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Christopher Douce

AL development in Computing and Communications

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Tuesday, 30 Apr 2024, 15:13

I work with a number of colleagues from the School of Computing and Communications AL development group. The aim of this group is to setup and organise professional development events for tutors who teach on computing modules.

What follows is a set of session titles that I shared with the group during a meeting.

The list begins with a couple of essential ‘old favourites’. I have also taken the liberty of adding a couple of headings that emerged from some of our group discussions. Due acknowledgements are provided at the end of the list.

If you are a tutor within the school, and have opinions about what might help you, then please do get in touch; a part of my role is to politely agitate for effective and useful professional development sessions.

Session titles or topics

Correspondence tuition – Providing effective feedback and marking is an essential part of the tutor’s role. Sessions that enable the sharing of practice are always helpful. In the past I’ve facilitated sessions about how to deliver quality feedback whilst at the same time working quickly and efficiently.

Delivering online tutorials – Although the university has a dedicated team that is about using Adobe Connect, it can be useful to discuss online teaching and online tutorial pedagogy from a school perspective. Tutor in computing might use screen sharing to demonstrate software and show how programming problems are solved. Speaking with fellow tutors can also spark new ideas.

Programme and qualification updates – In some AL development sessions the director of teaching or head of school have provided updates about changes and enhancements to curriculum. There are plans to introduce new programmes, and the degree apprenticeship structure has recently changed. There may also be an opportunity to talk about what is meant by the ‘computing and a second subject’ qualification.

“What do you need?” focus group – Whilst staff tutors are well placed to gather up ideas about what types of professional development might be useful, it is best to hear from tutors directly by asking the question: “what do you need?” The could be run in the form of a focus group, to gather up new ideas that could feed into future professional development events.

Exploring CPD opportunities within the school and the university – CPD is, of course, an abbreviation for continuing professional development. This interactive session would be about sharing experiences of participating in different types of CPD activities. The university can offer a lot: fee waivers, an AL development fund, selected funded study of certain modules, and the Applaud scheme which relates to FHEA membership.

Maintaining work life balance – Every tutor has a different level of workload; tutors may tutor on a single module, or may teach on a complex portfolio of related modules. Sessions which have addressed individual wellbeing and welfare have often been well received. Such a session could be about how to manage workload, especially during periods of high intensity where there can be a lot of marking to do in a short amount of time.

Making the skills audit work for you – The skills audit, which is going to be combined with everyone’s CDSA, is a process that is new to everyone. It is a way to signal your potential willingness to increase your overall employment with the university. The school has defined what is called a ‘controlled vocabulary’ which should be used to summarise your skills and abilities.

Running individual support sessions – From time to time, one-to-one sessions with students can be really helpful to get students back on track. Requests for an ISSS (as they are known) can come from the student support team, your student, or yourself. I’ve never received any training about how to run one-to-one sessions. My sense is that running a really effective individual support session is a skill. A session to share practice may well be useful to some.

Supporting transitions – What I mean by a transition is the movement from one state or level of study to another. Students transition from non-study to study when they begin level 1 studies, or move from level 1 to level 2. Equally, there may well be a state of transition from study to graduation.

Dealing with challenging situations – I’ve included this session idea, since I once attended a really useful session which took place in the former Gateshead regional centre. The session provided tutors with some tips and techniques about how to support students, and gain a sense of perspective when facing some challenging situations.

Other session ideas:

Understanding what the SST does – Some really effective sessions in the past have been sessions that have been about the work of the student support team. Member of the SST can often provide a lot of really helpful advice about how to respond to certain situations.

Introducing the careers service – The careers service is a really helpful service that students can access to, but tutors don’t often know much about the work they do. There is an opportunity with a careers centric session to discuss how modules relates to practical employability skills, and how modules (and tutors) can help to support these.

What happens in module results panels? – After the final TMAs are returned and the deadline for the examinable components (an EMA or an exam) are hit, results are collated and fed into a standardisation process. There is then something called a module results panel, which then feeds into an exam board meeting, where there is an external examiner. What happens within all these meetings? Knowing a bit more about what happens may help us to reassure students.

Monitoring – Every tutor’s correspondence tuition is monitored. Monitoring takes place at different levels depending upon how long a tutor has been working for the university for. A session about monitoring could allow students to share experiences of monitoring, and of being monitored.

