University Of Tasmania
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The road less travelled : a critical realist model for graduate attribute development in higher education

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posted on 2023-05-27, 10:04 authored by Adams, CA
This study commenced with an interest in the question: what needs to exist in today's learning environment for students to think, learn and demonstrate the graduate attributes of communication, problem-solving and social responsibility attributes? A theory-building methodology from the critical realism paradigm was used to facilitate an explanation-based case study approach. The process of retroduction was used to develop a novel explanation of graduate attribute development, via access to a stratified reality in which the assumed mechanisms, events and experiences related to graduate attribute development exist. Thus, the study sought to confirm or disconfirm the activation of generative mechanisms and describe the contingent conditions under which graduate attribute development may be enabled or suppressed. The study proceeded through three key phases. First, insights into what the researcher perceives as 'typical' students in the context of graduate attribute development were developed, and then the key challenges facing educators and students in graduate attribute development were considered. From this reflection, and tentative description of the components of a proposed model of graduate attribute development the components were 'redescribed'. Second, by contrasting several theoretical frameworks and interpretations, new insights emerged into the possible transfactual conditions that need to be present for their collective influence upon graduate attribute development. Third, the proposed graduate attribute development model was subject to empirical scrutiny through mixed-method data collection. Support for each developed postulate ultimately iteratively informed a proposed model for graduate attribute development, providing empirical support at the same time. Importantly, during the third phase of the study the specific transfactual conditions that were assumed to exist for a student, educator or the learning environment to contribute to the model were also confirmed. In summary, this study did not aim to test causality in a positivist sense, but rather, develop a model of graduate attribute development that others can now empirically test. The model explains that individual students having certain structures and necessarily possessing certain causal powers that and under specific conditions can potentially produce change: development of graduate attributes (within the context of this study communication, problem-solving and social responsibility), and building student capability and a sense of identity.


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Copyright 2016 The author

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