Supervising Undergraduate Dissertations

Table of Contents

Editors’ Biographies

- Pp. i-ii (2)

Roisin Donnelly, John Dallat and Marian Fitzmaurice

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Foreword

- Pp. iii-iv (2)

Áine Hyland

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Preface

- Pp. v-ix (5)

Roisin Donnelly, John Dallat and Marian Fitzmaurice

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List of Contributors

- Pp. x-xi (2)

Roisin Donnelly, John Dallat and Marian Fitzmaurice

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Notes on Contributors

- Pp. xii-xv (4)

Roisin Donnelly, John Dallat and Marian Fitzmaurice

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Introduction

- Pp. xvi-xxxi (16)

Roisin Donnelly, John Dallat and Marian Fitzmaurice

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Getting it Right from the Start: Setting Up and Managing Good Supervisory Practices with Undergraduate Dissertations

- Pp. 3-18 (16)

Gina Wisker

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A Framework and Processes for Conceptualizing and Designing a New Research Project

- Pp. 19-49 (31)

Neil Haigh

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Completing an Undergraduate Dissertation: The Student Perspective

- Pp. 50-77 (28)

Amanda Dillon

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Ethical Issues in Supervising Undergraduate Dissertations

- Pp. 78-108 (31)

Richard L. Miller

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Doing the Right Thing: A Practical Guide to Ethics for Undergraduate Researchers

- Pp. 109-131 (23)

Moira Maguire, Brid Delahunt and Ann Everitt-Reynolds

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Supervising International Students’ Undergraduate Research Projects: Implications from the Literature

- Pp. 132-148 (17)

Charles Buckley

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Arts & Humanities’ Undergraduate Dissertations: Regenerating Early Researcher Socialization for Diverse Futures (UK Perspectives)

- Pp. 149-186 (38)

Vicky Gunn

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The Practice of Undergraduate Research and Mentoring Student Writing

- Pp. 187-203 (17)

Nancy H. Hensel and Lindsay Currie

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‘The Hero’s Journey’: Paying Attention to the Emotional Aspects of Academic Writing, and Making Meaning from its Ups, Downs and Paradoxes

- Pp. 204-215 (12)

Sarah Moore

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Reimagining Dissertation Support within Online Communities of Practice

- Pp. 216-232 (17)

Linda Clarke

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Using Online Support Materials to Enhance the Students’ Dissertation Experience

- Pp. 233-247 (15)

Ziene Mottiar

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Using e-Portfolios to Support Undergraduate Dissertation Supervision

- Pp. 248-271 (24)

Brendan M. Ryder

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Index

- Pp. 272-275 (4)

Roisin Donnelly, John Dallat and Marian Fitzmaurice

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Foreword

Independent research is a fundamental element of a Level 8 degree. The level descriptors for a Level 8 qualification set down by the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland require the learner to “use and modify advanced skills and tools to conduct closely guided research”, “to learn to manage learning tasks independently, professionally and ethically” and to “transfer and apply diagnostic and creative skills in a range of contexts”. The undergraduate dissertation, or “capstone project” as it is referred to in the United States, is an ideal vehicle through which students develop and apply these skills.

The Report of the National Strategy Group on Higher Education in Ireland (2011) recognises that teaching in higher education is distinguished from teaching at other levels by its focus on the integration of research with teaching and learning. It points out that this integration can take many forms – teaching and learning can be research-led; it can be research-oriented; it can be research-informed and it can be research-based. In the case of the latter, the curriculum includes activities in which students themselves conduct research through dissertations, projects or other independently carried out course work.

The undergraduate student dissertation is now a standard requirement of a Level 8 degree in Ireland. It places new and additional demands on students and on their teachers and requires a level of confidence and expertise on the part of teachers as supervisors for which they may not have been prepared. This eBook will therefore be particularly welcomed by novice undergraduate supervisors but it will also be welcomed by more experienced supervisors as it addresses so many aspects of the supervision of undergraduate dissertations. There are chapters on choosing a research topic; on honing and refining research questions; on identifying the most appropriate methodologies for the study in question, and on the moral and ethical issue which will be encountered both by students and supervisors.

