in Professional Practice (DProf). The MA grew out of an action learning leadership programme we accredited run by an independent provider for a large Financial Services Company. We agreed that managers on this programme could use their credits towards an MA at the University on condition that the students attended a module on research methods and completed a final project/ dissertation. They have all now submitted their final project.
The DProf follows the same approach that has been pioneered by the National Centre for Work Based Learning Partnership at the University. Participants are professionals who are seeking to draw on their experience as professional practitioners to work on a project the outcome of which can be seen to make a difference to their profession/ organisation. Like the MA the DProf depends on students collecting academic credits for each stage of the programme. Students begin with a review of their past learning and identification of key learning which can contribute to their final project for which they can get additional credits. They then have to complete a research and planning module and submit their plan for approval before embarking on the final project.
Common to both programmes is a research methodology based around action research and , in particular, action research as living theory (Whitehead and McNiff 2006). In action research, as compared with traditional positivist research, ‘Practitioners investigate their own practice, observe, describe and explain what they are doing in company with one another and produce their own explanations for what they are doing and why they are doing it’ (Whitehead & McNiff 2006: 13) Action research usually is about a group of people inquiring into their practice together in order to improve it. The group own the data they produce and the theory that underpins it. This is in contrast to social science research where ‘the theory is generated and owned by the researcher and is about other people’ Whitehead & McNiff 2006: 12)
In arriving at the notion of ‘Living Theory’ Whitehead and McNiff examine the nature of theory:
‘In broad terms it is possible to say that when you claim that you have a theory you are making a claim to knowledge…Knowledge claims by definition contain explanations because when you say “This is the way things are” you are also implying that you can explain why things are the way they are’ Whitehead & McNiff 2006: 29)
The authors maintain that
‘practice was a form of real life theorizing. As we practise we observe what we do and reflect upon it. We make sense of what we are doing through researching it. We gather data and generate evidence to support our claims that we know what we are doing and why we are doing it (our theories of practice) and we test these knowledge claims for their validity through the critical feedback of others. These theories are our living theories’ Whitehead & McNiff 2006: 32)