Supervising and examining action research theses

Shankar.SANKARAN's picture

Dear all,

I am interested to have a conversation about supervision and examination of action research theses or dissertations due to the following reasons:

1. I became an 'accidental supervisor' of AR theses when I entered academia in 1999 and had to learn the art of research supervision along the way. Fortunately I had a good model to emulate - my supervisors Alan Davies and Bob Dick.

2. We set up a process of 'group' supervison for an action research based  PhD program in Singapore where a 'pod' of students worked together with both local and remote supervisors. We are now experimenting with technology to reduce the tyranny of distance in remote supervision.

3. Geoff Hill, Pam Swepson and I wrote a a few papers about examination of postgraduate research theses in Ausralia and we presented a paper at the last AR World Congress at Groningen comparing the Australian and US models of theses/dissertation supervision and examination.

4.We also presented a paper at a knowledge management conference in Hongkong about the 'loss of opportunity to share knowledge' between researchers, supervisors and examiners due to the current practices in Australian universities.

I am happy to summarise our findings from our blog in a paper from by the 'bloggers' in the Action Learning Action Research Journal ALAR published by ALARPM.

Who knows we may even be able to take our views to the policy makers?









Dianne.ALLEN's picture



I would be interested in seeing some more details of what you did, posted here.

You may have noticed that Ed Cumings has also started a conversation about sharing in developing dissertation and related work, in the Members section of this site.

What you have to share could well help the considerations of how ALARPM, via it members, might contribute to this area of work, and extend their own knowledge of action learning about action learning/ research etc,

Dianne Allen KIAMA, NSW

Shankar.SANKARAN's picture


Thanks Diane for your comment. I have visited the discussions started by Ed Cumings. It is a good initiaitive.

Geof Hill, Pam Swepson and I (all from ALARPM) had discussions about our concerns with examination of AR theses as we were all involved in examining AR theses for Southern Cross University. While we were discussing these issues we felt that there were issues even with 'theses examination' in general in the Australian context and wrote a couple of papers - essentially based on our own stories about being students being examined, supervisors as well as examiners. We then decided that we are ready to write a paper about AR theses examination. At this time I had the opportunity of visiting the US (as part of my study leave) and interviewed four prominent action researchers - Davyyd Greenwood, Mary Brydon-Miller, Bill Torbert and Hilary Bradbury about supervising and examining AR theses/dissertations and we then presented a paper on issues with AR theses examination (in Australia) and comparing it with issues faced in the US at the ALARPM World AR Congress at Groningen . This paper is now being published in the next issue of ALAR after some editing to suit the journal. I will check with the editor of ALAR and see if I can make it available to the bloggers as this is the most relevant to this discussion.

Following are references for the papers mentioned about theses examinations for those who are interested. The paper in qualitiative report is accessible freely

Sankaran, S., Hill, G. & Swepson, P. (2005) 'Do research theses examiners need training? Practitioner stories', Qualiative Report, Vol. 10, no. 4. pp 797-835.

Hill, G, Sankaran, S & Swepson, P (2006), 'Examiner stories. Knowledge creation for the testers', paper presented to 7th Quality in Postgraduate Research Conference, Adelaide, Australia, Apr 20-21.

Sankaran, S., Hill, G. & Swepson, P. (2006). ‘Should Australian AR theses be examined using a developmental approach used by US Universities?’, 7th ALARPM and 11th PAR World Action Research Congress 2006, Groningen, Holland, 21st to 24th August.

The following paper is about the 'group' supervision process that we use in Singapore:

Sankaran, S., Hase, S. Dick, B. and Davies, A. (2006), ‘Reflections on developing an offshore action research/learning based PhD program, Action Learning: Research and Practice, vol 3., no. 2 , pp 1-15.

Warm regards







Jack.WHITEHEAD's picture

Supervising and examining action research theses


Dear Shankar - good to meet up in this ALAR web-space and to see that you are interested to have a conversation about supervision and examination of action research theses or dissertation.


I believe that there is a major piece of action research to be done with a focus on your interest - which I share. I've put over twenty of the living theory action research doctoral theses I've supervised and that have been completion over the past 11 years at: (together with other living theory action research theses from other universities) and action research masters units and dissertations at:


My present students continue to ask 'How do you do what you do in supervision?' and

'if you were to die tomorrow who could continue to supervise the emergence of the living educational theories of individuals from their action research programmes?'. I've also examined some 8 action research doctoral theses over the past couple of years and know how important the role and judgment of the examiner is. So, I'd very much like to sustain a conversation on the supervising and examining of action research theses and I'm starting to analyse my supervision and examining in the hope of making a useful contribution to the conversation.


Love Jack.






Shankar.SANKARAN's picture

Hello Jack

Dear Jack,

Great to see you here after a brief fact to face at Groningen. I will miss you when you come to Sydney as I will be in  India then

So we have to have a virtual conversation again it seems!

Thanks for the  great service you are providing to students and supervisors through theses posted at your website as well as the books you have written about the 'living theory' concept.

I am also involved in examining action research theses in Australia. Examining action research theses is another of my interests as to whether the current examination systems in Australia suits action researchers. My paper presented at Groningen on this issue has now been published in the ALARA journal.

Perhaps we should start talking about what supervisors of action research theses expect from examiners of AR theses. The Universities send the same instructions  to examiners of action research theses as they do for a normal theses.

Perhaps we should start having a conversation between supervisors and examiners at this site!


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