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Category: Professional practice
Teaching and Learning Forum 2006 [ Refereed papers ]
Co-creating professional knowledge through learning partnerships: The WA Police-Edith Cowan University, ASPIRE Officer Development Program

Scott Gardner
School of Management, Edith Cowan University
Andrew Blevins and Terry Taylor
Western Australia Police Academy

The paper focuses on the potential of learning partnerships to co-create knowledge that is relevant to specific 21st century industry and government needs. It is argued that these needs and the dynamic and complex environments in which they are framed, demand a new set of professional knowledge competences and a more integrative, cross-disciplinary approach to program design and supporting research activity. This reflects a long standing, but little heeded, critique in the academic and business literature, of the poor fit between dominant scientific approach to knowledge creation and dissemination offered in Australian Universities, through traditional business research and teaching activities, and the complexities of the working world. Opportunities to improve the quality of the industry/ government/ university knowledge nexus, are explored through brief discussion of successful partnership structures and precedents from the UK, USA, and Scandinavia. A profile of the ASPIRE Western Australia Police, officer development program is then presented as case example of creation of professional knowledge relevant to the challenges of policing in an increasingly complex, diverse societal and whole of government context. Following a discussion of the context and pedagogical design of ASPIRE and preceding officer development activity from 2002-2005, future development options for the ASPIRE program will be considered.

Introduction: The contested nature of knowledge in Australian universities

The limited scope and practical focus of the paper precludes extended theoretical discussion of the nature of knowledge and knowledge creation in universities and partner organisations such as corporations, government agencies and their extended networks. However prior to exploring learning partnerships with specific reference to the Edith Cowan University (ECU) and Western Australia Police ASPIRE program, a clear distinction between traditional versus action based perspectives of management learning, research, and knowledge generation must be made. This centres around the long standing rigour versus relevance debate in academia (Levin and Greenwood 1997). The core question being whether knowledge should be: 1) objectively gathered, reduced, re-assembled, and disseminated according to the scientific method; or 2) generated through the cyclical application of theory, to practice by the practitioner, within a defined organisational setting? (Lievano and Knudsen, 1997). Following the growing critique traditional university approaches to teaching, learning and research, (knowledge creation and dissemination), it will be argued that mechanistic 'university defined,' knowledge, corralled within rigid disciplinary structures, or within a few elite Universities has limited relevance to effective management of organisations in the 21st century knowledge economy. Specifically it is no longer adequate to address to the complexities of time compressed, complex and dynamic problem solving environments experienced by managers in large public and private sector organisations. In essence the locus of knowledge creation should be within the organisation at a nexus with customers, suppliers, other key stakeholders and learning partners such as universities.

The critique of traditional scientific views of knowledge production and dissemination is well supported in the social sciences literature at an ontological, epistemological and methodological level. At the first two levels the case for recognition of new forms of useful or applied knowledge is advanced in Gibbon's (1994) discussion of Mode 1 conventional scientific or functional knowledge, and Mode 2 trans-disciplinary, reflexive knowledge. Gibbon argument is further developed by Leyesdorff and Etzkewitz's on the role of Universities within a fluid Triple Helix of institutional, market, and societal innovation and knowledge creation (Leyesdorff and Etzkewitz, 2001). The case for alternatives to positivist knowledge production methodologies is well supported in the action learning theory (Emery, 1994) and advanced in practice through innovative pedagogical designs for business and management courses (Mintzberg 2005; Tellefsen, 1999). However despite this evidence senior academic staff and business school management are often reluctant to depart from traditional, functionally based, designs for postgraduate business programs such as the MBA. This tendency has been widely criticised in recent academic and business literature as a formula for the perpetuation of industrial age practices and thinking, based on a mechanistic view of the organisational world. This provides a poor fit with the work environment of the 21st century professional knowledge worker, where generic skills and boundary spanning ability are at a premium for working with other managers and specialists on interdisciplinary projects, programs, or policy development frameworks. (Bennis and O'Toole 2004), (Richards-Wilson, 2002; Bubna-Litic and Benn 2003).

