This paper aims to demonstrate how action research methodologies can help to define and clarify the pedagogical role of the supervisor in production-based research (PBR). A major challenge in supervising practice-related research is trying to disentangle and articulate the theory embedded within practical projects. In journalism, which is still a relatively new discipline in academe, supervisors and students are often operating in under-theorised areas with no pre-existing theoretical roadmap. Action research has shown itself to be a useful methodology for structuring and explaining practice-related research, which in journalism would encompass PBR in the field. This paper shows how the action research paradigm is equally useful in describing and clarifying the supervisor’s role in these sorts of projects.
The paper looks first at practice-related research and the main challenges for candidates and supervisors in trying to align PBR with academic paradigms. Using examples from the author’s experience in supervising journalism research, it then illustrates how the main supervision tasks of project management, research mentoring and the writing-up process fit into the action research model.
In reflecting on the dynamics between candidates and supervisors in PBR, this paper shows how supervision of production-based PhDs is a dynamic research process in itself, presenting opportunities for pedagogical reflection.
The paper helps to clarify the role of the supervisor in this specialist research area which is still trying to establish itself within academe. It provides one way for supervisors to conceptualise their experiences and so contribute to a corpus of knowledge on which others can draw and build. By showing how the action research methodology applies to the supervision process in production-based research (PBR), this paper articulates a way for supervisors to understand and manage their role in this still-evolving research area. Building on previous scholarship and applying this knowledge to journalism production, the paper shows how action research may provide a way of addressing many of the issues and dilemmas others have encountered and identified in their pedagogical practice.
The author would like to thank Professor Ortrun Zuber-Skerritt and Dr Margaret Fletcher for their kind permission to reproduce their action research diagram in this paper. Special thanks as well to the author’s research students, the collaborators who made these reflections possible: Michelle Johnston, Mia Lindgren, Alex Soares and Helene Thomas.
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