Monday, April 17, 2017

A Blended learning design for Thesis supervision

Possibilities for developing an online and blended learning design for Thesis supervision.

I am studying about developing information systems to support the thesis supervision. The thesis is a unique course and as an integral part of undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs. A Student should select a research problem or project as an entry requirement. Then, department assigns a supervisor to assist the student. A supervisor helps to the student, but the student is responsible for the plan and implements the research or project. 

I studded thesis supervision process in few Sri Lankan management undergraduate degree programs. I will share my reflections based on the data collected from interviews, focus group discussions and documents.

The findings suggest that good supervisor-student communication is crucial to the supervision process       (Heinze & Heinze, 2009). According to my observations, face-to-face meetings between students and supervisors mainly use as a method of supervising during the thesis course. In current practice, the main issue is the difficulty of meeting students and supervisors in face-to-face meetings. Many students follow internships or work and therefore rarely meet their supervisors. As a result of lack of face-to-face interactions, many supervisors are not satisfied with the thesis, raise quality issues, delays to complete the thesis, and students are getting stress during deadlines.

Face-to-face meetings more appropriate for supervising, but in general, only a few (5 to 10) face-to-face meetings have conducted (based on my interviews). In between face-to-face meetings, students continue the thesis activities, but they have a lack of opportunity to communicate with supervisors. Sometimes, students want to get feedback, but they have to wait until they meet the supervisor next time or should arrange an extra meeting. Also, supervisors don’t know what students do until they meet the students. In general, a supervisor supervises few students and give same advice and repeat same instructions.  There are many ways students can interact, share their experiences and contribute each other. But, there is no formal interactions among students those who are following thesis as a course.

There is a possibility of using blended learning design to address issues in the current practice. In addition to face-to-face meetings, the thesis course can use information technology as a tool to create an online supervision environment that benefits both students and supervisors.

How to provide better support and scaffolding to students in online and blended learning environments.

There are studies that suggest blended learning as a supporting tool for thesis supervision(K√§llkvist, Gomez, Andersson, & Lush, 2009) (Heinze & Heinze, 2009)(Aghaee, Hansson, Tedre, & Drougge, 2014)(Aghaee, Larsson, & Hansson, 2012)(Karunaratne, Hansson, & Aghaee, 2017).  Using a blended learning design students can get a better support from supervisors and interact with peers. Then can meet supervisor face-to-face when they complete a milestone. In-between face-to-face meetings they can get feedbacks from supervisors via online tools. Also, they can interact with other students and get a peer support.  The online system will reduce the work load of the supervisors (for example, sharing common guidelines, instructions, etc.) and may lead to developing quality resources. Also, such a system record report and discussions between students and supervisors and may help to avoid misunderstands and easily follow what they have discussed.

Opportunities for further development in this area

I already studied many tools that can be used to facilitate thesis supervision. But, ONL171 course gave me an insight of how practically use them. For example, tools we used to do group works such as Google docs, chat tools etc. Students can use google documents to share their writings. Google apps can be used to create a more productive learning environment. Both students and supervisors can use chat options, comments and other collaborative tools to give and get feedbacks. A closed group can create for peers and students can share their experiences and resources.   A Blog tool can be used to visible student’s activities and motivate students.
In addition to the standalone tools, ONL171 explored the Community of inquiry(Vaughan, Cleveland-Innes, & Garrison, 2013) as a valuable framework to redesign the thesis course. In future, I intend to conduct a detail investigation of how to develop cognitive, social and teaching presence in thesis course.   

