There are two types of inquiry-based action research completed students in the Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning degree program at Nova Southeastern University. The first is a small-scale inquiry learning project that addresses a problem in the teacher's classroom. This takes place in four of the five courses in the program, and each time it is completed during the course itself. The second type of research that takes place is the Action Research Project (ARP), which is a more intensive project that fulfills the same role as a master's thesis. This is often broader in scope and has a higher degree of intensity than the inquiry learning projects. The ARP begins in the second course of the program, and continues beyond the course, potentially through the remainder of the degree program. The project and the resulting documentation function as a capstone element of the degree program.
Degree candidates who are beginning the second course in the program are often overwhelmed by the ARP, since it is a major project that differs, in some respects, from the inquiry learning project they completed in the first course. On the other hand, the structure of the two types of research is similar in many ways, since they are both designed as action research activities. In order to address the resulting confusion, I developed two graphic organizers that compare and contrast the inquiry learning projects and the Action Research Project. These two organizers were distributed to the students in the program early in the second course, so that they had an additional frame of reference as they tackled the early stages of their projects.
Designing and publishing the organizers was a growth experience for me. I had a problem I wanted to address (confusion about the two types of research projects), and I looked for a way to create a high-quality graphic representation of the similarities and differences between the projects. While each organizer presents the same information, they take slightly different graphical approaches. The Venn diagram is a familiar structure to many teachers, and it demonstrates the unique qualities of each project, as well as the ways in which they are similar. I used a side-by-side flowchart-style representation to demonstrate the same information in a more defined way.
These graphic organizers were effective because they addressed much of the confusion about the two types of research project, and they both could be printed and posted as a reference tool. This flexibility is a strength of the diagrams. I received significant feedback from the students in the section, as well as the person I co-taught with, that this was an effective way to deal with a somewhat confounding issue. The diagrams complement and supplement the published guidelines for the two types of research.