CPD: Supervising Undergraduate Research (Session 2)

Let the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) continue with Session Two of the Supervising Undergraduate Research course with the Centre for Enhancement and Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Birmingham City University in association with the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA). My report and record of Session One that took place earlier in the academic year can be read here.

Since Session One, I have started to think more critically about – in part consciously (outside) observing – my teaching practice whilst I have been working with Ma Contemporary Curatorial Practice and BA Fine Art students at the University of Lincoln, Loughborough University School of the Arts and the University of Northampton throughout the month of November. It’s been one busy month for teaching, that I’m still providing feedback on…where there is more to come in 2015 with the University of Lincoln (again) and Coventry University. I have never taught at Coventry before so it’ll be great to know other universities, different courses, different cultural ecologies and institutional dynamics.

In order to inform my teaching practice and the development of the courses (as I am also completing the Supervising Masters Degree Research course), I have been trying to squeeze in reading time of appropriate texts (shown below). A little direction has given by the one and only Momma Sooz (my Mom) who assesses and teaches people with learning difficulties such as dyslexia, to provide added knowledge and another dimension to my teaching practice. Also, I have tried to look at the subject from a “learning culture” and coaching point of a view, in part related to the workplace and professional practice, as I feel this is integral for art and design/creative courses. Something that I currently try to instil as part of most of the teaching I do…

Teaching book 1

Teaching book 2

Teaching book 3

Teaching book 4

Teaching book 10

Teaching book 9

Teaching book 8

Teaching book 7

Teaching book 5

Teaching book 6

The day began with an exercise looking into Supervisory Dialogues

Exploring different models/styles of supervision

Wisker (2005) describes supervision as a learning conversation, it is a form of teaching, seen as a focused conversation that is dynamic and engaged. Love and Street (1998) see supervision as collaborative problem solving. Being mindful of the learning styles of both supervisor and supervisee, ‘at different stages of the student’s work the supervisor needs to engage in a variety of modes of interaction: to guide, prescribe and inform, confront, elicit, clarify, support, summarise and move the student on, (Wisker, 2005: 124). Research into supervisory dialogues (Wisker, Robinson, Trafford and Warnes, 2003), including the different tones that different cultures may find acceptable in supervisory interactions, has led to the identification of the following interaction categories:

  1. Didactic (teaches);
  2. Prescriptive (prescribes a solution);
  3. Informative (provides direct information);
  4. Confronting (used if there is a problem which a student is still not addressing);
  5. Tension relieving/social (often at beginning or end of a difficult discussion);
  6. Encouraging and facilitating analysis and critique (moving student on);
  7. Eliciting (drawing out further comments);
  8. Supporting (positive response to nurture a growing argument);
  9. Summarizing (marking a stage of development, ownership and moving on);
  10. Clarifying (terms, expression, elements of the design);
  11. Collegiate exchange (student and supervisor discuss ideas, differences of interpretation, etc.).

Then working in pairs, we were asked to identify which of the statements above fitted with the dialogue statements/categories below:

a. How are you fitting all these interviews into your busy schedule? Are you keeping well? 10-4-5, final answer 5.
b. The abstract should be only 500 words and you must ensure that it is concise, clear and accessible to the examiners. 10-3-1, final answer 1.
c. No, don’t cut the results away from the discussion; they need to be woven together. 2
d. The statistics so far just don’t answer your question. There could be problems, and you must redesign the research for the next phase. 4.
e. It needs to be referenced using the Harvard reference system. Ramsden and Entwistle would be good researchers to follow-up here. 10-3-1, final answer 3.
f. I see you have written about how Freud focuses on inner thoughts and feelings; do you think he is saying something about how each of us perceives the self? or Do you see any paradoxes or contradictions in the policy on fee payments? 11-6-7, final answer 6.
g. If you wanted to observe the children, how might you do this? Would you consider participating with them in an activity? How would you describe such an approach? 7-10-11, final answer 7.
h. Well done, the work is going well; you have responded critically and evaluatively to the interview responses and started to use them in the discussion. 8.
i. Yes, this is the same kind of result that I came up with after running the experiment twelve times. What did you do about the problem with the water filter? 11.
j. Are you arguing from the results that girls appear to be tidier than boys? If so, you probably need to make this clearer in the discussion that follows. We thought 6, final answer 10.
k. So, it seems that you have a range of appropriate theories to apply to the findings. 9. 

