Third International Conference on the Teaching of Psychology
Freddie Crous,
Department of Human Resource Management,
University of Johannesburg,
South Africa


There seems to be a deliberate trend away from pathology towards fortology (Latin: fortis = strong) in the study of organizational wellness. Positive psychology provided the impetus for this change.

Positive organizational behaviour/scholarship provided me with the content for a new module in organizational wellness as part of an Industrial Psychology honours course. The challenge, however, was finding a mode of learning which in itself would reflect and enhance the positive: Appreciative Inquiry (AI), a positive and participative form of action research, provided the solution. The purpose of this presentation is to present a case study of how AI was applied as a mode for learning this module.

Thirty enrolled students met bi-weekly for eight contact sessions. Each session lasted three hours and was structured around an AI activity. A typical AI process is structured as a 4-D cycle of Discovery (appreciating), Dream (envisioning), Design (constructing), and Destiny (sustaining).

The first five contact sessions focused on the Discovery phase (in order to cover a range of positive organizational topics). During a session the students formed pairs, and interviewed each other for their insights, applications, experiences and wishes (related to the topics). The interviews were conducted by means of an interview guide – a handout consisting of topic-related questions which I had prepared. After concluding the interviews (each lasting no more than 40 minutes) the students formed four groups in which each individual shared positive reflections/stories/quotes from the person whom he/she had interviewed. Themes were elicited by the group members, and written down on flip chart paper. Each of the four groups then elaborated on their six most prominent themes in the larger group. At the end of the fifth Discovery session, six overall themes were democratically selected, to represent the positive core of the students’ hypothetical ‘positive organization’.

Inspired by their collective image of what a positive organization might be, the students analysed, for the Dream phase, the strengths, opportunities, aspirations and results (i.e. a SOAR analysis) of such a hypothetical positive organization.

For the Design phase, they had to co-construct a social architecture which would provide for the open flow of information, create rich relationships, lead to innovation and encourage commitment and passion.

Finally, for the Destiny phase each of the four groups had to consider what progressive people practices Industrial/Organizational Psychology practitioners should employ, to enhance a positive organization.

Throughout the semester each student had to prepare a portfolio of assignments related to those topics considered during the AI activities. These were assessed.

The students’ valuation (as opposed to an evaluation) of the appreciative learning mode indicated that they had experienced the approach as highly meaningful.

Other outcomes of the appreciative learning mode were:

  • Everyone in the class (including me) became a co-constructor of the learning process
  • The AI process heightened the levels of positive energy and increased student involvement
  • Each activity was data driven
  • The students were empowered in the use of AI as an action research method.

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