Project-centered personal learning environments in e-research and open social innovation

Working in the field of open social innovation, and most especially when one considers institutions as platforms for civic engagement, it is almost unavoidable to think of the personal learning environment (PLE) as a useful tool for conceptualising or even managing a project, especially a knowledge-intensive one.

Let the definition of a PLE be a set of conscious strategies to use technological tools to gain access to the knowledge contained in objects and people and, through that, achieve specific learning goals. And let us assume that a knowledge-intensive project aims at achieving a higher knowledge threshold. That is, learning.

The common — and traditional — approach to such projects can be, in my opinion, simplified as follows:

  • Extraction of information and knowledge from the environment.
  • Management and transformation of information and knowledge to add value.
  • Dissemination, outreach and knowledge transmission.

These stages usually happen sequentially and on a much independent way one from another. They even usually have different departments behind.

This is perfectly valid in a world where tasks associated to information and communication are costly, and take time and (physical) space. Much of this is not true. Any more. Costs have dropped down, physical space is almost irrelevant and many barriers associated with time have just disappeared. What before was a straight line — extract, manage, disseminate — is now a circle… or a long sequence of iterations around the same circle and variations of it.

I wonder whether it makes sense to treat knowledge-intensive projects as yet another node within a network of actors and objects working in the same field. As a node, the project can both be an object — embedding an information or knowledge you can (re)use — or the reification of the actors whose work or knowledge it is embedding — and, thus, actors you can get in touch trough the project.

A good representation of a project as a node is to think of it in terms of a personal learning environment, hence a project-centered personal learning environment (maybe project knowledge environment would be a better term, but it gets too much apart from the idea of the PLE as most people understands and “sees” it).

A very rough, simple scheme of a project-centered personal learning environment could look like this:

Scheme of a project-centered personal learning environment
Scheme of a project-centered personal learning environment
[Click to enlarge]

In this scheme there are three main areas:

  • The institutional side of the project, which includes all the data gathered, the references used, the output (papers, presentations, etc.), a blog with news and updates, collaborative work spaces (e.g. shared documents) and all what happens on social networking sites.
  • The inflow of information, that is data sources, collections of references and other works hosted in repositories in general.
  • The exchange of communications with the community of interest, be it individual specialists, communities of learning or practice, and major events.

These areas, though, and unlike traditional project management, interact intensively with each other, sharing forth information, providing feedback, sometimes converging. The project itself is redefined by these interactions, as are the adjacent nodes of the network.

I can think at least of three types of knowledge-intensive projects where a project-centered personal learning environment approach makes a lot of sense to me:

  • Advocacy.
  • Research.
  • Open social innovation (includes political participation and civic engagement).

In all these types of project knowledge is central, as is the dialogue between the project and the actors and resources in the environment. Thinking of knowledge-intensives projects not in terms of extract-manage-disseminate but in terms of (personal) learning environments, taking into account the pervasive permeability of knowledge that happens in a tight network is, to me, an advancement. And it helps in better designing the project, the intake of information and the return that will most presumably feed back the project itself.

There is a last reflection to be made. It is sometime difficult to draw or even to recognize one’s own personal learning environment: we are too used to work in projects to realize our ecosystem, we are so much project-based that we forget about the environment. Thinking on projects as personal learning environments helps in that exercise: the aggregation of them all should contribute in realizing:

  • What is the set of sources of data, bibliographies and repositories we use as a whole as the input of our projects.
  • What is the set of specialists, communities of practice and learning, and major events with which we usually interact, most of the times bringing with us the outputs of our projects.
Scheme of a personal learning environments as the aggregation of knowledge-intensive projects
Scheme of a personal learning environments as the aggregation of knowledge-intensive projects
[Click to enlarge]

Summing up, conceiving projects as personal learning environments in advocacy, e-research and open innovation can help both in a more comprehensive design of these projects as in a better acknowledgement of our own personal learning environment. And, with this, to help in defining a better learning strategy, better goal-setting, better identification of people and objects (resources) and to improve the toolbox that we will be using in the whole process. And back to the beginning.


e-Supervision (VII). Concluding 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.

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

  • How can e-supervision be implemented on a large scale?
  • What measures should be taken?
  • What resources would be needed?
  • What incentives should be offered (if any) to the supervisors?
  • Are supervisors able – in terms of skills and competences – to go on with e-supervision? What skills/training should they have?
  • What different roles can be identified campus-wide when putting up an e-supervision programme? What actors?
  • How do we assess e-supervision itself?
  • How do we assess the outcomes of e-supervision (i.e. research)?
  • How do we make sure quality of research stays at its highest level?
  • Can e-supervision “distract” researchers from their original work (i.e. focus in the forms and not the ends)?


  • Do you think that e-supervision could be obstructed by higher risk of plagiarism?
  • Do you think that e-supervision could be obstructed by requirements of original/unpublished work now undisclosed by e-supervision itself?
  • Do you think that e-supervision can put any especial concern on intellectual property rights, privacy, or other rights related to authors or works in general?

Concluding Session

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

How can e-supervision be implemented?

Let’s start with the basics and see how we can move on.

Let’s think about how to do the research, how to change the mindset of doing research, about networking, about the internationalization of the process.

What measures should be taken?

Leadership truly is key to the whole process of implementing e-supervision.

What are the incentives?

Is money the right incentive? does it scale? is it sustainable?

Universities could share their initiatives and experiences at

A very important issue is to create a community. A community within the team, the department, the university, across universities… a sense of community of e-supervisors and people interested or working on e-supervision.

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

We need a framework to guide universities through e-supervision.

One of the major concerns is quality. Maintaining a standard of quality.

