Effective student supervision under a study progress reform

By Gitte Wichmann-Hansen

The study progress reform has resulted in shorter time frames for project and thesis supervision. We do not yet know whether it will reduce the quality of students’ work. However, it clearly sets a new agenda for supervision. More students must receive supervision, and theses must be written in a shorter time period. This means supervision will have to become more efficient. How can one best utilise the writing process and supervision time for the benefit of students and supervisors alike?

This short article provides some specific suggestions. It is a brief summary of tips and ideas from research literature in this area. This is a broad topic, and it will be covered at the Aarhus BSS inspiration day on supervision and the study progress reform on 29 November 2016.

Get off to a good start: Align expectations early on

A good supervision process starts with a clear alignment of expectations between the student and supervisor. This is one of the most reliable findings in the international research literature on student supervision. The literature therefore also contains a number of specific tools which have proven useful for aligning expectations with students. One of them is a ‘supervisor letter’. A ‘supervisor letter’ is your description of what you typically offer as a supervisor in connection with project and thesis supervision, and what you expect from the student. It is 1–2 A4 pages in length.

Once it has been agreed that you will be supervising a student, you can give the student the letter and ask them to read and reflect on it as background to your first meeting. This ensures you are both ready to have a focused discussion about your expectations of the process, and saves the supervisor spending time saying the same thing to all students every time a supervision process commences.

Hold effective supervision meetings

As a supervisor, you can set a clear framework for your meetings, so time is not wasted. It is important to ensure you are both prepared for the meetings, have a clear purpose in meeting, and follow up on the meetings.

Optimise your own time usage as a supervisor

During a busy day with many teaching and student supervision duties and increasing pressure to help students through without delays, it is important that you (also) watch how you spend your own time. Remember that there are many ways to optimise your own time usage as a supervisor.

Do collective supervision

Good collective supervision does not happen automatically. If it becomes individual supervision in a collective forum, the point of it disappears. It has to be organised and managed fairly tightly. The above requirements on meeting agendas, preparation and aligning expectations are magnified when we move from supervising one project to supervising several projects at the same time. There are therefore a number of useful tips on collective supervision:

  • Use collective supervision as a supplement to individual supervision, not a replacement.
  • Work out a set meeting schedule for the semester. Remember to book the necessary meeting rooms (with a PP projector and whiteboard) in good time.
  • Notify participants of the deadlines for submitting drafts from the outset.
  • Make an effort to communicate the purpose and benefits of the meeting form (you may have to pitch the idea to get students to see the value in giving peer feedback).
  • Make sure students know the conditions and expectations of their efforts (make it clear that preparation is essential in order to participate in the meetings).
  • Tightly manage talking time.
  • Adopt the role of facilitator. Make sure the conversation is not only between you and the students, but also among the students. For example, use ‘discussion starters’ or assign the students various roles when they give feedback (devil’s advocate, kind friend, critical examiner, etc.).
  • Be aware of both the product (content of conversation) and process (group dynamics). A good way to close each meeting is with a brief joint evaluation of how well the group functioned and what should be done differently next time.

Give clear process guidance

The study progress reform involves significant economic consequences if a student is delayed. With the closer time monitoring, it becomes particularly important for students to follow the time schedule and submit their work on time. As a supervisor, you may therefore sometimes need to provide firmer supervision than you normally do, and offer more procedural support to help the thesis writer through the process in a good way.

Mark Tuesday 29 November in your calendar now, where CTL is holding an inspiration day on thesis supervision. Read more about the event here

Want to know more?

An easy-to-read chapter on process management in student supervision

Selected chapters from a textbook on student project and thesis supervision

  • Rienecker L, Harboe T & Stray Jørgensen, P. Vejledning — en brugsbog for opgave- og specialevejledere på videregående uddannelser (Supervision — a textbook for project and thesis supervisors on advanced degree programmes). Copenhagen: Forlaget Samfundslitteratur, 2005

The book is practical and deals with student supervision in all phases of project and thesis writing. Unfortunately the book is 10 years old and not completely up-to-date. However, in light of the current study progress reform, it is still worth reading chapters 11 and 15.

Online resources with examples of collective student supervision

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