• Improving Student Learning Theory and Practice - 10 Years on

    Title: Supervisory practices and development programmes to support postgraduate student learning

    Author(s): Gina Wisker
    Institution: Anglia Polytecnic University
    Session: Research paper  

    While significant research has been undertaken into undergraduate student learning and the learning and teaching practices which support this (Ramsden, Entwistle, Trigwell et al), research into postgraduate student learning and effective support practices is still a relatively new area of investigation.

    Action research undertaken with groups of UK originated and Israeli Phd students and International MA/Msc students at APU, UK since 1998 has yielded useful research findings about the perceived success of specific research development programmes, IT and tertiary literacy support and supervisory practices in empowering postgraduate students in their learning.

    The research undertaken relates to two groups of students in particular, PhD students and MA/Msc students. Earlier work was reported on the MA/Msc students(Waller, Griffiths, Wisker ISL 2001) and on the research method developments of the PhD students (Wisker, Trafford, Robinson 2001).

    This paper focuses on the PhD students and on the learning and teaching strategies of both 1) the research development programme and 2) supervisory relationships.

    Questionnaires to postgraduate students (Reflection on Learning Inventory, Meyer and Boulton Lewis 1997) (Research as Learning questionnaire, Wisker 1998) yielded information about dissonance in student learning approaches principally that between accumulation approaches and transformational outcomes. Subsequent development programme workshops, research methods inputs and the development of supervisory dialogues have been used with students to decrease this dissonance and establish good research as learning practices which should lead to success in their PhD research, thesis and viva.

    Action research accompanies the workshop and supervisory work at each stage. Students are full collaborative partners in the research and are involved in both focus groups and interviews. This enables them to develop their own practice as reflective learners, and the programme team to further improve successful workshop and supervisory practices. Additionally for the first time in 2002, those successful in achieving their Phds through the programme have become full members of the workshop delivery team.

    Findings have to date yielded rich information on:
    1) Successful strategies in workshop research development programmes, notably at (a) the development of the proposal and research method choice stage, (b)at mid stage (A new departure 2002) and (c) at completion, writing up and viva training stages. Of particular interest are the successful strategies used in final clarification of students' conceptual frameworks subsequent to submission, in mock vivas and training just prior to vivas.
    2) Successful strategies in supervisory dialogues both on site and at a distance (by email).Categories of supervisory dialogues and interactions have been identified , their use suggested in different stages of supervisions and the supervisory relationship as a whole .
    The paper should be of interest to colleagues working with and supervising postgraduate students particularly Phd students.


    Meyer JHF and Boulton Lewis G,(1997) Reflections on Learning Inventory.

    Prosser, M. and Trigwell, K. (1999). Understanding Learning and Teaching: The experience in higher education. SRHE and Open University Press: Buckingham.

    Waller, S, Griffiths, S, Wisker G. (2001) Tertiary literacy support for international postgraduates - paper delivered to ISL 9

    Wisker, G, Robinson, G, Trafford, V (2001) overcoming dissonance in the learning of international postgraduate students -paper delivered to EARLI conference, Fribourg.