Related to quality, there’s monitoring, to guarantee that the whole process is working smoothly.

What modalities are there? What methodologies?

How frequently people should communicate, when, how… some guidelines that are just illustrative, but that can provide a framework that everybody understands and agrees upon.

What is the balance between traditional supervision and e-supervision?

Josep M. Vilalta, Executive Secretary, Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP)

A need indeed for a framework and guidelines to effectively implement e-supervision.

e-Supervision does not necessarily have to be 100% online, but can also explore a blended or hybrid approach, where traditional and e-supervision models can complement each other, as it is already happening at the undergraduate and master levels.

e-Supervision can also be very interesting in “industrial doctorates”, which consist in enterprise-university agreements to develop research that can lead towards the completion of a PhD.


Doctoral education and e-Supervision (2013)

e-Supervision (VI). How can e-supervision contribute to improve doctoral education 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.

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

  • What are the main challenges for quality MSc/PhD supervision in Africa?
  • Are they more of a technological, financial or cultural nature?
  • How is Africa different from e.g. Europe in this sense?
  • Do you foresee any convergence of methodologies and culture in doing research in general and supervision in particular in the world?
  • How can ICTs in general contribute to addressing these challenges?
  • How can e-learning in general contribute to addressing these challenges?
  • How can ICTs and e-learning be translated into e-supervision? …in Africa?


  • What is the hottest topic/challenge in supervision in Africa?
  • How could e-supervision address it?
  • What is the most emerging topic/challenge of e-supervision in Africa?
  • How should it be addressed it?

Round Table: How can e-supervision contribute to improve doctoral education in Africa

Itir Akdogan, Social Research/Media and Communication Studies, Helsinki University (via videoconference)

Access to technology, not only infrastructures but cultural: lack of habit to use ICT for academic research, preference for face-to-face.

Lack of access to information.

Lack of research culture, of pressure to publish.

Role of ICTs:

  • Access to information.
  • Increase of research culture.
  • Improve interaction, not only one-to-one, but collective.
  • Modest is good, simple but effective solutions.

Beware of exclusion because of e-euphoria: need to keep on with face-to-face event important for networking.

Paul Okemo, Dean of Graduate School, Kenyatta University (KU), Kenya

Importance of development of human resources and knowledge generation.

There is a national commitment to improve the amount of people educated, which has been successful. But now the massive intake of new students, especially at the PhD level, is seriously challenging the system.

e-supervision can help in providing a solution to this challenge.

We try no to go online on expense of quality.

One of the major challenges of e-supervision is monitoring to ensure quality.

Another issue is how to assess all the work that the students are doing.

About the costs, it is likely that connection costs are lower than travel costs to attend face-to-face meetings.

An important challenge is the change of mindset, both for students and supervisors.


  • Learn from others.
  • Try and benchmark what everyone else is doing and share milestones.

Chrissie Boughey and Sioux McKenna, Rhodes University, South Africa

In order to gain a doctorate you have to demonstrate that you are like other doctors.

And in order to do that you have to use language in a specific way. PhD training is about teaching someone to be particular type of knower, in oder to speak, write and act in particular way.

Supervision is about bringing the student in the particular world of the text, the written text.

The danger of e-supervision is what happens that is not tracked, that is not formalized by technology, the lack context, the lack of physical contact. And the formal places where academic stuff happens cannot be substituted by other practices: so we have to learn how to make both worlds be compatible, how to go from e-supervision onto the formality of the academic world. It’s important to translate what has been “e-discussed” into the paper, the communication, the journal, which is the language that the academic world speaks.

Ousmane Thiare?, IT Specialist, Professor, Universite? Gaston Berger de Saint-Louis, Senegal

In Senegal as in other places of Western Africa infrastructure still is an issue.

And, again, not only infrastructures, but culture.

Besides, there is also is the fear that technology will replace human beings (i.e. professors) and make them irrelevant.

Necessary to have a work plan, a commitment, a kind of “contract” where roles and procedures are defined in detail.


Ismael Peña-López: Do you foresee any convergence of methodologies and culture in doing research in general and supervision in particular in the world? Can e-supervision work towards a standard in supervision? Okemo: e-supervision is going to internationalize supervision and research in general. Whether this is going to end up in standardization, that is not sure that is going to happen. It will sure bring closer different approaches, but merging them or making them converge, that is another thing that does not necessarily will happen. Boughey: this is unlikely to happen among disciplines, especially between sciences and humanities. The gap sure can be bridged, but not closed at all: the objects of research are too different.

Akdogan: when talking about e-supervision, the effort to bridge the traditional and e-research worlds should be shared. On the other hand, it may well be that e-research is more demanding than traditional research, and thus the translation would be much easier and even better than 100% offline students, which are usually less engaged. So, e-research requires more engagement, which is good, and more effort as exposure pushes towards it.

Stephen Nyaga: what would be the most effective way of monitoring e-supervisors and the whole process? Akdogan: don’t think there should be a standard and each university should have their own way. In any case, it should be simple, easy tools, with a clear schedule. Okemo: the same way that traditional supervision is structured, also e-supervision could be structured in its own way. Akdogan: but, of course, adapted to the online world and flexibility.

Ismael Peña-López: about monitoring the e-supervisor, there are two more ways. First, if we believe in a transformative approach to e-supervision, then the whole process of research and of making of the thesis will be open and we can monitor not the e-supervisor, but the outcomes of their supervision in the successes and procedures of their students. Second, if we understand the supervisors as researchers themselves and, thus, as learners, then they will have too open personal learning environments which we will be able to monitor, to follow, to interact with.


Doctoral education and e-Supervision (2013)

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:

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 ( 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)