CPD: Supervising Undergraduate Research (Session 3)

Time for Session Three, the final session, 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 and Session Two that took place earlier in the academic year can be read here. It is all part of my Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for 2015.

Recently, I have been embedding my brain in a world of teaching theory and knowledge to inform my teaching practice…and there are a lot of different publications out there, from varying eras (as you can see in the photo below). I must say that so far, I have discovered a clear lack of specific texts on teaching the disciplines of art and design, and teaching international students (such as on cultural assimilation). Maybe I’m not looking in the right places…

teaching books 1

teaching books 2

teaching books 3

Session Three of the course began with an ‘Assessed Discussion’ where each member of the group had to present a pre-prepared two-minute paper on a topic we were given in the previous session. Here are notes from others presentations where diverse, poignant and timely topics and issues were covered.


She stated that home art and design students have an activist style of learning…responding best to experiential learning, having a more didactic style find after handing in their dissertations. They are more practically inclined rather than writing. For international students, they are reflective learners…sino-students, there is a definite skew in learning style. Sian acknowledges here own teaching style in relation to the students. At the moment, individual tutorials take place, often replicating power structures that international students are happy with.

It is not about a paradigm shift, it is about blurring the boundaries of the different ways students work – suggestion of group critiques, reciprocity…exchanging reading lists…you make suggestions as well as the students suggestions, Q&A, problem solving sessions and working in pairs.

“Academic language is no ones mother tongue” (Bourdieu). Independent thinking creates a tension for international students…suggestion of writing workshop sessions. Sian collaborates with Centre for Academic Success…some universities have minimal supervision, what counts as supervision? How can we contribute to supervision? Research seminars – presenting a paper to talk about their work. From staff and/to students…it is about establishing a research culture. A book or journal discussion group, but feel this would come from the students to work. Supervising in teams – too top-heavy and intimidating for the students? Essay titles emailed to staff to see any relevant help or input.

What about the ethical supervision of work – who can provide input on ethical subjects? Doesn’t seem to be available. Key feature at Nottingham not at BCU. Gina Wisker talks about metacognition, learning through learning…if we highlight the learning process to students, they can become more independent and provide their own supervision. Acknowledgement of cultural nuances…pre-Masters summer schools to introduce study skills and more. Hard to teach freedom of thought…very much a fear of losing face with international students. Translation issues…through Google translate…how do we keep track of the level and quality of translation and how can we help?


Observe international student in a supervision session where they spoke of their research topic and why it was chosen…then discussed date collection and dissertation structure, whether there are limitations with data collection and the ethical issues. The student stated struggles within writing, language and study skills…asked supervisor for additional support with this. From this Siva decided the supervisor should have knowledge on the research topic, they should be good with time and time management, patient and have empathy with what the student was saying especially regarding language issues, communication skills very important. Supervisor also looked at drafts and gave feedback verbally which seemed useful. The student was sound recording the session…supervisors also pushing this as a way to document. The supervisor should adapt, be a good communicator, be a good guide, be a good examiner seeing what she has done and how she can improve, appreciate her and how she can improve acting as a commentator.

Recording the supervision session…is this to do with accountability? After each meeting, the supervisor gave a feedback sheet to acknowledge ways in which he can improve. Personal reflection on your professional standards. How can we engage the supervisors that are not doing this? Firstly, ask students for feedback to see how the supervisor has worked…are there a series of complaints or reactions? Module feedback takes place but does that go back to the individual supervisor.

What about visiting lecturers and non-permanent staff…how do you follow their work with the students and work delivery? Based on personal experience, I encourage feedback – positive and negative – after teaching sessions and through e-mail follow-up that is not required by the institution but seen as helpful when sent through.


