‘Collaborative Critique’ in a Supervisor Development Programme

Oct. 01, 2013

Source: Innovations in Education and Teaching International, Vol. 50, No. 4, 399–409, 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article explores one workshop, ‘Research Communication in the Multicultural Academy’ (RCMA), as a case study demonstrating how collaborative critique can be implemented.
The Exploring Supervision Program is designed to aid new supervisors of research students to find effective ways of negotiating supervision in the context of this changing academy.
To this end, a workshop facilitation approach is employed that the authors call ‘collaborative critique’.
This approach is collaborative in that participants work together to create meaning through discussion and debate stimulated by narrative, case studies and role plays.
The authors frame the discussion with Jonassen et al.’s (1995) four categories: context, construction, collaboration and conversation.


The workshops focus on case studies and role plays drawn directly from transcultural supervision scenarios gained from the authors' own experience of talking to supervisors in all faculties of the university.
Working through such case studies is a rehearsal for supervisors responding to similar situations with students themselves.
The workshops provide opportunities to develop a metalanguage for exploring such dilemmas in a systematic, principled manner.

Furthermore, the role of facilitators in providing the context is to prepare rich materials that are capable of multiple interpretations, that are current, relevant and realistic, and that speak to real-life issues confronting supervisors in the contemporary academy.
Consequently, the scenarios must be regularly updated to explore topical issues in the current research climate.

The second category focuses on the construction of meaning based on personal experience and interpretations of the context presented for exploration.
During the session, participants explore a range of possible explanations for the situations under review, working through the possibilities and articulating their reasoning.
The facilitators participate as active members of the discussions in building responses to the case studies, role plays and scenarios.
Their task is to circulate amongst the groups, listening and learning just as much as other participants.
Thus, the facilitators are in an ideal position to contribute insights from the broader university community into each smaller group of participants, so that the cumulative construction process represents the ideals and experiences of an increasingly representative population of the University.

The participants work in partnership to find some kind of agreed understanding on the issues raised.
Participants draw on each others’ contributions to the discussion to inform their own views, jointly building knowledge and insight.
Together they collaborate on a social construction of the realities of their workplace, articulating the norms of their own corner of the university, and attempting to theorise more generally from those insights.
The aim is to reach broadly consensual understandings of the ways in which cultural difference plays out in the workplace.
The facilitators take part in the collaborative project as equals alongside workshop participants.
In these ways, facilitators cooperate with the other participants as active contributors to the sense-making endeavour.

The workshops are currently conducted face-to-face with all participants physically present in the room, rather than online, so that the conversational element of the learning environment takes place in person, in real time.
The workshops in their current form allow for both small group discussion and whole group feedback.
The facilitators create opportunities for small group and whole group conversations by outlining scenarios, assigning controversial conversation topics and posing open-ended questions.
Their focus is on allowing for multiple voices and opinions to be heard by the whole group, so that multifaceted versions of the stories and understandings are uncovered.
During the session, the facilitators offer alternative viewpoints to provoke and unsettle, playing devil’s advocate and indicating to the participants that there are more complex interpretations of the material than their initial reactions might include.


The authors acknowledge that collaborative critique can leave some programme participants with a certain amount of confusion.
The workshop process encourages participants to review their own assumptions through supportive corroboration of their peers’ narratives.
Collaborative critique requires participants to yoke this range of views together, using them to form their own methods and guidelines for advancing their supervisory practice.
Thus, confusion, complexity, critique and corroboration, while unsettling and challenging, can be harnessed to work in conjunction with the context, construction, collaboration and conversation that are central to academic development programmes like the Exploring Supervision Program.

Jonassen, D., Davidson, M., Collins, M., Campbell, J., & Haag, B. B. (1995). Constructivism and computer-mediated communication in distance education. The American Journal of Distance Education, 9, 7–26.

Updated: Nov. 02, 2015