22 SES 11 A, Teaching, Learning and Assessment in Higher Education
In most European countries the final assessment in a master’s degree programme is the master’s thesis (Meeus, van Looy, and Libotton 2004).
“Research supervision has conventionally been conceptualized as an individual activity in the humanities and social sciences, and the literature has to a great extent focused on the supervisor–student dyad” (Dysthe, 2006 p 299). Other studies support this assertion (Anderson, 2007; Kirton, 2011; Pilcher, 2011). This is not just in the UK either for in other countries including“…Netherlands, master’s students traditionally have one supervisor who guides them through the process of their research in a more or less one-on-one relationship" (Renske A.M. de Kleijn ,2012, p926)
With many of our Education mature students returning to study part time at master’s level - while still working full time as school and college teachers, my research question was whether more innovative and creative ways of working on dissertations other than the supervisor–student dyad may be beneficial for such students? It exists in some other disciplines (Egan et al. 2009) and other countries, and so the question was could it be useful for us?
A social constructionist, I work “assuming both discourse and education to be inherently collaborative meaning-making activities”. Thus the classroom becomes a genuine community (Rymer, 1993) and the students are co learners, what Freire called “teacher–student with student-teachers”. With students, in this case, teachers in schools, I “collaborate ...engaging them in conversation and acknowledging that our talk shapes our reality as a social group and in turn our pedagogy” (Rymer, 1993).
Working from all the above, I started to trial a new way of working. Some students were therefore, by agreement, grouped in different ways to see indeed if approaches other than one to one tutor/ student engagement were helpful. This was in the light of work such as that by Dysthe et al (2006) as well as others which suggest that alternative models could be valuable.
All our students who recently completed or who were presently engaged with the dissertation stage of the masters were invited to contribute to the work around perceptions firstly via a questionnaire. Thus this part of the project once disseminated will help “address the hitherto relatively neglected area of student perceptions of the dissertation process in a professionally- based master’s degree” (Anderson, 2008, p47).
From that group, a smaller number were interviewed in more depth, being chosen through purposive sampling of current and past students, first time dissertation achievers as well as those who have failed or achieved at second attempt. Those who left the programme at PG dip. or Cert. stage and who therefore chose not to do the dissertation and achieve the full masters qualification were also contacted. This was to explore whether anything about the style of teaching and learning they anticipated affected that decision.
Whereas the initial student cohort research worked within a largely interpretive theoretical frame, the work with the second group from the purposive sampling worked within a more participatory research approach. This was to encourage the students to see the work as shared, working with rather than doing research ‘on them’. Through this approach, we “respect” the knowledge that lies within the “community” (Cohen et al, 2011, p 37). It also supported the idea of moving “towards change through empowerment “within an on-going “working relationship” between both researchers and participants (op. cit. p38).
• Anderson, C.,Day, K. and McLaughlin, P.( 2006) “Mastering the dissertation: lecturers’ representations of the purposes and processes of Master’s level dissertation supervision”, Studies in Higher Education, 31:2,149-168 • Anderson, C.,Day, K. and McLaughlin, P.( 2008)”Student perspectives to the dissertation process in a masters degree concerned with professional practice”, Studies in Continuing Education, 30:1,33-49. • Anderson, J. and Gristy, C. (2013) “Coaching of staff in schools: what can we learn from the new role of the Masters in Teaching and Learning in-school coach for schools and the higher education tutors working alongside them?” Journal of Education for Teaching: 39:1, 107-122. • Cohen, L., Manion, L. and Morrison, K.( 2011) Research Methods in Education, seventh edition, Routledge: London • Denscombe, M. (1998) The good research guide, Buckingham, UK: Open University Press. • Dysthe, O.,Samara, A.,Westrheim, K. ( 2006) multivoiced supervision of masters students:a case study of alternative supervision practices in higher education. Studies in Higher Education 31:3.299-318 • Egan, R., D. Stockley, B. Brouwer, D. Tripp, and N. Stechyson (2009)”Relationships between area of academic concentration, supervisory style, student needs and best practices” Studies in Higher Education 34, no. 3: 337–45. • Gillham, B. (2000) Case study research, London: Continuum. • Kirton, J.,Straker, K., Brown, J.,Jack, B.,Jinks, A. (2011) “A Marriage of convenience? A qualitative study of colleague supervision of master’s level dissertations”, Nurse Education Today,3. 861-865 • Maish,M. (2003) “Restructuring a Master’s degree dissertation as a Patchwork Test” Innovations in education and teaching International, 40:2,194-201 • Meeus, W., L. van Looy, and A. Libotton. (2004) “The bachelor’s thesis in teacher education” European Journal of Teacher Education 27, no. 3: 299–321. • Pilcher, N.(2011):”The UK postgraduate masters dissertation: an elusive chameleon?”, Teaching in Higher Education, 16:1. 29-40 ( 151) • Plowright, D. (2011) Using mixed methods: Frameworks for an integrated methodology, London: Sage. • Renske A.M. de Kleijn a , M. Tim Mainhard a , Paulien C. Meijer a ,Albert Pilot a & Mieke Brekelmans a ( 2012) “Master's thesis supervision: relations between perceptions of the supervisor–student relationship,final grade, perceived supervisor contribution to learning and student satisfaction” Studies in Higher Education 37:8, 925-939
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