Aug. 20, 2021

Academics up their supervision game with Massive Open Online Course

Online program fosters grad student success by addressing mentorship challenges
Online program fosters grad student success by addressing mentorship challenges

Lack of access to effective supervision is among the principal reasons graduate students report as to why they quit their program of study before earning a degree.

A pan-institutional team led by the University of Calgary’s Dr. Michele Jacobsen, PhD’98, and King Abdulaziz University’s Dr. Hawazen Alharbi, PhD’18, is tackling this challenge with the Quality Graduate Supervision MOOC.

The MOOC, or massive open online course, was developed in collaboration with researchers from Athabasca University to support new and experienced faculty members in enhancing their supervisory practices through guided and self-paced online learning.

“We know that quality graduate supervision is key to student success,” says Jacobsen, a professor in the Werklund School of Education. “There aren’t a lot of seminars and workshops readily available for supervisors to develop their practice, and we thought that an accessible and flexible online course could address that need.”

Student achievement

Over a period of seven weeks, an interdisciplinary panel of award-winning academics shares strategies for developing professional relationships with supervisees, addressing conflicts, balancing excellence and wellness, supporting academic writing and mentoring for diverse career paths. Participants also engage in webinars and access over 40 instructional videos in hands-on learning modules.

While the ultimate goal of the program is to foster graduate student success, Jacobsen says the individual reasons academics enroll are myriad. “Some are supervising their first doctoral students, others are seeking support with specific challenges, such as helping students with academic writing or time management, while others appreciate confirmation from other supervisors that what they are doing is on the right track.”

Nurturing well-being

Jacobsen, who received a University of Calgary Teaching Award for Graduate Supervision in 2020, has experienced the evolution of student supervision first-hand. She points to the growing emphasis on well-being as one of several positive advancements in recent years. “Graduate supervision is much broader than just focusing on academics or research in the lab; supervisors must focus on academic and research excellence – and the health and wellness of themselves and their doctoral students.”  

Jacobsen also notes that student stewardship has traditionally been insular, but that the MOOC breaks down discipline and departmental siloes by inviting panelists from numerous Canadian universities to share their expertise and to foster conversations among colleagues from across disciplines. The next iteration of the course will see UCalgary and Athabasca University scholars joined by colleagues from Queens University and the universities of Regina and Lethbridge.

“Magic happens when we bring diverse faculty together.”

Collective rewards

Since the program pilot in 2017, close to 200 academics from more than a dozen fields have completed the course. Jacobsen believes the advantages of elevating supervisory practice are far-reaching. “Projects like this benefit us all. Universities benefit by graduating a talented generation of scholars and new researchers in Canada; society, in turn, benefits from professors and graduate students bringing their research findings forth in the world.” 

The next Quality Graduate Supervision MOOC offering begins Monday, September 27. Registration is now open

As part of the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning’s Teaching Days, Dr. Jacobsen is collaborating with Drs. Hawazen Alharbi, Shawn Fraser and Shauna Reckseidler-Zenteno to provide the Balancing Excellence and Wellness in Research-Focused Supervisory Relationships workshop. This August 26 online session focuses on methods for combining research-focused supervision pedagogy with strategies for wellness while supervising graduate students’ progress and productivity online. Registration is now open.