Rachel Curzon SEDA CELT BCU

Case Study Scenarios

In groups we had to discuss each scenario, creating two responses, in two different supervision styles/dialogues:

Scenario 1

‘The final year students have had some introductory sessions about the dissertation module and have been briefed on the first submission (research proposal). It is worth 20% of the dissertation module. Tejinder has been to see you, and emailed, on multiple occasions. He has lots of ideas about possible topics. Initially he was really excited about being able to select his own topic to research. Now however, having done a lot of reading about lots of topics and had lectures about the variety of possible methods, he has become increasingly confused. Tejinder arrives for a scheduled meeting with you. He has got to the end of his tether with trying to choose a topic. He just wants to get on with the work as he is worried about how quickly the weeks are going by. His friends seem to have all selected their topics and be making a start on the proposal. He wants you to tell him which topic to pick and what method would be best. Tejinder also reminds you that it is really important to him that he gets a good mark on this heavily weighted module.’

  1. The group initially suggested 5/tension relieving/social to take away the stress of the situation; Or do you provide a question and solution for the student? Therefore, 2/prescriptive, through being 1/didactic; We concluded on saying as a supervisor we need to work with what is there, what the student has completed, giving permission for them to take the next step with their broader research, therefore, a transition from 9/summarizing by giving feedback on what they’ve achieved and positive reinforcement giving them ownership, allowing them to move on without taking it away from them. How to get Tejinder to take responsibility for his work and move it forward?
    If using many supervisory dialogues…beginning with 5-11 idea of where he is going – 9/summarizing  – 6/encouraging and facilitating analysis and critique. It would then be up to Tejinder to choose.
  2. An ulterior supervision style would be 4/confronting.

Scenario 2

‘The deadline for the first submission (research proposal) is looming. It is worth 20% of the dissertation module. Sunita emailed you on Friday night, twice on Saturday, again on Sunday and has now arrived at your office on Monday morning. She is clearly starting to panic about the deadline and the quality of her submission. You are due to run a workshop in 45 minutes and were trying to finish some printing for the session when she arrived. On arrival Sunita is close to tears and rapidly launches into a stream of worries about her proposal, whether the idea is any good, has she chosen the right method, will she be able to deliver the research for the final dissertation, has she included enough references, and is she clever enough to be here at all!’

  1. First thing would be to 5/tension relieving/social, bearing in mind the professional aspect of what you are doing and time is limited. Little bit of tough love through 4/confronting, can’t just turn up and be seen immediately. Explain is important to meet and arrange another time when this can happen 1:1 to focus on her needs, then 3/informative, requesting her work/drafts to see what stage she is at as her proposal in progress…suggestion of looking at the proposal and rethinking any areas prior to the meeting so 9/summarizing;
  2. An ulterior supervision style would be to 3/informative first, guiding before 4/confronting.

Also need to look at the time of, and frenetic, emailing of Sunita and her expectations of her supervisor, versus how you inform a student of the supervisory relationship you have.Do supervisors need to have communication parameters that are set out at the beginning of the academic year?

Scenario 3

‘The marks for the first submission (research proposal) in the dissertation module have recently been released. They are worth 20% of the overall module grade. A day after the marks are released you get an unexpected visitor at the office…Ben is very unhappy (to the point of being quite aggressive) with his mark for this first submission and he wants it remarked. He says he did a lot of work for it and had meetings with you so he doesn’t understand what went wrong. He also thinks it means the whole idea is rubbish and he should start again. His friends who are supervised by someone else have much higher grades.’