Dealing with plagiarism and generative AI – This session could be facilitated by an academic conduct officer who is familiar with the OU’s polices and processes. This session could be used to share practice and experiences which relate to cases of potential academic conduct and plagiarism.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to everyone who is a part of the C&C AL development working group. There is an implicit link here to the STEM AL Induction working group, which I’m also a part of. This article can also be read in conjunction with a summary of a ‘top ten tips’ induction session that I have co-facilitated for the last few years.

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Christopher Douce

Ethics support for projects: HREC and SRPP

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On 24 January 2024 I attended a bit of a professional development session that shared an overview of two important points, and organisational units, which relates to research and research ethics. The session was facilitated by Alison Fox, Steven Bond, who was from the data protection team, and Bart Gamber, who was from the Student Research Project Panel (SRPP).

Introducing HREC

Research ethics is important. To help OU researchers and doctoral students, there is something called Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) which provides services to researchers, and provides an ethical approval mechanism. 

Ethical approval needs to be taken really seriously for a number of reasons. Approval ensures the safety of researchers and safety of participants. A further check of your research aims can also improve the quality of your research. My argument is that articulating your research to others can only improve its clarity and purpose. Also, when it comes to publishing your research, some journals will insist on a detailed summary of how you have approached ethics, and some journals will directly ask for evidence of whether you have gained formal ethical approval as a part of a study.

There are, however, some projects that might not need HREC review or approval, such as an evaluative study that takes place within a course, or a study which is feeding back into a university service, for example. Also, research that is designed to inform a work practice, market research, or research with data that has already been collected (where that data set has been gathered through a process which ha been subject to its own ethical approval).

HREC offers links to other teams and groups that can offer help and advice, such as the library and information security teams (if not using core university systems). You might, for example, gather a lot of data. If you think that other researchers might want to use your data, the library will be able to offer advice and guidance about how (and where) to make that data available. Also, knowing how to secure your data is also an important part of the ethics process.

Submissions are made to HREC through something called the ethical review manager tool (which reminds me of the name of another tool: the postgraduate research manager tool).

If anyone has any questions about the process, the facilitators encouraged anyone to get in contact. To help everyone navigate through all these practical questions and challenges, it was interesting (and useful) to learn that HREC run research monthly drop in sessions, which typically take place on the 3rd Tuesday of the month.

Introducing SRPP

A related unit goes by the abbreviation, SRPP, which is short for the Student Research Project Panel. The way that I understand it, SRPP has a couple of interconnected aims. It can help to identify potential students who might be able to participate in research. Equally, it is there to make sure that students are not ‘over-research’, which means ‘contacted unnecessarily regularly’.

Like HREC, submissions to SRPP are made through a form. Some practical tips shared were: plan early, and apply early. These things can take a bit of time.

Resources

Just before the session, a PowerPoint resource was shared. After the session, I noticed that it was packed filled with useful links, many of which can be accessed externally. Here is a summary of what I took to be the most important links:

Reflections

A useful session! It was also one that was very timely since I have been awarded a small amount of funding to carry out a pilot project to explore the connection between stories, storytelling, and the professional identity of software engineers. My next action is to attend one of those drop-in sessions, and then to review all the forms. Whilst I do usually hate form filling, I do recognise that these forms relate to a process that is there to protect everyone.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Alison Fox, her co-facilitators, and everyone who is involved with the HREC and SRPP units.

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Christopher Douce

Bibliometrics, Altmetrics & DORA

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On 2 October I attended another of the OU’s professional development events. This time, it was an event organised by the OU library. Facilitated by Chris Biggs, Research Support Librarian, the session aimed to outline three things: “common bibliometrics, and their use and misuse”, “what are Altmetrics and where they can be found” and DORA, which is an abbreviation for the “Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA)” along with the “responsible use of metrics”.

I was particularly interested in this section since I’m a co-editor of an international journal called Open Learning. Bibliometrics are sometimes discussed during the annual editorial meetings between the editors, the members of the editorial board, and the publisher, who is Taylor and Frances. During these meetings, various numbers are shared and summarised.

When I saw the title of the event, my main thought was: “I should go along; I might pick up on a point or two”. What follows is a set of notes that I made during the session, along some of the useful weblinks that were shared. One thing that I should add is that the structure of these notes come from the facilitator, Chris, and his presentation. Towards the end of these notes, I share a set of reflections.

Citations

I missed the first couple of minutes, joining just at the point when Chris was talking about the ‘the social dimensions’ of citations. Citations are all about giving credit. A useful link to look at is the page Citing Sources: What are citations and why should I use them?