Aghaee, N., Hansson, H., Tedre, M., & Drougge, U. (2014). Learners ’ perceptions on the structure and usefulness of e-resources for the thesis courses. The European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning – EURODL, 17(1), 154–171.
Aghaee, N., Larsson, U., & Hansson, H. (2012). Improving the Thesis Process. The 35th Information Systems Research Seminar in Scandinavia - IRIS2012. Retrieved from
Heinze, A., & Heinze, B. (2009). Blended e-learning skeleton of conversation: Improving formative assessment in undergraduate dissertation supervision. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(2), 294–305.
K√§llkvist, M., Gomez, S., Andersson, H., & Lush, D. (2009). Personalised virtual learning spaces to support undergraduates in producing research reports: Two case studies. Internet and Higher Education, 12(1), 35–44.
Karunaratne, T., Hansson, H., & Aghaee, N. (2017). The effect of multiple change processes on quality and completion rate of theses: a longitudinal study. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 1–18.
Vaughan, N. D., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. (2013). Teaching in Blended Learning Environments: Creating and Sustaining Communities of Inquiry. Athabasca University Press. Retrieved from

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Topic 3 - Collaborative Learning

My reflection of collaborative learning took place, that moved  thinking forward

I am using ICT from 2001 in my teaching. ICT mainly used ICT for sharing learning materials and communication with students and colleges. During last few years, I followed few courses and gradually changed the view of ICT as a facility in learning and teaching.
I would say, the ONL171 as a turning point and explored ICT as a collaborative tool in practice. I read the paper titled, "Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment Introduction: The Challenge of Creating Effective Study Groups [1]" and found a concept help to build more productive learning environment.
I would like to share the most important section of that paper that authors quoted Siemens [2]:

"Siemens (2002) notes that learner-learner interactions in an e-learning course can be viewed as a four stage continuum:
People ‘talking,' discussing
People sharing ideas and working together (occasionally sharing resources) in a loose environment
People doing things together, but each with his or her own purpose
People striving for a common purpose."

I see, this as a kind of framework that can be used to design collaborative framework. The framework, suggest four level of interaction. Benefits of the interaction will increase when move from level one to four. Also, this framework can have used to evaluate the current level that we are standing and move forward.

Frankly, I would say, I am in the level one in most of the time in my teaching. A Moodle based Learning Management systems used mainly for sharing presentations and schedules. Even we were teaching as a group a large number of students we rarely used ICT to collaborate with my colleges.

I was aware of many collaborative tools already available in Moodle but didn't have a chance to study, use or practice in detail. The ONL171 gave me an opportunity to think about how to use these tools and lot of other tools for interaction. Although Siemens note four levels as a guide for learner–learner interactions, I see that facilitators also can interact with learners and other facilitators.

In the collaborative learning environment, teachers also learn from interactions and collaborations as well as students from interactions and collaborations. In active learning environments don't consider students are just as listeners. They construct knowledge and sharing with others.

My Personal Learning Networks –

As a Ph.D. student, I followed many face-to-face courses and one blended and online course. I couldn't maintain a relationship with face-to-face peers and rarely contact them after the completion of course. Although I met only a few peers in online and blended classes, I have a stronger networking with them even after finishing the courses. But, still, many of them are in my social networks such as LinkedIn, Researchgate, Academia, etc. Although, we are interact closely learn from each other through social networks.

I face many issues when I do programming and other development activities. Also, I am getting into troubles even when I am using general purpose applications such as word processor or spreadsheet. If so, usually, I am trying to find answers from blog sites, forums and YouTube videos rather trying to read a book or manuals. Most of the time, I found answers quickly and easily. Not only a specific answer for the problem that I faced, probably, but I also acquired new and border knowledge. I have subscriptions to those sources, and first I will try to find answers through them. Also, I noted, even leading companies are maintaining blogs, forums, and YouTube channels to implement support systems. On my experience, subscribed users are very active. In some sites, they have implemented a kind of voting system. Registered users can vote for good answers. Also, there is digital badge system, and participants get badges according to their contribution. Even I dont know personally, I have a network with experts knowledge.

[1] J. E. Brindley, C. Walti, and L. M. Blaschke, "Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment Introduction : The Challenge of Creating Effective Study Groups," Int. Rev. Res. Open Distrib. Learn., vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 1–9, 2014.
[2]      Siemens, G. (2002).  Interaction. E-Learning Course. October 8, 2002. Retrieved May 19, 2008, from

Lessons learnt and future

Most important things that I have learnt through engagement in the ONL course and why? The ONL course practically showed the power of o...