e-Supervision (V). From theory to practice: models, experiences, opportunities and challenges of e-supervision

Notes from the workshop on Doctoral education and e-Supervision, organized by the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP), the International Association of Universities (IAU), the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and the Kenyatta University (KU) within the project Personal Learning Environment (PLE)-PhD project financed through the IAU LEADHER programme, and held in Barcelona, Spain, in October 31, 2013. More notes on this event: plephd.

Questions/guidelines prepared by the session moderator, Ismael Peña-López

  • How did e-supervision tools/methodologies help in carrying out/supervising quality research?
  • Was this an exposed way of carrying out research? What was the experience like?
  • Does exposition increase the risks of plagiarism?
  • Can it jeopardize the originality of the research required for a thesis?
  • Can e-supervision contribute to
    • better theoretical frameworks? Why?
    • drafting better research questions and hypotheses? Why?
    • designing better methodologies? Why?
    • fieldwork? Why?
    • better assessment? Why?
    • better conclusions? Why?


  • Can e-supervision be seen as an added burden – in terms of workload – to the process of doing/supervising a thesis?
  • Can e-supervision be seen as an added burden – in matters of new skills – to the process of doing/supervising a thesis?
  • What strategies could be put in place to avoid this extra burden and, instead, leverage the (supposed) potential of e-supervision?
  • Can e-supervision become collective supervision?
  • Can e-supervision become P2P supervision?

Round Table: From theory to practice: models, experiences, opportunities and challenges of e-supervision

Miquel Duran, Universitat de Girona (UdG), Spain

Open knowledge as a must for e-supervision.

Future is mobile, future is video.

Virtualization of supervision is real supervision.


PhD MOOCization.

e-[something else][empathic]-supervision.

Technology should be transparent.

PhD students has to understand their new role as researchers in formation.

PhD students must contribute to local environment: dissemination, public engagement in science, etc.

There should be a contract/commitment between both parties. Likely a reward system.

Good referencing and curation.

e-Supervision, research 2.0, etc. is about attitudes. And attitude is a choice.

And supervision is about EMPATHY (e-supervision: empathy-supervision).

Doctoral course, on-the-spot: http://iscico.wikispaces.com

Francesc Balagué, Co-founder of Wonference

Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach, Mark Prensky.

A triple interaction approach: supervisor – student – technology.

It is not about 1-to-1 relationships (student-to-supervisor) but about many-to-many, about collaboration, regardless of time and space.

In this change of paradigm, technology is not a tool, but an enabler.

The emergence of web sciences: technology has become a must to understand certain aspects of the world and, more important, to be able to do research about them.

But the change of paradigm may have a trade-off between quality and burden. We have to ensure that this is not an actual trade-off, and that we can go for quality without increasing the burden.


  • Final product vs. co-creation.
  • Individualism vs. collaboration.
  • One-way assessment vs. P2P assessment.

Should we have only one or two tutors as usual?

Are supervisors ready to work as a network?

How can we collaborate with other students/supervisors.

We need new models and strategies to go for this new paradigm.

Ricardo Torres Kompen, PLE- consultant, Spain

PELICANS project: Personal and e-Learning in Communities and Networking Spaces.

It is more important the process than the tool.

e-Supervision and PLE are very related.

Strategies for e-supervision

  • Explore: what tools, what sources/resources, how you discover new sources. Strategies for finding information, applications, etc. It’s about the PERSONAL in PLEs.
  • Ccommunity: PLEs do not stand alone. It is about the PLN: personal learning network.
  • Share: once networks are established, encourage to share, as it creates new channels of communication.
  • Create: fix what is being learned.
  • Flexibility: let the students have their own tools. What is important is not the tool, but the usage.

Training is crucial, but also circumstances and constrains: innovation is born from constrains.
What is important is the process: technology should not interfere in the process, technology should facilitate the process.

Ricard Espelt, PhD student, Universitat Rey Juan Carlos, Spain

There are benefits of publishing the research process, and not the only goal being publishing in journals.

The importance to share your discoveries while they happen, and not only at the end.