  1. The group felt it was an issue that has become more and more common. Reference the standardisation within departments. Does this show an inability to be critical with their own work? The fact it states “unexpected visitor”, makes out that up until that time Ben has been fine in terms of his development. Begin with 5/tension relieving/social then 3/informative through providing information on the marking and assessment criteria and 10/clarifying what he needed to achieve. Keep it factual. Also, if needed, reference tutorial/supervisory records/forms that have documented the development and expectations of the student’s work. If this does not happen, you have to be 4/confronting, again arranging another time to talk about the issue, or suggestion to put forward for external moderation and appeal;
  2. An ulterior supervision style would be  direct 4/confronting.

Learning from Experience: Kolb and the Learning Styles Inventory

After a quick morning break, the session moved on to the work of David A. Kolb and his work on experiential learning, the individual and social change, career development, and executive and professional education…and The Kolb Cycle…

KOLB Cycle

KOLB Cycle 2

Most of us have a preference or tendency towards one or more of The Kolb Cycle as to how we are as a learner…or may miss out one section of the cycle. ‘Individuals learn and approach problems in different ways based on their preferred learning style.’

  • Learning concepts and principles is no guarantee that we can apply these principles in the real world;
  • Learning how to do something from experience does not guarantee that we can make sense of that experience;
  • Learning from experience involves a cyclical process in which we make links between doing and thinking.

Barriers to Learning from Experience

  • Barriers to experiencing: staff/colleagues show a preference for distance and detachment – “don’t get involved…there’s nothing you can tell me… I’ve been doing this 20 years!”
  • Barriers to reviewing and reflecting: staff/colleagues are present orientated – “let’s get cracking; what’s next; that’s just history; live for today”
  • Barriers to concluding and conceptualising: staff/colleagues are action orientated. Pragmatic. Over responsive. “Thinking is for academics; ignorance is bliss; all this theory is a waste of time”
  • Barriers to planning: staff/colleagues are cautious. Low security. Conservative traditional conforming. “Tread carefully; stick to the rules; fit in; this is how its done”.

KOLB Cycle 3

Kolb's learning styles

After this, we were asked to fill in the ‘Learning Style Inventory’ where 4 indicates most like you and 1 least like you…after calculating the scores through Kolb’s formula. No surprises really as I hit the Abstract Conceptualisation category with high points…but more distressingly Reflective Observation with a very low score, which considering the industry I am it seems wrong. As Rachel Curzon stated, this model does not quite represent learning styles in the arts and culture.

Learning Style Inventory

  • Concrete Experience (CE) – 16
  • Reflective Observation (RO) – 6
  • Abstract Conceptualisation (AC) – 18
  • Active Experimentation (AE) – 17
  • AC – CE = 2
  • AE – RO = 9

Kolb learning style inventory

Kolb learning style inventory2

Once analysed, the data showed I have an Accommodative Style – good at carrying out plans and getting things done – which is very, very true…and it is funny how apt the definition listed below is too…also known as Type 4:

  • Integrate experience and application;
  • Seek hidden possibilities, excitement;
  • Need to know what use things can be put to;
  • Exercise authority through common vision;
  • Lead by energizing people;
  • Learn by trial and error, and self-discovery;
  • Seek influence and solidarity;
  • Perceive information concretely and processes it actively;
  • Are adaptable to change and relishes it;
  • Like variety and excels in situations calling for flexibility;
  • Tend to take risks;
  • Are at ease with people;
  • Often reach accurate conclusions in the absence of logical justification;
  • Function by acting and testing experience.
  • Strengths: Action, carrying out plans.
  • Goals: To make things happen, to bring action to concepts.
  • Favourite Question: If…?
  • Careers: Marketing, Sales, Action-orientated jobs, Education, Social Professions.