The contributors have all been supervisors themselves and their advice comes from many years and decades of hard-earned experience. Their chapters address the personal, psychological and emotional issues that will inevitably impact on the student-supervisor relationship and emphasise the importance of empathy and sensitivity on the part of the supervisor. Readers should remember their own early forays into the world of research and the insecurity and apprehension that enveloped them at that time. The central role of the supervisor in providing support and reassurance should never be underestimated. At the same time, the supervisor plays a central role in ensuring that high research standards are maintained and that the research is carried out with rigour.

The editors of this eBook, Roisin Donnelly, John Dallat and Marian Fitzmaurice, are to be congratulated on bringing together so many prestigious and experienced supervisors who have generously shared their expertise and experience in their chapters. Some of them are already well-known and are widely-published. They come from all corners of the globe – the U.S., Australia, and elsewhere. Others may be entering the publications field for the first time but this does not in any way take from the value of their chapters. The eBook was a formidable undertaking – no less than twelve chapters, many of them over thirty pages long.

I am very happy to endorse this collection of essays and to recommend it to the thousands of academic staff who find themselves every semester supervising undergraduate dissertations in colleges and universities throughout the world. I also commend the editors on their vision and future-oriented approach of making this publication available in eBook form, thereby ensuring its availability to a very wide audience. I wish the editors, the contributors, and readers–whether supervisors or students–the very best in their endeavours and I am confident this eBook will help to smooth the path of undergraduate researchers in the years ahead.

Áine Hyland
Emeritus Professor of Education
University College Cork
Ireland


Preface

This eBook is about charting a course for students at undergraduate level to be successful in writing their dissertation or project. Alongside this, it is primarily a support for academic staff who have a supervision role at undergraduate level, especially those who are new to this in their career. It also has wider readership potential for Masters Level supervisors as many of the same supervision and academic writing issues extend to both sectors. Some of the key issues that have emerged in the literature on supervision at undergraduate level are relevant to the case of Masters research supervision also. Important factors for the supervisor of both levels exist such as avoiding conflict of interest between themselves and their student, as well as experiencing the possibilities of both variable workloads and quality of supervision. This is especially important as the number of students being supervised is on the rise, and the ability of individual staff to carry out their other duties is becoming more constrained which can result in less time being available for supervision of each student and the quality of their supervision perhaps suffering. Therefore it is a very useful online resource for all supervisors to have on their desktop/laptop as it provides useful insights into ways in which students can be assisted with writing, as well as being a very useful and flexible starting place for all students to have as they write.

There are chapters in the eBook from around the world, and from different disciplines and contexts, so it is instantly obvious that writing and supervising a good undergraduate dissertation is a global challenge, and this eBook can help meet it! We believe this eBook is necessary as there are many texts available today to help Masters and Doctoral students write their thesis, and further work oriented at supervisors at these levels, to provide guidance, support and pedagogies for the postgraduate research supervision process, but the undergraduate student and supervisor seem to have been neglected along the way.

We are supervisors ourselves and so are all the contributing authors; so this eBook is written by supervisors and for supervisors! The examples and exercises provided in many chapters will be helpful in addressing problems that can arise in both the writing and supervising of an undergraduate dissertation or project.

In the Introduction chapter to the eBook, our research on this topic with academic staff from Irish higher education is discussed. This formed part of the impetus for creating the eBook. The style and content of the chapters is pragmatic, and aims to provide clear and sensible guidance to enlighten students in their writing and supervisors in their role and across the disciplines. It would also be a useful guide for staff involved in supporting supervisors in the complex task of research supervision. This is a very practical text with tips and hints for students, supervisors and examiners, and scenarios that illustrate the points being made. In many cases, the practical advice offered in the chapters is based upon research projects undertaken by the very experienced authors. The advice consists of highlighting solutions that others have found helpful, and which may also work for you. The research underpinning this eBook then provides a sound basis for the comments and suggestions made throughout the work. It has a wealth of advice and we hope it also makes for an enjoyable read!

