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)

New book published: Community action in the net

Book cover for Acción comunitaria en la Red

Some months ago, professor in Social Pedagogy Xavier Úcar approached Francesc Balagué and I and told us he was very worried: after many years working in the field of community action, the Internet had come and changed every definition we had on what a community was, and changed every definition we had on what interaction (or action) was too. He had just found out that community action might be lagging behind the pace of times. And he invited us to write a book on the new communities and how did they interact on the net, so that he and his colleagues could use it to catch up with new scenario after the digital revolution.

An appealing invitation as it was, we had grounded reasons not to accept it: one of us is a pedagogue specialised in instructional technology and the other one an economist specialised in the impact of ICTs and development. Thus, we knew almost nothing about community action, and only had a chaotic approach to new expressions of communities working together in the most different types of ways and goals. That is precisely the point, stated professor Úcar.

Hence the heterodoxy of the inner structure of the book that has just seen the light. Acción comunitaria en la red (Community action in the net) is neither a book on community action nor a book with very clear ideas. It is, but, a book that invites the reader to think, to elaborate their own conclusions, and to find out which and whether these conclusions can be applied and how to their own personal or professional cases.

The full book has been written by 15 authors and presents 8 case studies that depict and analyse how a specific community used the Internet and its different tools and platforms to share information, communicate amongst them, organize themselves and coordinate actions in order to achieve their particular goals. The structure of the chapters analysing the cases was totally free, but some relevant questions had to be answered somehow:

  • What were the history, motivations, goals of the community?
  • What led the community to use the Internet? How was the community articulated digitally? what provided the Internet that could not be found offline?
  • How was the process of adoption of digital technologies, what tools and why?
  • What happened to the sense of membership, identity, participation?
  • What was the role of the mediator, facilitator, leader and how does it compare with an offline leadership?
  • Is self-regulation possible? How was conflict handled?
  • How is digital knowledge, experiences and learning “brought back” to the offline daily life and put into practice?

The cases are preceded by two introductory chapters, a first one on the social web and virtual participation, and a second on digital skills, as we thought some common background would help the reader to better understand some digital practices (and jargon). The book closes with what we, both authors, learnt during the preparation of the book and from reading other people’s chapters. This concluding chapter can be used too as a guideline for the preceding cases.

Table of contents

From the official page of the book Acción comunitaria en la red at Editorial Graó.

  1. Introduction, Francesc Balagué, Ismael Peña-López.
  2. What is the Web 2.0? New forms of participation and interaction. Francesc Balagué.
  3. Brief introduction to digital skills. Ismael Peña-López.
  4. APTIC. A social networking site for relativos of boys and girls with chronic diseases and conditions. Manuel Armayones, Beni Gómez Zúñiga, Eulàlia Hernández, Noemí Guillamón.
  5. School building: new communities. Berta Baquer, Beatriu Busquets.
  6. Social networking sites in education. Gregorio Toribio.
  7. Networked creation and the Wikipedia community. Enric Senabre Hidalgo.
  8. Social networking sites in the Administration: the Compartim programme on collaborative work. Jesús Martínez Marín
  9. Local politics, organizations and community. Ricard Espelt
  10. Towards cyberactivism from social movements. Núria Alonso, Jordi Bonet.
  11. Mobile phones, virtual communities and cybercafes: technologicla uses of international immigrants. Isidro Maya Jariego
  12. Concluding remarks. Ismael Peña-López, Francesc Balagué


There is a lot of people to be thankful to for making the book possible.

The first one is Xavier Úcar. I have only seldom been granted such a degree of total confidence and trust, not only in my work but in myself as a professional. He was supportive and provided guidance to two ignorants in the field. He totally gave us a blank cheque and one of my deepest fears during the whole process was — and still is — to have been able to pay him back with a quality book. I really hope it has been so.

The authors of the case studies were just great. Some of us did not know each other and I can count up to three people which I still have to meet personally (i.e. offline). They also trusted in us and gave away a valuable knowledge and work that money won’t pay. Many of them won’t even make much use of adding a line on their CVs for having written a book chapter. I guess this is part of this sense of new communities that the whole book is talking about.

My gratitude (but also apologies) to Antoni Garcia Porta and Sara Cardona at Editorial Graó. I am fully aware that we made them suffer: we succeeded in transferring some of our chaotic lives to them when they had not asked to. Being an editor today must be both a thrilling and a difficult challenge. We all gave away time in the making of the book but the published they represent invested money too, and that is something that we quickly forget these days.

Last, but absolutely not least, it has been a real pleasure working with Francesc. I think we only met once during the whole process: when Xavier invited us to coordinate the book. Francesc then packed and went around the world for 14 months. Luckily he took his laptop and would connect every now and then. Our e-mail archive and Google Documents can testify that almost everything is possible if there is the will to do it.

And it was fun too. Oh, yes it was!