One difficulty undergraduates come to Arif with is wanting to change the world with their idea or proposal. Trying to balance their enthusiasm…it is a marathon not a race, establish this in the first session, and for them to hold onto this energy. As a dyslexia assessor perhaps I’m much more aware of this…about 70% of students are on the dyslexia or autistic spectrum…use metacognition, thinking about thinking, how they can empower themselves. Set them SMART targets and get them to set their own target to overcome difficulties. I use multi-sensory approaches from the British Dyslexia Association…from playing with a stress ball which can help them focus on thoughts and memories. Given notes and flow charts to tick off what they’ve done. Regarding personal problems, some people can’t appreciate the ways in which to deal with these…signposting to help…need to be mindful that a person isn’t divorced from what is happening, ways in which to acknowledge difficulties whilst seeing silver lining through the work they do. International students not allowed access to DSA funding…resort back to dyslexia training. International students learn English in the same way dyslexics do…look for the gist rather than specific meaning. I give SMART targets whilst encouraging the understanding of more advance concepts. Incentive and motivation to go and fin things out.

Notion of giving people the gist helps to breakdown barriers…helps them to engage in further research. Language support and training on this…how much time in reality does it take to introduce it…how do you keep a students motivation up? Encourage a student to dip into their creative thinking…the “gist” (“gist” theory) as an impetus. Much more inclined for students to work from this as it plays to their strengths. Assessment for learning…playing to strengths rather than weaknesses. Use of ‘Academic Word Bank’ to help International and dyslexic students…getting more limited in capacity. Needs to for dyslexia students…can they be taken into mainstream teaching? Is there an opportunity to hear about these methods? Everyone learns better if you use more than one things at the same time.

SEDA Supervising Undergraduate Research 3-1


In part, it is very particular tot he way I work, mindful of personal and professional boundaries. As a supervisor privileged to instant feedback about how things went, whats there, whats not there…perceived beef? General dissatisfaction. How do we look at this? Example of a student on a teacher training course at BCU…a distinct lack of issues around diversity of being black at the university. When trying to support students that are going into schools that are multi-racial…ontological presence, the kind of ways to see equality and diversity as concepts. Meeting with the student and making sense of their world in practice and writing up…how do you affirm somebody and get them to read things that help to see in different ways, and with their personal and professional growth. How do they see their lifestyle after the course? Issues of language…working environments…how are we educating young people of open understanding of how we have equality and open working practice? In terms of feedback to the course, the student was asking how can the curriculum be more fully aligned to assimilate with the diversity of the students on the course. In part as a supervisor, I privileged these issues and how to resolve them…but we don’t feel able or comfortable to talk about this…how do we talk about this?

Trying to separate the red herrings from the substantial. In reality in what we find from student engagement…our strategies of engagements…a way in which our neural pathways produce instantaneous stuff…where is the time to explore the words and the issues? How do make education meaningful and challenging? It takes a lot of time for reflection…is this through staff development? Is it about culture change? It is what is not said and the way in which cameras present the world. As many of the issues were personal to the supervisor, there is a problematic of boundaries as to whether you can use personal issues to illustrate issues. Have to be solution focussed and try to envisage how can this be shared and how can this be moved on. Part of the relationship process is an openness. What is happening in terms of the linguistic challenges of the classroom…how do you affirm children and communities and make it positive from what they are learning. How do we empower our students who are educators? The power of little conversations to raise confidence. Words and phrases for race and disability were not seen as offensive…students and much as the supervisor must be aware of this. It is a minefield…if we can search for pragmatic outcomes in curriculum then it helps to counter the quick visual intake. A want to deal with equality and diversity yet at the same time highlight the “minority”…aware yet not wanting to talk about them.


Separated skills and roles…in terms of skills:

  • Being able to listen, especially during the “ideas” stage, let them explore;
  • Organisational…speed reading and being able to go through work;
  • Writing itself;
  • “There’s no right way to supervise a dissertation student”…roles that you have change over time and for each student. Who decides which roles are important?;
  • Manager of student expectations and the work;
  • Specialist in the area.

After observing a session, it wasn’t the roles but the definition of the role that matters. Two different supervisors managing the project in two different ways…student going away from what they initially intended. Supervisor from industry background more pragmatic in help…the other supervisor from a research background, tried to get the students to acknowledge subject it too broad and wide. The roles themselves aren’t definitive enough.

Routed in experience and real life examples.Setting out the roles and boundaries at the very beginning. Some universities have very clear criteria…others do not. Project should be student-led, perhaps not from the start. Measuring expectation from the start. Referenced back to “Academic language is no ones mother tongue” (Bourdieu)…danger you can become routine and systematic, and not talking to the student as an individual. The roles interplay constantly. Mindfulness…how much should we be present in the process? An article was cited – ‘What is the future for undergraduate dissertations?’ by Rowley and Slack.


