Doctoral Education in Transition: Western Norway Graduate School of Education

Abstract

The last ten years doctoral education has been changing based on a number of educational trends, digitalisation and the Bologna-process. This talk will focus on some of these areas within doctoral education and attempt to look at what new educational trends are being registered at the PhD level and how to relate to this as educational institutions, supervisors and candidates. In Norway the number of PhD’s has increased by 150% (4,000 to 10,000), since 2002. The majority of doctoral theses are based on a collection of research articles.

However, there is a lot happening in the PhD education internationally, and it feels that doctoral work is becoming increasingly similar (structurally) to other types of education (e.g. bachelor and master’s degree). When PhD education becomes more integrated into an education system’s other structures, the impact is to generalise the guidelines and regulations for all degrees. When PhD education becomes increasingly “mainstream”, one also moves away from the autonomous role that this education has had previously in our education system. When this happens, one mechanism affected is assessment as a management instrument.

This talk will focus on our rationale for re-establishing the Western Norway Graduate School of Educational Research (WNGER) and how this research school will meet the challenges of a doctoral education in transition. WNGER II will emphasize the guidelines, requirements and assessment criteria for doctoral theses and be more transparent and predictable for both doctoral candidates and supervisors. we need to look into whether some of the very high non-completion rate of PhDs is due to some starting a PhD without fully knowing what awaits them; mis-match of expectations, guidelines, requirements; research training and support; and assessment process and criteria

Bio

Dr.philos Rune Johan Krumsvik is Professor of Education, Head of Western Norway Graduate School of Research (WNGER II) and Head of the research group Digital Learning Communities (DLC) at University of Bergen. Krumsvik is also Professor II at Volda University College, Honorary Research Fellow at University of Bristol and former Head of the Department of Education, University of Bergen (2010-2017).

 

Female student stood in front of other students discussing information on flipchart
Student Voice

Utilising Student Voice in Learning Support and Transition

The following post was written by BILT Associate and Senior Teaching Fellow in Bristol Law School, Imogen Moore. 

Sometimes we might wonder how much of the guidance we give to students to support transition and learning is heard and absorbed. Despite our efforts and best intentions, we may find the same mistakes being made, the same confusion continuing – and the same lack of satisfaction voiced in student surveys.

It can be tempting to apportion blame – if only students would just listen. But we can’t ignore our own responsibility for providing effective guidance and support. How can we help our students hear? Critical educational messages may be missed even when clearly delivered due to overload, anxiety, unfamiliarity, perceived irrelevance, and various other factors. There is much to be discussed in all those areas, but the focus of this blog post is the role student voice might play in overcoming obstacles to communication, particularly during transition.

Why consider utilising student voice to support learning and transition? In short, students typically respond well to guidance from their peers. Even within peer assessment and feedback, where students sometimes question the value of advice given by a peer rather than a tutor (Mulder et al, 164-5; Cartney 2010, 554), students typically engage well and have positive perceptions of the process (Nicol et al, 2013, 108-9). So even in a context where a contrast might be drawn between an ‘expert’ tutor and an inexperienced peer, students recognise and value peer advice.

Such positive perceptions are likely to be all the stronger in relation to more general guidance on studying and the student experience. That is because in this context the student is undoubtedly the expert: expert in the modern student experience; expert in what works for them; expert in understanding the concerns and confusions of a student in transition. A lecturer will inevitably be (at least) one step removed from the student experience, and probably perceived to be a great deal further away than that. Furthermore the lecturer may be viewed as having their own (possibly unrealistic) agenda, rather than genuinely understanding a student’s concerns.

Utilising student voice may thus enable the provision of expertise and understanding in areas a lecturer is less equipped to comment upon. Even those directly engaged in transition may not fully recognise what new students need to know, as our own experiences and recollections might be misremembered or reflect a different era. It has been observed that what may be “obvious to those of us indoctrinated into university life … is information that is very difficult for someone on the outside of the institution to obtain without inside assistance”, particularly “those coming from backgrounds without a tradition of university attendance” (Clapham, 2018, 373). We may fail to identify ‘unknown unknowns’.

Even in respect of ‘known unknowns’, we may be perceived to be inexpert. Our distance from the listener may significantly reduce the perceived value of our guidance to the student. Even a new lecturer has by definition already cracked the code and is now on ‘the other side’. A student is inherently more relatable, a fellow traveller who is learning the route, has spotted some of the dead-ends (and shortcuts), and whose experience is directly relevant to the listener. It is probably for this reason that student reviewers of ‘The Successful Law Student: An Insider’s Guide to Studying Law’ (Moore & Newbery-Jones, 2018) responded so positively to the inclusion of authentic student comments. One anonymous student reviewer remarked that their own experiences were similar to many of those mentioned, while another stated that they were more likely to listen to advice from a fellow student than from a lecturer. This tallies with observations within the context of peer-assisted learning: students often found it easier to relate to a peer than an authority figure (Zacharopoulou et al, 2013, 202).