Blog one’s research:

  • Accountability, especially before the taxpayer.
  • The importance to keep track of one’s own research.

Technology enables browsing one’s own production in many ways, with different approaches.

Research has to be a forest, not a farm.


Oskar Caquero: will the academia ever acknowledge or provide credit for the work done in blogs, wikis, etc. and not only journals? Ricard Espelt: it may be that the focus of this kind of tools is not to address the academia, but to address another community. Miquel Duran: it is very important to impact. And impacting can happen through journals, but also outside of them. On the other hand, it is likely that in a near future we will be able to set up new ways to assess impact, to assess how value is created for society, etc. Francesc Balagué: new ways of scientific production should definitely be recognized.

Xavier Gabarell: how do one manages so much time in doing “traditional” research and blogging and all other stuff? Miquel Duran: one needs a time management time. But it is not easy. Working as a team, though, helps a lot: thus, there is a distribution of tasks and while some do quantitative analysis others blog it.

Stephen Nyaga: maybe there should be a formal training on e-supervision, with both the student and the supervisor at the same time and sharing the tools and thr strategies. And to have a good strategy to set up new policies that deal with these issues, to convince people to share good practices. Miquel Duran: surely the rewards are not (only) on money, but in many other forms. But some rewards should be put in practice, whatever their kind, and definitely recognized. Ricardo Torres: this is going to take time, but it will pay back in the future… but maybe not in the near future… like learning itself.

Miquel Duran: what about flipped supervision?

Ismael Peña-López: Devil’s advocate: can a non-scholar, a non-supervisor, a non-doctor supervise, help, assess a PhD supervision? Is that “qualitatively” possible?

Ismael Peña-López: How distracting can be “fancy” technology? Is that part of the process?

Sioux McKenna: e-supervision cannot be made compulsory. It is about showing the academic benefits of doing e-supervision.

Olive Mugenda: is everything shareable? can everything be open? Ricardo Torres: the problem with some research is that it is too recent or new that there is nothing published… but there actually is lots of stuff in other platforms. This is definitely a reason for opening up not final research but the whole process.

Doctoral education and e-Supervision (2013)

e-Supervision (IV). Innovative tools enabling e-supervision

Notes from the workshop on Doctoral education and e-Supervision, organized by the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP), the International Association of Universities (IAU), the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and the Kenyatta University (KU) within the project Personal Learning Environment (PLE)-PhD project financed through the IAU LEADHER programme, and held in Barcelona, Spain, in October 31, 2013. More notes on this event: plephd.

Questions/guidelines prepared by the session moderator, Ismael Peña-López

  • How is e-supervision organized administratively and academically at your institution?
  • What kind of administrative frameworks are used to manage e-supervision? University bilateral cooperation agreements/co-tutelle/other formal links to embed e-supervision formally in the doctoral work?
  • How is the time a supervisor spends on e-supervision recognized?
  • What tools have you been using for e-supervision?
  • For what purpose?
  • What was the main area of supervision affected by these tools (e.g. revision of originals, drafting the methodology, fieldworks, theoretical framework and/or bibliography, etc.)?
  • Were these tools discipline-specific?


  • Were they difficult to master?
  • Were they technically difficult to implement?
  • Were these tools discipline-specific?
  • To what extent did they substitute other traditional supervision tasks/procedures?
  • To what extent did they enhance other traditional supervision tasks/procedures?
  • Did these tools “scale” (i.e. could they be reused or used simultaneously by many other student/supervisor pairs)?
  • To what extent do these tools reshape the contexts in which doctoral education is done?

Round Table: Innovative tools enabling e-supervision

Sioux McKenna, Rhodes University, South Africa

Strengthening Doctoral Supervision (http://doctoralsupervision.net/) a course in blended mode to develop supervision capacity.

Technology for:

  • Individual supervision.
  • Programme based communication, programme based use of technology is for two reasons: community of practice, PhD beyond the topic.

Technology: RUConnected – Moodle based program, elluminate, Skype, Youtube, Turnitin, etc.

