Action research is different from other types of research. As Carr and Kemmis (1986) note, it rejects the positivist notions of rationality, objectivity and truth. It recognises that the enquiry takes place within an environment in which the teacher’s educational practice and understandings are unique and that interpretive research methods are therefore appropriate.
Action researchers do not claim for a definite answer to a question; their aim is to improve educational practice and to communicate their results and reflections.
Moreover, the nature of action research, which is always represented as a spiral, makes it difficult to define both the starting point and the end of the process. Here some conclusions related to one part of the spiral are drawn, which can represent a stimulus for further development of practice and reflection.
Aims and objectives of the present work have been attained, both from the side of “action”
that is the designing and delivering of the learning activity and from the side of “research”, that is the enquiry on students’ experience of information seeking and research process.
The evidence of changes occurring in the way students experience information seeking and research process and some validated learning outcomes suggest that the approach to student learning was adequate.
Founding the IL activity on the principles of reflective learning and “embedding” the Seminar into the Ecology course has encouraged students’ active participation, providing them not only new contents and skills but also an opportunity to reflect on the research process and on their own learning.
The adoption of reflection as an educational paradigm is fruitful from the point of view both of teachers and of students. By being reflective ourselves, as teachers, we encourage reflection and critical evaluation in our students.
From the point of view of the methodological approach, this study appears responding to the most typical features of action research, following the CRASP model: critical, reflective, accountable, self-evaluative, participative (Zuber-Skerrit 1996).
• The experience is critical, because I sought to improve not only my practice, but also myself as a teaching librarian.
• It is reflective, since both students and myself analysed and developed reflections about our experience.
• It is founded on the principle of accountability, since colleagues and students were involved in the evaluation of the outcomes of the learning activity.
• It appears self-evaluative, because the research process is grounded in reflective insights grounded on experience.
• It is participative, in that it involves participants, students and peer observers, who contributes to the enquiry.
The learning activity has also started some developments in the IL practice at the University of Parma, demonstrating the value of action research as a “catalyst” promoting change in the library context.
This piece of action research has offered to me an opportunity to reflect on my teaching and to learn, from my colleagues, from my students and from my practice itself. It has been a challenging and enriching experience, that has changed my way to consider my teaching activity.
For this reason, the title of this dissertation was changed from the title attributed to the research proposal, which was “Information literacy and reflective learning. An action research project at the University of Parma”.
The word project has been replaced by experience, with the goal of conveying the idea of a holistic process of gaining understanding, which has involved study, enquiry and interpretation, together with human relationships, feelings and personal growth.
The IL learning activity has been designed as a prototype, in a context that is to be considered particularly favourable.
• The group of students attending the Seminar is small and homogeneous. This has favoured the development of friendly relationships, affecting students’ learning in a positive way.
• The supportive attitude of teaching faculty towards IL initiatives and the availability of the Ecology teacher to co-operate in designing the Seminar have provided the best possible conditions to connect the IL teaching activity with subject learning.
• The involvement of students in group discussions before the Seminar had a positive impact on their perception of the learning activity and on their attitudes towards this experience.
These factors are not easily replicable in different situations and the positive outcomes of this learning experience are to be attributed, at least in part, to the context in which the activity has taken place.
Some recommendations can be developed for a different approach to the educational role of teaching librarians at the University of Parma and in similar contexts.
• When designing IL activities, librarians should start from students’ experience, learning needs and attitudes towards information.
• IL activities should be strictly connected with subject contents, to help students find the “meaning” of their learning. This requires a strong co-operation with faculty teachers, both for the definition of contents and for designing and scheduling the learning activities
• The teaching activity should focus on the research process rather than on information search tools, offering students an opportunity to discover the recursive nature of enquiry and to learn from their own experience.
• To favour deep learning approaches and generate high-quality learning outcomes, librarians should create a supportive environment, where questioning, experimentation and failure itself are valued as tools for learning.
• Team work and reflective learning should be adopted as valuable educational methods favouring students’ commitment.
• Librarians should also put attention to the emotional aspects of learning, which affect in a decisive way students’ motivation.
• Peer observation should be adopted as a way to share both difficulties and successes of teaching activities and as a way to assess and validate learning outcomes.
• In order to evaluate the teaching activity there is a need to acquire students’
feedback on different aspects of the learning experience. Interviews and group discussions appear as valuable techniques for gaining understanding of students’
opinions and perceptions.
• Action research as an approach to enquiry and practice should be adopted by teaching librarians as a way to investigate their context, reflect on their actions and promote change, fostering professional growth and organisational development.
Carr, W. and S. Kemmis (1986), Becoming critical: Education, knowledge and action research.
Zuber-Skerritt, O. (1996) Introduction: New directions in action research. In Zuber-Skerritt, O.
(ed.) New directions in action research. London: The Falmer Press.