Working effectively with diversity and promoting inclusivity. Spoke of observation sessions within the area of nursing specifically secondment students. One student with three supervisors – practice, nurse and university supervision…how do you navigate that? Also found out she was dyslexic, so was provided with another supervisor for dyslexia support. What she sees in her job in woman with low-skilled, low-paid roles who are aspirational…they don’t have the confidence to come in. Is their background taken into consideration? It creates a dependency on the supervisor. Peggy asked four questions:

  1. How do we prepare?
  2. How do we think about the capital the student brings with them as to how we support them?
  3. How much do we empower them to build resilience to not be reliant on the supervisor?
  4. Where is the space to safely space their insecurities?

It is about social networks in academic communities…demystifying and deconstructing.

SEDA Supervising Undergraduate Research 3-2

During the assessed discussions, we were asked to fill in peer review feedback forms for other people in the group to further make sense of our presentation’s topics, whilst encouraging us to reflect on the experience. It was actually incredibly helpful, where I’m sure material from this will feed into the final assessed portfolio/essay. From here, we moved on to talk about “values”, which I had previously discussed as part of session two of the ‘Supervising Master’s Degree Research’ course earlier in the year.


What does the word ‘value(s)’ mean?

  • Is it moral and ethical value?;
  • Beliefs;
  • Standards or principals;
  • Monetary value…

In 2009, BCU focussed on a shared way of working across the university, where the staff were invited to respond through a survey. They highlighted four values – excellence, people-focussed, partnership-working, fairness and integrity. This represents how BCU stands as a university, how we work with each other as colleagues and with students, in the delivery of a high quality student experience, and having a distinctive position in the market critical to BCU’s future success.

BCU Core-Values


  • Strive to be the best in all that we do
  • Seek and act on feedback to improve the quality of what we do
  • Learn from and share best practice in our quest to continuously improve
  • Encourage innovation, being forward thinking, creative and taking rational risks
  • Open to new ideas and embrace change positively


  • Value each other’s contribution and the diversity this brings
  • Celebrate success and recognise achievements at all levels
  • Support our students and each other to develop, learn and work together to be successful
  • Listen to each other’s point of view and give constructive feedback
  • Behave respectfully towards each other and encourage a sense of belonging

Partnership Working:

  • Put our students at the forefront of what we do, engaging with them as active partners
  • Foster effective team working and work cooperatively across departments
  • Collaborate in each other’s learning and share ideas and approaches
  • Communicate and involve others in a timely and effective way

Fairness and Integrity:

  • Uphold high professional and academic standards
  • Take responsibility and are accountable for our actions
  • Open and transparent in what we do
  • Use our resources wisely and behave responsibly towards the environment
  • Constructively challenge behaviour not supportive of our values

We went onto discuss the SEDA Values. All SEDA activities are underpinned by the SEDA values:

  • An understanding of how people learn;
  • Scholarship, professionalism and ethical practice;
  • Working and developing learning communities;
  • Working effectively with diversity and promoting inclusivity;
  • Continuing reflection on professional practice;
  • Developing people and processes.

Then discussing the work of the Higher Education Academy (HEA). The UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) for teaching and supporting learning is for institutions to apply to their professional development programmes and activities thereby demonstrating that professional standards are being met.

The Dimensions of Practice:

  • Areas of Activity undertaken by teachers and supporters of learning within HE;
  • Core Knowledge that is needed to carry out those activities at the appropriate level;
  • Professional Values that someone performing these activities should embrace and exemplify.

Professional Values that someone performing these activities should embrace and exemplify:

  1. Respect individual learners and diverse learning communities
  2. Promote participation in higher education and equality of opportunity for learners
  3. Use evidence informed approaches and the outcomes from research, scholarship and continuing professional development
  4. Acknowledges the wider context in which higher education operates recognising the implications for professional practice.

The afternoon session began with ‘Helping Students to Help Themselves’…practical and theoretical ways in which students can work such as concept and stakeholder mapping. Concept mapping:

concept map 1

concept map 2

concept map 3


Concept map – checklist:

  • Have you put a parameter around your research area?
  • Is it professionally presented?
  • Have you identified themes, sub themes and topic areas?
  • Is it original? (Your own work?)
  • Is there a title?
  • Have you provided a key?

