n South African Journal of Higher Education - Using action research as process for sustaining knowledge production : a case study of a higher education qualification for academics

Volume 26, Issue 6
  • ISSN : 1011-3487



This article reports on an action research project being conducted at the University of Pretoria. The study focuses on the idea that I, as an academic specialising in higher education, monitor and gather data about my practice, alongside colleagues enrolled for a formal professional qualification in higher education, with a view to sustaining scholarly and professional development. I am doing this in order to improve my practice in an innovative and accountable way, which includes constructing new meaning and contributing to the production of knowledge in the fields of facilitating learning in higher education and academic staff development. The illustrative case study is the Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education (PGCHE). Cultivating scholarly higher education practitioners is viewed as an important aim of the programme. The focus is on constructing one's own understanding of one's higher education practice in a scholarly way. Learning theories, including self-regulated professional learning and constructivist learning, as are found in the principles of action research, form an integral theoretical underpinning for scholarly development. Action research is used as a means of sustained professional learning for all participants. This study investigates how professional learning can be encouraged and sustained through the development and assessment of professional portfolios. The portfolios came to represent the living theories (McNiff 2002) of practice of all participants, substantiating educational values and claims of improved practice in a scholarly way. The process of compiling the portfolios, called professional portfolios, is based on the principles of action research. This process is in stark contrast with the notion that a portfolio is 'a file of evidence';rather, these professional portfolios represent evidence of new knowledge produced/constructed. A mix of research methods is used to obtain quantitative and qualitative data - gathered, inter alia, by means of a learning style questionnaire, text analysis and photo evidence. Other methods such as observation, student feedback questionnaires and interviews are not reported on in this article.

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