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Shall we dance? The art of dissertation dialogue James Derounian and Wal Warmington.

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Presentation on theme: "Shall we dance? The art of dissertation dialogue James Derounian and Wal Warmington."— Presentation transcript:

1 Shall we dance? The art of dissertation dialogue James Derounian and Wal Warmington

2 The void surrounding dissertation relationships There is “very little literature on undergraduate dissertation supervision” Rowley and Slack (2004: 176) “ absence, in most of the texts, of any mention of the supervisory relationship or the emotional rollercoaster that many of our students experience in their final year.” Salmon (1992: 17) Fixing academic advising could fix higher education Hunter and White (2004) Presentation: testing such a contention by focusing on dissertation relationships

3 Presentation aims To establish staff and student views of current and preferred practice in relation to dissertation support whether the relationship is more important to certain stages of the process (e.g. selecting a viable topic and reviewing progress) To establish for staff and students conclusions and ‘ground rules’ for ideal/improved practice

4 So what is a dissertation? “A dissertation is a scholarly and cogent piece of work, similar in many respects to an article in a journal. It is usually ‘interest-driven’ rather than ‘client-driven’, & is expected to be a self-contained investigation/project into a topic of significant academic interest.” (Harrison, 2006: 4)

5 Method Triangulation Desk study/lexicon of key words Student, staff & expert inputs Focus groups

6 Emerging themes Pressured atmosphere within which the dissertation advisory relationship operates Students feel “cast adrift in to a process that staff somehow expected them to be able to cope with” (Shadforth and Harvey, 2004: 145) Staff “found themselves with as many as 20 Honours projects to supervise.” (Hand and Clewes, 2000)

7 For the supervisor and the student: Until dissertation supervision staff and student are probably strangers to eachother Shadforth & Harvey, 2004: 145 “differing power relations between the supervisor and student” Ibid, 2004: 149 For the supervisor: Demands of intellectual and a counselling dimensions to the relationship Hockey, 1994 For the student: “The introduction of any new approach to learning, such as the dissertation, can be an unsettling experience” Todd et al [accessed 10th May 2007]

8 -ve aspects of dissertation relationships Loneliness Uncertainty violent emotions issues around power burden/how heavy the load is Response from colleagues

9 Staff commentary “To them I look like their mothers, and the way they relate will depend on the nature of the relationship they have with their own mother….” [Lecturer A, 2007 pers. comm.] “It’s a pain in the arse – so much time is given over to dissertation supervision. Just ‘f**k off’ and do it.” [ Lecturer B, 2007 pers. comm.]

10 +ve aspects Flexibility Support Play-acting Clarity of communication Partnership Humanity. Response from colleagues

11 Top 10 desirable traits Subject knowledge Realism (borne of experience) Responsiveness Encouragement Enthusiasm (for the topic) Steering/guidance Accessibility Empathy Questioning Listening

12 A gender agenda?

13 Issues around equity Staff ‘beauty contest’ ‘Animal Farm’ syndrome Haves and have-nots Shallows v the deep

14 Concluding quotes “Even well supported autonomy will always present students with real challenges” (Todd et al, 2004: 346) “Formality is good; Agreement and negotiation are good; Mutual respect is good; An intention by both parties to understand the other is good.” [Expert A, 2007 pers. comm.] “Dissertation supervision is one of the most enjoyable things we do; I get something out of it myself. You walk with them…holding hands; and you may suddenly see that they’ve ‘got it’; there is a research hunger and a spirit of enquiry.” [Lecturer C, 2007 pers. comm.]

15 Concluding quotes And lastly, in the words of one student: “A good relationship is important for the adequate progress of the dissertation….. as it progresses through each stage it allows the staff/student relationship to develop.”

16 Staff & advisees: memorandum of understanding? In small groups Read and discuss the handout After 5 minutes - feedback

17 All material held in confidence


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