A WORD ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTING AUTHORS This eBook draws together the shared expertise of a number of very experienced supervisors from higher education institutions in Ireland, UK and the USA. This is an edited volume that brings together 12 chapters by 15 supervisors. Although the eBook has been organized into 12 chapters exploring both the supervisor and student perspective, it should be noted that the advice and recommendations presented in each chapter can be useful for both parties in the supervisory relationship.

The supervisor perspective is presented in Chapter 1 by Gina Wisker: this is especially useful for the first time supervisor, as it looks into roles and responsibilities, supervisory expectations and interactions, as well as offering research and experience based ideas for good practice in supervising undergraduate dissertations and projects.

Neil Haigh’s chapter is helpful for students when they are setting out to conceptualize a research project. As well as providing an easy-to-follow framework to support students through the various stages of the research process, it outlines practical suggestions and observations from the author’s own extensive experience as a supervisor. Closely related to this, Amanda Dillon’s chapter presents a valuable empirical study of the undergraduate student’s own expectations of the dissertation and follows their journey through the process.

The key ethical issues regarding supervision are fully explored in Richard Miller’s chapter. Developing staff and student understandings of ethics in undergraduate research is as prevalent today as it ever was.

The chapter by Moira Maguire, Brid Delahunt and Ann Everitt-Reynolds also explores the role of ethics in research but the principles that guide ethical decision-making are initially outlined and their application to each stage of the research process is subsequently discussed. This discussion is further enhanced through the provision of expert tips and the use of audio clips from students illustrating how ethical issues can be managed within projects. Charles Buckley’s chapter discusses the growing phenomenon of supervising international students, and explores some of the key challenges facing supervisors as well as presenting a number of practical solutions.

The chapter by Vicky Gunn revisits how the undergraduate dissertation in the Arts and Humanities is placed within the whole of a programme. It is presented from the perspective of changes to the nature of being an early career researcher. The chapter aims to provide a starting point for a discussion about how to redesign undergraduate dissertation processes in such a way that students are enabled to play to their strongest researcher orientations.

The next two chapters explore the crucial role of academic writing in the undergraduate dissertation process. Nancy Hensel and Lindsay Currie examine the relationship between undergraduate research and the training necessary for effective writing, with a special focus on the importance of the faculty mentor. This chapter also focuses on the need for students to be clear about the purpose of writing and addressing different audiences. Sarah Moore’s imaginatively titled chapter is presented for the student’s perspective and also affords supervisors the valuable opportunity to look closely at how they support their own students in the academic writing process. It emphasises how important it is to pay attention to the emotional dimensions of writing, both positive and negative. Within this, she highlights the paradoxes that exist within the process of academic writing and reviews the common advice that students can be presented with to support them in their writing pursuits, and examines how this advice might not always have the intended desired positive effect. Taken together, both chapters explore issues of general concern to supervisors and offer practical approaches to the teaching of writing which can be used in both study/writing support sessions and within disciplinary contexts.

The remaining three chapters consider the important role of supporting the student through digital literacy with the use of relevant learning technologies: Online Communities of Practice to support students in the dissertation process are discussed in the chapter by Linda Clarke; how YouTube Resources can help with information overload and the need for development of critical awareness is explored in the chapter by Ziene Mottiar and ePortfolios (self-regulation and personal development) are presented in the final chapter in the eBook by Brendan Ryder.

Finally, we, the editors, wanted to take this opportunity to thank the contributing authors to the eBook, and acknowledge the Editorial Advisory Panel for their help in the review process of the eBook, without whose support the project could not have been satisfactorily completed. So, our sincere gratitude is extended to all those on the Editorial Advisory Panel who provided constructive and comprehensive reviews.

EDITORIAL ADVISORY PANELMs Anne Carpenter, Institute of Technology, Carlow, Ireland, anne.carpenter@itcarlow.ie

Ms Martina Crehan, Curriculum Innovation Unit, Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland, martinacrehan@rcsi.ie

Mr Vincent Farrell, Learning, Teaching and Technology Centre, Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland, vincent.farrell@dit.ie

Dr Ciara O’Farrell, Centre for Academic Practice and Student Learning, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, cofarre@tcd.ie

Dr Geraldine O’Neill, School of Education & Lifelong Learning, University College Dublin, Ireland, geraldine.m.oneill@ucd.ie

Dr Kevin O’Rourke, Head of eLearning Support, Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland, kevin.orourke@dit.ie

Ms Angela Short, School of Business and Humanities, Dundalk Institute of Technology, Ireland, angela.short@dkit.ie

We hope you enjoy the contributions in the eBook from all the authors who shared their expertise with us and the wider supervisor and student community in undergraduate education.

