AU graduate supervision skills recognized with SSHRC grant
Two Athabasca University deans are being recognized for their expertise and contributions to a course promoting excellence in graduate supervision.
The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council has awarded a $25,068 Connections Grant for a University of Calgary lead initiative, Inter-institutional Faculty Development for Online Graduate Supervision. AU Faculty of Graduate Studies Dean Dr. Shawn Fraser and Faculty of Science and Technology Dean Dr. Shauna Zenteno became involved in this work shortly after the start of the global pandemic, when public health restrictions prohibited many kinds of in-person gatherings.
“Once graduate students were locked out of their labs and off campus, Shauna and I were starting to get calls from graduate programs across the country, wondering how we do online grad supervision and how students do research from a distance,” Fraser said.
They made several presentations about doing online graduate supervision for other universities and related organizations such as the Canadian Association of Graduate Studies, sharing AU’s expertise in this area with academics from across the country.
“Once graduate students were locked out of their labs and off campus, Shauna and I were starting to get calls from graduate programs across the country, wondering how we do online grad supervision and how students do research from a distance”– Dr. Shawn Fraser, Dean of Faulty of Graduate Studies
A colleague at the University of Calgary, Dr. Michele Jacobsen, recognized the importance of AU’s expertise asked Fraser and Zenteno to contribute to an existing course about quality graduate supervision. They created a new module to focus specifically on online supervision, and also brought the online-supervision perspective to the rest of the course. That course ran in Fall 2020, led by Jacobsen and Dr. Hawazen Alharbi of King Abdulaziz University.
Zenteno said the experience highlighted some key differences between how graduate supervision is conducted in-person compared to in an online setting, but more significantly, highlighted the similarities.
“When we did the presentations, we didn’t always just talk about adapting to COVID, but also about how we created this entire environment to enable the same types of practices and principles,” she said.
While the course focuses primarily on building graduate supervision capacity for participants, discussion also often ranged into the types of research that can be done given the extraordinary limitations in place to mitigate the effects of the global pandemic.
For example, Fraser said participants were encouraged to look at research options that don’t require in-person gathering, such as research with publicly available data, doing a metanalysis, or focusing on building skills in their teams.
“They started to discover there are all kinds of different ways to do this, there are all kinds of things we can do that we didn’t do previously,” he said. “There are all kinds of possibilities beyond replicating what they’re doing now but in a new format.”
The Athabasca University Research Centre also contributed a $2,500 grant for this initiative. The grant money will be used to offset costs associated with producing some of the course content, and also to work with a research assistant who will be able to help evaluate the course by speaking with participants about what worked, what didn’t, and where there is room for improvement.
Fraser added that one of the elements of the role of FGS is quality assurance for graduate studies, which includes that quality supervision piece, and turning the evidence-based lens onto the work supervisors do.
“This course is really about what’s best practice for online graduate supervision, training, and mentorship for new faculty,” he said. “Do we have evidence what we’re doing is working? And do supervisors even realize that they can get information on how to do this well, and maybe there are even processes and structures we do just because they have always been done, and not because there’s evidence that these things work.”