In a meeting with a student today to discuss her comprehensive exam, I said that I had a new standard question I would ask every student to address. That question is to describe your ethical stance and to discuss how your proposed research embodies that position. But how do we help students to articulate their own values and to understand how those values might inform their practice? This seems to me to provide an excellent opportunity for a first-person action research project, and this was in fact the focus of the first assignment the students in my own action research course worked on this year. Ethics education often focuses on learning theory and, where it does engage ethical questions, these are often put to the students in the form of case studies. While this can be an extremely useful mechanism for generating discussion and critical analysis, it often fails to engage students at a more personal emotional level—to challenge students to grapple with the ethical implications of their own decisions and their own actions. To ask the difficult question—what do I believe and how does my research reflect those values?
David Coghlan’s exploration of the relationship between first-person action research and the notion of authenticity provides a useful strategy for articulating and then acting upon our values. In this article Coghlan discusses the key aspects of authenticity as outlined by Bernard Lonergan, i.e. that we should seek to be attentive, intelligent, responsible, and reasonable. (ARJ, 6 (3), 351-366). David’s description of his own response to a difficult moment during a consultation and how he draws upon these qualities reminds me of my admonition to students that action researchers must expect the unexpected, and must be prepared to act upon their own values in those moments. David’s experience provides a wonderful exemplar of what it means to be true to our beliefs.