Teaching the teachers: mini-MOOC teaches grad supervisors how to supervise

By Jennifer Allford
November 1, 2017


For almost as long as anyone can remember, faculty who supervise graduate students have learned how to do it primarily ‘on the job,’ backed up with some written materials and a few seminars here and there. But when a graduate student approached faculty to see whether they’d like to take an online course to improve their supervising skills, they jumped at the offer.

“The moment we sent the email invitation we got a very big response,” says Hawazen Alharbi, a PhD candidate at the Werklund School of Education. “People from all over campus sent us notes saying they wanted to be involved in the project.”  The project was a Quality Graduate Supervision miniMOOC – "mini" because it was a pilot project and MOOC for "massive open online course" that you take part in anytime, from anywhere.

Twenty-three faculty members from different disciplines and three UCalgary campuses (including Qatar) signed up to take six online modules over six weeks. Some were brand new and others have been supervising graduate students for decades. “Some supervisors learn as they go. Others may have early success or early struggles,” says Michele Jacobsen, associate professor and the associate dean of graduate programs in the Werklund School of Education. “But everyone wants to be a good supervisor.”


MOOCs can remove barriers to learning.
MOOCs can remove barriers to learning.

Alharbi sent the faculty questionnaires asking them about the challenges they face and the topics they wanted covered. After talking to experts and using information provided by the Faculty of Graduate Studies, she developed the modules:  1) Introduction to Graduate Supervision, 2) Best Supervision Practices, 3) Relationship Building, 4) Mentoring New Researchers, 5) Anticipating and Addressing Challenges, and 6) Promoting Excellence and Wellness in Graduate Education. 

Related: Studying kids' stories to better understand how to teach them

“There are issues that need to be talked about,” says Alharbi. “The faculty appreciated being able to have discussions with other faculty members and supervisors in a very safe environment anytime during the week.” Faculty would gather online to get resources and swap information about their experiences – what works and what doesn’t.

Each module has an overview, learning objectives, resources, and an interactive discussion board.  They also include videos of faculty who have won awards for their graduate supervision sharing their wisdom. There are questions and prompts in the discussion forums, case scenarios to discuss and experts moderating online discussions.

“At the end I found that people liked the miniMOOC,” says Alharbi. “They want it to continue and they want other faculty members to benefit from it.” She’s compiling information and observations from the project “to learn about what worked and what needs to be changed,” in order to design more MOOCs for faculty development. 

“It’s clear to me that faculty want support but they’re busy people,” says Jacobsen. “The answer to providing rich faculty development may be online courses.”

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About our experts

Hawazen Alharbi is a PhD candidate in Learning Sciences “Educational Technology” at Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary and a lecturer at the Educational Technology Department, King Abdulaziz University, Saudi Arabia. Hawazen is interested in MOOCs research, educational technology, faculty professional development and graduate supervision research.
Michele Jacobsen, PhD, is the associate dean (graduate programs) and a professor in UCalgary's Werklund School of Education. Michele's research program focuses on technology-enabled learning and teaching in both real-time and online Kindergarten to Grade 12 classrooms and post-secondary education using case study, action research and design-based research methodologies. View Michele's publications
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