One view is that the more citations an article has, the more popular it is. Subsequently, some might associate popularity to quality. An interesting paper that was referenced had the title Citations, Citation Indicators, and Research Quality: An Overview of Basic Concepts and Theories

Retuning to the notion of the social dimension of citations, one metric I noted down was that self-citations account for 12% of citations. A self-citation is where an author references their own, or earlier work. Whilst this can be used to guide authors to earlier research, it can also be used to increase the visibility of your research.

A concept that I wasn’t familiar with but immediately understood was the notion of a citation circle or cartel. Simply put, this is a group of authors, typically working in a similar field, who regularly reference each other. This may have the effect of increasing the visibility of that group of authors. Chris shared a link to an interesting article about the notion: The Emergence of a Citation Cartel

A further notion that I hadn’t officially heard of, but was implicitly familiar with, was the notion of the honorary citation. This is where an author might cite the work of a journal editor to theoretically increase chances of their paper being accepted. As an editor, I have seen that occasionally, but not very often. On a related point, the publisher, Taylor and Francis has published some very clear ethical guidelines that editors are required to adhered to.

Something else that I hadn’t heard of is the Matthew effect. This means that if something has been published, it will continue to be cited, perhaps to the detriment of other articles. Again, we were directed to an interesting article: The Matthew Effect in Science.

It was mentioned there are interesting differences in between academic disciplines. The pace and regularity of citations in the arts and humanities can be much less than, say, a busy area of scientific research. It was also mentioned that there are differences between types of articles. For example, reviews are cited more than original research articles, and methods papers are some of the most cited papers. (It was at this point, I wondered whether there were many articles that carried out reviews of methodologies).

An interesting reflection is that articles that are considered to have societal benefit are not generally picked up by bibliometrics. This immediately reminded me about how funders require researcher to develop what is known as an impact plan. I then remembered that the STEM faculty has a couple of impact managers who are able to provide practical advice on how researchers can demonstrate the impact and the benefits of the research that they carry out.

All these points and suggestions lead to one compelling conclusion, which is that the number of citations cannot be directly considered to be a measure of the quality of an article.

An important element is all this is, of course, the peer review process. Some important points were made: that peer review can be slow, expensive, inconsistent, and prone to bias. As an editor, I recognise each of these points. One of the most frustrating elements of the peer review process is finding experienced and willing reviewers. During this session, I shared an important point: if an author holds views that are incompatible or different to the reviewers, it is okay to have a discussion with an editor. Editors are people, and we’re often happy to chat.

Bibliometrics

There are a few different sources of bibliometrics. There is Scopus, Web of Science, Dimensions, CrossRef and Google Scholar. Scopus and The Web of Science offer limited coverage for social sciences and humanities subject. In contrast, Google Scholar picks up everything, including resources that may not really be academic articles. A link to the following blog, Google Scholar, Web of Science, and Scopus: Which is best for me? was shared.

There are, of course, different types of metrics. Following on from the earlier section where citations were mentioned, there is the notion of normalised citations, percentiles, and field citation ratios. Normalised citations (if I’ve understood this correctly) is the extent of an article being over a time period. Percentiles relate to how popular, or widely cited an article is. There is, of course, a very long tail of publications. Publications that appear within, say, the top 1% or top 5% are, of course, highly popular. Finally, the field citation ratio relates to the extent to which an article is published within a particular field of research.

There is also something called the h-index, which relates to the number of publications made by a researcher. During Chris’ presentation, I made the following notes: the h-index favours people who have a consistent publication record, such established academics. For example, a h index of 19 means 19 papers that have been cited 19 times.

Moving beyond metrics that relate to individual researchers, there is also something called the journal impact factor (JIF). Broadly speaking, the more popular or influential the journal, the higher its impact factor. This has the potential to influence researchers when making decisions about how and where to publish their research findings. It was mentioned that there are two versions of a JIF: a metric that includes self-citations, and another that doesn’t.

Metrics that relate to official academic journals isn’t the whole story. Outside of ‘journal world’ (which you can access through your institutional library) there are an array of ever changing social media platforms. Subsequently, there are a number of alternatives to citation based bibliometrics. Altmetrics, from Digital Science, creates something that is called an attention score, which consolidates different ‘mentions’ of research across different platform. It can only do this if there is a reference to a a persistent digital object identifier, a DOI.

