e-Supervision (VI). How can e-supervision contribute to improve doctoral education in Africa

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

  • What are the main challenges for quality MSc/PhD supervision in Africa?
  • Are they more of a technological, financial or cultural nature?
  • How is Africa different from e.g. Europe in this sense?
  • Do you foresee any convergence of methodologies and culture in doing research in general and supervision in particular in the world?
  • How can ICTs in general contribute to addressing these challenges?
  • How can e-learning in general contribute to addressing these challenges?
  • How can ICTs and e-learning be translated into e-supervision? …in Africa?
  • What is the hottest topic/challenge in supervision in Africa?
  • How could e-supervision address it?
  • What is the most emerging topic/challenge of e-supervision in Africa?
  • How should it be addressed it?

Round Table: How can e-supervision contribute to improve doctoral education in Africa

Itir Akdogan, Social Research/Media and Communication Studies, Helsinki University (via videoconference)

Access to technology, not only infrastructures but cultural: lack of habit to use ICT for academic research, preference for face-to-face.

Lack of access to information.

Lack of research culture, of pressure to publish.

Role of ICTs:

  • Access to information.
  • Increase of research culture.
  • Improve interaction, not only one-to-one, but collective.
  • Modest is good, simple but effective solutions.

Beware of exclusion because of e-euphoria: need to keep on with face-to-face event important for networking.

Paul Okemo, Dean of Graduate School, Kenyatta University (KU), Kenya

Importance of development of human resources and knowledge generation.

There is a national commitment to improve the amount of people educated, which has been successful. But now the massive intake of new students, especially at the PhD level, is seriously challenging the system.

e-supervision can help in providing a solution to this challenge.

We try no to go online on expense of quality.

One of the major challenges of e-supervision is monitoring to ensure quality.

Another issue is how to assess all the work that the students are doing.

About the costs, it is likely that connection costs are lower than travel costs to attend face-to-face meetings.

An important challenge is the change of mindset, both for students and supervisors.


  • Learn from others.
  • Try and benchmark what everyone else is doing and share milestones.

Chrissie Boughey and Sioux McKenna, Rhodes University, South Africa

In order to gain a doctorate you have to demonstrate that you are like other doctors.

And in order to do that you have to use language in a specific way. PhD training is about teaching someone to be particular type of knower, in oder to speak, write and act in particular way.

Supervision is about bringing the student in the particular world of the text, the written text.

The danger of e-supervision is what happens that is not tracked, that is not formalized by technology, the lack context, the lack of physical contact. And the formal places where academic stuff happens cannot be substituted by other practices: so we have to learn how to make both worlds be compatible, how to go from e-supervision onto the formality of the academic world. It’s important to translate what has been “e-discussed” into the paper, the communication, the journal, which is the language that the academic world speaks.

Ousmane Thiaré, IT Specialist, Professor, Université Gaston Berger de Saint-Louis, Senegal

In Senegal as in other places of Western Africa infrastructure still is an issue.

And, again, not only infrastructures, but culture.

Besides, there is also is the fear that technology will replace human beings (i.e. professors) and make them irrelevant.

Necessary to have a work plan, a commitment, a kind of “contract” where roles and procedures are defined in detail.


Ismael Peña-López: Do you foresee any convergence of methodologies and culture in doing research in general and supervision in particular in the world? Can e-supervision work towards a standard in supervision? Okemo: e-supervision is going to internationalize supervision and research in general. Whether this is going to end up in standardization, that is not sure that is going to happen. It will sure bring closer different approaches, but merging them or making them converge, that is another thing that does not necessarily will happen. Boughey: this is unlikely to happen among disciplines, especially between sciences and humanities. The gap sure can be bridged, but not closed at all: the objects of research are too different.

Akdogan: when talking about e-supervision, the effort to bridge the traditional and e-research worlds should be shared. On the other hand, it may well be that e-research is more demanding than traditional research, and thus the translation would be much easier and even better than 100% offline students, which are usually less engaged. So, e-research requires more engagement, which is good, and more effort as exposure pushes towards it.

Stephen Nyaga: what would be the most effective way of monitoring e-supervisors and the whole process? Akdogan: don’t think there should be a standard and each university should have their own way. In any case, it should be simple, easy tools, with a clear schedule. Okemo: the same way that traditional supervision is structured, also e-supervision could be structured in its own way. Akdogan: but, of course, adapted to the online world and flexibility.

Ismael Peña-López: about monitoring the e-supervisor, there are two more ways. First, if we believe in a transformative approach to e-supervision, then the whole process of research and of making of the thesis will be open and we can monitor not the e-supervisor, but the outcomes of their supervision in the successes and procedures of their students. Second, if we understand the supervisors as researchers themselves and, thus, as learners, then they will have too open personal learning environments which we will be able to monitor, to follow, to interact with.

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