In response this changing work environment learning and development specialists such as Debowski (2006) and Mintzberg (2005) have focused on the need for the cultivation of a new generation knowledge competences through the development of appropriate work based learning programs, for managers and other practicing professionals. In her discussion of knowledge competences and authentic learning, Debowski (2006, p.256-260) cites Shell and Siemens as examples of companies which encourage cross- disciplinary and cross-functional collaboration, and re-use of knowledge in the work environment. Mintzberg (2005) presents a scale of learning 'authenticity,' for managers, with simulations and cases at the bottom of the ladder, and work based action learning and reflection at the top (Figure 1). This learning authenticity construct provides the focal point for discussion of the pedagogical design of the ASPIRE officer development program discussed later in this paper.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Management pedagogies on a scale of authenticity. (Source: Mintzberg, 2005)

Paper objectives, structure and key concepts

Following Mintzberg (2005) and other advocates of authentic, action based learning we aim to demonstrate the significance of these pedagogical constructs to co-creation of relevant knowledge and innovation within through university/industry partnerships. The case will be advanced through: 1) Presenting the defining characteristics of knowledge and professional knowledge used to inform and underpin the discussion of authentic learning and co-creation of knowledge; 2) Outlining successful precedents for university - industry learning partnerships in the USA, UK, and Scandinavia; 3) Discussing the context, evolution, pedagogical design and benefits of the ASPIRE program, future design options, and broader lessons derived from the partnership experience and relevant literature.

Organisational knowledge, and professional knowledge competences

The defining characteristics of organisational knowledge and professional knowledge adopted in this paper are outlined below. Organisational knowledge is viewed as a combination of explicit (hard) and tacit (soft) knowledge elements created "through interactions between technologies, techniques, and people" within an organisation and it's broader networks (Yahya and Goh, 2002, p 458). It is at these poorly understood interfaces, between people (knowledge workers), technologies (typically information and communication technologies) and techniques (typically management practices and methodologies), that professional knowledge is formed. It is in this context that the DIKAR cycle of learning and knowledge creation applies where data is converted to information, and becomes useful knowledge when acted upon or applied to a specific problem and reviewed in context. (Despres and Chauval, 2000). The nature of professional knowledge will vary from profession to profession, sector to sector, the primary focus is on management competencies relevant to managing in complex, knowledge intensive organisations. Management competences will typically include: working collaboratively with inter-disciplinary teams to solve complex problems; rapid integration of activity and communication across boundaries; effective pattern recognition and ability to manage with emergent, non-linear change; interpretation of complex information resulting in sound and timely decisions in dynamic, time compressed environments; and perhaps most important of all, effective application of learning from success and failure at personal, project, program, and policy level to facilitate ongoing systemic improvement (Despres and Chauval, 2001; Capra 2005).

From a teaching and learning point of view is will be argued that: 1) conventional university business programs are not well suited to the cultivation of such competences; 2) they demonstrate poor fit with the working environment of knowledge workers and managers; and 3) new generation action learning oriented programs are required order to achieve 'fit' through 'Praxis' - using theory (including academic and professional research) and reflection, to inform and improve practice and systems. This view of 'relevant' knowledge production will be now be argued with reference to examples of successful industry - university learning and innovation partnerships in the USA, UK, and Scandinavia, and the ASPIRE program which forms the core of the Western Australia Police - Edith Cowan University learning partnership in Perth, Western Australia.

Successful learning partnerships in the USA, UK and Scandinavia

New generation versus traditional views of knowledge creation

The structure and formula for successful learning partnerships varies greatly from university to university and country to country. All are affected by national and regional policy frameworks governing educational design and access to resources. However the range of examples discussed below indicate that traditional notions of academic status, reputation, and access to financial resources do not have to be overriding considerations in the success of the partnerships. Indeed several of the institutions reviewed are new generation or provincial institutions, without the alumni networks or endowment base to remain comfortably within the cloisters of traditional academia. Without exception they have all opted to build a reputation and market positioning focused on a collaborative approach to practical knowledge generation and dissemination, combined with sound commercial practice. This contrasts to the modus operandi of many traditional universities: building prestige and endowments through high profile, well heeled alumni, lobbying within influential peer networks to retain access to government funding for infrastructure and internationally recognised faculty hired to produce high volumes of publications in the top peer reviewed, academic journals. These structures and the political agenda and funding models which underpin them have clear uses for the advancement of certain fields of scientific knowledge, but are arguably redundant for fostering innovation and knowledge creation in large sectors of industry and government.