My learning style also encompasses traits of a Convergent Style – good at closed-ended problems and the practical application of ideas. Also known as Type 3: 

  • Practice and personalize;
  • Seek usability, utility and results;
  • Need to know how things work;
  • Exercise authority by reward and punishment;
  • Lead by inspiring quality and the need to produce the best product;
  • Learn by testing theories in ways that seem sensible;
  • Value strategic thinking;
  • Perceive information abstractly and processes it actively;
  • Enjoy solving closed-ended problems;
  • Restrict judgment to concrete things;
  • Have limited tolerance for ‘fuzzy’ ideas;
  • Are the decision makers.
  • Strengths: Practical application of ideas;
  • Goals: To implement their view of the situation;
  • Favourite question: How does this work?
  • Careers: Engineering and applied sciences.

From this exercise, we discussed the importance of looking at the learning styles of the student versus the learning styles of the supervisor…also how we assess the learning styles of international students – is this culturally or educationally influenced? This is a growing research area but often done by people based in the UK who have no engaged internationally. Individually, we all have an awareness of this, also on a local level, but on department and faculty level this is very different.

Through the four different learning style types, we then defined the learning styles of teachers into four titles – colleague, manager, facilitator and transmitter, where I am a Type 4 and Type 3 teacher – Colleague and Manager.

Type 4 Teacher:

  •  Role: Colleague;
  •  Intent of Teaching: To enhance a better vision of what society can be;
  •  Measure of Teacher Effectiveness: Getting students to act upon their visions;
  •  Purpose of Student Evaluation: To measure students’ progress with respect to abilities;
  •  Concept of Knowledge: Knowledge gives the student the ability to interpret and to reconstruct his/her society.

Type 3 Teacher:

  •  Role: Manager;
  •  Intent of Teaching: To prepare students to perform skills they will need in society;
  •  Measure of Teacher Effectiveness: Efficiency in getting students to achieve skills;
  •  Purpose of Student Evaluation: To certify to clients that students have certain skills;
  • Concept of Knowledge: Knowledge gives the student the ability to do certain things – capability for action.

Learning styles teaching

Learning styles teaching 2

Dialogue Sheet

The afternoon began with a group exercise on an A3 piece of a paper…a tool to create an exchange of ideas and thoughts…a flow chart that linked three boxes titled with:

  • Identify one dilemma or challenge common to the supervision of UG students at BCU;
  • Explore the issue identified to the above dilemma (impact, outcome, problems) whilst your ideas, experiences, thoughts);
  • Create potential solutions to the issues outlined.

dialogue sheet - exploring challenges

Example One

Identify one dilemma or challenge common to the supervision of UG students at BCU:

  • The want of students to be spoon-fed, be given the answers, the solutions.

Explore the issue identified to the above dilemma (impact, outcome, problems) whilst your ideas, experiences, thoughts):

  • Problem of language, lack of self-determination, less confident;
  • Outcome – failure;
  • Thoughts/ideas – could be cultural change;
  • Personal experience – coming from the UK…college and school system students are spoon-fed. Coming to university can be challenging.

Create potential solutions to the issues outlined:

  • Prior to take-up of uni place, set/establish expectations through interview, open day, A commencement tasks, mentors;
  • Induction, opportunity to talk about culture change, introduction to support services, requirements fo course/study generally, repeated cycles of induction;
  • Tutor-led to student-led – over the course programme have incremental change;
  • Opportunities to reflect on changing nature of learning – giving students ownership, SWOT/action planning, PDP (Personal Development Planner), think about the environment for learning.

Example Two

Identify one dilemma or challenge common to the supervision of UG students at BCU:

  • Understanding how to use referencing.

Explore the issue identified to the above dilemma (impact, outcome, problems) whilst your ideas, experiences, thoughts):

  • Why is it important – useful to contextualise so student can see value:
  • Support available, links to online support;
  • Need encouragement to move on and stay focussed;
  • Needs examples, follow format;
  • Some varieties within styles (Harvard, Chicago etc.);
  • Citation/reference – difference between them;
  • PEA: Point, evidence, analysis/exploration;
  • Software, eg. Endnote, Mandalay;
  • Evaluate quality of sources.

