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O'Reilly, M 2008, 'Planting the seeds of change and growing the fruits of transdisciplinary educational design', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright M O'Reilly 2008


The professional practice of educational design normally involves collaborating with a subject matter expert on a one-to-one basis and is only occasionally undertaken in teams. This thesis argues that a team-based approach to educational design is powerful and particularly so when transdisciplinary collaborations are facilitated. Transdisciplinary educational design is the process of standing outside one’s discipline to collaborate with colleagues from the technical sphere, the library and other disciplines. The common ground shared by the transdisciplinary teams in this research was student assessment.

The core data collection for this research was completed between July 2002 and June 2005. Using an overarching action research methodology, three cycles of data collection were completed by action learning sets. Suitable members of the sets were identified through a series of online staff development workshops that were designed and facilitated by the researcher. Two supplementary data collection activities were also undertaken. The first of these was a Web survey that broadly mapped design practices for online assessment in four Australian regional universities. Three rounds of telephone interviews then followed up on survey responses. The second supplementary data collection was undertaken between the second and third action learning cycles to contextualise the online assessment design activities at Southern Cross University within the broader framework provided by the other three regional universities in the original sample. It included focus groups with educational designers and face-to-face interviews with three academics at each of these universities. The entire series of data collection activities was reflectively managed to heighten its effectiveness. This management included screening of suitable participants, negotiation of manageable session times and duration, and establishment of ground rules for attendance and interactions, as well as drawing out a commitment to observe silences as creative spaces in the design process.

In keeping with the action research paradigm, an extensive examination of the literature not only provides a background for the research questions but also continues to be threaded throughout the thesis as data collection cycles directed further literature review. The thesis narrative is given an original form through the use of a gardening metaphor that serves to highlight the rewarding, delicate and transitional nature of this kind of educational design. Such transitional aspects of educational design allow for innovation and creativity not evident in the systems-based approaches to designing instruction.

This research also supports current initiatives in Australian higher education concerning the first year experience, embedding graduate attributes in the curriculum, and blending on-campus and off-campus learners into one class. The transdisciplinary approach to educational design explored through this research responds effectively to the varied issues in designing online assessment and developing innovative approaches by academic staff

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