SIP 6.5 Action Research in the Classroom – Using Your Classroom as a Research Lab

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

With teaching, service, and increasing research expectations, we are all stretched thin. One way to “kill two birds with one stone” is to turn your classroom into a research lab – and to bring students along for the journey. You can do this by conducting action research in your classroom.

Take a SIP of This: Action Research in the Classroom – Using Your Classroom as a Research Lab

Using your classroom as an action research lab can help you increase educational access for your students by allowing you to critically approach the aspects of your teaching that may currently present learning barriers to some students.

Action research is usually designed and conducted by the instructor. The instructor analyzes the data with the goal of improving their teaching practices. Action research usually includes examination of programs, students, or instructional practices. You can research student outcomes (dispositions, achievement); curriculum (instructional materials, learning outcomes, frameworks); instruction (teaching strategies, use of technology); departmental or classroom climate (student morale, teacher morale, relationships between teachers and students), etc.

Action research follows these steps:

  • Choose a research question
  • Design the study
  • Collect data
  • Analyze data
  • Use the findings to improve teaching practice
  • Return to more questions

Action research is a great opportunity to evaluate and improve your teaching for equity and inclusivity. Some possible research questions include:

  • What is working or not working in your classroom?
  • Who is learning? Who is being left out?

Disaggregate your data by race, ethnicity, Pell Grant eligibility, veteran status, first generation, gender, etc. So all groups succeed at similar rates in your class? If not, there might be something to study related to inclusive practices.

  • How does your curriculum provide opportunities to learn?
  • How do you know when your instruction is effective?
  • Which students do you talk to most? Least? How does that correlate to their grades?
  • How representative are the readings in your class? For example, do the people and situations that illustrate the materials you use in your classroom reflect the identities of your students (racial, ethnic, economic, etc.).

To get started on action research make a list of “I wonder” statements about concerns you have related to your classroom. Then choose one of those statements and turn it into a research question. Run your research question by a colleague. See what questions/ ideas/ thoughts your colleague brings to your question.

Then decide on the evidence you need to answer your question (and determine if you need to complete an Institutional Review Board (IRB) application. You may need approval from the Institutional Review Board to conduct research with your students. Contact MSU Denver’s Human Subject Protection Program office to discuss your ideas well before you want to begin your data collection. They will be able to provide you with guidance on whether or not your study will need to be reviewed. Remember, IRB can take a while, so make sure to plan the project out in advance in case you need IRB review time.

Here are some inquiry tools you might use for data collection (an explanation for each can be found at

  • classroom maps
  • anecdotal records
  • time-sampled observations
  • samples of student work
  • drawings & photographs
  • interviews & conversations
  • surveys
  • teacher research journals

It is a good idea to use several tools to triangulate your data. Once data are collected, analyze it by looking for patterns across the data.

Decide how to change your practice based on what you learned. Then write up the research and send it off to a journal.

Ask new questions!

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of Action Research in the Classroom – Using Your Classroom as a Research Lab

On the Web:



  • Action Research in Higher Education: Examples and Reflections.By Zuber-Skerritt, Ortrun
  • Action Research: Theory and Practice for Higher EducationBy Lesley Willcoxson

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1 comment

  1. Using a classroom as the place for research is something good

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