Previews of AltMetric data can be seen through articles that are published on ORO, the university’s research repository. Although I’m risking accusation of self-citation here, an interesting example is the following excellent paper: Mental health in distance learning: a taxonomy of barriers and enablers to student mental wellbeing. Scrolling to the bottom of the page will reveal a summary of tweets and citations; metrics from both Altmetric and Dimensions.

There are a couple of other alternative metrics that were mentioned: PlumX, which is from Elsevier, and Overton, which is about the extent to which research may be potentially influencing policy.

Responsible metrics, the OU and DORA

Towards the end of the event, DORA, Declaration on Open Research Assessment was introduced, of which the OU is a signatory. One of the most salient point from the DORA website is this: “Do not use journal-based metrics, such as Journal Impact Factors, as a surrogate measure of the quality of individual research articles, to assess an individual scientist’s contributions, or in hiring, promotion, or funding decisions”. There is also a case study that relates to the OU which can be found on the DORA website

This final and important part of the session, which had the title ‘The Idea of Responsible Metrics” was covered quite briefly. The topic of DORA is something that I really do need to look at in a bit more detail.

Reflections

I learnt a lot from this session. One thing that really grabbed my attention was the h-index. As soon as the session had finished, I asked myself a question: what is my h-index? It didn’t take too long to find it out.

After finding my h-index figure, I made a mistake; I wondered what the h-index for some of my immediate colleagues were. I found this unnecessarily and seductively interesting. I looked up h scores for professors, some fellow senior lecturers, and some newly recruited members of staff. Through various links, I could see who had collaborated with who. I could also see which of the professors were really high ranking professors.

I then stopped my searching. I asked myself another question, which was: “does any of these numbers really matter?”

It takes different kinds of people to run an academic department and a university. Some colleagues are excellent at research. Some colleagues are excellent at teaching, and some colleagues are even excellent at administration. In my own role as a staff tutor, I do a lot of academic administration and quite a bit of work which could be viewed as teaching. This means that I don’t have a lot of time to do any research. Broadly speaking, central academic staff have a much higher h-index metric than staff tutors, simply because they have more time. What research I do carry out is often applied research. This research can sometimes be labelled as scholarship, which can be considered to be research about the practice of teaching and learning.

It was interesting that one of the important points I took away was that societal impact can’t be directly measured through bibliometrics. I also found it interesting that different types of articles attract a greater number of citations. One of my biggest academic hits (I don’t have very many of them) has been a review paper, where I studied different ways in which a computer could be used to assess the quality of computer programming assessments. The articles that I have published that relate to pure research have certainly attracted less attention.

All this comes back to a broader question: in academia, what is valued? I think the answer is: different types of work is valued. Pure research is valued alongside effective and engaging teaching. The bit that ties the two together is, of course, scholarship. 

Bibliometrics are, in my eyes, are a set of measurements that attempt to quantify academic debate. It only ever tells a part of a bigger and much more complicated story. Metrics are not, in my opinion, surrogates for quality. Also, academic fashions and trends come and go.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks are given to Chris Biggs for running such an engaging and interesting session. Many of the links shared in this article were shared during Chris' presentation.

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Christopher Douce

Inclusive Student Engagement in Level 1 modules

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Monday, 31 Jul 2023, 15:31

On 20 July 23 I attended a short one hour seminar that was all about inclusive student engagement in level 1 modules. The seminar had the subtitle: “a supportive framework designed by current/recent students”. The session was prepared and presented by Catriona Bergman, Olivia Brennan, Norain Imtiaz and Owen Lucas, who were also OU student virtual interns.

The seminar had a bit which shared their framework, followed by a discussion activity. I’ll begin by sharing an abridged version of the framework, and then I’ll go on to sharing a couple of points from the discussion, then concluding with a set of reflections.

Engagement framework

If I understood this correctly, their framework shared a number of themes that relate to the student/tutor relationship. There are six key points, each of which was complemented by a suggestion, or a prompt. For brevity, I’ve edited these into a form that works with my own practice.

  1. Addressing the power dynamic: address the difference in status between tutors and students. What do you do to encourage students to reach out to gain support?
  2. Consistency of communication: regular support and timely responses. How often do you communicate with your students?
  3. Proactive communication: tutors taking the initiative to interact with students. Do you contact students before their assignments are submitted?
  4. Humanising tutors: providing an opportunity to build a relationship. Do you feel comfortable in sharing your own personal experiences?
  5. Assessing communication and support needs: in the opening letter encourage disclosure. What opportunities are there for you to discuss individualised study needs with students?

Tutor and students are unknown to each other: a two-way relationship is important. What opportunities are there for icebreaking activities for students and tutors to get to know one another?

