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ŠĻą”±į>ž’ āäž’’’ąį’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’ģ„Į#` šæxÉbjbj\.\. ū>D>D]Į’’’’’’¤’’’’’’’”&ĪfĪfĪfxFi,ri„&ļ¶jjjjjójójój°”²”²”²”N•88™8p$„žh ”䔝’ójójójójój”’’jjŪ©xxxójB’j’j°”xój°”xxj’_’’|”jöi  ŌŠVČĪf5rv’Ō°”æ0ļJ”2ń”Owpń”d|”ń”’|”4xójójój””æwXójójójļójójójój&&&$1J7„/&&&J7&&&’’’’’’’’’’ Lessing , AC & Schulze, 2003. Postgraduate supervision: a comparison of the perceptions of students and supervisors. Acta Academia, 35(3):161-184 Summary The aim of the research was to compare the views of postgraduate students and supervisors of the supervisory process at the Faculty of Education at the University of South Africa. The research was conducted in two phases. In the first phase survey research was employed by means of a questionnaire to determine the perceptions of students regarding diverse aspects of postgraduate research. During the second phase supervisors’ perceptions of postgraduate supervision were ascertained by means of a qualitative inquiry using focus groups. Findings included a number of aspects which participants found rewarding. Unmet needs of students related to the planning of the research, research methodology, contact with supervisors, feedback, response time and examination feedback. Supervisors desired recruitment of higher potential students who would deliver better quality work. Nagraadse studieleiding: ‘n Vergelyking van die persepsies van studente en studieleiers Die doel met hierdie navorsing was om die sienings van studente en studieleiers oor studieleiding by die Fakulteit Opvoedkunde by die Universiteit van Suid-Afrika te bepaal. Die navorsing is in twee fases uitgevoer. In die eerste fase is die persepsies van studente rakende verskeie aspekte van hulle nagraadse studie deur middel van ‘n vraelys bepaal. Gedurende die tweede fase is studieleiers se persepsies van nagraadse studieleiding bepaal deur middel van ‘n kwalitatiewe benadering wat fokusgroepe ingesluit het. Resultate sluit ‘n aantal bevredigende aspekte vir die deelnemers in. Behoeftes van studente waaraan nie voldoen word nie, hou verband met die beplanning van die navorsing, navorsingsmetodologie, kontak met studieleiers, terugvoering, responstyd en terugvoering na eksaminering afgehandel is. Studieleiers het ‘n behoefte aan studente met meer potensiaal wat werk van ‘n beter gehalte lewer. AC Lessing & S Schulze, Faculty of Education, UNISA, PO Box 392, 0003, Pretoria. E-mail: lessiac@unisa.ac.za and schuls@unisa.ac.za The National Plan for Higher Education, which outlines the framework for realising the policy goals of the Education White Paper 3: A Programme for the Transformation of Higher Education (published in 1997) addresses the issue of postgraduate research. In 1998, master’s and doctoral graduates accounted for approximately only 6% of all university and technikon graduates (ibid.73). This amounted to 5 222 from universities and 100 from technikons. To improve the output of master’s and doctoral students, it is stated that research “... will be funded through a separate formula based on research outputs, including, at a minimum, masters and doctoral graduates and research publications” (Department of Education 2001:3). However, higher education institutions should “ ... ensure that they do not recruit students who do not have the potential to pursue further study and ... do not retain students who have no chance of success” (Department of Education 2001:25). In addition to recruitment and output issues, quality is a concern (Department of Education 2001:9, 26 & 61). Regarding postgraduate supervision, quality involves two aspects: the quality of the supervisory process (by supervisors) and the quality of the research outputs (by the students). Hence, a concern for quality means caring about the goals, needs and interests of the customers (the students) and ensuring they are met (Arcaro 1995:24; Whitaker & Moses 1994:76). This implies that supervision should be assessed by the postgraduate students themselves to determine its quality. This provides crucial information whether their expectations are met and is central to the evaluation of supervision (Ramsden & Dodds 1989:16; Van Niekerk & Herman 1996:44). However, the research outputs (dissertations and theses) of the postgraduate students, should also adhere to minimum standards as specified by the stated outcomes for South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) registration and as expected by the community who are customers of higher education institutions. In the light of the fact that postgraduate research and supervision in South Africa currently take place in the context of university transformation, increasing numbers of disadvantaged students who must be accommodated by higher education institutions and appeals for improved enrolment and output of postgraduate students (Department of Education 2001:73), the delivery of high quality research outputs presents a challenge to supervisors. This raises questions about the expectations of students as well as supervisors in the research endeavour. 1. Comparing the roles of students and supervisors in postgraduate research To be effective as researchers, postgraduate students should be able to master specific skills. “Research engenders the values of inquiry, critical thinking, creativity and open-mindedness, which are fundamental to building a strong, democratic ethos in society” (Department of Education 2001:71). To complete a research project for a dissertation or thesis successfully, a student has to select a relevant, researchable topic, master the techniques required to investigate the topic, apply these techniques correctly and present the findings in an appropriate way. The most important skill for students to master is the ability to evaluate and reevaluate their own work and that of others in the light of current developments. This means that students should understand and critically evaluate the literature and apply it to issues and problems. Completing a dissertation successfully demonstrates a student’s ability to research an intellectual problem and arrive at appropriate conclusions independently. Postgraduate research entails the need for guesses, reworking, backtracking, corrections and inspiration. In addition, a degree of tolerance of ambiguity is a prerequisite for successful research (Katz 1997:16; Nerad & Miller 1997:76; Phillips & Pugh 2000:21, 74; Salmon 1992:14; Smith, Brownell, Simpson & Deshler 1993:53). Phillips and Pugh (2000:1) claim that postgraduate students should develop insight into their own situations to enhance their professional learning. Personal academic initiative is expected from them. Postgraduate students should take ownership of their studies and manage the investigation themselves. Phillips and Pugh (2000:1) use the term under your own management as a key to the nature of postgraduate research. Students are responsible for determining what is required for their research and to carry this out. Postgraduate students (especially on PhD level) should no longer wait for lecturers to tell them what to do, but are expected to initiate discussion, ask for whatever help they need, and debate what they should be learning. In addition to the intellectual, postgraduate research has a psychological component (Sayed, Kruss & Badat 1998:281). Rademeyer (1994:92) claims that writing a thesis or dissertation can be a personal and intensive affair where internal and external conflicts influence the process and completion negatively. Perseverance, support by the supervisor, personal and collegial support and previous experience contribute to the psychological survival of the process (Smith et al 1993:57) . Considering the role of the supervisor, students believe that the supervisor should be enthusiastic and supportive. Binns and Potter (1989:213) determined that postgraduate students see the supervisor’s main functions as providing support, giving constructive criticism and ensuring a measure of overall guidance. Students often complain about inadequate supervision, lack of communication between themselves and supervisors, and their own lack of knowledge of required standards and of the supervisors’ role and functions (Shannon 1995:12). Regarding the nature of the support a supervisor or promoter should lend to postgraduate students, Dillon and Malott (1981:195) suggest that the supervisor should provide structured supervision and guidance in the form of regular consultation meetings. They designed a supervisory system with five components, namely (1) specifying research tasks and performance standards; (2) arranging meetings between the supervisor and student - perhaps weekly; (3) determining deadlines; (4) giving quality feedback and (5) providing incentives. This system produced a greater output of graduates in a shorter length of time than more traditional supervisory approaches. However, it is not the task of the supervisor to write the thesis, edit the language or devise solutions for problems encountered during the research process (Deist 1990:67; Hockey 1994:296). The abovementioned led to a research project carried out in the Faculty of Education at the University of South Africa (Unisa), a distance education institution. The aims of the research, ethical considerations, research design, findings and conclusions of this project are clarified in the remainder of this article. 2. The aims of the study The aims of this research endeavour were threefold: (1) to explore the perceptions of postgraduate students of the supervision they had received; (2) to examine the perceptions of supervisors and promoters of postgraduate supervision and (3) to compare the aforementioned views. Thus, the ultimate aim was to determine the compatibility of the expectations of students and supervisors. This implied a two-phase model for the empirical part of the research. In the first (quantitative) phase the students were surveyed. This was followed by a second (qualitative) phase involving the supervisors. 3. Ethical considerations During both phases, ethical considerations entailed the following: (1) Adequate information regarding the aims of the research; the procedures that would be followed; possible advantages and disadvantages for the respondents; the credibility of the researchers; and how the results would be used were given to the respondents so that they could make an informed decision about their participation in the research. (2) The researchers ensured that they were competent to undertake their research project. This implied thorough preparation before embarking on the project. (3) During the focus groups no value judgements were made concerning the way supervisors handled their supervisory duties. (4) All data were collected anonymously from students. Regarding the supervisors, data were treated as confidential and findings were reported anonymously. (5) To indicate the researchers’ gratitude for their participation, supervisors were informed about the findings of the study at a Faculty Board meeting. This was done in an objective way and the principle of confidentiality was not violated. 