Christine Davies

Assessing the knowledge generated by practice-based postgraduate research

Christine Davies University of Wales Trinity Saint David Tuesday 6 March 2018

Research is an integral part of many postgraduate programmes, and in many disciplines, such as health and education, research is frequently related to the professional role. In programmes such as the Doctorate in Professional Practice (DProf), the role of the workplace is central to the research undertaken. Research activity of this type needs to meet the standards and requirements of the universities and the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). However, specific guidance on research outputs, or on the ways in which research should be undertaken, is often unavailable or rather general (Gilbert, 2009).

‘Traditional forms of formative and summative assessment may not always be appropriate to gauge the effectiveness of research based on professional practice.’

Traditional forms of formative and summative assessment may not always be appropriate to gauge the effectiveness of research based on professional practice. Typical assessment practices, such as essays or reports, were mainly developed with respect to ‘Mode 1’ knowledge – that is, knowledge that is primarily factual and subject-focussed (Gibbons et al, 1994). Work-based research, however, requires the production of knowledge that involves context and application, and relies on the professional experience and expertise of the researcher: this can be termed ‘Mode 2’ knowledge (ibid). Aspects of this knowledge may be ‘tacit’, and indicators of it may be various – including, for example, the ability to hold meaningful conversations with experts, or to formulate an appropriate set of rules for a particular procedure (Collins, 2001). Such knowledge can also be difficult to articulate, particularly early on in the research process, and may constitute a ‘knowledge object’, the precise nature of which unfolds as research progresses (Knorr Cetina, 2001).

Furthermore, because the research relates to the researcher’s own practice, some knowledge generated may be based on self-reflection, and can thus be considered ‘Mode 3’ knowledge (Scott, 2004). For individuals who may consider themselves ‘outsiders’ in the context of academic research (Goodall et al, 2017), this mode of knowledge is important to build self-awareness and enhance professional and academic development. A last, but not insignificant, mode of knowledge that may be generated by practice-based research incorporates critical elements, and is aimed at initiating change and/or improvement: this may be described as ‘Mode 4’ knowledge (Scott, 2004).

Very little research has been undertaken into the ways in which such a range of knowledge types can be assessed. Research on assessment in practice-based programmes has tended to focus on the use of frameworks and learning outcomes (Winter, 2001), but these may not be appropriate to support the assessment of research activity. Recent research on best-practice in the supervision of modern doctorates (Fillery-Travis et al, 2016; Mawson and Abbott, 2017) has been valuable, but has not commented extensively on the assessment of research activity or outputs. There is now a need to work in partnership with learners to establish best practices in the formative and summative assessment of the many modes of knowledge that may be generated from their practice-based research.


Collins H M (2001) ‘What is tacit knowledge?’, in Schatzki T R, Knorr Cetina K and Von Savigny E (eds), The practice turn in contemporary theory, London: Routledge. 107–119

Fillery-Travis A, Maguire K, Loxley A and Sperotti F (2016) ‘Supervising the Modern Doctorate: A Pan-European Study’, paper delivered at ‘Exploring Freedom and Control in Global Higher Education’, Society for Research into Higher Education Annual Research Conference, 7–9 December 2016, Newport, UK

Gibbons M, Limoges C, Nowotny H, Schwartzman S, Scott P and Trow M (1994) The New Production of Knowledge: The Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies, London: SAGE

Gilbert R (2009) ‘The language of assessment in the doctoral curriculum’, in Boud D and Lee A (eds) Changing practices of doctoral education, London and New York: Routledge. 61–64

Goodall H J, Huggins V A, Webber L A and Wickett K L (2017) ‘From student to graduate: Four learners’ perspectives of the professional doctorate journey’, Management in Education 31(4): 180–186

Knorr Cetina K (2001) ‘Objectual Practice’, in Schatzki T R, Knorr Cetina K and Von Savigny E (eds) The practice turn in contemporary theory, London: Routledge. 175–188

Mawson K and Abbott I (2017) ‘Supervising the professional doctoral student: Less process and progress, more peripheral participation and personal identity’, Management in Education 31(4): 187–193

Scott D (2004) Professional doctorates integrating professional and academic knowledge. Maidenhead: Open University and Society for Research into Higher Education

Winter R (2001) ‘A challenge to Assessment and Quality Assurance in Higher Education’, in Boud D and Solomon N (eds) Work-based Learning: A New Higher Education?, Buckingham: Open University and Society for Research into Higher Education. 155–166

Christine Davies BSc., PhD., PGCE., MIBiol., SFHEA is a senior lecturer in the Wales Institute of Work-Based Learning at UWTSD, and programme director for the Doctorate in Professional Practice programme; she also teaches on several research-focussed modules. In the past, she has taught in secondary schools, FE and HE (including the Open University), and has also had significant involvement with teacher training. In the early stages of her career, she undertook research in biomedical sciences, and her PhD degree is in the field of respiratory physiology. Her current research interests focus on the teaching, learning, and assessment of distance and doctoral-level learners.