The Hidden Curriculum

There was another useful slide during the first section which was all about the notion of the hidden curriculum. I have come across the idea through the notion of academic literacies. Put another way, this is all about knowing the hidden conventions that relate to study, a discipline, and academic communication.

  • Students might not have necessary skills from their earlier education experience. Tutors can direct students to resources that can be used to develop skills (e.g. numeracy, academic writing skills, critical thinking, IT literacy, etc.).
  • Encourage students to reflect on the skills they may need to develop, and provide (or signpost students to) appropriate resources.
  • Encourage development of TMA writing skills and inform students about the importance of good academic conduct.
  • Encourage students to develop their own study habits to support their learning, and embed this within tutorial and one-to-one sessions. Consider the environment in which study takes place.
  • For the module that you are tutoring, highlight, discuss and critique ideas and practices that can contribute to the hidden curriculum.
  • Ensure students are aware of the different avenues that could be followed to gain support (from the tutor, from the module forums, or from the student support team).

Breakout rooms: what do you share, what don’t you tell them?

It was onto a breakout room discussion, where we were asked what we share with our students, and whether we share any of our own vulnerabilities. The intent behind this was to think about the extent to we may disclose something about ourselves, to engender trust and to demonstrate empathy.

Rather than focussing on sharing of vulnerabilities, the group I was assigned to primarily discussed what information we might disclose to students when we contact them for the very first time. Some key points to share include: our qualifications, whether we have been a tutor on the module before, and something about where we are based in the country. There was also some discussion about the importance of tone, and the phrase ‘professional informality’ was shared.

Reflections

I felt this session offered me some reassurance that I have been doing (roughly) the right thing. One way to formalise some of the points mentioned in the framework would be to devise some form of communication plan. This might mean a summary of what is sent to students and when. It is, of course, important to be aware of what module teams are doing, since they may well have their own communication plan, and sets of reminders and messages scheduled.

I was drawn to the session due to the mention of inclusive engagement, since I didn’t really know what this was, or how to describe it. I found it interesting that the focus lies on facilitating inclusive engagement through sharing, and putting oneself, and sharing aspects of one’s identity to others. The aim of doing this is, of course, to attempt to remove potentially perceived barriers, such as power differences between tutors and students.

Reflecting on this further, I have certainly disclosed more personal information. When tutoring on a module about accessible online learning, I have, for example, disclosed a hidden disability. My view is that context is always really important, whether context relates to the subject, or the tutor-student relationship.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to the AP student virtual interns who facilitated the session and shared their framework. I hope that the version that appears in this blog matches with its original aims and intentions.

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Christopher Douce

Supervisory Professionalism and Recognition workshops

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On 3 and 4 May 2023 I attended a couple of workshops that introduced a professional recognition scheme for doctoral supervisors, which is run by the UK Council of Graduate Education, which is abbreviated to UKCGE. I attended these workshops since the OU is running an accreditation pilot scheme through the OU graduate school. It’s aim is to help to guide a cohort of participants through the accreditation process through workshops, sharing of resources, and providing mutual support, with an intention of making a submission in October 2023.

This blog post summarises what I considered to be some of the key points or highlights from the workshops. Very many of the words shared in this post come from points made by the presenter, and are also reflected within the UKCGE recognition scheme which is clearly referenced. Towards the end of the blog, I have offered some reflections and have shared some accompanying resources.

A further note is that the terms ‘student’ and ‘candidate’ are used interchangeably.

Introduction

The pilot was opened by Lindsey O’Dell, Director of the OU Graduate School. She offered a summary of the pilot scheme, and emphasised that doctoral supervision is an important part of the academic role, and it is important to both recognise and celebrate it.

Both workshops were facilitated by Stan Taylor who is an Honorary Professor from the School of Education, University of Durham. Stan said that he originally learnt ‘on the job’ as a supervisor, and later moved to the area of professional academic development. He is the author of UKCGE Framework for Good Supervisory Practice and led the development of supervisor’s recognition scheme. 

Stan also mentioned some books he has had an involvement with: a handbook for doctoral supervisors, a book that referred to the making of doctoral supervisors, and publications that examines the ways in which doctoral examinations take place and how supervisors are supported in different countries.

The changing landscape of doctoral education

The first day of the workshop began with a bit of history.

