July 02, 2019
In an attempt to reach out and help doctoral students with a focused approach on their thesis projects, we adopted a new format for a small group workshop. In this blog, I would like to present the format we used and discuss why all attendees (both students and tutors) felt is worked so well.
The workshop was purposely set as a very small group. In the June workshop we had a small group of only four students with two tutors to facilitate the sessions. This gave a high student to tutor ratio, enriching knowledge exchange between the tutors and students.
An online learning platform was created for the workshop, and students had posted their initial work on where they were in their thesis project prior to the workshop. This allowed all attendees to be abreast of each other’s work and actively participate in discussions.
There are many stages of a thesis project. First, the problem and issues identification and coming up with research questions; then onto the research methodology to use; literature review; etc. Rather than the tutors simply making a presentation of the topics and teaching “how to undertake these activities”, we used a learning set style of engagement in the sessions, where for each topic, each student presented his/her work, and then all attendees present engaged in crafting the work through critical and constructive comments which then in the live session allowed the student to reframe, redraft, recraft and improve their work. This I call doing the activities rather than simply just knowing how to do the activities.
Each day, we again ask students to re-present their work to show improvements attained. Some works presented were extremely good, demonstrating the learning in practice.
On the final day we looked at submitted thesis, and allowed students to assess them as if they were examiners in a viva assessing a complete thesis. For me, this is the part I enjoy most. By allowing students to assess their peer’s work it, in my view, is the best form of assessment rather than only having a tutor’s assessment. This session was facilitated by the two tutors present to ensure participants understood critique and maximised their learnings.
Please note, this format of student presenting work and others (peers) discussing and critically interacting with the students, is basically what happens in a viva. The only difference is that the peers in your final viva are only academics and the assessment is summative and not formative. But potentially, we are already training and coaching you on how to go through your final viva.
The final but not least of this workshop’s activities was the networking and socialising that took place. The learning during the whole workshop was done in a serious but relaxed atmosphere and included lunches, dinners and sightseeing. Doctoral work can be very lonely at times, and such learning atmospheres once in a while cannot only take away some of this loneliness, but it can motivate you to see how fellow colleagues are also engaged in their thesis work.
If you are interested in small group workshops, contact us so we can look to options and arrange one in a suitable location.