Analytical Tools for ascertaining student progress

The idea of having analytical tools to ascertain whether research students are advancing in the ways in which we hope and would like, arose out of a question put to me at a seminar for research supervisors. The question was linked to a concern that if a supervisor waits until they look at the completed research proposal to know whether their student is progressing, then this may leave opportunities for intervention until too late. The question, for me, emerges from the broader agenda of completion of research degrees and the pressure placed on research supervisors that their students will complete in a stipulated time. It has raised the bar for interventions from research supervisors and also begged the question ‘how do we know?’.

At the beginning of 2012, as a PhD student myself, I embarked on the first six months of my candidature. It was an ideal time to look to my own development as the basis for providing evidence of my progress. This agenda of providing evidence for my progress has arisen out of the Graduate Capabilities agenda which were first raised by the Pharmacy industry (Clark, 1996 in Kiley, Cumming and Thomas, 2009) and later became a major theme within the Research Degree discourse. Essentially the agenda is suggesting that along with a dissertation as evidence of competence acquired through undertaking a research degree, universities should look to other evidence of specific capabilities and help students acquire this.

Over the course of my own six months I looked at six tools that a supervisor could use to ascertain my advancement as a researcher and my heading toward the goal of a completed dissertation. There is a substantial body of evidence that the research proposal is a good indicator that a student will complete. I took the notion of a research proposal and looked at the sub elements that were necessary to undertake that particular milestone. These involved academic literacy in the form of being able to read journals and to write – presumably the research proposal. The proposal often has embedded in it an action plan, so it also calls on the skills of Project Planning. I would argue that another competency for a student undertaking this form of learning is knowing how they learn and how this translates into a relationship with a research supervisor.

The tools I am proposing in this series of blogs include:

Looking at the expectations – a tool for starting out the candidature which is based on Ingrid Moses’ (1984) Role Perception rating Scale.

Looking at how you learn uses Kolb’s (1984) tool for ascertaining dominance in learning

Analysing your student’s reading ability draws on an activity which my own professor asked me to undertake in the form of an annotated bibliography and through completing this I saw that it assessed my journal reading abilities.

Assessing the writing ability of your research student explores the ongoing adventure of writing a research proposal and for the analysis tool I have drawn on one of my own publication (Hill, 2008) about the pedagogy of scaffolding the writing into iterative exercises.

Analysing the Project Plan within a research proposal looks at the viability of the project plan and also provides insight into whether a student has an understanding of the doability of their project

Analysing the research proposal sets up a range of ways to read a student’s draft research proposal and draws on a rubric for the dissertation published as an appendix in Sankaran, Swepson, and Hill, G. (2005).

Alongside all these analytical tools for ascertaining your student’s progress, I have also written about:

  • Looking at the ways you frame problems that you believe a student is experiencing, which is based on the Bolman Deal (2010) framework .
  • Ascertaining your own progress as a research supervisor.

Use the Analytical tools for the early months of candidature portal at the end of this blog to access each of these articles.

Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2010). Reframing organizations : Artistry, choice, and leadership (4th ed.). New York: Jossey-Bass.

Hill, G. (2008) Supervising Practice Based Research. Studies in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development, 5(4), 78–87.

Kiley, M., Cumming, J. and Thomas, M. (2009, April). Higher degree by research candidates and skills development: what do we really mean?  International Quality in Post Graduate Research Conference.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey, USA: Prentice-Hall

Moses, I. (1985). Supervising Postgraduates. Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia. Sydney, Australia.

Sankaran, S., Swepson, P. and Hill, G. (2005) Do Research Thesis Examiners Need Training? Practitioner stories. Qualitative Report, 10 (4)

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About the (research) supervisor's friend

I work at a university helping university academics who are supervising research students. I am a research supervisor myself and also work as a research coach for people undertaking their research I was originally in a Management Faculty and when I completed my doctoral studies on 'doing a doctorate' I started working with research supervisors to help them improve their practice.
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