Supervising Doctoral Students – threshold moments

We have all experienced those times in our research when we simply cannot move on, we are stuck! It could be in formulating a research question, finding ways to cope with and interpret data, finding a ‘lens’ through which to look at our project, even putting pen to paper. Sometimes you feel like a rabbit in the headlights, frozen in the face of the challenges rushing towards you.  We know all about it as researchers, and we know that our research students must go through it. The question here is, are there ways to characterise these barriers to progression?  And if so, can we use this as supervisors to help students find strategies to overcome these barriers to progress?

On 6th December a small group of us attended a seminar given by Dr Terfot Ngwana from Bishop Grossteste University. Terfot is a social scientist currently teaching on the University of Liverpool on-line professional doctorate in Higher Education. We discussed the various models that describe approaches to student supervision, which Terfot characterised as bureaurocratic, didactic and collaborative. Although at times we need to adopt all three, the most productive is the last of these. The supervisor here is the designer of the intellectual learning experience, structuring the learning with and between individual research students, promoting social skills, challenging and being challenged by students and allowing the student’s role in the relationship to shift as they develop.

So what about the sticking points? Based on his own experience of supervision Terfot made links with the work of Meyer and Land (2005) and their theories on threshold concepts which he described as critical moments of irreversible conceptual transformation. We can describe these as ‘Aha! moments’, or times when  ‘the penny drops’. That is, when a real ontological shift takes place in the thinking and understanding of how a specific discipline is structured.  This is the point when our discussions took off, we began to share our own experiences of such moments, and the often painful times when the penny simply would not drop, when the way forward wasn’t clear.

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Head of French Awarded National Teaching Fellowship

A National Teaching Fellowship has been awarded to Dr Robert Blackwood, Head of French in the School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies. He received the award at a celebratory dinner in London on the 5th October 2011. The award was made for his innovative work on the teaching of linguistics, for using web-based social networking to support students in their year abroad, and for his contributions to the national discussion on personal development planning with the British Council.

This prestigious award comes from the Higher Education Academy, as part of its programme of work to raise the status of learning and teaching and to celebrate individuals who make a significant impact in higher education. Teaching Fellowship award winners were chosen from around 200 nominations submitted by higher education institutions across England and Northern Ireland. Dr Blackwood receives £10,000 to support further professional development in higher education.

In introducing sociolinguistics to the curriculum, Dr Blackwood has taught students about the diverse ways in which the French language is used by its speakers, especially in terms of their gender, ethnicity, geographic origins, and age. He encourages undergraduates to draw on their own experiences of language use during their Year Abroad in order to place students at the centre of their own learning experience. He oversaw the development of an on-line private social network which provides the ideal space for year-abroad supervision in the form of both academic and pastoral support, working closely with colleagues from the eLearning Unit in the Centre for Lifelong Learning.

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Welcome to the Eddev blog

Welcome to the Educational Development Division Blog. I am Anne Qualter, Head of Educational Development. I know that a lot of people already know the EdDev team. The aim of this blog is not simply to tell you more about us, it is to provide a source of information, views and ideas, all around the idea of academic development in staff and student learning.

For those of you who don’t know, the EdDev team has a very wide brief: we support early career research staff development; skills development for post graduate students and support for  their supervisors; e-learning support through the eLearning Unit; the Curriculum Review Team (CRT) coordinates, informs and provides consultancy  on curriculum review;  we provide CPD in learning and teaching for staff and a range of accredited programmes in learning and teaching; we support student learning and employability skill development on line and face to face; and we also work on specific projects with individuals, teams, academic departments and whole faculties designed to enhance the student experience. We are here to help. Given the range, we hope that this blog will provide a lively means of sharing the excitement of learning and the joys, pleasures and frustrations of teaching. We welcome your comments, and indeed, would very much welcome your own blog contributions.

Anne Qualter