Do not bring too much technology at the beginning, but little by little.

Need to be structured, not “if you build it they will come”.

Role of the coordinator.

Strong IT support.

eTechnology needs occasional “in person” contact.

Good supervision requires time, there are not technological shortcuts.

eTechnology can enable a rich experience.

Oskar Casquero, Universidad del País Vasco, Spain


  • Mendeley, for reference management, including the Mendeley plugin to embed references into Word documents.
  • Tumblr, for unstructured information.
  • Wiki, for structured information. It came after the unstructured information of Tumblr became more structured. The wiki also fed original content into the final document of the thesis.
  • Dropbox, a word document for each chapter.
  • Gdocs, to write the skeleton of a paper or specific document. Then copy it to a shared Word document in Dropbox.

Selecting the appropriate tools that help. That help in supporting small ideas to the elaboration of complex documents.

It has to support both the writing and the revision.

If tools help, then they become an indispensable element in the user’s daily activity.

Xavier Gabarell, Secretary, Graduate School, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB)

Face to face in a traditional university is the base of its work. Everything is based upon presence, and presence is a value.
Students are required to present once a year, so they have to be at the university at least once a year too — plus the thesis defence, though sometimes they are done by videoconference upon very restricted conditions.

There is several people (student, supervisor, co-supervisors, etc.) involved in the whole process, and here there is plenty of room for innovation. Indeed, co-supervision is fostered by the university, including co-supervision during field work.

Increasingly, a PhD thesis includes writing papers, which requires to increase efficiency.

Who owns or who can access my data?

Miquel Solà, Director Graduate School, Universitat de Girona (UdG)

There is not enough regulation for e-supervision, but the current one sure allows for e-supervision.

The student has to, at a given time, prove his identity.

There are some procedures that are now compulsorily offline, and some others that could be done online. Actually, most parts of the steps of the PhD thesis could be done online and just a few would require physical presence.

e-Supervision could be included in the already existing many courses addressed to PhD students.

Universities should equally recognize traditional supervision and e-supervision.

e-Supervision should not be a substitute.

The creation of group research fellows would be handful in some phases of the thesis. e-Supervision could help in that.

It is not good to be alone doing research.

Some disciplines seem to be more indicated for e-supervision than others.

Tool: Evernote.


Oskar Casquero: institutions should offer a toolbox to the students, but the students should be encouraged to look for their own tools, the tools that best fit their needs. ICTs are about being efficient managing information and knowledge: that it, they are not substitutes, but enhancers. In the core of ICTs and e-supervision there also is networking.

Xavier Gabarell: e-library is surely a core tool in e-supervision. And, indeed, access to journals and literature in general is key for any kind of research, especially e-supervision.

Ricardo Torres: what about open access journals? Will the way we publish impact the way we do research, as it will affect (or not) the way we access information? Xavier Gabarell: open journals is a general concept that actually frames many different practices: reviewed vs. non reviewed, indexed or not, pay to publish vs. paid by third parties, etc. So, it depends on the nature of the open journal what the impact will be.

Ismael Peña-López: Can we shift from “hour allocation” to “goal-based assessment” of the supervisor? Miquel Solà: normally the professor has some lecturing hours allocated and the rest is computed in general. Thus, the lecturing load depends on all the other things the professor is doing. Everything has to be counted in any way, all working hours. Xavier Gabarell: at UAB what is counted is percentages of dedication. And supervision is counted with credits, which can be compared with lecturing credits or hours. But it’s difficult to count hours, dedication, etc. Another issue is that supervision is both teaching and research/innovation, thus it makes it even more difficult to make very separate packets. Sioux McKenna: though some organization and planning is required, management should not enter too much in the work of the professor: just check if academics are performing — not if they do more or less hours.

Ismael Peña-López: What about skills? Oskar Casqueiro: the supervisor should provide a list of tools and a sample of “best practices” on how to use these tools. Training in research methodologies should also improve how to develop these methodologies with the help of ICTs. Sioux McKenna: training is important, but enabling P2P exchange of ideas or practices is even better.

