Online support for dissertations


Keywords: wiki, module design, student skills, dissertation

For the past couple of years, Mark Roodhouse from the Department of History has used Yorkshare in support of his Dissertation Preparation module, delivered to over 200 second year undergraduates. ‘All students need support when conducting a research project, but what they need and when they need it varies, as research is rarely a straight forward linear process,’ says Mark. ‘This makes it hard for academics to provide timely and relevant help.’

The Dissertation Preparation VLE links together and reinforces the face-to-face support provided by the Department (seven lectures on finding a suitable topic and using primary and secondary sources, three two-hour workshops on generic research skills, and a series of individual meetings with dissertation advisors). The site is available to all students from the moment they begin work on their dissertation in the summer term of the second year all the way through until they submit the final version at the end of their third year. The site features:

  • A repository for notes, handouts and workbooks from the lectures for students to refer back to.
  • A staff-only wiki, providing hints and tips for staff leading the Dissertation Preparation workshops.
  • Online submission and circulation of a written task before each workshop using the blog tool to facilitate discussion between students researching diverse topics.
  • A medieval, early modern and modern example showing how a vague idea can turn into a firm project.
  • A section on writing a dissertation, including examples of prize-winning dissertations.
  • A ‘dissertation clinic’ with a virtual ‘consulting room’, using a wiki to help students diagnose and treat common research problems that could arise at any time, thus freeing up one-to-one contact for discussion of more substantive issues.

The module has been singled out by respondents to the VLE student survey two years running as particularly useful:

“Having sample pieces of work and other students’ posts to compare with was helpful for doing my own written assignments”

“…because of the less structured curriculum it helps me keep up to date with what is expected for each week”

Next Steps

Case study last updated May 2012

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