The relatability of the messenger has particular significance in transition. Pre-transfer students may have difficulty envisaging university life and accurately predicting their student experience, which can cause difficulties in adapting to higher education (Briggs et al, 2012, 5). The ability to picture ‘someone like me’ (Briggs et al, 2012, 14) in the voices of real students may therefore have particular value in that context.

Student experience and student voice might then be utilised more fully in transition and learning support. Much good work has already been done in this area for example through PASS mentors, at least when the system works well. But there may be further scope for utilising student voice within programmes, whether in welcome lectures, transition events or skills development (although care must be taken to ensure students are not perceived as a cheap substitute for ‘expert’ advice in this area), and even within individual units. For example unit leaders might ask past students to give tips and reassurance to new students, in place of more typical top-down lecturer advice. In my own unit that takes the form of short video clips on Blackboard from a small, diverse group of high-achieving students from the previous year (“The Survivors”), to demystify the subject and build trust. (With thanks and acknowledgements to Dr Lana Ashby of the University of Durham, who originated the ‘Survivors’ tag.)

Incorporating student voice within programmes and units – rather than leaving it entirely outside the classroom – ensures we do not appear to be delegating our educational responsibilities to the student body, enables us to check any advice given is genuinely helpful, and provides reassurance to the recipient. My experience within units and programmes and in writing ‘The Successful Law Student’ has shown that authenticity is essential (hence the importance where possible of using attributed comments and materials), but this cannot remove our responsibility for ensuring advice is appropriate and accurate. Student voice as learning support is therefore a potentially powerful tool that should neither be neglected nor manipulated, but nonetheless requires oversight.

References:

Briggs, A.R.J., Clark, J., & Hall, I., (2012) ‘Building bridges: understanding student transition to university’, Quality in Higher Education 18(1), 3-21
Cartney, P., (2010) ‘Exploring the use of peer feedback as a vehicle for closing the gap between feedback given and feedback used’, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 35(5), 551-564
Clapham, N., (2018) ‘Book review: The Successful Law Student: An Insider’s Guide to Studying Law’, The Law Teacher, 52(3), 372-374
Moore, I.K., & Newbery-Jones, C., (2018) ‘The Successful Law Student: An Insider’s Guide to Studying Law’, Oxford University Press
Mulder, R., Pearce, J. & Baik, C., (2014) ‘Peer Review in higher education: student perceptions before and after participation’, Active Learning in Higher Education 15(2), 157-171
Nicol, D., Thomson, A., & Breslin, C., (2013) Rethinking feedback practices in higher education: a peer review perspective’ Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 39(1), 102-122
Zacharopoulou, A., & Turner, C., (2013) ‘Peer assisted learning and the creation of a “learning community” for first year law students’, The Law Teacher 47(2), 192-214

This blog post is published with thanks and acknowledgements to the University of Bristol Law School Blog (https://legalresearch.blogs.bris.ac.uk/) where a version of this piece first appeared.

Professor Debby Cotton and Dr Rebecca Turner at their Education Excellence Seminar
News

Easing the transition of undergraduates through an immersive induction module

The opening Education Excellence seminar of 2018/19 took place on Thursday 20th September in 43 Woodland Road. Professor Debby Cotton and Dr Rebecca Turner (accompanied by Rebecca’s son, Thomas) came up from Plymouth University’s PedRIO to deliver a seminar on the immersive induction module all undergraduates take at their institution. The seminar was attended by almost fifty members of staff and was a great start to the 18/19 seminar series– there were only two minor hiccups; the first being the hospitalisation of Rebecca’s childminder (cue baby gurgles throughout the lecture) and the fact the RePlay box was still on its summer break (cue this blog post).

After a brief introduction from Alvin, Rebecca introduced the project to the audience. The project was proposed after it was recognised that students were struggling with the transition to university. It was hoped the immersive module would help with social integration, as well as allowing students a transitional period when beginning their university studies.

Following a successful pilot year in 2014, the immersive induction module was rolled out across all undergraduate programmes in the University. The module is a four-week introduction to the degree – students do not undertake any other modules during this time, in which they can focus on getting to grips with self-study, academic skills, the language of their subject. The module also gives students the opportunity to get to know others on their course through the use of group work. Team-building, peer interaction and academic integration are all used to boost motivation and enthuse students. Most students are asked to complete an assessment, designed to be inclusive, at the end of the module, which provides students with early feedback and reduces exam-linked anxiety.

