Sally Clift, Associate Dean for Graduate Studies, gives an overview of our second Faculty PGT Learning & Teaching Conference: 'Defining Excellence in Postgraduate Education' and where we go from here:
Following on from the work of the ‘Defining Excellence in Postgraduate Education’ working groups, we organised a conference to draw together current practice on master's courses particularly with regard to dissertations, and discuss ways forward given the anticipated increase in numbers of master's students.
The conference attracted both academic and non-academic staff from across our Faculty and the larger University community including the Academic Skills Centre.
I opened the morning session with an overview of our new master's courses that will be offered over the next four years. A survey of our current master's courses revealed a range of assessment patterns for dissertations, though all reveal similar aims and learning objectives.
In the first discussion session mixed groups discussed the challenges that increased numbers brought to dissertation supervision. Topics that were highlighted included:
- staff resourcing and recognition
- spread of load across departments
- complexity of marking
- possibility of linking with research centres
Following this were presentations from Dr Bruce Rayton (Associate Dean for PGT programmes, School of Management), Dr Peter Wilson (Electronic & Electrical Engineering, formerly University of Southampton) and Dr Dirk Schaefer (Mechanical Engineering, formerly Georgia Tech) who offered up their experiences of handling large numbers of master's level students.
In the afternoon, I opened the session by looking at alternative formats to the traditional dissertation. Following this, Dr Ricardo Codinhoto (Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering) gave an in-depth look at the use of industrial projects in the highly successful MSc Modern Building Design programme.
The second discussion session looked at what we should be doing as a Faculty to move forward. Ideas included:
- better definition of the student-supervisor relationship
- integrate projects with research groups
- embed skills development within MSc courses
- develop company-based alternatives to the traditional research project
- streamline assessment
- review resourcing for PGT programmes
The group sessions yielded valuable insights into issues such as maintaining the quality of the student educational experience whilst student numbers increase. We also discussed ways that we might meet these challenges that could bring improvements to the student experience overall and improve our ways of working.
Resources from the conference can be found on the Defining Excellence in Postgraduate Education Wiki.
Feedback at the end of day indicated that those who had attended had a good opportunity to:
- learn more about the topic
- hear the views of others
- ask questions and offer options
Attendees appreciated the:
- mixture of talks and discussion
- range of backgrounds of attendees
"It was great to have an outside perspective from other faculties/unis. We should definitely learn from others' successes."
"Good questions and engagement"
"Good mix of attendees with different backgrounds & perspectives"
"Open, inclusive format"
The insights from this meeting will be used to support the development of a Faculty MSc sharing good practice guide for dissertation supervision, support and assessment.