4. Research design 4.1 A two-phase design As indicated, the research was conducted in two phases: (1) In phase one, survey research was employed to determine the perceptions of those students who had already completed their master’s and doctoral degrees of the supervision they had received. Data were obtained by means of a questionnaire which was completed anonymously. Since the aim was to generalise with regard to the perceptions of as many students as possible, it was decided to embark on a quantitative approach. (2) The second phase of the research project aimed at an in-depth understanding of supervisors’ experience of postgraduate supervision. Thus, a qualitative research approach was chosen which resulted in four rounds of data collection. The detail of these two phases are as follows: 4.2 Phase one 4.2.1 Research method The questionnaire was divided into three sections. The first section obtained data on students’ training in research methods. It was also determined how long they had to wait for supervisors to return their work. In the second section, students evaluated the support or guidance they had received from their supervisors or promoters on 17 aspects. In identifying these, the outcomes of master’s and doctoral degrees as formulated for SAQA registration were considered (Master of Education [MEd] for interim registration with SAQA 2000; Doctor of Education [DEd] for interim registration with SAQA 2000). Thus, the students had to evaluate the support they received to enable them to: ( design an acceptable proposal ( plan the sequence of the chapters of the report ( achieve a balance between chapters ( plan the research project in terms of time frames ( decide on a theoretical and/or empirical approach ( present a literature review critically ( present a literature review logically ( present the literature review in an integrated manner ( decide on a quantitative, or a qualitative or a combined approach ( make decisions about data collection methods ( present research results scientifically ( interpret research results ( substantiate conclusions ( do research in an ethically responsible way ( attend to editorial aspects ( ensure that bibliography and references correspond ( ensure that the dissertation is scientifically rigorous. In the third section of the questionnaire, students’ judgments of the individual styles of guidance of their supervisors were determined. Fifteen statements were formulated that enquired if supervisors or promoters: ( encouraged independent work ( encouraged creative thinking ( allowed contact at home after hours ( forwarded sources or indicated relevant sources ( referred students to knowledgeable people ( made evaluation criteria available ( made enquiries if no work was received from the student after some time had elapsed ( evaluated work thoroughly ( encouraged the student ( gave constructive criticism ( encouraged dialogue ( were knowledgeable about the research topic ( understood empirical research methods ( gave consistent instructions ( would be the student’s first choice as supervisor, if the study could be repeated. Finally, the questionnaire consisted of three open questions. These aimed at determining students’ perceptions of the most rewarding aspects of their studies, the most frustrating aspects thereof and what they would recommend regarding supervision in the Faculty of Education. 4.2.2 Validity, the pilot study and sampling of phase one The draft questionnaire was given to a number of experienced colleagues for peer review. These colleagues included staff at Unisa as well as at a neighbouring university. In addition, several members of a committee responsible for the administration for master’s and doctoral students were involved to determine if the items were relevant (face validity) and if there was a representative sample of content (content validity) (McMillan & Schumacher 1997:236). This resulted in major changes which were made to sections two and three of the questionnaire. The open questions were added to collect data of a qualitative nature as a method of data triangulation. Thereafter, the questionnaire was given to a number of postgraduate students who were accessible on campus. Some small modifications were made after this pilot study. After editing and translation of the questionnaire (ensuring its availability in both official languages of tuition at the university), the final version was mailed to 111 students who had completed their MEd degrees at least a year before and 74 students who had completed their DEd degrees during the previous three years. After two weeks, follow-up questionnaires were mailed. Of the 185 questionnaires that were mailed, 75 (41%) were received back. Of these 53 respondents (70%) had completed their MEd and 22 (30%) their DEd studies. Detailed results of the survey are documented in Lessing and Schulze (2002). What follows are those perceptions that had significance for the expectations of supervisors. 4.3 Phase two 4.3.1 Research method Since the researchers hoped to obtain an in-depth understanding of the views of supervisors of postgraduate supervision, it was decided to conduct this investigation qualitatively. Firstly, three focus groups were conducted. As a result of time constraints, it was more economical to use focus groups rather than individual interviews. Moreover, group dynamics work synergically to elicit information (Carey 1994:224) and participants have more confidence to express their feelings honestly in a support group of peers than in individual interviews (Folch-Lyon & Trost 1981:445). The interview guide which was developed focussed on aspects of supervision which supervisors experienced as most satisfying and the problems encountered. In this regard a number of possible problem areas were listed as identified by the students and reported on in phase one. Since the key principle in forming focus groups is homogeneity (Kingry, Tiedje & Friedman 1990:124), the first focus group consisted of seven full professors, the second group of 12 associate professors and some experienced senior lecturers and the third group of nine lecturers and other less experienced supervisors. Analysis of the focus group data indicated that additional rounds of data collection including individual interviews with two managers were required. These managers are attached to the Faculty’s Institute for Educational Research, which has the overall responsibility for the co-ordination of research proposals submitted by prospective master’s and doctoral students and the examination process of dissertations and theses. These functions are operationalised by a Masters and Doctoral committee. This was followed by individual interviews with student administrators and, finally, with the analysis of relevant documents mentioned by interviewees. 4.3.2 Trustworthiness Appropriate techniques were applied to ensure trustworthiness of the qualitative findings: (1) Triangulation of methods was used. Data collection methods involved focus groups, individual interviews and document analysis. (2) Feedback from participants was obtained if the researchers were uncertain about the meaning of statements. In addition, the findings were circulated among participants so that they could confirm whether their views were reflected correctly. (3) Sampling decisions were carefully made. (4) Focus groups and interviews were tape recorded and transcribed verbatim. (5) Both researchers analysed the raw data to reach consensus about themes and categories and to check the consistency of each other’s analysis. This ensured reliability. 4.3.3 Data analysis The data were analysed in the following way: Initially the data were divided into two broad categories, namely satisfying aspects and issues experienced with postgraduate supervision in accordance with the initial interview guide. Within these two broad categories a bottom-up strategy was adopted in the following way (Johnson & Christensen 2000:426-431): · The data were divided into meaningful units by bracketing them. The identified units were coded by means of category names and symbols. Single transcripts were given facesheet codes so that groups could be compared. All the category names and codes were placed on a master list. To address intercoder reliability, consistency in the use of codes between the two researchers was checked. Intracoder reliability was considered. The frequency with which observations were made was noted to help with the identification of prominent themes between groups. 5. Significant findings of phase one: Views of the students 5.1 Closed questions In the first section of the questionnaire, some background data were obtained. The following data were meaningful for the expectations or actions of supervisors. Only 49% of the students studied by means of their first language. ( A significant third of the students had no previous training in research methods. Only 29% of the students who had received previous training, for example during their Honours BEd studies, felt that this training prepared them adequately for their master’s studies. In the Faculty of Education, research seminars are presented annually during April, July and September. Of the students that had attended these workshops, 64% felt that it had helped them a lot and 36% felt that it had helped them somewhat in their master’s or doctoral research. ( Regarding waiting time for response from the supervisor after chapters had been submitted for evaluation, 55% reported that work was received back within four weeks’ time; 45% waited longer than that. When the students had to indicate how they experienced the support or guidance they had received regarding the achievement of 17 outcomes of research on postgraduate level, the following responses had significant implications for the expectations of supervisors as revealed by the second phase of the research. Of the master’s students: 49% were satisfied with the guidance they had received with presenting and interpreting research results; 51% were happy with the planning of the research project in terms of time frames; 59% were satisfied with the guidance they received for deciding on a theoretical approach only or a theoretical approach plus empirical methods. Of the doctoral students: only 50% were satisfied with the guidance they received in planning their research in terms of time frames; 64% believed that the guidance they received with making decisions about data collection, presenting and interpreting research results was satisfactory. Thus, both groups of students felt that there was a lack of support regarding certain research skills, suggesting that lecturers themselves may lack the necessary experience in this regard. Thereafter, students’ perceptions of their supervisors’ individual styles of guidance were determined. The following findings were meaningful when compared with the supervisors’ views of postgraduate supervision, as revealed by phase two. Of the master’s students: 47% of the students’ supervisors referred them to knowledgeable people to consult 53% enquired when they had not heard from the students for some time 93% encouraged independent thought 89% thought their work was evaluated thoroughly 89% indicated that supervisors always encouraged them and 70% would prefer the same supervisor for their future studies. Of the doctoral students: 36% recalled that their promoters contacted them after some time had elapsed 50% that the promoter referred them to knowledgeable people to consult 95% encouraged independent work as well as creative thought and 77% would choose the same promoter if they could repeat their studies. 