Peer partner supervision in the thesis process

1 Deciding to use peer partner supervision

2 Choosing a peer partner/opponent and agreeing procedure
3 Preparing for a peer partner supervision session
4 Peer partner supervision sessions
5 Use of peer partner supervision for your own thesis and learning diary
6 Peer partner evaluation and reporting in your own learning diary
7 Learning, growth into expertise
8 A support tool for thesis work

Peer Partner Concepts

In order to evaluate the progress and quality of your thesis process you can make use of self-assessment, teacher supervision and peer partner supervision. In the thesis process, self-assessment means that students monitor their own work and the activities of their working group critically, logically and by drawing conclusions. Self-assessment is a conscious or unconscious process that takes place during the topic and planning seminars and during different supervision sessions: “ did I get that right? Should I improve that section? Have I understood the boundaries of the topic?”

The concept peer partner supervision is used in this context and it has been adapted from the peer group assessment, peer group support and peer group visit concepts. Peer group assessment means a common assessment method used by students, peers, of the same professional level to regularly assess each other’s progress in completing their theses. Peer group assessment can be carried out in pairs, small groups or between small groups.

Peer group assessment is based on a common agreement between peers (fellow students) that defines in advance the assessment contents, criteria and procedure as well how to give feedback. Peer group assessment and particularly feedback obtained during such sessions supports the development of expertise, fellowship and co-operation between students. Therefore feedback should be constructive and mutual. The content and criteria of peer group assessment should be based on the peer partners’ thesis process, not on their personal characteristics. This type of assessment should be regular, long-term and it should emphasise mutual learning.

Peer group support can be understood to be the objective of peer group assessment or its parallel concept. When it is an aim of peer group assessment the student will receive aid, guidance, recognition and encouragement from his/her peer(s). As a parallel concept peer group support does not include assessment or direct feedback. Rather it means that students share issues and ideas. This is not sufficient in the thesis process because students require constructive, confidential peer-to-peer feedback and assessment that will aid mutual learning and growth into expertise.

Peer group supervision during the thesis process refers to the exchange of experiences and interactive communication between peers who are at the same stage in their studies and who are struggling with the same types of problems. Peer group supervision is doing things together, exchange of innovations, proposing ideas and different alternatives – improving. During the supervision session peers can experience togetherness, succeed and encourage each other. The significance of an issue to be learnt is more easily understood by listening the personal story of a peer. Peer group supervision also improves social skills and relations, trust and fellowship, social capital.

Peer group supervision can be seen as a process that includes different consecutive stages (fig. 1). These stages and their roles are described in more detail later on. One wide arrow in the figure describes how the process progresses and the narrow arrows show that one must evaluate how the peer supervision session benefits the thesis process. This evaluation is the basis of planning the next peer partner supervision session. Additionally it is good to assess whether such a model is applicable.

Figure 1. Peer partner supervision in the thesis process

1 Deciding to use peer partner supervision

During the preparatory studies for the thesis, the progress of the thesis process is discussed, as well as the roles of the student, working life and the teacher. There is also discussion on why peer partner supervision is useful to us now and where it is specifically needed. This forms the basis for future discussions with possible future peer partners/opponents.

Why should I use peer partner supervision?

  • We can learn together with our peers
  • We can come up with new ideas and solutions by getting to grips with solutions suggested by our peer partner and by making our own suggestions
  • The model is simple and easy to use
  • It encourages us to express our ideas and to discuss our solutions with others
  • It helps us to build social networks
  • Feedback helps us to recognise our own ‘blind spots’

What does peer partner supervision need?

  • The willingness to learn from your peers
  • The willingness and skill to share your own ideas, successes and failures – we can all think of solutions to problems based on experience
  • The willingness to consider yourself as a learner!
    • It is more difficult to learn from others when you believe that your way is the only way to write a thesis and this also makes co-operation more difficult. This can cause unconscious competition that can lead to poor listening, misunderstandings, defensive behaviour and conflict.
    • Positive feelings that support learning are an aid to learning from others. If issues can be resolved in many different ways, a thesis can be studied from many different points of view. Such a discussion can form in itself the best way to analyse your own thesis and is an excellent learning tool.
  • The willingness and skill to participate in equal discussion. This is the best way to receive new or different ways of thinking while working on your own thesis.

