Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title 'Token Supervision' - A Method for Improving the Quality of Undergraduate Project Supervision to Increasing Student Numbers.
Originator Dr J. Warburton, Dr R.J. Allison and Dr D.L. Higgitt
Department Department of Geography, University of Durham, Durham, DH1 3LE
Tel. +44 (0)191 374 7302
Fax. +44 (0)191 374 2456
E-mail jeff.warburton@durham.ac.uk

Supervising increasing numbers of students on small-group projects consumes enormous amounts of staff time. Efforts to maintain the quality of supervision yet at the same time reduce the amount of contact time would at first sight appear to be an impossible task. However, in a second year option at the University of Durham, a method has been used successfully to achieve this goal. As part of a course in Dryland Geomorphology students are required to complete a six week group project (four persons) examining a practical aspect of the topic. Projects fall broadly into three categories field-based, laboratory-based and computational. The outcome is a group poster accompanied by a short summary report; a five minute oral presentation introducing the poster; and a more substantive individual report. Project supervision is by means of a 'token' system.

Following an initial period of consultation, during which time practical and technical issues are resolved, vouchers are then issued entitling groups to three 20 minute consultations with staff. The rules of engagement require that all members of the group should be present at the meeting and that consultation should be arranged by appointment. This arrangement has several important differences over an unconstrained open-door policy. Firstly, students are forced to carefully think through the issues that require clarification. Secondly, group work is encouraged because students will attempt to answer some questions themselves and define critical questions for the consultation period. Thirdly, staff time is used efficiently and students receive information collectively which can be discussed further amongst themselves. The main benefit of this approach is that it promotes active learning within the group and encourages greater independence in project design and organisation. Three main approaches in the use of tokens have evolved: groups which space consultations equally apart; groups which prefer a double-session followed by a final (checking) session close to the conclusion of the project; and groups which hoard tokens to the last minute. The latter strategy is 'high risk' because feedback is often too late to be effective. Students have responded very positively to this approach and appreciate the greater responsibility for their learning which this method affords them.

Keywords:

Critical questioning
Group work
Large student numbers
Project-work
Supervision
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