5.2 Open questions Three open questions ended the questionnaire. Student responses that were significant in comparison to supervisors’ views, include the following: 5.2.1 Rewarding aspects of postgraduate research When asked what they experienced as the most rewarding aspect of their studies, many students mentioned the development of knowledge, understanding and critical thinking skills as well as the development of research abilities. However, most responses focussed on the supervisor. In this regard students referred to the encouragement and support they received as well as the endorsement of independence and creativity. “ My supervisor was always encouraging, understanding and helpful. Our relationship was a source of motivation...”, is one example. Thus, both masters and doctoral students indicated that if supervisors and promoters did their work efficiently and the research process went well, supervisors were greatly appreciated by their students. 5.2.2 Frustrating aspects of postgraduate research Several students indicated that they did not experience any frustration. Masters’ students who did mention frustrating aspects referred to the following important factors: lack of time frames to adhere to; lack of knowledge or experience; and feelings of isolation. A supervisory system where students got no feedback after examination had been completed also caused frustration. Regarding the supervisor, poor supervision or guidance was mentioned, especially time delays, too little guidance and harsh criticism. Examples include: “My supervisor going on study leave ... going overseas ... late return of chapters submitted” and “My supervisor was extremely harsh in criticism and it was easy to consider giving up if it were not for my sheer determination”. In addition, respondents referred to lack of support with statistical analysis. Among the doctoral students, mention was also made of the promoter. This included: not encouraging independent thought, insufficient criticism of work submitted and lack of interest in the theme of the research. Several responses mentioned lack of support with statistical analysis. In summary: Many students did not experience any frustrations. However, if supervisors and promoters were not efficient at postgraduate supervision with the result that the students experienced numerous problems during the research process, this could be a source of great frustration to students. 5.2.3 Students’ recommendations regarding postgraduate supervision The final question asked the students to indicate what they would recommend regarding postgraduate supervision in the Faculty of Education. A considerable number of students made no recommendations, indicating their satisfaction with current practices. Of those students who responded, the feedback focussed mostly on the supervisor or promoter. Masters’ students recommended that supervisors should: help students plan their research within time frames make more contact with students, e.g. arranging for progress meetings or reports, for example, bi-monthly, and enquire when not hearing from the student for some time be more supportive, for example, assist with funding, statistical analysis, research techniques and publication of their findings waste less time by responding quicker to submitted work provide students with a list of professionals and other students dealing with similar fields of study to alleviate feelings of isolation be monitored by higher authorities to ensure that they do their work diligently provide students with examination feedback. According, doctoral students recommended that promoters should: give constructive criticism encourage independent thought respond quicker provide students with some form of written evaluation after completion of the research. The above mentioned led to the second phase of the research project. The findings of this phase are as follows. 6. Findings of phase two: Views of supervisors Detail of the findings is documented in an unpublished research report by Schulze and Lessing (2002). What follows is a summary of the perceptions of supervisors of the supervisory process in the Faculty of Education with significant implications in comparison with students’ views. 6.1 Satisfying aspectstc \l2 "6.1 Satisfying aspects The satisfactory elements mentioned by supervisors were the intellectual growth which they and the students experienced and the personally satisfying relationships that developed between them and the students over time. “I learn a lot ... the students expose me to new things” is one example. 6.2 Issues in postgraduate supervision 6.2.1 Issues entailed in getting started · Supervisors within all three groups mentioned students’ unrealistic expectations of a master’s degree. “They think they are going to finish this dissertation quickly” was stated. · The more experienced the supervisors, the more they tended to establish ‘ground rules’ at the start of the study. These ground rules focus on technical aspects (for example, submitting typed work), language (submitting edited work), phased procedure (submitting one chapter at a time), framework (committing to a relatively fixed time frame) and establishing boundaries, (for example, when and where the supervisor could be contacted). · In the planning of the research the following pattern emerged. In contrast to the inexperienced supervisors, the experienced supervisors tended to have developed specific plans to help the students initiate the study, for example, requiring that the students peruse examples of completed dissertations or theses; outline the material of the first chapter and plan the study in terms of time frames. 6.2.2 Challenges during the research · In all of the groups poor use of language by second-language students emerged as a major issue. One supervisor stated: “When the work is grammatically so incorrect that you can’t read it properly ... I say to him ‘You must have this read by somebody beforehand but I can’t accept it like this’”. · Apart from faulty use of language, the inferior quality of the work in general was mentioned by a few supervisors. · Experienced supervisors tended to consider technical requirements from the beginning of the study. This is illustrated by the following remark: “I insist that the bibliography comes with each chapter and the table of contents too ... I find that if you start checking it from the beginning, by the time you get to the second chapter, they’re getting ... the basics correct” and “I think we have the right to expect typed work”. Less experienced supervisors were more willing to accept handwritten work. · The time supervisors used to respond to students’ work differed from within a few days to six weeks. However, most agreed that a turnover time of about three weeks could be considered fair. · More experienced supervisors were more aware of the nature of the criticism given, whereas the inexperienced group did not seem to have considered the issue. Some experienced supervisors commented with great sensitivity, while others gave criticism to students in a “straightforward” manner, believing that one can be so tactful that the students fail to understand what is required. · Not all supervisors required their students to embark on an empirical investigation. Those who require it sometimes recruited students according to their own expertise. One manager mentioned the disappointing fact that supervisors who were not skilled in research methods did not attend the workshops arranged in the faculty for them. · It was noteworthy that experienced colleagues had the confidence to consult experts for advice when they needed it, for example with empirical research issues and statistical analysis. In contrast, the least experienced colleagues were uncertain whether they could ask or whether they were supposed to ‘know how’‘. 6.2.3 Administrative problems encountered · The group of associate professors felt that only students who had the potential to complete their studies successfully should be accepted for the MEd or DEd degree. Both managers agreed that achievement in an Honours BEd course was not adequate to determine student admission. They were of the opinion that testing the students’ ability to formulate in English would be more appropriate. · Some supervisors expressed doubts about the system of student allocation to lecturers. This happens via various discipline-based interest groups operative in Unisa’s Faculty of Education, (such as Psychology of Education, Early Childhood Education and others). One manager agreed that some interest groups did not perform this function optimally and democratically. · Closely related to the above, was the possibility of specialisation. Supervisors from the two most experienced groups emphasised the need for specialisation among lecturers so that only those who were interested and competent at postgraduate supervision be involved in it. However, both managers agreed that all lecturers should be involved in postgraduate supervision since this is inherent part of a lecturer’s work. One stated: “It is part of teaching”. · Problems surrounding examination elicited the most responses. These included, inter alia, the following: (1) Students sometimes put pressure on supervisors to allow them to submit their work for examination purposes, thereby saving them the cost of paying the registration fees for another year. (2) Supervisors agreed on the importance of feedback to supervisors and students after an examination. However, findings revealed that even experienced supervisors were not aware that the reports of external examiners could be studied. Others were apparently not interested in reading the reports. 6.2.4 The distance in distance education The following were attempts to take the ‘distance’ out of “distance education: (1) requiring students to visit the university personally for some time during the research; (2) using electronic media available such as audio recordings or electronic mail (3) requiring that students phone regularly at specific intervals and making home telephone numbers of supervisors available to students. “I like students to call me once per month, even if they had done nothing”, one stated. 6.2.5 The need to train students and supervisorstc \l3 " The need to train students and supervisors One supervisor commented that the students’ research training on Honours BEd level did not prepare them adequately for master’s or doctoral studies and recommended that this training be improved. Inadequate research training at Honours BEd level was also mentioned by management. Training of lecturers as supervisors was discussed at great length in all three groups. It was felt that compulsory workshops on postgraduate supervision were necessary. The possibility of regular colloquia for both students and supervisors was broached and the need for written guidelines on how to do postgraduate supervision was expressed. 