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Developing a research culture in a polytechnic: An action research case study

This study is about the process of research culture development within a New Zealand polytechnic in the period 1992 - 1999. Prior to 1990, polytechnics tended to focus on vocational and technical, rather than academically-oriented, education. But with the passing of the 1990 Education Amendment Act they were offered the possibility of granting degrees. This required the rapid acquisition of research skills, which had previously not been strongly evident in staff, who tended to pride themselves on quality teaching. Working as a staff developer within the institution, I chose to use the action research approach as a compatible way for staff who had previously not carried out research, to learn the skills that the new environment demanded. The central question of my study is, “How effective is action research as a way of helping to develop a tertiary research culture?” While action research has previously been used extensively to improve teaching practice in educational institutions, it has not been used specifically to facilitate the development of research skills as a way of helping to develop a research culture. The study describes how I was able to introduce this method by teaching a certificated course, working within the quality assurance processes of the polytechnic, and constrained by its requirements to scrutinise the work of action researchers. I used interviews with the 1993 – 1995 graduates to contribute to this study. Michel Foucault’s tools, including his concepts of the panoptic gaze and of the linking of power and knowledge, have assisted me with my analysis of how the institution functions and shown me how I can operate as a ‘specific intellectual’ in an appropriate way. I have used interviews with a range of staff, and scrutiny of historical archives, to determine the appropriateness of my project. To carry out research in an institution where this has not been the norm is a challenging task. Basil Bernstein’s schema, showing how curricula, assessment methods and teaching practices combine to build up and shape departmental identities, was helpful to me in recognising the marginalisation that new researchers in an institution such as ours can face. The study has, overall, shown that action research – based on the reflective practice that is common in New Zealand polytechnic teaching – is a sound and familiar way of developing the research skills that many polytechnic educators now need to acquire.
Type of thesis
Bruce Ferguson, Pip (1999). Developing a research culture in a polytechnic: An action research case study (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13132
The University of Waikato
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