Doctoral education and e-Supervision (2013)

e-Supervision (III). Olive Mugenda. e-Supervision to support the development of doctoral studies in Africa

Notes from the workshop on Doctoral education and e-Supervision, organized by the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP), the International Association of Universities (IAU), the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and the Kenyatta University (KU) within the project Personal Learning Environment (PLE)-PhD project financed through the IAU LEADHER programme, and held in Barcelona, Spain, in October 31, 2013. More notes on this event: plephd.

Olive Mugenda, Vice-Chancellor, Kenyatta University (KU), Kenya
e-Supervision to support the development of doctoral studies in Africa

Ensure that quality of training programmes is everywhere.

Doctoral students are often already employed at the university.

Most phds in Africa are employed at the university. It is not usual to find phds that are not at the university.

Age average of phd students is 30-50, very different from other places.

Challenges of doctoral education in Africa:

  • Shortage of phds in universities: growth of academic staff has not matched the growth of enrolment, low levels of research in some disciplines.
  • Quality of phds: quality of institution depends on the quality of the academic staff, and the quality of doctoral students depends on the quality of the supervision.
  • Low completion rates: part of it due to lack of or bad supervision.
  • Lack of international exposure of faculty: lots of inbreeding too. Quality of faculty is, to a large extent, dependent on the international exposure acquired in graduate & postdoctoral education.

Factors the impact the quality of PhDs:

  • Lack of institutional and programme policies: organization, incentives, discipline expectations, a clear supervision policy with detailed responsibilities, etc.
  • Supervision itself, that requires support and challenges.
  • Massification of higher education, high number of people globally.


  • To complement internal supervision and support.
  • For supervision to be more effective.
  • Connecting the supervisor and the student regardless of space.
  • Intensive use of ICTs.
  • Also in the thesis defence.


  • Use the services of renowned experts.
  • Increase the quality and improve the experience.
  • Productive and effective way to manage and supervise students.
  • Strengthen local research capacity and regional networking, holistic and inclusive approach, active involvement of institutions… and students themselves.
  • To extend research and employment opportunities into remote, rural and hard-to-fill locations.
  • Access to desirable research internships.
  • Minimize supervisors’ travel time.


  • Lack of a well defined e-supervision professional code of conduct.
  • Poor e-supervisor and e-supervisee technological knowhow, access to technological infrastructures.
  • e-Supervision is costly.


  • Develop an e-supervision framework.
  • Define the role for e-supervisors, and the student and supervisor e-relationship.
  • Assurance of quality.
  • Remuneration of e-supervisors.
  • Institutional collaboration on e-supervision.
  • Recognition of e-supervisor work by home and beneficiary institutions.
  • Capacity building for e-supervision.


Miquel Duran: how many time can the doctoral students allocate to their PhDs, especially the ones that “need” the PhD? Mugenda: lecturers normally have time allocated for that.

Chrissie Boughey: how do we transpose the different models of supervision of the different disciplines into e-supervision? Mugenda: regarding research methods, it is a matter of finding what is actually different and what is common. And then centralize what is common and distribute or adapt what is really different.

Hilligje van’t Land: if the e-supervisor is not from the university, how does it fit with local relevance, and with local content? Will the strategy be in line with the university’s strategy? Mugenda: this is a minor problem in comparison with the amount of students that want to do a PhD and not be able to do it. And it is also a matter of binding the e-supervisor with the university.

Doctoral education and e-Supervision (2013)

e-Supervision (II). Ismael Peña-López. e-Supervision: framing the debate

Notes from the workshop on Doctoral education and e-Supervision, organized by the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP), the International Association of Universities (IAU), the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and the Kenyatta University (KU) within the project Personal Learning Environment (PLE)-PhD project financed through the IAU LEADHER programme, and held in Barcelona, Spain, in October 31, 2013. More notes on this event: plephd.