Another way of working is through stakeholder mapping (relevant theory by Freeman):

  • A stakeholder maps identifies the people (and therefore differing perspectives) related to your project / case / organisation etc.;
  • It helps you identify who you would need to talk to / survey / consider;
  • It helps you put parameters around your work (you cannot talk to all the people about everything!).


Stakeholder mapping


Stakeholder mapping – checklist:

  • Have you put a parameter around your research area?
  • Is it professionally presented?
  • Have you identified major, minor and other stakeholders?
  • Have you clearly identified the relationship between all stakeholders and the direction of the relationship?
  • Is it original? (Your own work?)
  • Is there a title?
  • Have you provided a key?

From this “dragon den” style presentations were planned to utilise the student’s mapping exercise in order to explain their proposal. It included:

  • Description of the research problem/background context to the problem
  • Overview of research aims and objectives
  • Summary of data collection processes considered
  • Presentation of concept/stakeholder map
  • This material will be presented verbally (no requirement for visual aids, except the concept/stakeholder map) to a panel made up of subject experts from across the School and/or the module team.

Learning styles and approaches to Teaching is applicable to the supervisor and the student. Taking each of the four types in turn, identify an approach to research that a person of this nature may prefer. Consider, for example, the following:

  • Might they best be suited to theoretical, conceptual work?
  • Might they be most interested in practical applications?
  • How might they approach case studies?
  • What sort of data collection methods might they be naturally predisposed towards?
  • What sort of questions / problems might they be most interested in?

Theoretical top-down

practice study bottom up


These models are reflective of inductive and deductive learning. We then went onto looking at the process of doing a literature review and why – how to ‘review’:

  • Types of evidence and those relevant to your aims – predication, historical, intervention, exploration;
  • Performing a scope search – concepts, alternative concepts, Boolean logic, limiting and refining your search;
  • Where to search – databases, electronic versus physical, industry, conference proceedings, research, reference lists;
  • Search techniques – define, main concepts, develop the search, clear strategy, various databases, reference lists, full text versions
  • Other techniques – referencing chaining, hand searching;
  • Language and vocabulary in searching – natural language, truncation, wildcards, terminology, country specific spelling.

Advice on how to ‘review’:

  • Use the internet – but with caution.
  • You need to make judgements on whether the sources are reliable or valid.
  • You are basing your research on them. If they are wrong, out of date, biased, your work will suffer because of them.

Be Warned! How to ‘review’:

  • The excuse of ‘I couldn’t find any literature’ really doesn’t work.
  • Don’t expect to find the exact answer in one source. Your research is (hopefully) specific and focussed, it aims to fill a gap or add something new to existing research. Therefore, you need to research the topic in order to create an answer to the aim you have set yourself.
  • You may need to look across different disciplines (i.e. not just ‘construction’ or ‘planning’, but also perhaps, business, management, engineering, design etc).

What is the purpose of a literature review? To identify and comment on:

  • What is already known about this area?
  • What concepts and theories are relevant to this area?
  • What research methods and strategies have been employed to study this area?
  • Are there any significant controversies?
  • Are there any inconsistencies in findings relating to this area?
  • Are there any unanswered research questions relating to this area?

From here, we went through information and practical advice on what do you do with the literature once you have found it, what the literature review should do, the structure of the literature review, what a literature review looks like, a literature review checklist…most of which was provided in a Powerpoint presentation to look at more in-depth at a later date.

I had to leave at this point in the afternoon, an hour before the course was to end, as I had to introduce myself to my new cohort of MA Fine Art students who I will be teaching at the University of Wolverhampton from next Monday (Visiting Lecturer sabbatical cover). Can’t wait to share and reflect upon my experiences with you all. During my negotiations of the University of Wolverhampton’s art and design building I came across this “COPYCATS” poster in one of the staff rooms, which made me smile as it reigned true with many of the conversations we’d had earlier in the day. So many of the topics and issues we discussed that day are relevant to all Higher Education Institutions across the UK…some are just more prominent than others…but we all, as teachers, need to know how to deal with them, and grow from them.


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