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GEES Conference Manchester 2005 The dissertation in GEES disciplines: evaluation of the dissertation learning experience and student contributions to its.

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Presentation on theme: "GEES Conference Manchester 2005 The dissertation in GEES disciplines: evaluation of the dissertation learning experience and student contributions to its."— Presentation transcript:

1 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 The dissertation in GEES disciplines: evaluation of the dissertation learning experience and student contributions to its improvement Margaret Harrison (University of Gloucestershire) Brian Whalley (Queens University Belfast)

2 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 Structure of presentation Introduction and the project Methodology Findings What do these findings reveal? Other material from the project

3 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 Introduction - a dissertation What various authors have said: Most undergraduate courses in geography and related disciplines include a dissertation as part of the assessment. (Parsons & Knight, 2005:3) Getting a dissertation together is a very different activity, requiring different skills, to assembling an essay. (Kneale, 2003:168) The big difference between this and your previous work is that you will be doing the dissertation on your own. (Walliman, 2004:3) Students invest a great deal of time and energy in producing dissertations and theses. (Race, 2001:82)

4 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 The project Combining student independent learning and peer advice to improve the quality of undergraduate dissertations AIM To develop a student-centred, inter-active learning facility to assist students undertaking a dissertation in the GEES disciplines

5 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 The project - objectives OBJECTIVES To determine, by interviews, the major problems faced by students in the production of their dissertations To determine what advice students (having produced a dissertation) would give to students about to prepare a dissertation To produce a website/portal which contains this information as well as advice and general 'how to..' documentation of generic and specific assistance To determine how the 'dissertation experience' has assisted students gaining employment or further study To provide generic comments and information for tutors in other areas beyond GEES

6 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 Methodology Questionnaires to students/graduates who have just completed a dissertation, some were interviewed later. We were particularly interested in obtaining their views of the dissertation learning experience: How did they actually get on? What information did they really need? What problems did they actually have? Question: What words do you think your students use when talking about the dissertation learning experience?

7 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 What we actually did! Questionnaires (UoG and QUB) Students/graduates from 2003/2004 –Round 1 November 2004 (57 responses) –Round 2 Feb 2005 (25 Responses) Students/graduates from 2004/2005 –Round 3 May and October 2005 (55 responses) These give a reasonable student-centred view of the dissertation learning experience for two cohorts of students in two institutions.

8 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 Findings 2003/2004 - What students liked Independent research / develop own topic Fieldwork and data collection Satisfaction and sense of achievement

9 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 Findings 2004/2005 - What students liked Independent research / develop own topic Fieldwork and data collection Satisfaction and sense of achievement

10 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 Findings 2003/2004 – what students didnt like Write up of a large project Time management and keeping to deadlines

11 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 Findings 2004/2005 – what students didnt like Write up of a large project Time management Typing/proofreading etc

12 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 Findings 2003/2004 – Things considered to be difficult Knowing what was expected in a dissertation Deciding on a topic Time management Knowing how much reading to undertake Balancing with other study demands

13 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 Findings 2004/2005 – Things considered to be difficult Knowing what was expected in a dissertation Deciding on a topic Time management Knowing how much reading to undertake Balancing with other study demands

14 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 Findings 2003/2004 – Advice students would give to others Carry out fieldwork early Begin research reading and write up early Take care in deciding topic

15 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 Findings 2004/2005 – Advice students would give to others Employ effective time management Seek guidance Take care deciding topic Start early

16 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 Findings 2003/2004 – Things the School/Advisor could have done better More guidance on research skills Advisor could have made more time Advisor could have taken more interest Advisor could have given more specific guidance Been given a list of topic to choose from

17 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 Findings 2004/2005 – Things the School/Advisor could have done better Negative attitude of advisor

18 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 What some students actually said when it was all over! I felt that undertaking a dissertation was the crowning achievement in my degree. (2004-05 UoG36) I loved developing my idea through initial concept to final report (2004-05 QUB) It felt amazing to complete a large project from one simple idea. (2004-05 QUB11) It was a good learning experience (2003-04 UoG13) At first the prospect of carrying out a dissertation was fairly daunting. However, the freedom to choose a topic which really interested me was a motivational factor. It was really satisfying to have completed the study successfully whilst improving my time management and organisational skills. (2003-04 UoG20)

19 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 What some students actually said when it was all over! From Level I I had dreaded the prospect of doing what seemed a huge piece of work. (2003-04 UoG5) Initially I felt daunted and unprepared to complete such a project successfully (2003-04 UoG2) Stress during the project… a sense of achievement when it was bound (2004-5 QUB15) There is no doubting completing my dissertation was one of the most stressful times of my life but at the same time the most rewarding (2004-5 QUB10) I enjoyed having the chance to show what I am capable of. I found it very stressful at times, but achieved huge sense of satisfaction when over (2003-04 UoG19)

20 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 What some students actually said when it was all over! My USB pen was stolen 2 weeks before due date - it contained most of my work (2004-5 QUB37) When undertaking the dissertation I felt lost, stress, confused and unsure. When completing I was relieved happy and satisfied and pleased with myself. (2004-05 UoG33) I felt miserable, alone, tired and like giving up. I thought that it was a waste of time and effort. I did not value my dissertation at all, I only value the excellent support I got from the lab technicians – not that which I got from my advisor. (2004-05 UoG 50) I felt alone in doing my dissertation with no help and guidance. (2004-05 QUB40) I thought that for the effort I put in, the module should have been worth a lot more - disproportionate workload (2004-05 QUB24)

21 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 Advice proffered Keep a record of your work in a log book Keep in touch with your supervisor and others Stay involved with it, don't let it slip Start early; complete fieldwork as early as possible Don't underestimate the time it is going to take Make sure it is in a subject area you enjoy Be realistic about what you intend to cover See it as an opportunity not a chore Read as much as possible Dont compare your progress or dissertation style with others, everyone is a bit different. START EARLY – everyone will tell you that so take notice! (2004-05 UoG24)

22 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 What do these findings reveal? Students have some very strong opinions about doing a dissertation UoG and QUB students share many things in common Students valued:Freedom to choose own topic Independence of research/fieldwork Opportunity to demonstrate ability Students have issues with:Time management Size of project/ write up Balancing with other studies Motivation if topic not right Knowing what is expected

23 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 What do these findings reveal? Students need to be prepared and supported throughout the dissertation study process Students rely on staff and fellow students to help them succeed. But as staff do we: know what sort of preparation students need? know what type of support students need? place too much emphasis on the dissertation? Does a dissertation serve the right purpose?

24 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 Other information (and reading between the lines) Interview and informal meetings (QUB) post L2 exam but prior to summer suggest high levels of stress and uncertainty (but also some excitement). A support mechanism required at this time of year? Handbooks only provide some (even a little) of the information students need, lectures provide some additional information. Students could really do with more independent learning? Staff comments that good contact with supervisor is vital What do we do if there is a poor relationship/poor supervisor?

25 GEES Conference Manchester 2005 Other material from the project DISCUS website - The draft web site is in operation –(http://web.gg.qub.ac.uk/people/staff/whalley/teaching/DISCUS/index.html) DISCUS includes interview video clips Students are currently evaluating the website Other informal interviews with students Handbooks from 32 departments


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