Create potential solutions to the issues outlined:

  • Make a guide available;
  • Having access to different ways to learn about referencing – Moodle, guides, Centre for Academic Success, library, courses, online tutorials;
  • Keeping track of understanding and progress through regular communication;
  • Make sure adhere to BCU guidelines.

Example Three

Identify one dilemma or challenge common to the supervision of UG students at BCU:

  • How to get students galvanised and working on final essay at an early stage.

Explore the issue identified to the above dilemma (impact, outcome, problems) whilst your ideas, experiences, thoughts):

  • Difficult process – most has to come from the self. Positivity/positive attitude helps as an influence. Those who surround you influence you;
  • Different students work in different ways, different learning styles as mentioned. This can affect timeframes and processes as to how they work where differentiated teaching is needed;
  • Clarity about realistic timeframes – an education in time management. Instilled in students. How do you keep track of progress?;
  • Does this come down to communication? Regularity of meetings?

Create potential solutions to the issues outlined:

  • Set timeframes and have milestones;
  • Setting up deadlines;
  • Using exemplars where possible;
  • Reading list for each sub section of the final essay/dissertation;
  • Provide an outline of the benefits of peer learning;
  • Exploring work-life balance, capacity to prioritize and engaging in decision-making;
  • giving them self-confidence.

Introduction to Quality Assurance Issues, Standards, Procedures (including ethical issues)

Following this, Rachel gave the groups examples of current university documents outlining their ‘Research Supervision’ strategies, policies and handbooks. They were all current/2013-14 documents from institutions including The University of Nottingham, University of Sheffield, University of York, Robert Gordon University Aberdeen and Birkbeck University of London. Also, BCU’s BA (Honours) Media and Communication 2014-15 MED6104 Dissertation Handbook made an appearance…and was actually one of the better and most comprehensive examples. All the other examples varied in terms of content…some specific and very detailed…others confusing in formatting and message. We went on to collectively discuss these…

Rachel Curzon SEDA CELT BCU 2

What is it?

  • Dissertation/project guide;
  • Supervision process/roles;
  • Single document (with everything in it);

How do we use this document? Students and staff need to engage and follow it.

  • Bullet points – clear, concise;
  • Avoid too much info/being boring;
  • User friendly;
  • Executive summary – key points;
  • Simple English (suitable for international students etc.);
  • Expectations (student – 1st, supervisor – 2nd);
  • Glossary of keywords/terms – perhaps a definition of Bloom’s;
  • Deadlines and timeframes;
  • Worksheets/tables to help prepare for meetings;
  • Details for submission – font, size etc.;
  • Examples of referencing;
  • Ethics info and form.

The latter part of the day focussed on how to look after yourself during the supervision process and helping students to help themselves…the use of practical methods to get students to unravel their issues, and other strategies and solutions that are available in-house or externally. We were then asked to look at the ‘Lookout Model of Wellbeing’ (as shown below), a tool used to map triggers, strategies and solutions. and asked what support is available for you as a supervisor? Answers from the groups included:

  • Having friends outside work to talk to;
  • Support services at work;
  • Talking to, and learning from, colleagues who are doing the same thing as you;
  • Counselling and student services;
  • External mentorship providers.

lookout model

Session Two of the Supervising Undergraduate Research course concluded with a discussion into the assessed parts of the course, the next and final day Session Three, what is expected, and the submission of the course portfolio in late Spring.

The session today, I felt took more of a holistic approach, looking more at the instinctive and personal qualities that come with teaching and lecturing…the more individual learning traits and styles that we need to identify within ourselves, as much as within the students we work with, whilst being aware of the differences, cultural nuances and so much more, that were all a clear discussion point in Session One. Now to get on with reading…words for PhD? Or words for teaching?

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