Enhancing supervision of undergraduate projects

Simon Pratt-Adams

Category: Anglia Learning & Teaching

18 August 2017

Through discussions between senior Anglia Learning & Teaching staff, deputy deans and DLTAs in faculties and HE directors of partner colleges, we (Dr Adam Longcroft and Dr Simon Pratt-Adams) identified the need for dedicated staff development that focused around the supervision of students undertaking Undergraduate Major Project (UMP) modules .

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Average marks on UMP modules were often lower than those on other modules. So, rather than adding value to the student experience, the UMP marks acted as a ‘drag’ on overall aggregate marks, which impacted negatively on good degree outcomes, and affected levels of student satisfaction. We identified how many UMP modules existed at ARU, and their credit weighting, and discovered they’re a very common feature and are often double weighted.

Audience and time frame

We focused our development on academic staff at both core and partner colleges. Seven workshops took place across these sites from December 2016 to March 2017, with attendance totalling around 100 academics. Sessions included both faculty-focused and cross-faculty workshops. In addition, two drop-in sessions and a webinar ran in March 2017 as follow-up.

Identified gap

Through discussions with senior managers, we established that there was a problem with the quality of the student experience and student outcomes on UMP modules. This issue was common across faculties and partner colleges. A set of requirements was developed through discussions about the appropriate approach and content. We were able to use these requirements to build a three-hour workshop, with high quality associated pedagogical materials, drawing on best practice and research in the UK HE sector (and beyond). The workshops also integrated technological tools such as Poll Everywhere to capture ideas and feedback and to promote a pedagogical approach founded on active learning and engagement. The emphasis was on providing academic staff with concrete, tangible and practical ideas and tools that they could take away and utilise in their own supervision practice.

Intervention

We included a highly choreographed role play element in the workshop, where we acted out the role of supervisor and student. Through this technique, we identified common issues and problems and encouraged staff to reflect on possible solutions and pedagogical strategies that would prevent certain problems. It quickly became apparent that the workshop was throwing into sharp focus not only the practicalities of supervision, but the need for more consistent approaches within supervisory course teams. This included establishing appropriate mutual expectations, clarifying roles, providing feedback and feed-forwards, managing and monitoring progress and recording supervision sessions. A series of practical ideas and workable tools were shared with colleagues to equip them to change the way in which they worked as teams and to enhance the way they supported and supervised their students. Following each workshop, the PowerPoint slides and a set of practical tools, that they could adapt for their own use, were forwarded to attendees. The use of Poll Everywhere enabled us to capture feedback from attendees which revealed which practical ideas, tips, and tools they would definitely be using in future in their own practice. This demonstrated that the workshops had a highly practical outcome in terms of shifting thinking and providing colleagues with the tools they needed to enhance their practice and effectiveness as supervisors.

Evaluation and Findings

Colleagues identified the ideas or tools they had learned about in the workshop which they would definitely be taking forwards into their own future practice. These included:

  • Clarifying supervision expectations
  • Using audits and surveys to gain insights into your cohort's confidence and ability
  • Arranging student support groups
  • Organising initial group meetings
  • Focusing on feed-forward rather than feed-back
  • Negotiating a learning contract
  • Publishing a profile of supervisors and their areas of experience
  • Sensitising learners to their responsibilities
  • Using role play to clarify and demonstrate expectations
  • Making the link with the students about skills development and industry
  • Developing a one-year process model of what happens and when
  • Using first supervision questionnaire to gain insights into skills development and support

At the end of each workshop, attendees also completed a formal evaluation form, which recorded how satisfied they were with key aspects of the workshop. Average satisfaction scores were extremely high, normally in the 4.5+ range (out of a maximum score of 5.0), and qualitative feedback was very positive.

By Dr Adam Longcroft and Dr Simon Pratt-Adams

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