7. Main findings and discussion When comparing rewarding aspects in postgraduate research, both students and supervisors referred to the relationship between student and supervisor or promoter. In this regard, the first phase of the research indicated that 70% of the master’s students and 77% of the doctoral students would prefer the same supervisor or promoter for their studies. Both groups mentioned the development of their cognitive abilities. For students additional satisfaction was derived from making a contribution to the field of Education. However, students had many unmet expectations, especially with regard to the support they expected from supervisors. This is in accordance with the findings of Binns and Potter (1989:213). Students wanted more guidance with regard to the overall planning of the research in terms of the approach to follow (theoretical, quantitative or qualitative). For example, only 59% of the master’s students were satisfied with the support they received from supervisors in this respect. They wanted support with (statistical) analyses, the interpretation and presentation of research results. In this regard, it should be noted that a third of the students had no previous training in research methods. In addition, only 29% of the students who had previous training, for example during their Honours BEd studies, felt that this training prepared them for their MEd studies. Research seminars were presented annually and were very well received by all students who attended them. However, the seminars were only presented in Pretoria at the time of the investigation and thus not many students could attend. Students’ lack of knowledge of research methods posed a special challenge to supervisors. To exacerbate the problem, many supervisors themselves lacked knowledge and expertise in research methods, analysis, interpretation and presentation of empirical results. There were various reasons for this: some supervisors had only been schooled in one approach, for example a quantitative approach. Others who were not knowledgeable about research methods did not require students to embark on any empirical investigation. Hence research skills were not acquired via this route. Other staff members did not attend workshops in research methods which were arranged in the Faculty for them. Some supervisors referred students to knowledgeable colleagues and thus acquired some training in this way. However, often there was no deliberate attempt to learn more about statistical analyses, preferring to leave this to the “experts”. Students indicated that they wanted more advice with planning the study in terms of time frames. This confirms the findings of Dillon and Malott (1981:195) that supervision should include determining deadlines. Only about half of the master’s and doctoral students were satisfied with their support regarding this aspect of supervision. It was evident from the focus groups, that many of the more experienced supervisors did indeed help students plan their overall study in terms of time frames. However, this was not done by inexperienced supervisors. Postgraduate students wished to be referred to other students or to informed people in their research fields to alleviate feelings of isolation. Of the master’s students, 47% and of the doctoral students, 50% indicated that their supervisors referred them to knowledgeable people to consult. Once again, it was the more experienced supervisors who were more inclined to refer students to other experts. Often these supervisors prefer such an approach above having a co-supervisor. Regarding students’ wish to be referred to knowledgeable people, Phillips and Pugh (2000:1) state emphatically that students should take ownership of their studies and manage the investigation themselves. Regular contact with supervisors was another unmet need of many postgraduate students. Although Phillips and Pugh (2000:1) state that postgraduate students (especially on PhD level) should initiate discussion, other authors suggest that supervisors should arrange regular consultation meetings (Dillon & Malott 1981:195). In this regard, 53% of the master’s students and 36% of the doctoral students indicated that supervisors or promoters made enquiries when some time had elapsed without contact between them. Some supervisors required that students visit the university personally for some time during the research, used electronic media available, such as audio recordings or electronic mail, or required that students phone regularly at specific intervals. In addition, these supervisors made their own home telephone numbers available. However, these measures were to a large extent implemented by the more experienced supervisors only. Supervisors and promoters encouraged independent thought, as indicated by 93% of the master’s and 95% of the doctoral students. This freedom to work independently was highly valued by the doctoral students specifically. This is in line with recommendations by various authors that students should be able to arrive at conclusions independently (Katz 1997;16 Nerad & Miller 1997:76; Phillips & Pugh 2000:21, 74; Salmon 1992:14; Smith et al 1993:53). The issue of feedback was mentioned by both supervisors and students. Students stated that they desired criticism, but they wanted constructive, not harsh feedback. This concurs with Binns and Potter’s (1989:213) findings that students want constructive criticism. Dillon and Malott (1982: 195) confirm that supervisors should give quality feedback. In this regard the focus groups revealed that the experienced supervisors were much more aware of the nature of the criticism they gave, whereas the inexperienced group did not seem to have considered this aspect at all. However, this does not mean that the experienced supervisors were in agreement on the issue. Some experienced supervisors gave comment with great sensitivity, while others gave it to the students in a “straightforward” manner. Students wanted supervisors to respond quickly after they had submitted work for evaluation. The survey revealed that 55% received their work back within four weeks. This implies that 45% had to wait longer than that. In comparison, supervisors mentioned that the time they took to respond to students’ work differed from within a few days to six weeks. However, most agreed that a turnover time of about three weeks could be considered fair. In this regard, it should be kept in mind that most chapters are submitted by mail and, on reaching Unisa, are distributed via an internal mailing system. Hence, a significant period of time passes before the work reaches the supervisor. Some written feedback after examination, was requested by numerous students on master’s as well as doctoral level. This would bring about some form of closure. Supervisors agreed on the importance of feedback to supervisors and students. However, the focus groups revealed that many supervisors were not aware that they had access to the reports of external examiners on request. Others were apparently not interested in reading the reports, perhaps because of other more pressing commitments. Supervisors also experienced problems during the supervisory process. Mention was made of unrealistic expectations of students who underestimated the requirements of postgraduate research. This confirms Shannon’s (1995:12) finding that students are uncertain of required standards. Hence, students often presented supervisors with work of inferior quality and poorly written. In this regard, the results of the first phase of the research indicated that less than half of the students (49%), studied by means of their first language. Both Deist (1990:67) and Hockey (1994:296) stress that writing the thesis and editing the language are not the task of the supervisor. Apart from poor use of language, technical requirements, for example with regard to referencing and bibliography, were often not met by students. Many supervisors mentioned that some students embarking on postgraduate research did not have the potential to complete their studies successfully. A mechanism was needed to recruit only those students who had the potential to be successful. This would concur with recommendations in the National Plan for Higher Education (Department of Education 2001:25). Apart from enrolling only students with potential, some lecturers maintained that not all staff should be involved in postgraduate supervision. There were those staff members who did not have the abilities nor the interest to be competent supervisors. However, postgraduate supervision and student output are aspects considered for staff promotion and assumed to be an integral aspect of teaching. Thus, some students may be subjected to poor supervisory practices - to the frustration of both the supervisor and the student - if mechanisms to improve supervisory practices are not introduced. 8. Conclusions and recommendations There is a need for higher education institutions to discuss the issues raised by this article so that ways in which unmet expectations of students as well as supervisors can be addressed. This could lead to greater clarity of the various roles and responsibilities of master’s students, doctoral students and supervisors. Moreover, it may lead to more favourable practices and improved research quality. If the unmet expectations of students are considered, it seems that students need much more support with all aspects of empirical research. Many supervisors are insufficiently trained in research methods and do not always attend workshops that are presented for them. Compulsory training of supervisors in all aspects of the research process by means of workshops, seminars and colloquia is needed. Considering students’ positive evaluation of research seminars presented to them, such seminars seem invaluable. In addition, previous training, for example training provided during the Honours BEd studies, may need to be evaluated and improved. Supervisors should be aware that students want advice in planning their study in terms of time frames, contact with informed people or other students in their research fields to feel less isolated, regular contact with supervisors, constructive criticism and a quick turnover time for chapters submitted. Some students are independent workers, especially doctoral students, and want the freedom to use their own initiative. Finally, students want written feedback when the examination process has been completed. These expectations should be discussed and addressed. Decisions can be written in policy documents that are available to all supervisors in a faculty. How can supervisors’ expectations be met? It is clear that a mechanism needs to be developed so that only those students with the potential to be successful in postgraduate research, are recruited. Since poor language skills present so many problems, a language test may be considered. In addition, language courses should be implemented for those students that need them. Supervisors also need to develop their own individual ground rules. These should be presented to students in written format at the start of the research and could include a reading list of various textbooks in research methods that students are expected to consult, general information concerning the content of the various chapters of the research report, the examination criteria of that institution and technical requirements. Finally, general guidelines on postgraduate supervision in various faculties of higher education institutions should be articulated during a workshop and made available in written format. This is crucial for the inexperienced supervisor. By means of the above, the expectations of both supervisors and postgraduate students may be met. In addition, supervisory practices may improve and the output of postgraduate students increased. Ultimately, the quality of these outputs will improve. Bibliography ARCARO JS 1995. Quality in education: An implementation handbook. St. Lucie: Delray Beach. BINNS T & POTTER R 1989. Improving the effectiveness of postgraduate supervision: never mind the quality, feel the width. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 13(2): 210-216. CAREY MA 1994. The group effect in focus groups: planning, implementing, and interpreting focus group research: In Critical issues in qualitative research methods, edited by JM Morse. Thousand Oaks: Sage. DEIST FE 1990. The role of the promoter. Theologia Evangelica, 23(3): 66-68. