Building a Culture of Inquiry: The Saskatchewan Action Research Network (SARN) Moves Ahead
Over the past five years, adult basic educators, literacy volunteers and other allied adult educators across Saskatchewan have been building a movement to help address their own teaching issues. By sharing real, everyday teaching/tutoring questions, testing ‘promising practices’ and ultimately sharing the outcomes of these action research projects on Saskatchewan Action Research Network’s (SARN) website (www.sarn.ca), adult educators have been building a body of practical, evidence-based knowledge – and they are slowly crossing boundaries in literacy/basic education delivery systems. This has all been made possible with funding support from the province’s Ministry of the Economy – and the result of this province-wide initiative is an action research movement that is creating a growing culture of inquiry, year-over-year.
How Does SARN Work?
The first step in the SARN process is a one-day action research workshop, which includes an afternoon of group discussion on issues instructors and volunteers encounter while teaching. Workshops are lead by Dr. Allan Quigley and/or one of the nine trained SARN mentors across the province. Each participant leaves the workshop with an action plan, benchmarks, criteria for success, timelines and ways to collect data.
Whether they are in a regional college, a campus of the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Arts and Sciences (SIAST) or working at one of the many community-based literacy organizations, participants can continue the group’s discussion on their progress using the secure ‘Discussion Circles’ platform and also learn about several different projects currently underway.
‘What Works’ Blog: here you can find video clips, guest blog posts, information, resources and more.
Saskatchewan Practitioner Reports: hosts over 30 different reports and links to innovative projects from Saskatchewan literacy and basic education practitioners.
Resources: dedicated to conducting small-scale research in one’s own practice setting, with resources from the USA, the UK and Australia as well as from across Canada.
Though funded only for the past five years, the SARN movement actually began in 2003. With some expenses support from the (then) Department of Advanced Education, Dr. Allan Quigley, who was a professor of Adult Education in Nova Scotia at the time, was invited to Saskatchewan to conduct a session on action research. The following year, Dr. Mary Norton was invited to come from Edmonton to help build the movement. With province-wide workshops in 2008-2009 and again in 2009-2010, the fledgling movement added 21 more ‘practitioner-researchers’ from rural, urban and Northern communities and campuses.
The SARN movement has become the annual professional development training event for a number of regional colleges and SIAST campuses. Having trained over 100 research practitioners, SARN expects to add approximately 50 more by the end of the year. Along with the nine practitioners who have been further trained as mentors to help the newly-trained using distance technologies, the SARN movement is indeed growing.
Getting the Message Out
With provincial presentations given annually at literacy and Adult Basic Education (ABE) conferences, the message about SARN is growing. The hope is to get other provinces interested in joining the action research initiative by trying to build a similar sustained movement. Though the idea is not new in Canada - many provinces and territories have been (and are) involved in action research - the idea is to encourage other provincial departments and ministries to sustain professional growth in this manner. As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, sharing and learning across the adult literacy and essential skills field is critical – and SARN is a model of how this is working.