Historically, doctoral supervision was “an adjunct of the research function of academics” and underpinned by the master-apprentice model. Constant change within the higher education sector has, of course, led to changes to doctoral supervision. Key changes has included increasing formalisation and diversification of doctoral programmes, the commodification of higher education and increasing movement towards competition between institutions, and an increased emphasis on the welfare of candidates.

This perspective on welfare is important. Historically, if things went wrong, it was the fault of the student rather than the supervisor or the university. The movement towards thinking of a student as a consumer has, arguably, led to a change of power balance between student and supervisor. If students are not provided with effective supervision, there has been a precedent of students seeking compensation. It is now clear that institutions and individual supervisors have more direct responsibilities towards their students.

There was a historical perspective which can be phrased as: if students paid their fees “no one worried too much about how long they took” (Taylor, citing Simpson, 2009, p.458). A review of completion rates led to the introduction of tougher measures: candidates are now typically required to complete within a 4 year period, but there are exceptions to this, such as if they are carrying out research part-time.

A term that was introduced which I was unfamiliar with was: structuration. I understand this term to refer to the extent to which structures have been created to support doctoral students and supervision. This has partly arisen due to an increase in regulation. In the UK, there is the QAA, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. Countries now typically have their own national quality assurance systems for higher education and external monitoring. In response, universities have developed their own internal systems to ensure the quality of doctoral education, which can take place within supervision teams. This has necessarily led to the creation of graduate schools and accompanying units and roles. Doctoral supervisors need to understand what these units are within their own institutions and what services and support they offer. Graduate schools may also play a part in setting up of doctoral training and development alliances.

Diversity was emphasised from two different perspectives. Firstly, there has been increase in diversity of different types of doctoral programmes. In addition to a full time PhD, there are now different types of EdD programmes. There is also the possibility of a doctorate through submission, or carrying out research with an industrial partner.

The second perspective relates to the diversity of doctoral candidates. Historically, candidates were young, white, male, middle class, and studied full time. The demographics of candidates have changed: 48% of doctoral students are now women, but there has been less progress for candidates with other protected characteristics. Significantly, there is a significant underrepresentation of black candidates, which needs to be addressed.

There has been a change of perspective when it comes to the obligations that institutions and supervisors have to doctoral students. Historically, students were perceived as being responsible for their own mental health, which can present significant and ongoing challenges to students. There many be a number of issues for this, such as financial challenges, the limited number of opportunities in the higher education sector post-completion, and loneliness. Institutions are now seen as having a duty of care for students. This means that supervisors have a responsibility, but they may often lack confidence in terms of how to provide support.

Other changes include digitalisation and increasing interdisciplinarity. Whilst digital technologies can enable candidates to carry out their research at a distance, they also can present challenges too; candidates need to learn and work with digital tools and systems.

Interdisciplinarity can also lead to the emergence of barriers. Supervisors from different disciplines can communicate using different academic languages. This leads to the important question of: how do examiners from different disciplines understand what is meant by an effective contribution to a field?

Given that there are more doctoral students than full time academic posts, supervisors and graduate schools have a responsibility to offer help and guidance to candidates, to make them aware of what opportunities might be available to them after they finish their research.

This leads us to a wider question, which is: what is doctoral research for if its purpose isn’t to train academics? One answer be connected to the word capitalisation. In other words, doctoral research can have economic value as well as academic value. There is a link here to the notions of human capital and knowledge economies, and this can be linked to whatever is meant by economic growth. It could more directly argued the doctoral research helps to develop the skills and abilities of researchers. This release to the Vitae researcher development framework https://www.vitae.ac.uk/   which describes skills that researchers should acquire and develop over the course of their studies.

The UKCGE framework

Supervision has changed from an adjunct activity that takes place within a private space to a more demanding complex set of roles which are carried out and supported by supervisors and organisational units. 

What follows is a summary of the UKCGE framework. Stan was Invited in 2019 invited by UKCGE to define good supervision practice. These were combined into a draft framework which was then streamlined into 10 domains which aimed to describe the core elements of good practice. To become a recognised supervisor, applicants to the UKCGE scheme must provide evidence under each element.

What follows is a summary that has been made following the workshop presentation. The official description of these criteria can be found by through the Good Supervisor Practice Framework summary

1. Recruitment and selection

This element relates to the very start of the doctoral journey. Recruitment involves reaching out to diverse candidate populations, developing a research proposal with a potential candidate, and offering feedback to candidates.