Guiding principles for learning partnerships

Faced by similar structures and agendas in their respective countries, the new generation Universities studied were forced to build alternative funding bases and develop and use learning partnerships with industry and government to achieve a clearly defined positioning and reputation in local, national and to some degree international markets for tertiary eduction. The approaches adopted by these institutions broadly correspond with a set of principles described by Lyons (2003) as the High Cs of Partnership notably - 1) Engaging in extensive and ongoing Communication, collaboration and networking activity; 2) Establishing relationships which have enduring Credibility and relevance to both parties; 3) Designating suitable Champions; 4) Displaying substantial Commitment from both parties; incorporating self Critique and review; 5) Acting as part of a Community or network of learning (Lyons 2003,p 8-9, adapted from Wells 2001). Whilst these requirements are far from problematic, variations on the High Cs theme have in each case provided the basis for successful partnerships over periods of up to ten years and beyond. Two other facilitating factors for successful learning partnerships derived from the review included a deliberate policy of linking research and teaching to workplace practice, and creation of an independently funded, semi-autonomous centre or commercial to identify and build matrix of expertise spanning functional silos within university and its broader networks and establish an effective account management approach to ensure a coordinated and responsive approach to the needs of partner or client organisations.

International precedents for university-industry knowledge creation

Lievano and Knudsen (1997) report the use of these structures at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, which created a Centre for Economic Development as a platform for internal partnerships between their Business, Science and Engineering faculties, which focused their combined knowledge portfolios, (incorporating elements of learning programs design and research activities) on economic development in a depressed post industrial region. This was achieved through alliances and partnerships with local industry consortiums, state government and municipal leaders. Through this combination of what they termed "Instruction, Research and Outreach," yielded considerable benefits in terms of two way knowledge transfers between the students, faculty, business, government, and local communities. (Lievano and Knudsen, 1997, p 449).

In the UK a commercial orientation for many of the new universities was initiated in the early 1980s by the Thatcher government's 'rolling back the frontiers of the state,' where universities were forced to reduce their dependence on government funding and many former State entities such as utilities were privatised. As a result of these and subsequent changes over the past three decades, there are many examples of long term learning partnerships in the UK. Two of the more prestigious newer generation universities noted for science and business respectively: University of Manchester (Science Technology and Business divisions) and Cranfield University. These institutions provide long term examples of successful collaboration with a range of industry sectors to co-produce knowledge, through incorporation of multi-disciplinary research and pedagogical designs into action learning partnership processes and contractual structures.

Cooper (2002,p1) discusses the role of a commercial unit UMIST Ventures) within the University of Manchester as a "One Stop Shop", for combining internal research capabilities across a range of different departments and disciplines for knowledge transfer to UK and international client organisations and institutes operating in areas such as information technology, life sciences and environmental management. Whilst numerous research successes, awards, and high levels of graduate demand by employers are reported by (Cooper 2002), the "One Stop Shop" approach was also conceived as a means to coordinate applications for more traditional research grants. This led to problems relating to professorial politics, interdisciplinary rivalry, and competition for funds. In the event the successes of the unit within the old UMIST (Institute of Science and Technology Structure), did not guarantee its continued autonomy as the Institute which was recently re-incorporated into the core Manchester University bureaucracy.

The Cranfield approach to learning partnerships as reported by Tranfield, Denyer and Marcos (2004) appears to be more robust and sustainable within a business school context. The authors set out a more deliberate approach to combine action learning and research for co-production of professional knowledge. This includes: 1) Systematic reviews of work based research projects through a process supportive to a rigorous, evidence based approach to combining research and practice; 2) Collaborative professional development and academic learning program designs incorporating knowledge and feedback from industry partners and their clients on an ongoing basis; and 3) A structured knowledge sharing forum where different partners can generate and share mutually beneficial knowledge and innovative thinking. The principal partner organisation identified in the paper is Mouchel Parkman, an international management consultancy and services group with employing over 2000 staff in eleven countries. Using the Mouchel Parkman, Cranfield Centre as a focal point for co-production of knowledge, the partnership is reported to provide a basis for innovative services development and problem solving across the consultancy's portfolio of activities. These include management consulting, project management and construction design, and asset and infrastructure management for public and private sector clients. (Tranfield et al 2004, p381). Beyond this Cranfield has a long history of educational partnerships with police and other uniformed services offering useful lessons for the ongoing development of the partnership between Edith Cowan University and the WA Police, as discussed below.

Lyons (2003), offers a detailed overview of how the University of Portsmouth managed partnership based academic programs, incorporating a learning contracts and recognition of prior work based learning framework, with a wide range of organisations in the Communications, Manufacturing, Aerospace, and Defence industries. The major partnership collaboration discussed was with the Thalus defence group, through their international training centre - Thalus University. This partnership incorporates co-production of knowledge elements including: 1) Customised course design informed by knowledge transfer between University of Portsmouth academics and Thalus instructors; 2) A structured four tier, recognition of workplace based learning framework from Certificate to Masters level, with options on progression to a professional doctorate; and 3) Collaborative research inputs from the academic and industry researchers. This strategy of alignment with industry needs has been pursued over an extended period by other provincial UK universities such as The Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, which through its commercial entity 'Univation Limited,' has established itself as a leading provider of education to the health and welfare sector in North East Scotland and the oil and gas industry worldwide. (The Robert Gordon University, 2003).

