At the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom, a 'functional-narrative' model (FNM) to stimulate thinking, questioning and reflection is being developed with undergraduate and postgraduate students in a range of subject areas. The FNM implies that a basic narrative structure operates in academic discourse, through various kinds of texts across disciplines (Hilsdon 1999). The approach is underpinned by the functional logic and social practices implied in a narrative structure consisting of description, analysis and evaluation. Initial evidence indicates that the model is helpful to students in deconstructing and reconstructing a given problem, topic or knowledge claim. A possible use of the FNM to assist postgraduate students in developing research proposals is now being investigated in South African universities, where academics are being consulted as to its potential. This article reports initial findings evaluating its use in that context, and elaborates on the model's background and underpinning theory.
The role of assessment and evaluation in postgraduate research is problematic due to varying perceptions of standards and criteria regarding expectations of a postgraduate research thesis. To improve the standard of evaluation of theses and dissertations, a set of criteria, as well as rating scales for each criterion, was developed. These criteria and rating scales were applied to the evaluation of theses by over 150 academics in six workshops on the assessment and evaluation of theses and dissertations at different South African universities. The outcomes of each participant's evaluations were compared to the formally appointed examiner's evaluation of that thesis. The findings from applications in workshops reflect a greater consistency in the use of criteria, more comprehensive holistic coverage of all criteria, greater accountability by the examiner and an easier process in writing an examiner's report. The rating scale provided a standardised approach across disciplines, but proved to be less lenient to the candidate.