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION 2001. National plan for higher education. Pretoria: Ministry of Education. DILLON MJ & MALOTT RW 1981. Supervising master theses and doctoral dissertations. Teaching of Psychology, 8(4): 195-202. 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Word@ŅIk@}Ag5Ē@ų¢¹ŠVČ܁¤ž’ÕĶ՜.“—+,ł®0@ hp€ˆ˜  Ø°ø Ą "äUNISA^būĄ« VPostgraduate supervision: a comparison of the perceptions of students and supervisors Title  !"#$%&'()*+,-./0123456789:;<=>?@ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ[\]^_`abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz{|}ž’’’€‚ƒ„…†‡ˆ‰Š‹ŒŽ‘’“”•–—˜™š›œžŸ ”¢£¤„¦§Ø©Ŗ«¬­®Æ°±²³“µ¶·ø¹ŗ»¼½¾æĄĮĀĆÄÅĘĒČÉŹĖĢĶĪĻž’’’ŃŅÓŌÕÖמ’’’ŁŚŪÜŻŽßž’’’ż’’’ż’’’ćž’’’ž’’’ž’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’Root Entry’’’’’’’’ ĄF 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ŠĻą”±į>ž’ āäž’’’ąį’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’ģ„Į#` šæxÉbjbj\.\. ū>D>D]Į’’’’’’¤’’’’’’’”&ĪfĪfĪfxFi,ri„&ļ¶jjjjjójójój°”²”²”²”N•88™8p$„žh ”䔝’ójójójójój”’’jjŪ©xxxójB’j’j°”xój°”xxj’_’’|”jöi  ŌŠVČĪf5rv’Ō°”æ0ļJ”2ń”Owpń”d|”ń”’|”4xójójój””æwXójójójļójójójój&&&$1J7„/&&&J7&&&’’’’’’’’’’ Lessing , AC & Schulze, 2003. Postgraduate supervision: a comparison of the perceptions of students and supervisors. Acta Academia, 35(3):161-184 Summary The aim of the research was to compare the views of postgraduate students and supervisors of the supervisory process at the Faculty of Education at the University of South Africa. The research was conducted in two phases. In the first phase survey research was employed by means of a questionnaire to determine the perceptions of students regarding diverse aspects of postgraduate research. During the second phase supervisors’ perceptions of postgraduate supervision were ascertained by means of a qualitative inquiry using focus groups. Findings included a number of aspects which participants found rewarding. Unmet needs of students related to the planning of the research, research methodology, contact with supervisors, feedback, response time and examination feedback. Supervisors desired recruitment of higher potential students who would deliver better quality work. Nagraadse studieleiding: ‘n Vergelyking van die persepsies van studente en studieleiers Die doel met hierdie navorsing was om die sienings van studente en studieleiers oor studieleiding by die Fakulteit Opvoedkunde by die Universiteit van Suid-Afrika te bepaal. Die navorsing is in twee fases uitgevoer. In die eerste fase is die persepsies van studente rakende verskeie aspekte van hulle nagraadse studie deur middel van ‘n vraelys bepaal. Gedurende die tweede fase is studieleiers se persepsies van nagraadse studieleiding bepaal deur middel van ‘n kwalitatiewe benadering wat fokusgroepe ingesluit het. Resultate sluit ‘n aantal bevredigende aspekte vir die deelnemers in. Behoeftes van studente waaraan nie voldoen word nie, hou verband met die beplanning van die navorsing, navorsingsmetodologie, kontak met studieleiers, terugvoering, responstyd en terugvoering na eksaminering afgehandel is. Studieleiers het ‘n behoefte aan studente met meer potensiaal wat werk van ‘n beter gehalte lewer. AC Lessing & S Schulze, Faculty of Education, UNISA, PO Box 392, 0003, Pretoria. E-mail: lessiac@unisa.ac.za and schuls@unisa.ac.za The National Plan for Higher Education, which outlines the framework for realising the policy goals of the Education White Paper 3: A Programme for the Transformation of Higher Education (published in 1997) addresses the issue of postgraduate research. In 1998, master’s and doctoral graduates accounted for approximately only 6% of all university and technikon graduates (ibid.73). This amounted to 5 222 from universities and 100 from technikons. To improve the output of master’s and doctoral students, it is stated that research “... will be funded through a separate formula based on research outputs, including, at a minimum, masters and doctoral graduates and research publications” (Department of Education 2001:3). However, higher education institutions should “ ... ensure that they do not recruit students who do not have the potential to pursue further study and ... do not retain students who have no chance of success” (Department of Education 2001:25). In addition to recruitment and output issues, quality is a concern (Department of Education 2001:9, 26 & 61). Regarding postgraduate supervision, quality involves two aspects: the quality of the supervisory process (by supervisors) and the quality of the research outputs (by the students). Hence, a concern for quality means caring about the goals, needs and interests of the customers (the students) and ensuring they are met (Arcaro 1995:24; Whitaker & Moses 1994:76). This implies that supervision should be assessed by the postgraduate students themselves to determine its quality. This provides crucial information whether their expectations are met and is central to the evaluation of supervision (Ramsden & Dodds 1989:16; Van Niekerk & Herman 1996:44). However, the research outputs (dissertations and theses) of the postgraduate students, should also adhere to minimum standards as specified by the stated outcomes for South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) registration and as expected by the community who are customers of higher education institutions. In the light of the fact that postgraduate research and supervision in South Africa currently take place in the context of university transformation, increasing numbers of disadvantaged students who must be accommodated by higher education institutions and appeals for improved enrolment and output of postgraduate students (Department of Education 2001:73), the delivery of high quality research outputs presents a challenge to supervisors. This raises questions about the expectations of students as well as supervisors in the research endeavour. 1. Comparing the roles of students and supervisors in postgraduate research To be effective as researchers, postgraduate students should be able to master specific skills. “Research engenders the values of inquiry, critical thinking, creativity and open-mindedness, which are fundamental to building a strong, democratic ethos in society” (Department of Education 2001:71). To complete a research project for a dissertation or thesis successfully, a student has to select a relevant, researchable topic, master the techniques required to investigate the topic, apply these techniques correctly and present the findings in an appropriate way. The most important skill for students to master is the ability to evaluate and reevaluate their own work and that of others in the light of current developments. This means that students should understand and critically evaluate the literature and apply it to issues and problems. Completing a dissertation successfully demonstrates a student’s ability to research an intellectual problem and arrive at appropriate conclusions independently. Postgraduate research entails the need for guesses, reworking, backtracking, corrections and inspiration. In addition, a degree of tolerance of ambiguity is a prerequisite for successful research (Katz 1997:16; Nerad & Miller 1997:76; Phillips & Pugh 2000:21, 74; Salmon 1992:14; Smith, Brownell, Simpson & Deshler 1993:53). Phillips and Pugh (2000:1) claim that postgraduate students should develop insight into their own situations to enhance their professional learning. Personal academic initiative is expected from them. Postgraduate students should take ownership of their studies and manage the investigation themselves. Phillips and Pugh (2000:1) use the term under your own management as a key to the nature of postgraduate research. Students are responsible for determining what is required for their research and to carry this out. Postgraduate students (especially on PhD level) should no longer wait for lecturers to tell them what to do, but are expected to initiate discussion, ask for whatever help they need, and debate what they should be learning. In addition to the intellectual, postgraduate research has a psychological component (Sayed, Kruss & Badat 1998:281). Rademeyer (1994:92) claims that writing a thesis or dissertation can be a personal and intensive affair where internal and external conflicts influence the process and completion negatively. Perseverance, support by the supervisor, personal and collegial support and previous experience contribute to the psychological survival of the process (Smith et al 1993:57) . Considering the role of the supervisor, students believe that the supervisor should be enthusiastic and supportive. Binns and Potter (1989:213) determined that postgraduate students see the supervisor’s main functions as providing support, giving constructive criticism and ensuring a measure of overall guidance. Students often complain about inadequate supervision, lack of communication between themselves and supervisors, and their own lack of knowledge of required standards and of the supervisors’ role and functions (Shannon 1995:12). Regarding the nature of the support a supervisor or promoter should lend to postgraduate students, Dillon and Malott (1981:195) suggest that the supervisor should provide structured supervision and guidance in the form of regular consultation meetings. They designed a supervisory system with five components, namely (1) specifying research tasks and performance standards; (2) arranging meetings between the supervisor and student - perhaps weekly; (3) determining deadlines; (4) giving quality feedback and (5) providing incentives. This system produced a greater output of graduates in a shorter length of time than more traditional supervisory approaches. However, it is not the task of the supervisor to write the thesis, edit the language or devise solutions for problems encountered during the research process (Deist 1990:67; Hockey 1994:296). The abovementioned led to a research project carried out in the Faculty of Education at the University of South Africa (Unisa), a distance education institution. The aims of the research, ethical considerations, research design, findings and conclusions of this project are clarified in the remainder of this article. 2. The aims of the study The aims of this research endeavour were threefold: (1) to explore the perceptions of postgraduate students of the supervision they had received; (2) to examine the perceptions of supervisors and promoters of postgraduate supervision and (3) to compare the aforementioned views. Thus, the ultimate aim was to determine the compatibility of the expectations of students and supervisors. This implied a two-phase model for the empirical part of the research. In the first (quantitative) phase the students were surveyed. This was followed by a second (qualitative) phase involving the supervisors. 3. Ethical considerations During both phases, ethical considerations entailed the following: (1) Adequate information regarding the aims of the research; the procedures that would be followed; possible advantages and disadvantages for the respondents; the credibility of the researchers; and how the results would be used were given to the respondents so that they could make an informed decision about their participation in the research. (2) The researchers ensured that they were competent to undertake their research project. This implied thorough preparation before embarking on the project. (3) During the focus groups no value judgements were made concerning the way supervisors handled their supervisory duties. (4) All data were collected anonymously from students. Regarding the supervisors, data were treated as confidential and findings were reported anonymously. (5) To indicate the researchers’ gratitude for their participation, supervisors were informed about the findings of the study at a Faculty Board meeting. This was done in an objective way and the principle of confidentiality was not violated. 