Proceedings of the 59th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2015 Berlin, Germany, Vol 1, No 1 (2015)

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Using Critical Systems Thinking in Emancipatory Postgraduate Supervision

Roelien Goede, Estelle Taylor


Postgraduate study is a partnership between supervisor and student.  The nature of this relationship is mainly guided by the supervision approach followed by the supervisor. Identified approaches include: Functional supervision, enculturation, critical thinking, emancipation, and developing a quality relationship. It is argued in this paper that this list is not mutually exclusive but rather distinctive goals of supervision of postgraduate students.

The aim of this paper is to present the structure of an action research project aimed at creating guidelines for emancipatory supervision.  The participatory action research (AR) method used in this study has five phases: diagnosis; action planning; action taking; evaluation of success; and specifying learning. This paper focusses on the diagnosis and action planning phases of the action research project.

Critical systems heuristics developed by Werner Ulrich is used to guide the diagnosis process. Critical systems heuristics is used as a tool for participants to articulate their views on how supervision should be done and what the goals thereof should be. The paper presents findings from the diagnosis process representative of the student and supervisor views on their experiences of supervision. A total of ten students and supervisors took part in interpretive interviews. Interview questions were guided by critical systems heuristics and literature on constructivism. The qualitative data collected was analysed using interpretive content analysis.

From the findings of the interviews and results of a literature review a plan for taking action is developed to develop a flexible process described by guidelines for supervision of postgraduate students.

Although the implementation and evaluation of the guidelines and resulting process are outside the scope of the paper, reflection is done on the applicability of the chosen framework of understanding for the development of a methodology to achieve the desired goals of postgraduate supervision.

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