Ismael Peña-López, lecturer and researcher, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC)
e-Supervision: framing the debate

We can define four stages in technology adoption:

  1. During appropriation people get to know what new technologies are out there, they learn how to use them, they master them… but not necessarily use them or use them in a specific environment and for a specific purpose. E.g. learn that text editors exist, learn how to use them, but still use typewritters.
  2. In the adaptation phase, old technologies are replaced by the new ones, but just to perform exactly the same tasks, routines, processes. E.g. typewritters are trown away, but text editors are used to type the very same letters. The cost of using a new technology is clearly here an expenditure, as no major benefits appear.
  3. Improvement happens when benefits begin to overrun the cost of using new technologies. Here, costs are investments that pay back in the medium and long term. E.g. text editors are used intensively allowing for thorough edition (copying, pasting, formatting, etc.), tracking changes and versions, passing documents along (by e-mail, that is, another concurring technology) so that they can be commented, reedited, etc.
  4. Last, and most important, transformation implies that the whole process is though (almost) from scratch, deploying the full potential of new technologies to redesign processes and tasks. E.g. documents begin not with an original from a single person, but collaborative tools come in place (like wikis, pads or the like) where everyone can contribute at the same time, with no need for centralization, no need for preset structures, etc.

e-Supervision can be described in this framework. Thus, there is not a single definition of what e-Supervision is, but a continuum of definitions as e-Supervision itself evolves from adaptation to improvement, and from improvement to transformation (and including a phase 0 of adoption, which is by the way most needed).

  1. During appropriation e-supervision is, actually, supervision. Period. Everyone is using technology, but not for supervision purposes.
  2. In the adaptation e-supervision can be defined as electronic supervision as traditional tasks (meetings, reviews) are done with the help of technology: videoconferences, support of digital documents. This phase is needed because it bridges both worlds (supervision with e-supervision) but has to be quickly overcome, as the cost of the change of technology does not come with any evident benefit.
  3. Improvement happens when these benefits of e-Supervision imply an evolution, an evolved supervision. Tracking changes, control version, creation of communities of practice and communities of learning within (or with-out) learning management systems… even xMOOCs can imply several opportunities for improvement of old practices.
  4. Last, and most important, transformation is rethinking e-supervision (almost) from scratch. It’s about enhanced supervision, deploying all the potential of research 2.0, connectivist MOOCs, peer-to-peer assessment, e-portfolios, personal learning environments. That is, rethinking the whole research and supervision practice, now taking into account not only tools, but the concurrence of other actors, of new roles (and responsibilities

[click here to enlarge]


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Prezi slides:

Peña-López, I. (2013). e-Supervision: Framing the Debate. Workshop within the LEADHER PLEDS Project at the Open Univeristy of Catalonia, 31 October 2013.
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Prezi slides as PDF:

Peña-López, I. (2013). e-Supervision: Framing the Debate. Workshop within the LEADHER PLEDS Project at the Open Univeristy of Catalonia, 31 October 2013.

Doctoral education and e-Supervision (2013)

e-Supervision (I). Opening Session

Notes from the workshop on Doctoral education and e-Supervision, organized by the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP), the International Association of Universities (IAU), the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and the Kenyatta University (KU) within the project Personal Learning Environment (PLE)-PhD project financed through the IAU LEADHER programme, and held in Barcelona, Spain, in October 31, 2013. More notes on this event: plephd.

Hilligje van’t Land, Director, Membership and Programme Development, IAU

There is a dire need for real phds, in Africa or elsewhere, virtual or not.

There also is a need to collaborate, to innovate in the field of how to foster brand new research and how to support the new research done by PhD students.

Added to that, there is a need for research networks: it is important to note that supervision is also part of being a network.

A very important challenge is how to provide technical support, how to bring into research ethical dimensions, or how to lead the administrative changes that have to accompany the changes in research and in supervision.

But most important of all, beyond theories, we have to see how to put e-supervision into practice, to make it happen.

Marta Aymerich, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC)

One of the keys of research and PhD is supervision. It is not a trivial matter and thus needs being addressed properly.

ICTs have provided very powerful in knowledge related tasks. We thus need to leverage the power of ICTs in research in general and in supervision in particular.

