Nick from the eLearning Team recently completed the Centre for Learning and Teaching’s excellent ‘Supervising Students’ three-day course run by Adrian Chown. The course is aimed at staff or research students at the university who are involved in the supervision of final-year projects, enquiries or dissertations, either as a tutor or researcher.
The course is an opportunity to challenge your own understanding of the requirements and best practice of student supervision, the skills you will need and certain organisational considerations. Another very useful aspect of the course is the chance to consider in groups various scenarios and how you would respond in these situations.
Throughout the three days there were some recurring themes in the discussions and some common areas of difficulty. Using these as a starting point, and combined with my experience as a learning technologist, I have compiled a list of five suggested methods to help tutors in their approach to supervision.
There are many possible reasons why a student may be struggling to manage their time effectively and make progress with their writing. It is worth considering that around 10% of the UK population has some degree of dyslexia and this is commonly higher amongst Arts and Medical HE students. For students who fall into this category, some areas of learning and study may be more difficult. These include: reading; organising thoughts; expressing ideas; and writing.
Your student might already have a Variation of Assessment Methods (VOAM) which is sent to their respective school office as part of their Learning Support Plan. However, this may well be the student’s first extensive writing and research assignment, so it may be the first time they noticeably struggle with some of these symptoms. You can always speak to the university’s Disability and Dyslexia Team who can offer advice on identifying and referring students who may have dyslexia. They also offer individual learning support tuition.
There are some things which you can immediately do to help students. If you make all your documents and communications digital and accessible by properly and consistently structuring them (MS Word offers built-in templates), this enables students to read and interpret them using assistive technology. Familiarise yourself with what is available so you are able to help students get the most out of technology. Free and open source software (FOSS) includes: mind-mapping; screen overlays; text-to-speech. Goodreader (iOS) is an excellent paid app which offers PDF annotation, customisable background colours and a screen reader.
It might be useful for some students to record meetings with their supervisor in order to listen back afterwards. Following up verbal instructions with written information can also help, as can providing as much information before the session. In fact, you might find it productive to encourage your student to prepare an agenda before each supervision.
JISC provide an excellent guide to assistive technologies: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/using-assistive-and-accessible-technology-in-teaching-and-learning/free-and-open-source-software
2. Office 365 for organisation
Many students would benefit from extra help with their time management. Some students will also naturally find it easier to plan and organise ideas visually. As part of their enrolment at the university, students have access to the various Microsoft Office 365 applications. This contains a number of apps which could help with time management (Calendar; Tasks; OneNote for synchronous note taking across devices) as well as presenting ideas visually (Powerpoint and Sway).
Students can access their Office 365 account and download individual apps for use on multiple devices via the studentcentral dashboard. They should be aware of this from their induction. However, it is something worth reinforcing. This also aligns with the University of Brighton’s Digital Literacies Framework for staff and students.
3. Skype for online tutorials
You may find yourself supervising for a student who has other commitments and big time demands alongside their studies, especially if you supervise postgraduate students. They may struggle to spend much time on campus or know their schedule in advance. Being adaptable in how you meet for supervision sessions could significantly help in these circumstances.
Office 365 offers a video conferencing tool, Skype for Business, which enables video calls in the manner of Skype. It also offers a number of tools which support online tutorials and one-to-ones including screen sharing, document sharing and notes, which can be saved afterwards for reference or to summarise the meeting. In terms of accessibility, meetings can be recorded in order for the student to listen back.
Online meetings can be arranged via Outlook and Skype for Business is compatible with regular Skype.
4. Skills audit
At the start of the supervision process it might be beneficial to carry out a ‘skills audit’ with the student measured against the relevant grading descriptor for their level of study. These generic grading descriptors (for each level of both undergraduate and postgraduate study) should be available to the student as part of their course documentation (and accessible via studentcentral).
Making students aware of the grading descriptors right from the start provides you both with a framework for measuring progress and a method to underscore your feedback with strict criteria. This offers a means to ensure your feedback is fair and pertinent and will hopefully avoid a situation where the student ultimately feels their eventual grade does not reflect what you discussed in your sessions.
You should also encourage the student to use the module’s learning objectives to ensure their work is meeting essential criteria. Again, these should be accessible on studentcentral.
5. Referencing apps
A common finding amongst supervisors is that students often struggle with their referencing, especially for non-book sources, and will generally leave this until the end. Adrian Chown had some good advice, which is to encourage students to use the references section in other works as part of their research. This can provide useful shorthand on how authors have structured their writing on similar and related topics and a means to work backwards without the daunting prospect of having to read a pile of papers. It also embeds the practice of referencing early on in the process.
The university supports a pair of referencing apps which are available free to students. Endnote is both an online and desktop application for managing personal reference libraries. These can be imported directly from the Online Library, while the online app has a Capture Tool for adding websites to the reference library at the click of a button.
RefME offers an iOS and Android compatible app for mobile devices. Like Endnote it offers reference management, utilising cloud storage, with the added feature of a book and journal barcode scanner. You can also use the devices camera to turn printed text into digital text to use as a quote.
Endnote and RefME are compatible. They both offer a bibliography export and both support University of Brighton referencing styles.