An Interview with Ortrun Zuber-Skerritt

By Kalliath, Thomas | Organization Development Journal, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

An Interview with Ortrun Zuber-Skerritt


Kalliath, Thomas, Organization Development Journal


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Ortrun Zuber-Skerritt is a pioneer in the field of Action Research in Higher Education. She is the Director of OZI (Ortrun Zuber International P/L), specializing in Academic and Management Staff Development, Leadership Programs, Postgraduate Research Training and Supervision, including Qualitative Research Methods. She is Adjunct Professorin the Faculty of Education at Griffith University (Brisbane) and Professor of Professional and Organizational Development in the International Management Centre (IMC), Pacific Region. After her under- and postgraduate studies in Germany, she obtained three doctoral degrees in Australia: PhD in Literature (University of Queensland), PhD in Higher Education (Deakin University) and DLitt in Management Education (IMC, Buckingham, UK).

The following interview focuses on issues of Management Education through methodologies that foster life-long learning, generic problem-solving skills, creative and innovative thinking, as well as systemic and critical thinking, networking and collaborative inquiry and decision making in crises and unknown situations. These learner-centered methodologies and processes are particularly useful to management education and organization development in these times of rapid change and global knowledge explosion.

Ortrun Zuber-Skerritt initiated and convened the First World Congress on Action Learning, Action Research and Process Management (ALARPM) in Brisbane in 1990 with over 360 international delegates. In 1992 at the Second World Congress she launched the international ALARPM Association, now a worldwide network of innovative consultants and educators in industry, government, education and the community, using action learning processes. As a member of the ALARPM Executive Committee since 1990, she has been involved in the World Congresses (WC) 3 held in 1994 in Bath (UK), WC 4 in 1997 in Cartagena (Columbia), WC 5 in Ballarat (Australia) in 2000, and WC6 to be held in Pretoria (South Africa) in 2003.

Ortrun has published widely. Her book titles include two companion books: Professional Development in Higher Education: A Theoretical Framework for Action Research and Action Research in Higher Education: Examples and Reflections (both published by Kogan Page, London, 1992); Action Research for Change and Development (Gower, UK, 1991 and 1996), Quality in Postgraduate Education (Kogan Page, 1994, with Y. Ryan), Frameworks for Postgraduate Education (Southern Cross University Press, Lismore, 1996), New Directions in Action Research (Faimer Press, London, 1996) and Supervising Postgraduates from Non-English Speaking Backgrounds (SRHE & OUP, Buckingham, 1999, with Y. Ryan). Ortrun's membership of editorial boards includes international refereed journals such as The Learning Organization, Action Research, and Quality Assurance in Education.

What sparked your interest initially in action learning and action research (ALAR)?

It probably goes back to my postgraduate education and subsequent teaching practice in the 1960s in Germany. We were trained to use a learner-centered, interdisciplinary, problem-oriented approach to teaching, encouraging students' active participation and critical, analytical and reflective thinking. The knowledge and skills I acquired then were based on the German-language literature.

In the early 1970s, developments in my teaching career in Australia forced me to catch up with the English-language literature in higher education, I discovered the various schools of thought (behaviorism, cognitive theories, constructivism, critical theory, etc) based on the competing paradigms of positivism and phenomenology. Intuitively and because of my previous knowledge and experience, I preferred the latter approach - active, participative learning, teaching and research.

In the 1980s I discovered the literature on action research (AR) and became interested in the AR projects in the Deakin School of Education with primary and secondary school teachers. …

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