2 Choosing a peer partner/opponent and agreeing procedure

The choice of peer partner/opponent is discussed during thesis topic development, the ideas seminars and when you choose your topic thesis. The aim of the ideas seminar is that you plan your supervised clinical training and courses together with your teachers so that they cover your thesis topic. During this seminar you and the other student will gain an outline of all the thesis topics to be covered in that particular group. The topics can be grouped according to theme and this will help you to single out the theses that interest you and their authors. This will help students to fall into to the role of peer partner or opponent. It is best to join students in the role of peer partner/opponent with whom it is possible to form a confidential relationship and whose level of expertise it about the same. During the ideas seminar students will be asked how they can support each other. Each participant in peer partner supervision should be aware of the type of learner that they are. When a suitable peer partner/opponent is found you then have to agree on procedure.

What should form the basis of this agreement and what types of issues need to be agreed?

  • Compile a short description (a table, maximum 1 A4 page) of your thesis idea and of yourself as a learner. Your peer partner/opponent should describe him/herself as a learner and explain why he/she is interested in your thesis topic. These written descriptions form the backbone of the discussion and help you to get to know each other and the thesis idea. Decisions concerning the formation of the peer partner supervision group will also be based on this description.
  • It must be decided whether peer partner supervision will be one-sided (the peer partner gives the thesis author feedback), mutual (both give feedback to each other) or multi-active (more than two thesis groups acting as peer partner/opponent to each other. If you decide on mutual peer partner supervision, the other peer partner’s thesis idea must be described briefly.
  • Clarify the peer partner supervision process and agree how it will be used in this group
  • Agree on the practicalities: preparation methods, contents, memos and a preliminary schedule for the supervision sessions.

3 Preparing for a peer partner supervision session

Effective peer partner supervision requires of the thesis author, an appropriate description and analysis of the thesis as it stands at the moment of supervision and a checklist of issues to be covered during the supervision session. Effective peer partner supervision requires that the peer partner/opponent studies the thesis carefully and makes a list of issues that need to be discussed. Send the list in advance and the supervision session should progress according to the items on the list. This ensures effective time management and that you keep to the point. Use email – it is the easiest way to convey information.

How do you prepare for a peer partner supervision session?

  • Compile a checklist or list of questions:
    • Record criteria (e.g. what a good introduction should include. What source references are needed) or
    • Write down your own questions to act as a checklist during your discussion (what do we want to know, e.g. which theory best describes the issue being researched, from whose point of view is the thesis being completed, a client’s, an organisation’s…).
  • The thesis author should compile a plan for the peer partner session and show it to the peer partner/opponent for approval:
    • Time management
    • Agree meetings
    • Division of tasks (e.g. recording)
    • Development issues and actions

4 Peer partner supervision sessions

The amount of peer partner supervision used depends on how you plan your supervision session. Peer partner supervision sessions vary and include different objectives, for example, the ideas seminar, sessions arranged because a student needs supervision and support from his/her peer partner, the topic seminar or thesis-planning seminar. Many of these sessions are timetabled but usually students arrange the sessions themselves. An external representative or the teacher supervisor can also attend such sessions, and this should be taken into account when preparing for the sessions (criteria, list of questions, or send thesis to them in advance). The supervision session can take place in different types of learning environments such as the commissioning party’s place of work. The supervision session should be organised so that enough time will remain for mutual assessment. This will provide the student with more information to help him/her develop his/her thesis.

What happens during a peer partner supervision session?

