Teachers commonly have a healthy scepticism about research. Research is what goes on elsewhere, outside and beyond school. It is undertaken by experts who make use of teachers, schools and children to undertake their research. The research thus undertaken is directed at enhancing the qualifications of the student researcher or improving the curriculum vitae of the academic researcher. It is commonly perceived to be largely irrelevant to the needs of the practising teacher and is usually reported in somewhat inaccessible journals and books, not normally the everyday reading matter of hard-pressed teachers.
Fien (1992) points out that most research in geography education is of the empirical, process-product type. In empirical research the researcher is the actor, who poses hypotheses to be tested by the setting up of controlled experimental situations. Empirical research is positivistic in style and concerned with the processes of teaching and learning and the product of such processes. There is, as Fien points out, rather less of the interpretive mode of research in geographical education. In interpretive research, the ethnographic researcher observes the subjects of the research - the actors, often using a case-study approach in her or his search for illuminative evidence and information. In Fien's view, such research could offer 'rich descriptions of the thoughts, practices and problems of teachers' (ibid.: 267).
A third style of research, educational action research, developed in the UK and elsewhere from the mid-1970s, offers the possibility of research activity which is yet more immediately relevant to the needs of teachers and students and can thus contribute directly to the professional standing of teachers and teaching and to enhancement of the education of our students.
Educational action research is research undertaken by the practising teacher as a response to an issue or problem that is a matter of concern to that teacher. The purpose of undertaking the research is to try to get at the nature of the issue or problem, to explore its roots and causes and to plan and implement possible ways