4. Research design 4.1 A two-phase design As indicated, the research was conducted in two phases: (1) In phase one, survey research was employed to determine the perceptions of those students who had already completed their master’s and doctoral degrees of the supervision they had received. Data were obtained by means of a questionnaire which was completed anonymously. Since the aim was to generalise with regard to the perceptions of as many students as possible, it was decided to embark on a quantitative approach. (2) The second phase of the research project aimed at an in-depth understanding of supervisors’ experience of postgraduate supervision. Thus, a qualitative research approach was chosen which resulted in four rounds of data collection. The detail of these two phases are as follows: 4.2 Phase one 4.2.1 Research method The questionnaire was divided into three sections. The first section obtained data on students’ training in research methods. It was also determined how long they had to wait for supervisors to return their work. In the second section, students evaluated the support or guidance they had received from their supervisors or promoters on 17 aspects. In identifying these, the outcomes of master’s and doctoral degrees as formulated for SAQA registration were considered (Master of Education [MEd] for interim registration with SAQA 2000; Doctor of Education [DEd] for interim registration with SAQA 2000). Thus, the students had to evaluate the support they received to enable them to: ( design an acceptable proposal ( plan the sequence of the chapters of the report ( achieve a balance between chapters ( plan the research project in terms of time frames ( decide on a theoretical and/or empirical approach ( present a literature review critically ( present a literature review logically ( present the literature review in an integrated manner ( decide on a quantitative, or a qualitative or a combined approach ( make decisions about data collection methods ( present research results scientifically ( interpret research results ( substantiate conclusions ( do research in an ethically responsible way ( attend to editorial aspects ( ensure that bibliography and references correspond ( ensure that the dissertation is scientifically rigorous. In the third section of the questionnaire, students’ judgments of the individual styles of guidance of their supervisors were determined. Fifteen statements were formulated that enquired if supervisors or promoters: ( encouraged independent work ( encouraged creative thinking ( allowed contact at home after hours ( forwarded sources or indicated relevant sources ( referred students to knowledgeable people ( made evaluation criteria available ( made enquiries if no work was received from the student after some time had elapsed ( evaluated work thoroughly ( encouraged the student ( gave constructive criticism ( encouraged dialogue ( were knowledgeable about the research topic ( understood empirical research methods ( gave consistent instructions ( would be the student’s first choice as supervisor, if the study could be repeated. Finally, the questionnaire consisted of three open questions. These aimed at determining students’ perceptions of the most rewarding aspects of their studies, the most frustrating aspects thereof and what they would recommend regarding supervision in the Faculty of Education. 4.2.2 Validity, the pilot study and sampling of phase one The draft questionnaire was given to a number of experienced colleagues for peer review. These colleagues included staff at Unisa as well as at a neighbouring university. In addition, several members of a committee responsible for the administration for master’s and doctoral students were involved to determine if the items were relevant (face validity) and if there was a representative sample of content (content validity) (McMillan & Schumacher 1997:236). This resulted in major changes which were made to sections two and three of the questionnaire. The open questions were added to collect data of a qualitative nature as a method of data triangulation. Thereafter, the questionnaire was given to a number of postgraduate students who were accessible on campus. Some small modifications were made after this pilot study. After editing and translation of the questionnaire (ensuring its availability in both official languages of tuition at the university), the final version was mailed to 111 students who had completed their MEd degrees at least a year before and 74 students who had completed their DEd degrees during the previous three years. After two weeks, follow-up questionnaires were mailed. Of the 185 questionnaires that were mailed, 75 (41%) were received back. Of these 53 respondents (70%) had completed their MEd and 22 (30%) their DEd studies. Detailed results of the survey are documented in Lessing and Schulze (2002). What follows are those perceptions that had significance for the expectations of supervisors. 4.3 Phase two 4.3.1 Research method Since the researchers hoped to obtain an in-depth understanding of the views of supervisors of postgraduate supervision, it was decided to conduct this investigation qualitatively. Firstly, three focus groups were conducted. As a result of time constraints, it was more economical to use focus groups rather than individual interviews. Moreover, group dynamics work synergically to elicit information (Carey 1994:224) and participants have more confidence to express their feelings honestly in a support group of peers than in individual interviews (Folch-Lyon & Trost 1981:445). The interview guide which was developed focussed on aspects of supervision which supervisors experienced as most satisfying and the problems encountered. In this regard a number of possible problem areas were listed as identified by the students and reported on in phase one. Since the key principle in forming focus groups is homogeneity (Kingry, Tiedje & Friedman 1990:124), the first focus group consisted of seven full professors, the second group of 12 associate professors and some experienced senior lecturers and the third group of nine lecturers and other less experienced supervisors. Analysis of the focus group data indicated that additional rounds of data collection including individual interviews with two managers were required. These managers are attached to the Faculty’s Institute for Educational Research, which has the overall responsibility for the co-ordination of research proposals submitted by prospective master’s and doctoral students and the examination process of dissertations and theses. These functions are operationalised by a Masters and Doctoral committee. This was followed by individual interviews with student administrators and, finally, with the analysis of relevant documents mentioned by interviewees. 4.3.2 Trustworthiness Appropriate techniques were applied to ensure trustworthiness of the qualitative findings: (1) Triangulation of methods was used. Data collection methods involved focus groups, individual interviews and document analysis. (2) Feedback from participants was obtained if the researchers were uncertain about the meaning of statements. In addition, the findings were circulated among participants so that they could confirm whether their views were reflected correctly. (3) Sampling decisions were carefully made. (4) Focus groups and interviews were tape recorded and transcribed verbatim. (5) Both researchers analysed the raw data to reach consensus about themes and categories and to check the consistency of each other’s analysis. This ensured reliability. 4.3.3 Data analysis The data were analysed in the following way: Initially the data were divided into two broad categories, namely satisfying aspects and issues experienced with postgraduate supervision in accordance with the initial interview guide. Within these two broad categories a bottom-up strategy was adopted in the following way (Johnson & Christensen 2000:426-431): · The data were divided into meaningful units by bracketing them. The identified units were coded by means of category names and symbols. Single transcripts were given facesheet codes so that groups could be compared. All the category names and codes were placed on a master list. To address intercoder reliability, consistency in the use of codes between the two researchers was checked. Intracoder reliability was considered. The frequency with which observations were made was noted to help with the identification of prominent themes between groups. 5. Significant findings of phase one: Views of the students 5.1 Closed questions In the first section of the questionnaire, some background data were obtained. The following data were meaningful for the expectations or actions of supervisors. Only 49% of the students studied by means of their first language. ( A significant third of the students had no previous training in research methods. Only 29% of the students who had received previous training, for example during their Honours BEd studies, felt that this training prepared them adequately for their master’s studies. In the Faculty of Education, research seminars are presented annually during April, July and September. Of the students that had attended these workshops, 64% felt that it had helped them a lot and 36% felt that it had helped them somewhat in their master’s or doctoral research. ( Regarding waiting time for response from the supervisor after chapters had been submitted for evaluation, 55% reported that work was received back within four weeks’ time; 45% waited longer than that. When the students had to indicate how they experienced the support or guidance they had received regarding the achievement of 17 outcomes of research on postgraduate level, the following responses had significant implications for the expectations of supervisors as revealed by the second phase of the research. Of the master’s students: 49% were satisfied with the guidance they had received with presenting and interpreting research results; 51% were happy with the planning of the research project in terms of time frames; 59% were satisfied with the guidance they received for deciding on a theoretical approach only or a theoretical approach plus empirical methods. Of the doctoral students: only 50% were satisfied with the guidance they received in planning their research in terms of time frames; 64% believed that the guidance they received with making decisions about data collection, presenting and interpreting research results was satisfactory. Thus, both groups of students felt that there was a lack of support regarding certain research skills, suggesting that lecturers themselves may lack the necessary experience in this regard. Thereafter, students’ perceptions of their supervisors’ individual styles of guidance were determined. The following findings were meaningful when compared with the supervisors’ views of postgraduate supervision, as revealed by phase two. Of the master’s students: 47% of the students’ supervisors referred them to knowledgeable people to consult 53% enquired when they had not heard from the students for some time 93% encouraged independent thought 89% thought their work was evaluated thoroughly 89% indicated that supervisors always encouraged them and 70% would prefer the same supervisor for their future studies. Of the doctoral students: 36% recalled that their promoters contacted them after some time had elapsed 50% that the promoter referred them to knowledgeable people to consult 95% encouraged independent work as well as creative thought and 77% would choose the same promoter if they could repeat their studies. 