This type of data will use a little bit of everything to understand the psychological functions of volunteer retention and motivation as they pertain to the organization. The “task force” will have to decide later on what kind of research they would want to do in the organization and how they will collect and analyze the data. But, I do have a few ideas in this area as to how to collect data. HOBY could use observations to collect some quantitative data about how volunteers are motivated at the seminars and meetings they serve in. Certain members of the action plan committee could go to various seminar sites around the organization and identify key volunteers and observe them in their seminar operations. This could serve as a powerful tool to understand the mind of a volunteer in the organization. Another form of data collection could be given as an open-ended interview to a select group of HOBY volunteers as a focus group of 10 people that show their views about volunteering in the organization. The questions in these interviews could look like this:

  • What does HOBY mean to you?
  • What do you like about volunteering?
  • What do you dislike about volunteering?

With this in mind, HOBY could begin to get different responses on how the subjects interpret the question. Since time may be limited, small focus groups will probably help the committee to establish a direction for action research. With all of this qualitative data in mind, the next step is to look for quantitative data to support this. At a later time, groups of volunteers, perhaps 100 in number, 5,000 in total, could be given a Likert-type scale that would measure how much a volunteer likes doing specific tasks. A sample list of five questions that could be given would look like this:

  • My seminar chapter appreciates the work I do
  • I feel appreciated for the work that I contribute
  • My Leadership Seminar Chair explains things well
  • My seminar actively involves my opinion in their decision-making
  • I feel volunteering is very challenging

With this in mind, a list of about 100 items could be given and rated on a scale of strongly disagree to strongly agree with the piece of information being given. Special ethical consideration will have to be given to ensure that all subjects being studied are willing and able to engage in this research.

The next subject that the action research “task force” will have to decide on is how to perform data analysis on all of the information that was collected. With respect to the observations and interviews, inductive analysis could be a great way to measure large amounts of data. For this to take place, we would have to collect the responses and organize the results into a coding scheme, looking at each piece of information by similarity and moving it down even further. From here, we will need to describe the main characteristics of the categories coming from the coding that was done. We will also look for information that conflicts or contradicts with the patterns that we found. Once interpretations are found in the volunteer data, recommendations can be made to the national board of directors about ways to improve retention. The next phase involves using inferential statistics to make determinations about how likely a given result is based on a sample of HOBY volunteers. This could help in making graphs and charts to find patterns in the surveys that were collected. An analysis of variance could be conducted since more than two groups of volunteers were asked the same surveys. A computer software program will be utilized to ensure that the most effective measurements are given. This entire process would take effect over November to February of a seminar year, when most of the action and planning are done.

Phase 3: Developing

Now that HOBY has taken the time to collect all of this data on our volunteers, it will be important that conclusions be drawn from the data that was collected. This particular action plan will most likely be “formal” in nature since it could be linked and implemented at the same time as the professional learning plan and the innovation plan that were written before. Based on what I see, a team action plan would probably work the best for HOBY. The committee on action research will be tasked with performing research on networks of volunteers with similar interests in mind. A presentation could be given at a later time to the national board of directors of HOBY as to what all of this research tells us. There are five areas that are the most-likely outcomes of this action research study:

  • A general understanding of the volunteer situation is developed
  • A new problem is discovered
  • A plan or program is found to be effective
  • A plan or program is found to need modification
  • A plan or program is found to be ineffective

These questions will best describe the findings of the research that was done, and what can be done after determinations can be made. This phase of the plan will take place over March to June of a seminar year.

Phase 4: Reflecting

In this final phase of action research at HOBY, the “task force” will be asked to convene for a meeting with the professional learning and innovation plan coordinators in the organization to share and communicate the results. This is the final step that will take place in July to August of the seminar year. It will be imperative to write a comprehensive report and presentation to showcase all of these crucial ideas to the national board of directors in California. A report should also contain the findings of my literature review, which attempted to paint a good understanding of the research that has been done on this topic before. In my report, I found that even though some may think otherwise, many people volunteer out of the goodness of their heart. The topic of incentives needs to be studied in more detail in the future. These recommendations could be made to HOBY’s administrators in this report and presentation and could affect future outcomes by engaging volunteers more actively in what they are doing.

Conclusion

This course has been a great introduction to the action research process, and I look forward to more courses in the future. The question of whether or not volunteer retention has been addressed is something that HOBY will have to look into further in the future. If this action research plan goes into effect, HOBY will have a key report into their strategic planning for the future. A reflection should be done at the end of this four-phase plan to chart a course for the future. This action research plan should be launched at the same time as the professional learning plan and the innovation plan. I hope you enjoyed this tour of the action research plan. So, with the future in mind, here is another cheer for HOBY!

References

Mertler, C. A. (2012). Action research: improving schools and empowering educators. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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