Roisin Donnelly, John Dallat and Marian Fitzmaurice

Dublin and Dundalk

Ireland

List of Contributors

Editor(s):
Roisin Donnelly
Dublin Institute of Technology
Ireland


John Dallat
Dundalk Institute of Technology
Ireland


Marian Fitzmaurice
Dublin Institute of Technology
Ireland




Contributor(s):
Gina Wisker
University of Brighton
UK


Neil Haigh
AUT University
New Zealand


Amanda Dillon
University of Central Lancashire (UCLan)
UK


Richard L. Miller
University of Nebraska, ,
NE , 68508
USA


Moira Maguire
Dundalk Institute of Technology
Ireland


Brid Delahunt
Dundalk Institute of Technology
Ireland


Ann Everitt-Reynolds
Dundalk Institute of Technology
Ireland


Charles Buckley
University of Bangor
Wales
UK


Vicky Gunn
University of Glasgow
UK


Nancy H. Hensel
Council on Undergraduate Research
Washington
DC , 20005
USA


Lindsay Currie
Council on Undergraduate Research
Washington
DC , 20005
USA


Linda Clarke
University of Ulster
UK


Ziene Mottiar
Dublin Institute of Technology
Ireland


Brendan M. Ryder
Dundalk Institute of Technology
Ireland




This article explores an aspect of a lecturer’s job that is rarely discussed: supervising dissertations. As a PhD student you will have probably gained experience in lecturing, leading small group work, marking and even designing your own sessions. But it is rare that anyone other than full time staff are asked to supervise dissertations. So, how do you prepare for this task?

One to one work:

For some lecturers, dissertation supervision is one of their favourite parts of the job because it presents a rare opportunity for working closely with one student over a period of time (usually one academic year) on a project close to your area of interest. This activity requires a different communication skill to that of speaking to a classroom full of students. You need to be informal, collaborative and friendly but maintain the distance between tutor and student.

There are also important issues to be aware of when conducting one to one meetings. It is recommended that you don’t meet with a student of the opposite sex behind closed doors. Have your office door open or meet in a public place. Keep a record of every meeting so that if a colleague or your line manager queries your progress you will be able to inform him or her of what has happened in your meetings.

Achieving a balance:

Acting as a supervisor is a difficult job because the student will often be studying something dear to your heart so the tendency is to try to guide them too firmly. It is important that the student is allowed to design their project, undertake the research and write it up without too much interference from you. You are a guide and advisor, not the senior partner in a project requiring them to do the menial tasks. You are there to facilitate their independent learning.

Time management and record keeping:

A key duty is to encourage your student to stick to a timetable by which they can easily complete their project. This will usually involve setting mini-deadlines throughout the year and meeting regularly to hear updates on their progress. It is your job to ensure that these timetables are met, and to chase students who forget to contact you for weeks at a time.

It is also important to keep notes recording the progress of each student. You may have ten or more dissertation students, so keeping track of their projects is a challenge.

Extra duties:

Because you will see this student regularly, he or she will probably find you more approachable than other tutors seen only in a large group context.  You may become a confidant for that student, listening to a range of academic and personal problems. Usually you only have to provide a friendly ear. However, on some occasions you may have to help with accommodation, finance, relationship or other personal problems that are beyond your remit. In that case, refer to your departmental guidance. Make sure you protect the student’s privacy and integrity when discussing the case elsewhere.

You might be asked to act as a referee for jobs after the student has finished university. Although this is rather time consuming, it is a rewarding part of the job because you see your students move on to the next stage in their lives. When writing a reference, it is important to be honest in your evaluation, but bear in mind that the candidate can ask to see their references so don’t write anything that you would be embarrassed for them to see.

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