We need to discuss the structures in place for doctoral education.

Olive Mugenda, Vice-Chancellor, Kenyatta University (KU), Kenya

There is a dire need for research and for PhDs.

We especially need to train the trainers, people that will earn their own PhDs so that they can supervise/train others.

The whole process needs to be accountable, in general terms of performance, but especially in terms of ensuring quality.

We can’t keep the old model of supervision, we have to open up supervision.

We have to change paradigm, get out of old way of thinking and foster e-supervision.

Jaume Casals, Vice-Chancellor, Universitat Pompeu Fabra in representation of the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP)

PhDs are the jewel of the crown, thus we have to harvest them with care.

Doctoral education and e-Supervision (2013)

Global Revolution (IV). Challenges, problems and innovations in the phase of evolution of the network movements cycle 2011-2013 (II)

Notes from the Three years of interconnected riots. Emergence, evolution and challenges of the network movements in the context of the #GlobalRevolution, organized by the Communication and Civil Society programme of the IN3 in Barcelona, Spain, in October 23, 2013. More notes on this event: globalrev.

Rodrigo Nunes (PUC-Rio. Riots in Brazil)

The increase of corruption and the fall in the quality of public services converge in generating a general unrest in the citizenry. It is acknowledged that the general status of the majority of the population has improved, but people disapprove the way this has happened, many times based on commoditization of services, access to financial credit, and regardless of the social and environmental costs of increased access to consumption. “Changing the country” (the motto of the Workers’ Party) is not about higher consumption levels, but about another thing. The agenda of the movement thus globalizes, and focuses on a constituent/destituent power.

When social movements perceive that the opposition in the Parliament is using the destituent approach to undermine the power of the government, they step back and shift away from the destituent approach.

Now we are witnessing a full reshaping of the movement, following a re-specification of the identities, and going back to the local arena somewhat setting aside the national-wide issues. The shift is also back towards the left, back to emergency issues.

Indeed, we have to take into account that media usually rebrand the message(s) of the movements, thus causing even more confusion.

Marcelo D’Elia Branco (Free-software activist. Current project: Conexoes Globais)

#VemPraRua was organized in a decentralized way, and using the images from police violence to fuel the protests.

We have witnessed a shift in Brazil politics from following the politics from the “West” to having its own politics and leading its own development. This has increased the self-steem of Brazilians and, at the same time, the awareness that the future of Brazil is in the Brazilians’ hands. Thus the unrests and demonstrations: Brazilians feel the main actors of their own development and thus they step forward. Unrests and demonstrations in Brazil are about showing out empowerment, commitment, and not mere criticism.

But since June 17, the protests begin to be populated with all kinds of people, especially people from the right that aim at weakening the government by appropriating the movement.

Now the trademark of the protests in Brazil are the Black Blocs, which is bad, because the forms are more violent (despite whether they are legitimate or not) and are kicking citizens out of the streets.

Ali Ergin (Sendika.org. Occupy Gezi)

(his intervention, taped on video, will be uploaded to the Net soon)


Q: What are the main challenges? Nunes: Black Blocs have been useful to keep the movement alive and to avoid that the movement was captured by extreme-right parties or organizations. But it is true that their behaviour has also caused some harm in the image of the movement. What is needed now is diversifying the ways to exert activism, as Black Blocs have a very specific type of activism and of activist. There is an urgent need for a tactic diversification of the movement at the same time that there is a global interconnection of the world movements.

D’Elia Branco: we cannot analyse the current social movements, so very much brand new, in the typical classifications of the industrial society. Most of these movements scape the definitions of many post-modernist thinkers and philosophers.

More information

Global Revolution. Three years of interconnected riots (2013)

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Sobre Mí

    Soy Ismael Peña-López.

    Soy profesor de los Estudios de Derecho y de Ciencia Política de la Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, e investigador en el Internet Interdisciplinary Institute y el eLearn Center de la misma. Durante 2014 también soy el Director del proyecto de Innovación Abierta de la Fundació Jaume Bofill.