5.2 Open questions Three open questions ended the questionnaire. Student responses that were significant in comparison to supervisors’ views, include the following: 5.2.1 Rewarding aspects of postgraduate research When asked what they experienced as the most rewarding aspect of their studies, many students mentioned the development of knowledge, understanding and critical thinking skills as well as the development of research abilities. However, most responses focussed on the supervisor. In this regard students referred to the encouragement and support they received as well as the endorsement of independence and creativity. “ My supervisor was always encouraging, understanding and helpful. Our relationship was a source of motivation...”, is one example. Thus, both masters and doctoral students indicated that if supervisors and promoters did their work efficiently and the research process went well, supervisors were greatly appreciated by their students. 5.2.2 Frustrating aspects of postgraduate research Several students indicated that they did not experience any frustration. Masters’ students who did mention frustrating aspects referred to the following important factors: lack of time frames to adhere to; lack of knowledge or experience; and feelings of isolation. A supervisory system where students got no feedback after examination had been completed also caused frustration. Regarding the supervisor, poor supervision or guidance was mentioned, especially time delays, too little guidance and harsh criticism. Examples include: “My supervisor going on study leave ... going overseas ... late return of chapters submitted” and “My supervisor was extremely harsh in criticism and it was easy to consider giving up if it were not for my sheer determination”. In addition, respondents referred to lack of support with statistical analysis. Among the doctoral students, mention was also made of the promoter. This included: not encouraging independent thought, insufficient criticism of work submitted and lack of interest in the theme of the research. Several responses mentioned lack of support with statistical analysis. In summary: Many students did not experience any frustrations. However, if supervisors and promoters were not efficient at postgraduate supervision with the result that the students experienced numerous problems during the research process, this could be a source of great frustration to students. 5.2.3 Students’ recommendations regarding postgraduate supervision The final question asked the students to indicate what they would recommend regarding postgraduate supervision in the Faculty of Education. A considerable number of students made no recommendations, indicating their satisfaction with current practices. Of those students who responded, the feedback focussed mostly on the supervisor or promoter. Masters’ students recommended that supervisors should: help students plan their research within time frames make more contact with students, e.g. arranging for progress meetings or reports, for example, bi-monthly, and enquire when not hearing from the student for some time be more supportive, for example, assist with funding, statistical analysis, research techniques and publication of their findings waste less time by responding quicker to submitted work provide students with a list of professionals and other students dealing with similar fields of study to alleviate feelings of isolation be monitored by higher authorities to ensure that they do their work diligently provide students with examination feedback. According, doctoral students recommended that promoters should: give constructive criticism encourage independent thought respond quicker provide students with some form of written evaluation after completion of the research. The above mentioned led to the second phase of the research project. The findings of this phase are as follows. 6. Findings of phase two: Views of supervisors Detail of the findings is documented in an unpublished research report by Schulze and Lessing (2002). What follows is a summary of the perceptions of supervisors of the supervisory process in the Faculty of Education with significant implications in comparison with students’ views. 6.1 Satisfying aspectstc \l2 "6.1 Satisfying aspects The satisfactory elements mentioned by supervisors were the intellectual growth which they and the students experienced and the personally satisfying relationships that developed between them and the students over time. “I learn a lot ... the students expose me to new things” is one example. 6.2 Issues in postgraduate supervision 6.2.1 Issues entailed in getting started · Supervisors within all three groups mentioned students’ unrealistic expectations of a master’s degree. “They think they are going to finish this dissertation quickly” was stated. · The more experienced the supervisors, the more they tended to establish ‘ground rules’ at the start of the study. These ground rules focus on technical aspects (for example, submitting typed work), language (submitting edited work), phased procedure (submitting one chapter at a time), framework (committing to a relatively fixed time frame) and establishing boundaries, (for example, when and where the supervisor could be contacted). · In the planning of the research the following pattern emerged. In contrast to the inexperienced supervisors, the experienced supervisors tended to have developed specific plans to help the students initiate the study, for example, requiring that the students peruse examples of completed dissertations or theses; outline the material of the first chapter and plan the study in terms of time frames. 6.2.2 Challenges during the research · In all of the groups poor use of language by second-language students emerged as a major issue. One supervisor stated: “When the work is grammatically so incorrect that you can’t read it properly ... I say to him ‘You must have this read by somebody beforehand but I can’t accept it like this’”. · Apart from faulty use of language, the inferior quality of the work in general was mentioned by a few supervisors. · Experienced supervisors tended to consider technical requirements from the beginning of the study. This is illustrated by the following remark: “I insist that the bibliography comes with each chapter and the table of contents too ... I find that if you start checking it from the beginning, by the time you get to the second chapter, they’re getting ... the basics correct” and “I think we have the right to expect typed work”. Less experienced supervisors were more willing to accept handwritten work. · The time supervisors used to respond to students’ work differed from within a few days to six weeks. However, most agreed that a turnover time of about three weeks could be considered fair. · More experienced supervisors were more aware of the nature of the criticism given, whereas the inexperienced group did not seem to have considered the issue. Some experienced supervisors commented with great sensitivity, while others gave criticism to students in a “straightforward” manner, believing that one can be so tactful that the students fail to understand what is required. · Not all supervisors required their students to embark on an empirical investigation. Those who require it sometimes recruited students according to their own expertise. One manager mentioned the disappointing fact that supervisors who were not skilled in research methods did not attend the workshops arranged in the faculty for them. · It was noteworthy that experienced colleagues had the confidence to consult experts for advice when they needed it, for example with empirical research issues and statistical analysis. In contrast, the least experienced colleagues were uncertain whether they could ask or whether they were supposed to ‘know how’‘. 6.2.3 Administrative problems encountered · The group of associate professors felt that only students who had the potential to complete their studies successfully should be accepted for the MEd or DEd degree. Both managers agreed that achievement in an Honours BEd course was not adequate to determine student admission. They were of the opinion that testing the students’ ability to formulate in English would be more appropriate. · Some supervisors expressed doubts about the system of student allocation to lecturers. This happens via various discipline-based interest groups operative in Unisa’s Faculty of Education, (such as Psychology of Education, Early Childhood Education and others). One manager agreed that some interest groups did not perform this function optimally and democratically. · Closely related to the above, was the possibility of specialisation. Supervisors from the two most experienced groups emphasised the need for specialisation among lecturers so that only those who were interested and competent at postgraduate supervision be involved in it. However, both managers agreed that all lecturers should be involved in postgraduate supervision since this is inherent part of a lecturer’s work. One stated: “It is part of teaching”. · Problems surrounding examination elicited the most responses. These included, inter alia, the following: (1) Students sometimes put pressure on supervisors to allow them to submit their work for examination purposes, thereby saving them the cost of paying the registration fees for another year. (2) Supervisors agreed on the importance of feedback to supervisors and students after an examination. However, findings revealed that even experienced supervisors were not aware that the reports of external examiners could be studied. Others were apparently not interested in reading the reports. 6.2.4 The distance in distance education The following were attempts to take the ‘distance’ out of “distance education: (1) requiring students to visit the university personally for some time during the research; (2) using electronic media available such as audio recordings or electronic mail (3) requiring that students phone regularly at specific intervals and making home telephone numbers of supervisors available to students. “I like students to call me once per month, even if they had done nothing”, one stated. 6.2.5 The need to train students and supervisorstc \l3 " The need to train students and supervisors One supervisor commented that the students’ research training on Honours BEd level did not prepare them adequately for master’s or doctoral studies and recommended that this training be improved. Inadequate research training at Honours BEd level was also mentioned by management. Training of lecturers as supervisors was discussed at great length in all three groups. It was felt that compulsory workshops on postgraduate supervision were necessary. The possibility of regular colloquia for both students and supervisors was broached and the need for written guidelines on how to do postgraduate supervision was expressed. 