Supervisors should publicise the areas of research that they can offer. They should also participate in campaigns to recruit from underrepresented groups, assess whether applications from candidates that are likely to make the transition to independent researchers, and assess whether a research project is realisable, and candidates have the knowledge and skills. Key tasks will include interviewing applicants, making a final decision and giving useful feedback. An important question to ask is: how do you make the decision about whether someone has the skills for independent research, and what is the evidence for this?

2. Relationships with candidates

This criterion relates to having an awareness of diversity of candidates, negotiating expectations between student and supervisor, monitoring of activities, and understanding of issues. Supervisors should be conscious of different supervisory styles and their relationship to student needs and be aware of how student needs change over time.

3. Relationships with co-supervisors

Supervision now typically takes place within teams. Supervisors need to be aware of the benefits of team supervision and issues that may arise whilst working within a team. It is important to clarify the roles of co-supervisors, important to set expectations of the project, and regularly review relationship with co-supervisors and candidates. This criterion relates to the importance and necessity of working well with others.

4. Supporting candidates’ research projects

This relates to “inducting candidates into research, advising them about how to go about it, advising on skills and issues”. In other words, helping them to become familiar with what research entails within a field of study. The involves “discussing conceptions and misconception of research, looking at threshold concepts”, discussing issues of academic integrity, choosing topics, advising on notions of theory, methodology and methods. Other aspects of support includes helping candidates to navigate through the necessity of gaining ethical approval (if appropriate to their project), and developing research skills.

5. Encouraging candidates to write and giving appropriate feedback

Encourage candidates to write “throughout their studies, not at the end of research, giving effective feedback”. Writing is something that can be practised. Although a lot of writing is typically done towards the end of a doctoral project, it is helpful to encourage candidates to write from the start of their studies to assisting their development of academic writing skills. Key points includes: create opportunities for writing, give timely, constructive and actionable feedback, and consider the suggestion and use of research diaries and writing of blogs. A point I noted down from the discussions were: ask students what they understand by the feedback they have received. Supervisors can benefit from getting feedback from their students.

6. Supporting candidates’ personal, professional and career development

This criterion links back to the earlier point that there are more doctoral candidates than there are academic posts. To help candidates with their personal and professional development, it may be helpful to offer advice and guidance about possibilities within the domain in which they are carrying out research. It is also important to be a good role model in terms of work-life balance, it would be useful to introduce candidates into disciplinary networks and activities, and supporting their development as teachers. Where possible, advice about academic careers and post-doctoral work (and challenges that accompany these roles) is helpful.

7. Supporting progress and monitoring progression

A point that was highlighted earlier was: candidates have to complete within a 3 or 4 year period. A question is: what might a supervisor do to motivate their students during this time? Also, how might a supervisor or supervision team actively monitor progress? Two suggestions could be: encouraging students to attend conferences (which can also help them to develop their writing skills and contribute to departmental seminars. From a pragmatic and administrative perspective, supervisors must help students to participate in formal progression events (in the OU context, this is called upgrade reports). This might mean the reviewing of documents before sent onto graduate schools.

8. Supporting candidate through completion and final examination

This point strikes me as being very practical. Supervisors should offer advice on submissions and examinations, and should work closely with a candidate to finalise their submissions. Some direct advice was shared at this point: encourage students to look at exemplar submission so students understand what is meant by, and what should go into a thesis. A thesis should, of course, present an argument, with accompanying evidence. Supervisors can offer some really practical help: they can help students to prepare for the viva by describing the procedures, and running a mock viva. Different supervisors from a supervision team can take on different roles. It doesn’t end with the exam: supervisors also have a responsibility to support candidates after the viva, especially if some corrections have to be made.

9. Supporting candidates to disseminate their research

This point links to some of the earlier points, which related to encouraging students to attend conferences and workshops, and thus help to develop their writing skills. Essentially, this point is all about “making work available within the community” and sharing findings with a wider audience. A useful point was: “set expectations at the start of the candidacy” about what is expected, role model the process of publication to show how its down, encourage candidates to publish as they go, and explain what is meant by co-publishing or co-authoring, and set up a post-doctoral publication plan. In some cases, it might also be helpful to consider dissemination and publication alongside the concept of research impact, which is something that postdoctoral researchers need to include into research bids and plans.

10. Reflecting upon and enhancing practice

Reflection is a cornerstone of education, and it feels right that those involved in providing supervision should not only reflect on their practice, but regularly “undertake appropriate professional development and disseminate”. A bit of advice to accompany this point was: use an appropriate mix of methods for evaluating supervision, undertake initial and continuing professional development, and contribute to the professional development of other supervisors. A further point was: professional development isn’t just about workshops; it can also be keeping up to date with reading. There is, of course, also a considerable literature about supervision. Finally, professional development opportunities may be provided by your university’s graduate school, or equivalent unit.

