One of the ways to investigate research supervision is by the supervisor undertaking a practitioner inquiry. In the booklet from which this blog is taken (Hill and Vaughan, 2019), we elaborate nine different practitioner inquiries undertaken by research supervisors based at Birmingham City University in U.K. Each of these studies was initiated with a Provenance exercise (Hill and Lloyd, 2018) taken from the professional development program (Hill and Vaughan, 2017) they were undertaking.
The idea of Provenance is borrowed from antiquity study. It refers to the history of development of an artefact – who has made it, where it was made, what it represents in movements. Provenance can also apply to any professional practice with the notion that each practice has a history and each practitioner of that practice has their personal history or provenance.
Provenance within research supervision aligns with the notion that many research supervisors develop their initial supervision practices in response to their own experiences of being supervised (Pearson and Brew, 2002). Such migration may bring with it the ideas of what the student ‘liked’ and then attempts to reactivate these processes with their own students. It may also give rise to uncritiqued practice, such that what has been modelled in previous supervision experienced by the supervisor in their own student experiences is accepted without question as being ‘that is the way it is’.
As Finlay (2002, 536) suggests, Provenance as a mode of reflective practice needs to start from the moment that the practitioner inquiry is conceived to embrace the investigator’s motivations, assumptions and interests seeking to illuminate forces that might skew the research in particular directions. Once identified through reflection, the investigator can mark those experiences and literature that may bias their analysis of other practitioners’ descriptions of their practice, opening the ways in which they frame problems, make assumptions and understand power (Torbert, 1991).
Research supervisors’ reflecting on practice has been encouraged since the emergence of the professional discourse (Johnson, 1995). The idea of focused reflection mirrors recent higher degree research, such as Lee’s (2012) framework for research supervision and Taylor’s (2015, 2016) supervisor questionnaire, that encourage supervisors to audit their own practice. Within the reflective practice and self-auditing agenda are possibilities for supervisors to address institutional requirements for their own professional development, as well as raise their awareness regarding the professional choices they make in undertaking research supervision. Raised awareness about professional choices is an identifying feature of Practitioner Research (Stenhouse, 1981). This agenda highlights critical reflection on beliefs common to professional practice investigation within the ‘practice turn’ (Schatzki, Knorr- Cetina & von Savigny, 2001).
In terms of my own research supervision provenance I know that I started to informally supervise others while I was still completing my own doctoral inquiry. Higher degree research practices were the focus of my doctoral investigation so it helped that I had some first hand experience as I studied the practice. Two significant events informed the ways in which I supervised. The first was examining my first doctoral dissertation and developing a set of examination criteria (Sankaran, Swepson and Hill, 2005). Having this set of criteria sharpened my supervision practice. The second was my Readership at Birmingham City University which afforded an opportunity to concurrently supervise fourteen doctoral candidates. This provided a wealth of knowledge about the ways in which I varied my core practices to accommodate individual student’s support needs. Many of these insights have been shared on this blog. In many ways this was my equivalent to Salmon’s (1992) study of her research supervision experiences.
The practitioner inquiries (Stenhouse, 1981; Andersen & Herr, 1999) undertaken by participants in the BCU communities of practice around research supervision are a defining feature that secured SEDA accreditation. Each inquiry involved a two-month focus on one aspect of their own research supervision and a report back to the community of practice of their discovered knowledge. Projects were identified and supported through scaffolded community of practice discussions that took place in the preliminary community of practice meetings (elaborated in the final section of this booklet) when practitioners discussed issues within research supervision that ‘troubled’ (Schön, 1983) them. In later community of practice meetings, discussion focused on what counted as ‘good’ supervision, the different resources that can support supervision practice and finally an invitation for each participant to identify their proposed practitioner inquiry.
Positioning a practitioner inquiry in the context of a community of practice takes reflexivity from a private practice to a communal one whilst maintaining the personal and individual focus through individual practitioner inquiries.
If, as a result of reading this blog, you are inspired to begin working on your own research supervisor provenance, I am happy to act as ‘critical friend’ – send a copy of your first thoughts on Provenance for your research supervision to me at Geof@bigpond.com
Anderson, G. and Herr, K. (1999). The New Paradigm Wars: Is there room for rigorous practitioner knowledge in Schools and Universities? Educational Researcher, 28 (5), 12-21.
Finlay, L. (2002). Outing the Researcher: The Provenance, Process, and Practice of Reflexivity. Qualitative Health Research, 12, 531-545.
Hill, G. and Lloyd, C. (2018). Articulating practice through provenance. Action Research http://arj.sagepub.com/
Hill, G. and Vaughan, S. (2017). Conversations about research supervision – enabling and accrediting a Community of Practice model for research degree supervisor development. Innovations in Education and Teaching International DOI: 10.1080/14703297.2017.1406388
Hill, G. and Vaughan, S. (2019) Ten ways to investigate research supervision. SEDA, London: U.K.
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Sankaran, S., Swepson, P. and Hill, G. (2005) Do Research Thesis Examiners need training? Practitioner stories. The Qualitative Report, 10(4), 817-835.
Schatzki, T.R., Knorr-Cetina, K. and von Savigny, E. (2001). The Practice turn in contemporary theory. London, U.K.: Routledge.
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Torbert, W. R. (1991). The Power of Balance: Transforming Self, Society, and Scientific Inquiry, Newbury Park, CA: Sage.