It was hypothesised that this module would improve retention and student attainment – and it did. Initial results from the pilot showed retention approved across the board, with students naming a sense of belonging, academic integration, social integration and strong study skills as being key factors in the improvement. Peer collaboration and networking grows due to the collaborative work that takes place early in the programme. The average grade from first assignments went up from 62% to 67%, despite the fact the individual student needs had not always been recognised at this point. Both genders showed heightened performance, thought the enhancement was greater for males, therefore reducing the attainment gap.

There were a number of challenges that the immersive module has presented. One of the biggest issues caused was that it raised the students expectations to a level where they could not be maintained in modules going forward. Further to this, students felt like a ‘second transition’ had been created, and still struggled to an extent when the immersive module ended. Some students did not want to take part in self-directed study and group work at the beginning of their degree; they expect to be in lecture theatres and have their questions answered by the lecturer. Some lecturing staff were not enthusiastic about changing their way their subject was taught so it could be covered in one module, too. There were a number of operational issues that presented as part of the roll-out. Teaching spaces weren’t always ideal – though the majority of sessions took place in ‘flatbed’ spaces, a number of large lecture theatres had to be used and weren’t viable for interactive teaching as they are too large and become noisy.

Overall the project was very successful, increasing the retention and attainment of first-year students and generally improving the student experience, though this has come with some new challenges. We were left with a number of question to consider when thinking about whether we could implement a similar structure, including:

  • What opportunities could an immersive format offer you?
  • What challenges or concerns would you have?
  • How could an immersive format help create a sense of belonging?
  • How can we manage student expectations of HE on arrival?
  • How can we better prepare students to progress on to subsequent modules?

Look out for the next edition of our ‘An interview with’ series with Debby and Rebecca coming in October.

The full peer-reviewed paper can be found here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13562517.2017.1301906

Debbie Cotton

Easing the Transition of First Year Undergraduates through an Immersive Induction Module


Abstract

An increasingly competitive market in higher education (HE) has encouraged many institutions to engage in curriculum transformation efforts aimed at enhancing student learning, retention and attainment. The start of the first year is recognised as being a challenging time for undergraduates as they negotiate the norms and practices of new academic communities and foster relationships with peers and academics. In this talk, we discuss a comprehensive evaluation of one aspect of a large-scale curriculum development project at the University of Plymouth, the introduction of a four-week immersive induction module. This module (included in almost all programmes across the university) aimed to provide students with discipline-relevant academic skills and networks to support them through the transition period and beyond. The evaluation explored academic and student experiences of this module, as well as impacts on academic self-efficacy, social integration, retention, and attainment of different student groups. Positive outcomes were identified in terms of student attainment (including a narrowing of the gender attainment gap), student retention, and students’ perceptions of preparation and integration. Challenges of this approach included variable approaches to implementation, and the need to manage student expectations for subsequent modules. In some ways, the immersive induction module was a victim of its own success, thus student expectations for subsequent modules proved difficult to fulfil.

Bio

Dr Rebecca Turner is an Educational Developer with the Pedagogic Research Institute and Observatory at the University of Plymouth. Rebecca works to support new and experienced academics, researchers and professional staff to develop their pedagogic practice to enhance the student experience. Rebecca is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academic and an active member of the Staff and Education Development Association, where she is currently serving as a member of their Executive Committee. She has diverse research interests; her main work centres on the theme of transitions, however, she has being involved with a HEFCE Learning Gain Pilot project and has also undertaken work on behalf of the Higher Education Academy to examine the impact of educational development activities. She is currently collaborating with The Student Exchange Partnership to undertake research relating to Student Unions and their work to support teaching and learning. A full list of Rebecca’s research can be found at: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/staff/rebecca-turner

Professor Debby Cotton is Head of Educational Development in the Pedagogic Research Institute and Observatory (PedRIO), Plymouth University, UK. She is a Principal Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy (PFHEA), and a National Teaching Fellow (NTF), and was selected to work as an assessor on the UK Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). Debby has a doctorate from Oxford University, which focused on teaching controversial environmental issues. She has played a key role in the development of pedagogic research at Plymouth University for over 15 years, and was central to the development of PedRIO, one of the University’s eight research institutes. Debby is a popular invited speaker and has delivered workshops and keynotes on higher education in Europe, China, the US and South Africa. She sits on the editorial board of three journals, has contributed to upwards of 25 projects on pedagogic research and development, and produced more than 70 publications on a wide range of HE teaching and learning issues including sustainability education, student transition, retention and attainment, and internationalisation of higher education. She has recently been called upon to advise on higher education in China, and is engaged in collaborative research with academic colleagues at Zhejiang University and Fudan University.You can find out more about Debby’s work and publications here: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/staff/debby-cotton