Writing an application

During the workshops we were offered some advice and guidance about the application procedure and the process of writing an application.

A submission is a reflective account of your supervisory practice which addresses each of the 10 headings. Applications should be 5k words in length, with a permitted 10% leeway. Two referees are required, one of which should be from a former doctoral candidate. The second referee should be a colleague who knows about your practice, but need not necessarily be someone who is involved with supervision.

Applications are read by two reviewers who are recognised supervisors themselves; all applicants receive constructive feedback. The reviewers are recognised supervisors who have completed a training programme about how to evaluate submissions. If recommendation is acceptance, you become a UKCGE recognised supervisor.

Preparing a submission

To help to prepare a submission, the UKCGE have prepared a workbook, in the form of a detailed Word document. The workbook is a template, which offers some guidance and spaces to allow candidate to comment on each of the criteria of the framework. A practical suggestion is to provide two examples to evidence your understanding and experience.

Begin with an introduction

A useful bit of advice was to begin with an introduction. Do describe your educational background, summarise the number of research students supervised and in what capacity including the number of students who have completed. Also provide other relevant information, such as whether you have experience of an examiner of research degrees, and whether you have been an internal or external examiner.

Evidence of scholarship

A question that was asked was: “are we expected to use academic references in our application, like we did for an Advance HE SFHEA submission?” The answer is: yes. Evidence of scholarship, and awareness of scholarship that relates to supervision is necessary. A practical suggestion is to provide between 8 and 12 references. A good place to look is the bibliography documents which are provided by the UKCGE. A couple of links have been provided in the resources section of this blog.

Points to bear in mind

Do include evidence that relates to all the criteria. If this is not possible, offer an explanation why not. Examples should be drawn from recent practice.

Application should relate to you, and should have a reflective quality. Write about why you did something.

As suggested above, you should show engagement with research, scholarship and professional practice, and links with professional bodies and wider communities.

You must demonstrate real and practical commitment to reflection about supervision practice.

Making a submission

In this pilot, the OU will be making what is called a group submission. The UKCGE does, of course, accepts individual submissions, which must be accompanied by a processing fee.

Reflections

Things have changed since I was a doctoral candidate. There is more structure and formality than there used to be. 

Reflecting on the framework, I’ve come to the conclusion that I had a pretty good doctoral experience. My supervisor gently introduced me to many of the principles and ideas that are embedded within Stan’s framework. There were regular meetings, I was encouraged to write and publish early, to join academic communities, and there were discussions about the role of theory in research, and what is meant by co-authoring. There was also some discussion about post-doctoral planning too, but it was done in quite an informal way.

Thinking back, it took me quite a few years to publish the final article from my doctoral research. Curiously, it wasn’t the main research that had the biggest impact. A small paper that I wrote along the way grabbed the attention of fellow software engineering researchers. This goes to show the importance of “getting things out there”. 

Two noticeable differences come to mind: I don’t remember there being a graduate school when I was a doctoral student, and there wasn’t a supervision team. 

I also remember struggling too. At the time, I was trying to do too much: I was working part time whilst I was studying full time. I should have made more time to have more fun, and to relax; that could have potentially helped me to be a bit more creative.

I’m currently a supervisor on two different doctoral programmes; a doctorate in Education programme, and a disciplinary doctorate. I’m also something called a third-party monitor for candidates on both programmes.

I like the framework since I feel that it solidifies and clarifies many of the important responsibilities of supervisors. It also implicitly connect with another (optional) aspect of my day job, which is supporting undergraduate students. With all these different perspectives, I’m definitely going to make a submission.

Resources

I have written some other blogs about doctoral study and supervision, as well as summarising some of the continuing professional development that I have participated in:

The following resources from the UKCHE are likely to be useful when it comes to making a submission:

For supervisors making submissions, the following two resources may be especially useful, depending on the context:

Supervisors should, of course, be aware of the following framework:

During these workshops, the QAA, the UK Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education was mentioned. The following link offers a summary of the characteristics of doctoral degrees:

Acknowledgements

A substantial acknowledgement goes to Stan Taylor who designed, delivered and facilitated the workshops, with help from Soraya Tate from the OU graduate school. Acknowledgements are also given to Linsdey O’Dell, director of the graduate school, and fellow workshop delegates.

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