Practitioner enquiry and professional development: 'action research' re-visited and re-viewed in the context of outcomes-based education

Coats, Maggie and Stevenson, Anne (2003). Practitioner enquiry and professional development: 'action research' re-visited and re-viewed in the context of outcomes-based education. In: Conference paper for the Association for the Study Evaluation Assessment in Education in Southern Africa (ASEASA), Dec 2003, Cape Town, South Africa.


In the past five years there has been considerable change in curriculum design and delivery in universities in the UK, as the sector moves towards an outcomes-based approach. This is having a marked effect on teaching and learning, and particularly on assessment strategies and methods. Accompanying the curriculum change we have seen an increased emphasis on the role of teaching in HE, with central funding to support staff through 'subject networks', key publications and resources. At the same time there has been high-profile recognition for 'teaching excellence' and a move towards the 'accreditation' of HE academic staff with mandatory continuous professional development (CPD) as part of quality enhancement.

Staff in the Centre for Outcomes Based Education (COBE) at the UK Open University have attempted to make links between the two areas of change curriculum development and academic staff development through a university wide project on Learning Outcomes and Their Assessment (LOTA) This has led us to revisit and review an action research approach. What started as one relatively small but very effective initiative has now developed into a range of different activities across the university encouraging practitioner enquiry as part of professional development and as a contribution to quality enhancement.

Unlike much of the earlier action research work in higher education in South Africa as well as Australia and the UK the enquiries have been carried out by academic staff into their own practice as part of their own professional development Several patterns have emerged in a range of projects involving central and regional academics part-time tutors and their students in most faculties and regions of the OU. The emphasis has been on collaboration through shared enquiry shared findings and most significantly through sharing experiences that enhance practice.

In previous papers including one presented at the SAAAD conference at Rhodes University in 2000 we have argued that making outcomes more explicit to students and designing the appropriate assessment of them can enhance the learning experience particularly where reflective and metacognitive processes are encouraged. We are now exploring the extent to which the same outcomes-based approach to curriculum design and delivery accompanied by 'action research' enquiries and reflection might encourage meta-cognitive awareness of our own professional practice.

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