  • Firstly, the aim, progression and schedule of the session should be examined by everyone present – the peer partner(s) and external and UAS representatives.
  • Discuss, question and observe issues linked to the thesis according to a list of items to be discussed, questions or criteria drawn up in advance.
  • Record all observations.
  • At the end of the session the peer/opponent and anyone else present should provide the peer partner with feedback:
    • What thoughts did the discussion provoke?
    • Any new ideas at this stage (feedback and initial conclusions exchanged)

5 Use of peer partner supervision for your own thesis and learning diary

After the peer partner supervision session each participant should consider the feedback and other ideas that they have received. A successful exchange of feedback provides positive opportunities for development for all parties involved. In order to achieve good results students require a variety of experiences involving positive feelings and feedback is one way to accomplish such feelings. The effect of feedback depends very much upon how the recipient interprets and accepts it. In order to receive feedback students must first allow themselves to be evaluated and they must also be prepared to reveal their own weaknesses and strengths and to take risks. It must be pointed out that the basis of a successful feedback session is the acceptance of the objectives and evaluation criteria for all related activities by all parties involved (cf. check lists and lists of questions). These ensure fair and relevant feedback so that the thesis progresses.

The outcomes of peer partner supervision can be used with the help of a learning diary. It has been indicated that learning diaries support student autonomy and self-assessment. Both the peer partner and author of the thesis can keep a learning diary. The diary helps students to reflect upon what they have learnt and how they have been able to apply this knowledge in their thesis. It also encourages and motivates students and clarifies concepts, issues and theories. In your diary you can systematically estimate what you have and have not learnt and what you still need to study and learn. Learning skills also include how you study. You can also examine your study methods and habits in your learning diary. Considering and recording in writing how you study, what outcomes your studies achieve and other ways of studying helps you to evaluate and further develop your study skills. While doing this you may also come up with more questions for the next peer partner supervision session.

What should I record in my learning diary?

At the beginning of the thesis process:

  • What should I learn from this (e.g. research methods, subject matter, information retrieval)?
  • What do I want to learn from this subject matter (e.g. where/why do I need this information)? • What subject matter/skills should be included in this topic?
  • What will the objectives of my peer partner supervision process/thesis process?
  • How important is the topic to me? Why?

During the thesis process:

  • How do I study?
  • While reading do I consider my opinions on the matter under perusal?
  • Do I link new issues with my previous knowledge, experiences and other matters?
  • Do I try to consider the wider perspectives to which an issue belongs?
  • Should I change my study methods? Why and how?
  • When and where do I study?
  • What did I learn today from what I read/heard/during the meeting with my opponent/peer?
  • What issues are still not clear?
  • In which matters will I still require supervision and support from a teacher/work place representative?

At the end of the thesis process:

  • Did I change how I study? How?
  • How did these changes affect my learning?
  • Did I achieve the objectives defined for my peer partner process/thesis process?
  • What did I learn? '
  • On what other issues do I require further information?

6 Peer partner-evaluation and reporting in your own learning diary

The author of the thesis reflects upon the peer partner supervision sessions on a personal level in his/her learning diary. By analysing the meetings with opponents/peers, representatives from working life, teachers etc. and by writing about them in the learning diary students can apply what they have learnt to thesis-linked issues. Keeping such a diary also helps students to organise their thoughts and to avoid getting things out of proportion.

The peer partner also benefits from peer partner supervision sessions and is also able to reflect upon issues discussed and to apply them to his/her own thesis. Keeping a learning diary also helps to clarify and deepen understanding of a given topic and leads to the discovery of new sources of information. Conceptualising and abstracting experience based knowledge leads to new experiences – learning is continual, conscious and reflective activity that constantly creates further dimensions!

The cornerstone of peer partner supervision has proven to be successful evaluation and exchange of feedback. A well-planned and founded peer partner supervision session provides students with a wide range of knowledge and skills to progress in their theses and to develop their professional expertise.

What should be taken into account during evaluation and reporting?

