Journal article

Developing the parameters of scholarship in postgraduate coursework studies

Higher education Educational evaluation Australia

Abstract: Scholarship parameters, in relation to postgraduate coursework studies, are developed against the expectations of the Boyer classifications of scholarship (Boyer, 1990) with particular emphasis on the role of minor thesis development. An example is presented in which postgraduate coursework students are required to undertake a three semester minor thesis sequence in which students engage in self directed, individual analysis and thesis preparation based on the findings of an investigative project, under the guidance of an academic supervisor. It is argued that the approach is a viable example of combined pedagogical and research oriented scholarship that addresses Boyer’s tetradic framework of scholarship and provides an effective environment for developing both discipline focussed scholarship and practical experience in research activity.

This paper discusses the development and application of "scholarship" parameters in relation to postgraduate coursework studies, particularly those involving a mix of coursework components, case-study analyses, project work and minor-thesis activities. The Master of Engineering Management program at RMIT University is used as an example; in this program, students are required to undertake a three-semester, minor-thesis sequence intended to extend on and reflect the core tenets of the program. The activities of the sequence strongly focus on the management of engineering and technology-based organisations. Many engineering and natural-sciences students are deeply instilled with positivist leanings and classically inductive thinking approaches to problem solving (Blaikie 1993). They are trained to ask: What is it? How does it work? How can I fix it or make it work better? They also tend to assume that whatever solutions they identify to a given problem will apply wherever and whenever the problem occurs. Rarely, it seems, are the Who and Why parameters applied. Yet, it may well be that it is in these grey areas of developing understanding about who, what, when, where and why – not necessarily how – that the minor thesis may prove its real value.

This paper develops the experiential role of the minor thesis in conducting preliminary investigations into significant issues as part of more in-depth formal research activities; for example, in the context of a subsequent doctoral research program or an external industry-based research and development activity. Typically, implementation methodologies in such coursework programs use supervision of industry-based case-studies and minor-thesis development as a formal teaching strategy for developing both discipline-focused scholarship and practical research experience. This paper reviews this approach against the expectations of the Boyer classifications of scholarship (Boyer 1990), and argues that whilst the approach is a viable example of combined pedagogical and research-oriented scholarship, further extension and integration of Boyer’s scholarship parameters may further enhance overall student experience.

Author: Allan F. McLay, RMIT University

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