College of College of Graduate Studies

Ingenious response to student-supervisor interaction

Connect, Support, Succeed! is the envisioned goal of Unisa’s College of Graduate Studies (CGS) and that of the Department of Information and Communications Technology for Master’s and Doctoral (M&D) students.

On the recommendation of the 2019 Doctoral Review of Commonwealth of Learning (COL) that a more sophisticated online system (or dashboard) be developed for each student to assist with tracking progress and interactions with his/her supervisor, CGS, in conjunction with ICT, developed an online solution to enhance supervision and progress in monitoring master’s and doctoral students.

The Master’s and Doctoral Students Supervision and Monitoring Dashboard launch in March 2021 was set to introduce the online research support platform integrated within MS Teams with student-supervisor interactions to its prospective users.

Support for success

Prof Thenjiwe Meyiwa, Vice-Principal: Research, Postgraduate Studies, Innovation and Commercialisation, Unisa

Prof Thenjiwe Meyiwa, Vice-Principal: Research, Postgraduate Studies, Innovation and Commercialisation, set the tone in her welcome address on the important milestone by stating that "the university has been growing in master’s and doctoral enrolments, the integrated support system will be tracking our students, because that is how important they are to us; Unisa management, CGS and to supervisors".

The supervision and monitoring dashboard will assist the college to be informed by evidence-based data in order to provide the necessary support. "We want you to be successful and to graduate on the basis of working hard, with us having played a significant role as administrators. So that our support to you and your qualification becomes one that you are proud of," said Meyiwa.

Student + supervisor interaction = positive student experience and qualification

Prof Memme Makua, Project Leader and Acting Head of Quality Assurance and Enhancement at CGS said: "Monitoring M&D students at CGS means that the quality assurer needs to have the tools of the trade to be able to get to the progress of each student in the other Unisa colleges and schools. Before one can monitor a student’s progress, one has to enhance the supervision by giving the students and supervisors a voice."

Presenting on the dashboard project concept and its capabilities, Makua said that the online system allows supervisors to interact with students. By hearing the voices of both the supervisor and student, as they interact, the project team can monitor the progress should both of them have a void.

The dashboard provides transparent M&D research processes and workflow with built-in e-mail alerts. It has M&D research progress monitoring, evaluation and management of information, and quality assurance and automation in reporting on student/supervisor engagements. The automatic recording of research activities will yield accurate reporting on online teaching and learning during the master’s or doctoral journey.

Unisa’s digital transformation journey

Jason Ming Sun, Acting Director: ICT, asked the following questions: "What is it that attracts and retains staff at Unisa? As students, what is it that attracts you to return to Unisa to pursue you goals of continuous learning, research and knowledge creation? Also, what is it that inspires academics to be of service to our students at Unisa? As we reflect on these questions and Unisa’s digital transformation journey, the question is, to what extent is Unisa retaining its relevance in a changing technological and social context?"

Ming Sun said that Unisa’s digital transformation journey always had the student at the centre. This complements the CGS’s mandate in that it puts the student at the centre and ensures that an excellent support service is provided to students.

Supervisor’s voice

As a supervisor, Prof Tracey McKay hopes that the dashboard project will become more of a one-stop shop for all supervision activities at Unisa.

"I have realised that in addition to time support (managing time and deadlines) and content support, students also need emotional support because the process of postgraduate studies can be lonely and disheartening," McKay said. "I hope that the system will nudge all supervisors amidst their other work commitments to attend to students’ needs timeously and help them to manage their time more effectively."

Online dashboard, a strategic innovation

Prof Lumkile Lalendle, Executive Director: Department of Planning and Quality Assurance, started his keynote address by saying, "I believe the dashboard is a strategic and innovative response to improve student success at the university."

Lalendle addressed the audience on how the initiative builds into issues of quality within Unisa’s context and preserves quality in postgraduate education as everybody’s business. "Since it is everybody’s business," he said, "I plead with academics to create a conducive environment for students to be able to travel the academic road; to be part of a community of practice and to grow a new cohort of developing academics and leaders within the country in the different spheres of the economy."

Lalendle said that, as a university, Unisa was established to serve national needs and it is part of a national system of knowledge creation and innovation. He went on to say: "This project is going to provide an innovative platform to preserve the quality of postgraduate education at Unisa and the country in support of the sustainable development goals, the 2063 African Agenda and the 17 sustainable development goals that the university aspires to contribute to in one way or another."

Lalendle thanked CGS for creating a tool that will assist Unisa in monitoring postgraduate success and progress in the journey of M&D students. "We pride ourselves on being an African university shaping futures in the service of humanity," he said. "Our mission compels us to offer certificates up to doctoral degrees in academic and professional occupational spaces, as an ODeL institution. We need to produce lifelong learners and provide quality in this education."

While Covid-19 had its challenges, Lalendle said it gave the university the impetus to move faster. He concluded by stating: "With this tool we will better be able to retain M&D students, and improve the tracking of student progress, reporting on supervision outcomes and monitoring  the progress (or lack thereof) of students, and work towards quality outcomes."

Committed to excellence in research support

In his closing remarks, Prof Patrick Ngulube, Acting Executive Dean: CGS, said: "CGS is committed to excellence in research support, in line with the university’s strategic intent and the ODeL business model. Excellence is the basis of the ethos of ubuntu because according to the principle, people do not just relate and connect to each other in order to survive, but strive for excellence in whatever activity they become involved in."

CGS uses the ubuntu landscaping which then reinforces excellence to enhance communication with the students, using technologically based platforms, such as the dashboard that has been launched.

The implementation of the Master’s and Doctoral Students Supervision and Monitoring Dashboard will improve research at Unisa and students' experience.

You can access the dashboard training by using the following links:

* By Mpho Moloele, PR and Communications Assistant, Department of Research, Innovation and Commercialisation

Publish date: 2021/06/02