Whilst the cases cited from the UK based universities offer interesting variations on the learning partnerships theme, the most comprehensive embodiment of the co-production of knowledge and authentic learning ideas is reported by Gardner and Tellefsen (2002) in their comparison of the Norwegian School of Management and Edith Cowan University (ECU), approaches to business education. The Norwegian School of Management integral approach to market positioning, industry engagement, teaching and research design, reflected their need as a private business school to compete with the more established publicly funded institutions in Scandinavia and Northern Europe, and the strong tradition of action learning in Norway. The authors outline the successful model which underpinned the growth of the NSM in the 1990s in terms of size and geographical spread, student demand, revenues, and research prestige. They present a detailed framework for co-creation of knowledge through combining research, teaching and practice within a defined constituency or broader knowledge network. This approach using targeted client networks and partnerships as a positioning tool and conduit to tap into a dynamic industry knowledge pool is termed constituent market orientation or CMO. (Gardner and Tellefsen, 2002, p 1). A variation in this approach Stakeholder Relationship Management, (SRM), originated by Gardner (2002), has been used since 2003 within the Business and Law faculty at ECU to support and maintain Police partnership along with several other 'key accounts', and to inform the design of the ASPIRE program described below.

Creating authentic learning and professional knowledge through ASPIRE

The partnership and program context

The Western Australia Police Service, employing approximately 5000 sworn officers and 1200 unsworn staff, and ECU, a Western Australian based, multi campus new generation university, with a total of 22,500, undergraduate and postgraduate students), have over a decade of educational collaboration in a range of areas including: management, law, justice, policing and security studies (WA Police, 2004; ECU, 2004). Over this period the idea of collaborative teaching, and research design was embraced in an ad hoc way in the law, policing, justice, security and management areas, but without an action learning and professional knowledge creation approach. This artificial separation between academic course content and the practical concerns of police management was recognised as a problem the author's and colleagues based in the ECU School of Management and the Western Australia Police Academy respectively. The resulting authentic workplace learning model grew from successive course reviews, debriefings and discussions balancing academic rigorous teaching and assessment with learning that held immediate relevance to the job. These discussions were focused initially on the design of the introductory Management and Strategic Management units, offered as part of the original Officer Development Course (ODC). This course targeted cohorts of Sergeants and Senior Sergeants seeking promotion to Inspector, and a smaller number of Inspectors aiming to gain an accredited postgraduate management qualification at Certificate, Diploma, or Masters level.

The timing and mix of academic and policing practice units varied over the ten years the course had run prior to ASPIRE, attracting mixed reviews, with some plaudits for moving agency thinking into a more strategic domain, and criticism regarding real life application of the learning experience, from senior officers and participants. The ODC also lacked a well-defined pedagogical model and articulation framework to other courses offered by the Academy and external institutions such as the Australian Institute of Police Management in Sydney, normally attended by officers seeking promotion to Superintendent. This changed in 2004 following the findings of the Kennedy Royal Commission, which introduced a series of key reforms in the Western Australia Police. According to Blevins (2004, p 9), the report found "clear deficiencies in supervision, management and leadership at all levels," in the organisation. Thus the Kennedy inquiry and other legislative changes and reports emphasising the need to develop policing as a 21st century profession in touch with the diverse needs and composition of Australian society, provided an impetus for management and leadership development within the WA Police. (Gordon 2003; APPSC 2003). In response to this staff at the Academy began to map clear articulation pathways for all policing and accredited academic courses with academic and policing components. The ASPIRE program replaced the ODC, offering a clearer pedagogy, improved supporting processes and articulated pathways for officer development within the WA Police.

Designing ASPIRE for authentic, job relevant learning

With a view to providing a better fit with the changing New Public Management (NPM) context of policing and the practical demands on managers within the WA Police, staff from ECU and the 'Academy,' collaborated to design an ASPIRE program broadly consistent with Mintzberg's (2005) progressive scale of learning authenticity. The key features of the program and stages in the academically accredited learning process are outlined below.

