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


  1. I can definitely see the problem. It must be very hard writing your thesis so far from you supervisor. In life science we work much closer to our supervisors or co-supervisors. I agree with you, tools for blended learning could probably improve the supervision and feel of community for both student and supervisor. Both students and supervisors would benefit from this and I think that it is very likely that the quality of the thesis would improve if they both felt that the tools functioned as a supporting framework for the writing of the thesis. One important issue to remember I think is to choose a tool for this that enables synchronous work and meetings so that the tools is not just a "dead" framework but a way enabling online face to face or chat contact, thus building a sense of community.

    1. "tools is not just a "dead" framework but a way enabling online face to face or chat contact"- It is true, but many teachers think tools are one way channel. They don't see the usefulness of tools as a facility that can be used for the interaction.

  2. I think it is a great idea with the blended supervision system. I think it is a great idea to interact with your supervisor using digital tools like AdobeConnect. If he does not have time, then we could have online meetings instead. I wish you good luck with the PhD thesis and hope that your model will be adopted by many other Universities.

    1. Thanks for your reply. There are many systems but they have focused only few aspects of supervision. A study of the whole picture may benefits all stakeholders.


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