Master of Arts in Educational Technology - Pepperdine University  
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Cycle One- Peer Collaboration: Building an Infrastructure for Enhancing Technical Support

A few challenging questions drove the first cycle of my action research project: Will a Peer-to-Peer (P2P) support group enable WestEd employees to help each other with technical issues in a collaborative environment?; Is the aim of my action research guided by “principles of democratic engagement and a commitment to change?” (Coghlan & Brannick, 2005, p.7); and, how I would transform these ideas into action? The purpose and theory behind this action was to experience learning through personal and social growth. My objective was to improve my personal practice by obtaining a deeper understanding of myself in relation to others (McNiff & Whitehead, 2003, p.13). I have based this entire research on an earnest, personal decision that things can be better at WestEd and that I will act “honestly and openly for the benefit of others” (McNiff & Whitehead, 2003, p.22).

I needed the assistance of high-level managers within WestEd to help determine the viability of my action research project. Therefore, at the beginning of the first cycle, I formed a group of advisors and convened the panel in order to share my proposed project with them. I felt it was important to have it sanctioned by WestEd management and policymakers and to have them included in the whole process. After speaking to each individual beforehand, I chose Drs. Schneider, Quellmalz, Britton, Ringstaff, and Loveland, all of whom accepted the invitation to be an advisor and are in a position to help with implementation. Each are supportive of the project and of my desire to improve my practice though action research.

I selected each of these individuals for various reasons. Dr. Schneider is my immediate supervisor and it was he who wrote one of the letters of recommendation to Pepperdine University on my behalf. Dr. Schneider is not only the Senior Program Director of the Mathematics, Science and Technology department but serves on WestEd’s esteemed Management Council. Dr. Quellmalz, Director of Technology Enhanced Assessments & Learning Systems, is an expert in the field of educational technology. Dr. Ringstaff is knowledgeable with conducting and managing research related to technology integration. Dr. Britton, Associate Director of WestEd's National Center for Improving Science Education (NCISE), has authored or edited approximately 20 books, reports, and curriculum products and has written more than 30 articles and papers. Dr. Loveland has first-hand action research experience while working as part of the SERP Institute design team prior to coming to WestEd. I was able to assemble a face-to-face meeting on Monday, February 9th. Each advisor was given a set of handouts that included my revised research plan, force field analysis and proposed timeline.

I presented my proposed project—a peer-to-peer (P2P) support group and explained that the purpose was to help reduce the number of calls to an overburdened help desk. I was surprised at how well my action research plan was received. The concept of putting knowledge in action by sharing the power of knowledge collaboratively was well received. Advisory panel members recognized that this project would bring about positive change and help solve a mutual problem that could benefit WestEd’s infrastructure. Having been researchers themselves, panelists were confident with regard to “using the process of inquiry to generate organization learning” (Coghlan & Brannick, 2005, p. 19). A few questions were raised asking for clarification and details on how the recruiting would take place, but overall, the advisory panel offered sound advice and contributed several helpful ideas.

Dr. Schneider suggested that I change my research question to “In what ways does a peer-to-peer support group within WestEd alleviate the demand on our Information Services (IS) help desk?” The intent of this revision was to move from a closed-response to an open-response type question that is more exploratory in nature. As was also recommended, I went directly to Richard Wenn, Director of Information Services, rather than contacting his senior staff.

Wenn had some concerns about my role and the project’s longevity. I explained that my intentions were to deepen my understanding of WestEd’s infrastructure, help solve an existing problem and generate new knowledge and that I planned on being fully immersed in the daily activities and experiences of the P2P Support Group. After reassuring Richard that this was something that I genuinely believed in and was willing to actively participate in long after graduation, he was agreeable and could quickly understand where the P2P Support Group would benefit not only my action research project, but the IS department, WestEd employees, and the WestEd organization as a whole.

Although this change called for an amendment to my original action plan, I took this as an opportunity to see how willing I was to align my project in a new direction. After careful reflection, I determined that I indeed looked forward to “uniting people in a common endeavor” and “providing an opportunity to improve their own circumstances” (McNiff & Whitehead, 2006, p. 11).

I was encouraged by the unexpected cooperation I was receiving from the head of the IS department and his staff. It was empowering and necessary to have this validation. Of critical importance was for others to see how my work was significantly relevant to them. This has already been a rewarding experience, being recognized in my community of practice as an employee who wants to improve their own practice and as well as improve conditions at WestEd.

The direct evidence that I have gathered thus far has been in the form of emails and documented telephone conversations with various advisors, the help desk manager, and the Director of Information Services and members of his staff. This interchange of information has been invaluable as it has shifted my action research several times for the positive. These key players have a right to be informed on a regular basis as to how my project is progressing. It is my intention to send progress reports to my advisory panel and Richard Wenn on a regular basis. These combined field notes will confirm the strength and value of my project.

In an attempt to evaluate the worthiness of my research, I demonstrated a progression of certain changes in attitude and provided evidence that relationships were evolving and deepening as a direct result of my work. I have triangulated this data, in that it has come from sources other than myself, and all of which have drawn the same conclusion: the peer-supported network has merit. Interviews will be conducted with staff and help desk employees that will hopefully provide rich information and insights as to how favorably the project is working. Future documentation will be authenticated by signature from authorized personnel. I also plan to obtain signed letters of permission allowing me to conduct my research.

Even though there have been some minor changes, my project is still in keeping with my personal values, standards of practice and judgment, therefore I will enthusiastically proceed to cycle two. As the first decisive factor, the next step will be to create a list of potential members using Level E through Level G employees. I have selected this criterion mainly because it includes only lower level managers—program associates, research associates and program coordinators. Based on research by Penuel and Roschelle (1999) that higher-level managers should not be included in a peer-to-peer support groups, I believe these candidates will initially be a good place to start recruitment for the P2P Support Group. My intention is to have my advisory panel and Richard Wenn approve the potential candidates and suggest criteria for enlistment before sending an email to this exclusive group of WestEd employees.

Forward to Cycle Two