7. Main findings and discussion When comparing rewarding aspects in postgraduate research, both students and supervisors referred to the relationship between student and supervisor or promoter. In this regard, the first phase of the research indicated that 70% of the master’s students and 77% of the doctoral students would prefer the same supervisor or promoter for their studies. Both groups mentioned the development of their cognitive abilities. For students additional satisfaction was derived from making a contribution to the field of Education. However, students had many unmet expectations, especially with regard to the support they expected from supervisors. This is in accordance with the findings of Binns and Potter (1989:213). Students wanted more guidance with regard to the overall planning of the research in terms of the approach to follow (theoretical, quantitative or qualitative). For example, only 59% of the master’s students were satisfied with the support they received from supervisors in this respect. They wanted support with (statistical) analyses, the interpretation and presentation of research results. In this regard, it should be noted that a third of the students had no previous training in research methods. In addition, only 29% of the students who had previous training, for example during their Honours BEd studies, felt that this training prepared them for their MEd studies. Research seminars were presented annually and were very well received by all students who attended them. However, the seminars were only presented in Pretoria at the time of the investigation and thus not many students could attend. Students’ lack of knowledge of research methods posed a special challenge to supervisors. To exacerbate the problem, many supervisors themselves lacked knowledge and expertise in research methods, analysis, interpretation and presentation of empirical results. There were various reasons for this: some supervisors had only been schooled in one approach, for example a quantitative approach. Others who were not knowledgeable about research methods did not require students to embark on any empirical investigation. Hence research skills were not acquired via this route. Other staff members did not attend workshops in research methods which were arranged in the Faculty for them. Some supervisors referred students to knowledgeable colleagues and thus acquired some training in this way. However, often there was no deliberate attempt to learn more about statistical analyses, preferring to leave this to the “experts”. Students indicated that they wanted more advice with planning the study in terms of time frames. This confirms the findings of Dillon and Malott (1981:195) that supervision should include determining deadlines. Only about half of the master’s and doctoral students were satisfied with their support regarding this aspect of supervision. It was evident from the focus groups, that many of the more experienced supervisors did indeed help students plan their overall study in terms of time frames. However, this was not done by inexperienced supervisors. Postgraduate students wished to be referred to other students or to informed people in their research fields to alleviate feelings of isolation. Of the master’s students, 47% and of the doctoral students, 50% indicated that their supervisors referred them to knowledgeable people to consult. Once again, it was the more experienced supervisors who were more inclined to refer students to other experts. Often these supervisors prefer such an approach above having a co-supervisor. Regarding students’ wish to be referred to knowledgeable people, Phillips and Pugh (2000:1) state emphatically that students should take ownership of their studies and manage the investigation themselves. Regular contact with supervisors was another unmet need of many postgraduate students. Although Phillips and Pugh (2000:1) state that postgraduate students (especially on PhD level) should initiate discussion, other authors suggest that supervisors should arrange regular consultation meetings (Dillon & Malott 1981:195). In this regard, 53% of the master’s students and 36% of the doctoral students indicated that supervisors or promoters made enquiries when some time had elapsed without contact between them. Some supervisors required that students visit the university personally for some time during the research, used electronic media available, such as audio recordings or electronic mail, or required that students phone regularly at specific intervals. In addition, these supervisors made their own home telephone numbers available. However, these measures were to a large extent implemented by the more experienced supervisors only. Supervisors and promoters encouraged independent thought, as indicated by 93% of the master’s and 95% of the doctoral students. This freedom to work independently was highly valued by the doctoral students specifically. This is in line with recommendations by various authors that students should be able to arrive at conclusions independently (Katz 1997;16 Nerad & Miller 1997:76; Phillips & Pugh 2000:21, 74; Salmon 1992:14; Smith et al 1993:53). The issue of feedback was mentioned by both supervisors and students. Students stated that they desired criticism, but they wanted constructive, not harsh feedback. This concurs with Binns and Potter’s (1989:213) findings that students want constructive criticism. Dillon and Malott (1982: 195) confirm that supervisors should give quality feedback. In this regard the focus groups revealed that the experienced supervisors were much more aware of the nature of the criticism they gave, whereas the inexperienced group did not seem to have considered this aspect at all. However, this does not mean that the experienced supervisors were in agreement on the issue. Some experienced supervisors gave comment with great sensitivity, while others gave it to the students in a “straightforward” manner. Students wanted supervisors to respond quickly after they had submitted work for evaluation. The survey revealed that 55% received their work back within four weeks. This implies that 45% had to wait longer than that. In comparison, supervisors mentioned that the time they took to respond to students’ work differed from within a few days to six weeks. However, most agreed that a turnover time of about three weeks could be considered fair. In this regard, it should be kept in mind that most chapters are submitted by mail and, on reaching Unisa, are distributed via an internal mailing system. Hence, a significant period of time passes before the work reaches the supervisor. Some written feedback after examination, was requested by numerous students on master’s as well as doctoral level. This would bring about some form of closure. Supervisors agreed on the importance of feedback to supervisors and students. However, the focus groups revealed that many supervisors were not aware that they had access to the reports of external examiners on request. Others were apparently not interested in reading the reports, perhaps because of other more pressing commitments. Supervisors also experienced problems during the supervisory process. Mention was made of unrealistic expectations of students who underestimated the requirements of postgraduate research. This confirms Shannon’s (1995:12) finding that students are uncertain of required standards. Hence, students often presented supervisors with work of inferior quality and poorly written. In this regard, the results of the first phase of the research indicated that less than half of the students (49%), studied by means of their first language. Both Deist (1990:67) and Hockey (1994:296) stress that writing the thesis and editing the language are not the task of the supervisor. Apart from poor use of language, technical requirements, for example with regard to referencing and bibliography, were often not met by students. Many supervisors mentioned that some students embarking on postgraduate research did not have the potential to complete their studies successfully. A mechanism was needed to recruit only those students who had the potential to be successful. This would concur with recommendations in the National Plan for Higher Education (Department of Education 2001:25). Apart from enrolling only students with potential, some lecturers maintained that not all staff should be involved in postgraduate supervision. There were those staff members who did not have the abilities nor the interest to be competent supervisors. However, postgraduate supervision and student output are aspects considered for staff promotion and assumed to be an integral aspect of teaching. Thus, some students may be subjected to poor supervisory practices - to the frustration of both the supervisor and the student - if mechanisms to improve supervisory practices are not introduced. 8. Conclusions and recommendations There is a need for higher education institutions to discuss the issues raised by this article so that ways in which unmet expectations of students as well as supervisors can be addressed. This could lead to greater clarity of the various roles and responsibilities of master’s students, doctoral students and supervisors. Moreover, it may lead to more favourable practices and improved research quality. If the unmet expectations of students are considered, it seems that students need much more support with all aspects of empirical research. Many supervisors are insufficiently trained in research methods and do not always attend workshops that are presented for them. Compulsory training of supervisors in all aspects of the research process by means of workshops, seminars and colloquia is needed. Considering students’ positive evaluation of research seminars presented to them, such seminars seem invaluable. In addition, previous training, for example training provided during the Honours BEd studies, may need to be evaluated and improved. Supervisors should be aware that students want advice in planning their study in terms of time frames, contact with informed people or other students in their research fields to feel less isolated, regular contact with supervisors, constructive criticism and a quick turnover time for chapters submitted. Some students are independent workers, especially doctoral students, and want the freedom to use their own initiative. Finally, students want written feedback when the examination process has been completed. These expectations should be discussed and addressed. Decisions can be written in policy documents that are available to all supervisors in a faculty. How can supervisors’ expectations be met? It is clear that a mechanism needs to be developed so that only those students with the potential to be successful in postgraduate research, are recruited. Since poor language skills present so many problems, a language test may be considered. In addition, language courses should be implemented for those students that need them. Supervisors also need to develop their own individual ground rules. These should be presented to students in written format at the start of the research and could include a reading list of various textbooks in research methods that students are expected to consult, general information concerning the content of the various chapters of the research report, the examination criteria of that institution and technical requirements. Finally, general guidelines on postgraduate supervision in various faculties of higher education institutions should be articulated during a workshop and made available in written format. This is crucial for the inexperienced supervisor. By means of the above, the expectations of both supervisors and postgraduate students may be met. 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