Stage 1 in this process focused on conventional university learning where the cohort group of approximately 25 students assimilate management theories, principles and academic conventions, beyond the prescriptive or technical emphasis in previous policing and TAFE level studies. At Stage 2, basic knowledge of these principles are tested, and then applied to both industry case studies and exercises exploring and critiquing (relative to the participants operational experience) internal management, policies, processes, and documentation including the WA Police strategic plan, annual reports, agency, team and individual performance measures. This takes the learning into an authentic (internal) policing context combined with the simulated (external cases and exercises), which corresponds to the lower levels of Mintzberg's continuum. Stage 3 requires further application of management and strategic management tools and frameworks in a supervised (external) industry based project, including the production of a consultancy proposal and report and presentation of findings to both the industry client, and managers from the Police Academy. In two notable cases the client organisations, (a hospital and an airline) implemented significant changes to emergency response, and security systems and processes as a result of the recommendations which flowed from the action learning based exercises undertaken by ASPIRE participants. This team based action learning component supports the development of useful professional knowledge through systematic investigation of client issues and iterative problem solving, supported by regular communication with the client and feedback from academic supervisors across a three week period. (The industry project was added as a third ECU accredited unit in February 2005, with placements and presentations arranged in partnership with the Western Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry). When combined with Stage 4 reflection on the entire learning experience, (captured in a journal to be submitted several weeks after returning to the workplace), it can argued that ASPIRE in its current format offers a tenuous foothold at the peak of Mintzberg's continuum of authentic learning (Figure 1, above).

At present ECU offers a blend of approaches and units which combined with the operational policing component of the program, is intended to present the best management learning experience available within an intensive mode, time compressed format. The course also provides a knowledge creation forum for a cross section of 20-30 front line managers drawn from a wide range of functions and portfolios within the agency. As front line managers the participants were also able to compare gaps between current management systems requirements and the operational realities encountered at their units. When compared to the action learning partnership models discussed above the ECU-WA Police partnership and ASPIRE have a long way to go as effective platforms for developing professional knowledge, relevant to the demands of 21st century policing.

Future directions for ASPIRE?

To facilitate knowledge creation and authentic learning from praxis or ongoing application of theory to practice in a police management context, further Stage 5 additions to ASPIRE are proposed by the authors. Possible steps may include: 1) Selection of suitable 'future leadership', candidates for the ASPIRE program in consultation with the Assistant Commissioner in charge of Professional Development, police academy staff and relevant line managers to create alignment with succession planning and Human Resource Development priorities; 2) Appointment of a sponsoring Superintendent to track the relevant candidate's progress and serve as a career mentor at each stage in the program and beyond; 3) Introduction of small cohort groups of up to ten participants from allied government departments such as the Departments of Justice, Family and Children Services and Planning and Infrastructure with the aim of promoting cross-agency learning, and effective case management; and 4) Assignment of internal action research projects with direct bearing on the effective and efficient functioning of core agency functions and portfolios. These projects may focus on a range of issues relating including governance, risk, security, performance measurement and human resource development and change management. Typically the change projects would be linked to information technology, case management and inter agency programs, and/or one of more than 30 reform projects currently operating within the WA Police. These work based (internal) action learning projects may also be incorporated into a fourth academically accredited, change management unit working in association with an academic supervisor. This stage in the learning cycle is intended to continuously improve WA Police management practices and systems, by creating a professional knowledge capability aligned to future agency priorities and an increasingly complex policing environment.


The paper demonstrates how learning partnerships can provide a unique opportunity for new universities to co-create professional knowledge relevant to the needs of industry or government partners. Partnership models and professional development programs such as ASPIRE also provide an effective basis for differentiating and managing new university services in an increasingly competitive market for tertiary education. This can be achieved by integrating and deploying the unique knowledge capabilities captured in silos across universities, and their network of stakeholders and partner organisations.


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Authors: Scott Gardner has over 15 years experience in academia, training, management and communications consulting in both the public and private sectors in Australia, the UK and SE Asia.
Scott Gardner, School of Management, Faculty of Business and Law, Edith Cowan University, Pearson St, Churchlands WA 6018. Email s.gardner@ecu.edu.au

Andrew Blevins and Terry Taylor are both senior trainers at the Western Australia Police Academy with significant input into training program design. They have substantial operational policing and front line management experience.

Please cite as: Gardner, S., Blevins, A. and Taylor, T. (2006). Co-creating professional knowledge through learning partnerships: The WA Police-Edith Cowan University, ASPIRE Officer Development Program. In Experience of Learning. Proceedings of the 15th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 1-2 February 2006. Perth: The University of Western Australia. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2006/refereed/gardner.html

Copyright 2006 Scott Gardner, Andrew Blevins and Terry Taylor. The authors assign to the TL Forum and not for profit educational institutions a non-exclusive licence to reproduce this article for personal use or for institutional teaching and learning purposes, in any format (including website mirrors), provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.

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