e-Supervision (IV). Innovative tools enabling e-supervision

Notes from the workshop on Doctoral education and e-Supervision, organized by the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP), the International Association of Universities (IAU), the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and the Kenyatta University (KU) within the project Personal Learning Environment (PLE)-PhD project financed through the IAU LEADHER programme, and held in Barcelona, Spain, in October 31, 2013. More notes on this event: plephd.

Questions/guidelines prepared by the session moderator, Ismael Peña-López

  • How is e-supervision organized administratively and academically at your institution?
  • What kind of administrative frameworks are used to manage e-supervision? University bilateral cooperation agreements/co-tutelle/other formal links to embed e-supervision formally in the doctoral work?
  • How is the time a supervisor spends on e-supervision recognized?
  • What tools have you been using for e-supervision?
  • For what purpose?
  • What was the main area of supervision affected by these tools (e.g. revision of originals, drafting the methodology, fieldworks, theoretical framework and/or bibliography, etc.)?
  • Were these tools discipline-specific?
  • Were they difficult to master?
  • Were they technically difficult to implement?
  • Were these tools discipline-specific?
  • To what extent did they substitute other traditional supervision tasks/procedures?
  • To what extent did they enhance other traditional supervision tasks/procedures?
  • Did these tools “scale” (i.e. could they be reused or used simultaneously by many other student/supervisor pairs)?
  • To what extent do these tools reshape the contexts in which doctoral education is done?

Round table: Innovative tools enabling e-supervision

Sioux McKenna, Rhodes University, South Africa

Strengthening Doctoral Supervision (http://doctoralsupervision.net/) a course in blended mode to develop supervision capacity.

Technology for:

  • Individual supervision.
  • Programme based communication, programme based use of technology is for two reasons: community of practice, PhD beyond the topic.

Technology: RUConnected – Moodle based program, elluminate, Skype, Youtube, Turnitin, etc.

Do not bring too much technology at the beginning, but little by little.

Need to be structured, not “if you build it they will come”.

Role of the coordinator.

Strong IT support.

eTechnology needs occasional “in person” contact.

Good supervision requires time, there are not technological shortcuts.

eTechnology can enable a rich experience.

Oskar Casquero, Universidad del País Vasco, Spain


  • Mendeley, for reference management, including the Mendeley plugin to embed references into Word documents.
  • Tumblr, for unstructured information.
  • Wiki, for structured information. It came after the unstructured information of Tumblr became more structured. The wiki also fed original content into the final document of the thesis.
  • Dropbox, a word document for each chapter.
  • Gdocs, to write the skeleton of a paper or specific document. Then copy it to a shared Word document in Dropbox.

Selecting the appropriate tools that help. That help in supporting small ideas to the elaboration of complex documents.

It has to support both the writing and the revision.

If tools help, then they become an indispensable element in the user’s daily activity.

Xavier Gabarell, Secretary, Graduate School, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB)

Face to face in a traditional university is the base of its work. Everything is based upon presence, and presence is a value.
Students are required to present once a year, so they have to be at the university at least once a year too — plus the thesis defence, though sometimes they are done by videoconference upon very restricted conditions.

There is several people (student, supervisor, co-supervisors, etc.) involved in the whole process, and here there is plenty of room for innovation. Indeed, co-supervision is fostered by the university, including co-supervision during field work.

Increasingly, a PhD thesis includes writing papers, which requires to increase efficiency.

Who owns or who can access my data?

Miquel Solà, Director Graduate School, Universitat de Girona (UdG)

There is not enough regulation for e-supervision, but the current one sure allows for e-supervision.

The student has to, at a given time, prove his identity.

There are some procedures that are now compulsorily offline, and some others that could be done online. Actually, most parts of the steps of the PhD thesis could be done online and just a few would require physical presence.

e-Supervision could be included in the already existing many courses addressed to PhD students.

Universities should equally recognize traditional supervision and e-supervision.

e-Supervision should not be a substitute.

The creation of group research fellows would be handful in some phases of the thesis. e-Supervision could help in that.

It is not good to be alone doing research.

Some disciplines seem to be more indicated for e-supervision than others.

Tool: Evernote.

Download prezi slides:
Miquel Solà, Director Graduate School, Universitat de Girona (UdG). Flow Chart – UdG




Oskar Casquero: institutions should offer a toolbox to the students, but the students should be encouraged to look for their own tools, the tools that best fit their needs. ICTs are about being efficient managing information and knowledge: that it, they are not substitutes, but enhancers. In the core of ICTs and e-supervision there also is networking.

Xavier Gabarell: e-library is surely a core tool in e-supervision. And, indeed, access to journals and literature in general is key for any kind of research, especially e-supervision.

Ricardo Torres: what about open access journals? Will the way we publish impact the way we do research, as it will affect (or not) the way we access information? Xavier Gabarell: open journals is a general concept that actually frames many different practices: reviewed vs. non reviewed, indexed or not, pay to publish vs. paid by third parties, etc. So, it depends on the nature of the open journal what the impact will be.

Ismael Peña-López: Can we shift from “hour allocation” to “goal-based assessment” of the supervisor? Miquel Solà: normally the professor has some lecturing hours allocated and the rest is computed in general. Thus, the lecturing load depends on all the other things the professor is doing. Everything has to be counted in any way, all working hours. Xavier Gabarell: at UAB what is counted is percentages of dedication. And supervision is counted with credits, which can be compared with lecturing credits or hours. But it’s difficult to count hours, dedication, etc. Another issue is that supervision is both teaching and research/innovation, thus it makes it even more difficult to make very separate packets. Sioux McKenna: though some organization and planning is required, management should not enter too much in the work of the professor: just check if academics are performing — not if they do more or less hours.

Ismael Peña-López: What about skills? Oskar Casqueiro: the supervisor should provide a list of tools and a sample of “best practices” on how to use these tools. Training in research methodologies should also improve how to develop these methodologies with the help of ICTs. Sioux McKenna: training is important, but enabling P2P exchange of ideas or practices is even better.

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