User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR)

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Beginning during my Doctoral studies and continuing throughout my professional career as an educator, I discovered and keep re-discovering how congruent the concepts related to Progressive Education, Participatory Research, and Reflective Practice are with my beliefs about good education, learning, assessment, and research. Conversely, the practices related to Quantitative Testing and Research and Essentialism never worked in my scheme of what good education entails. What I knew, intuitively, to be de-motivating and toxic for me as a high school and undergraduate student, I became able to articulate with words.

I absolutely understand the need and desire for accountability and evidence of efficacy. Concrete evidence, scalablity, and the ability to duplicate best practices actually are the indicators for a profession being viewed as a profession. The problem lies in that the education system’s efforts in demonstrating efficacy occur through quantitative methodologies. There are several problems with this approach:

  • Human behavior and learning is complex – assigning numbers to learning is reductionist, implying that learning is a simplistic process that it can be measured in the same manner that blood pressure can be measured.
  • Quantifying learning does not provide the in-depth descriptions of best practices for other educators and students. Best practices – the success stories of education cannot be duplicated based on viewing test scores.
  • Students become commodities, where their value is measured by the numbers assigned based on test scores.

At the Reform Symposium (an online conference), I had the privilege of listening to Monika Hardy and her students/cohorts. Of special interest to me was the part presented by James Folksmead on Youth Participatory Action Research #YPAR. His Prezi can be viewed at

It became an earth moving AHA for me – the missing piece of my perspective on “good education”.  Students should be part of the research process. Note that the emphasis here is on part of the research process not the subjects of the research.

I got motivated to do a search on YPAR. What follows are excerpts from a refereed research conference paper, Students: From Informants to Co-Researchers.

It could be argued that the dominant discourses of schooling, in relation to curriculum, assessment and pedagogy are grounded in psychological, rather than sociological, perspectives. Power differentials between teachers and their students are less often discussed from such a perspective. Students are typically positioned as immature, not yet fully capable children

This power differential between teachers and their students, as manifested in schools and classrooms, is reflected in the educational research processes themselves. Students are at worst the objects and at best the subjects of the research. They are not seen as participants in the processes of enquiry. Indeed, Morrow and Richards (1996) note that within existing ethical guidelines on human research in medicine, children are considered alongside adults with impairments. In other words, they are not seen to have status, but to be vulnerable. They are characterised as relatively incompetent and at risk of exploitation.

Studies centered around the experiences of young people in schools typically position the students as the objects of the research. They are observed, surveyed, measured, interviewed and commented upon in order to inform a research agenda to which they have made little contribution. They are rarely recognized as active agents, who can not only be reliable informants, but also interpreters of their own lives. The positioning of young people in educational research is analogous to that of women within traditional patriarchal research paradigms. They are at worst, silenced; at best patronized.

The authors describe their ideas for Principles for Substantive Participative Engagement in Research by Students:

  1. The purposes of the research should be in the best interests of the students;
  2. The purposes of the research should be transparent and consented to by all key stakeholders, including students;
  3. The research should be respectful of the students’ definitions of the phenomena being examined and incorporate methodologies which allow for varying levels of literacy and oracy;
  4. Students should be active in providing input and advice regarding the initiation and design of the research;
  5. Students either directly, or by representation, should be partners in the research’s enactment and interpretation;
  6. Students should have a voice in determining the implications of the research for appropriate educational policies and practices;
  7. Students should be enabled, by provision of appropriate resources (such as time, space, technologies and materials) to be fully participative in the research.

The benefits as I see . . .

  • Students assess what they learned, how they learned it . . . and reflect on their learning as part of their participation. They learn the skills for reflective practice. They learn to be critical consumers and producers of their own learning.
  • The boundaries between assessment and research become blurred . . . as it should be. Assessment becomes naturalistic and descriptive rather than reductionistic and contrived.
  • Best practices are described, developed, and disseminated through the collaborative efforts of educators and students, the populations who have the vested interest in these practices. This increases the validity of these practices in the eyes of these stakeholders and the chance/opportunity for implementing these best practices. The quality of education improves.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 3, 2010 at 4:16 pm

One Response

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  1. […] Rid the system of tests, data-driven decisions, assessments – assist students and educators in establishing feedback loops for improvement (peer, experts, educator-based) (see post – Youth Participatory Action Research). […]

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