  • Save all written material produced while planning and implementing the peer partner supervision sessions.
  • The different parties involved van compile a report for their own use (in their learning diary) or they can exchange reports or read the report together with their peer partner/opponent
  • A written report can include:
    • A description of the facts – who met who and why…(introduction).
    • A brief account of the preparation stages of the session and how it progressed, e.g. the check list/criteria and how they were dealt with. What and how did the peer partner session implement?
    • Conclusions and ideas
    • Assessment of the peer partner supervision session’s success: What went well? What should be developed or what should be dealt with more effectively in the future?

7 Learning, growth into expertise

Growing and developing professional expertise is part of personal development. During the thesis process students learn to deal with the interaction between factual knowledge, experience based knowledge and meta-cognitive knowledge. Therefore theses and professional development are the result of experienced and gained feelings that have been revised and interpreted (e.g. during peer partner supervision session, clinical practice etc.). Professional development also requires the recognition and understanding of the meaning contained in different interpretations. When students understand the basis of their thesis knowledge and activities in a new way (e.g. through self-assessment, peer partner feedback, feedback from a work place representative) they are then able to change how they work and redefine themselves in this context. This new definition in turn produces a new element that adds to their professional development while widening and deepening their ability to complete a work-oriented thesis (cf. student expert profile) in collaboration with others.

Students cannot construct their own set of meanings concerning the work of their chosen profession if they are separated from the cultural significance of the work context. It is for this reason that the thesis process at the University of Applied Sciences, closely involves a work place representative. Such involvement has been proved significant particularly when considering and evaluating the principles of profession-specific procedures and norms. In principle the work community is just as important to the students as students are to the work community. During the clinical or practical training period a UAS student learning environment is a genuine work environment while facts-based learning takes place in the education community. The culture of these two types of learning environments influences the development of professional expertise. Students and their learning environment can develop during peer partner supervision sessions. Similarly, wider environmental and cultural factors have a great impact on development.

What should be done to learn and develop?

  • Make changes based on feedback from the peer partner supervision session to your thesis or how you operate
  • Think about feedback and use the learning diary.
  • Monitor the outcomes of peer partner supervision as the peer partner process progresses e.g. during self-evaluation.
  • Compare your own development with the student expertise profile.
  • Assess the whole peer partner supervision process as a whole: objectives, purpose, uses and implementation.
  • Record areas that require development or further consideration

8 A support tool for thesis work

The peer partner supervision process model is, based on experience simple and easy to use. Its use means that students must understand the model and they must be capable of applying it systematically in accordance with their own situation and requirements. The timetable provides a framework within which the model can be used because all thesis preparatory courses are included in it. In addition students can carry out supervision sessions as required with a group that works well together. All sessions must be carefully planned so that any feedback received can be used effectively. At best the sessions mutually benefit all parties involved – the peer partner/opponent and thesis author. In this way peer partner supervision is one tool amongst others that can be used throughout the thesis process.

The use of peer partner supervision provides new ideas to improve your progress when completing the thesis and students learn more from one another than planned. The most difficult task in the peer partner supervision session is to restrict the subject under discussion to the time available and to keep to the checklist of matters to be considered. Peer partner supervision supports partnerships, co-operation and the foundation of networks. The choice of peer partner/opponent or work place representative can also be a strategic solution. It helps to create social relations, trust and interaction – social capital.

What kind of tool?

  • It helps you to manage the thesis process together with your peer partner/opponent – it is a sort of quality control system. • When searching for a peer partner/opponent you get to know the thesis topics of the whole group and it is possible to form peer partner pairs.
  • There are many peer partner supervision methods:
    • One sided – the peer partner/opponent assesses and provides the thesis author with feedback
    • Mutual – the peer partner/opponent assesses and provides the thesis author with feedback and visa versa.
    • Multiple – there are more than two ‘thesis teams’ who wish to develop their thesis processes together. Please note that this method requires more time.
  • Peer partner supervision develops students’ expertise. It trains them to use skills in self-control, general working life skills and profession-specific skills. Students learn about themselves, their own learning and tasks (cf. self control skills). When students become aware of their own level development they will be able to critically examine their own needs for development and what this means. This is a crucial skill required in the development of work (cf. general working life skills) and educational professions (cf. profession-specific skills).