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Online supervision

Brief description

Most supervisors currently use online tools in their supervision, e.g. video conferencing, emails, file sharing and written feedback. In some cases, all or most of the supervision has to take place online, for example if the supervisor and the student are separated from each other geographically. This places new demands on fruitful collaboration, and it requires both technical and pedagogical knowledge on how to use digital tools in the supervision process.

A good collaborative relationship

When supervision is online, building a good relationship based on mutual trust can be more difficult than when supervision sessions take place face-to-face. The risk that the student will feel isolated and disconnected is greater in online supervision. To alleviate this problem, it is important that supervisors allow time to build a relationship with the student when supervising online. For example, you could start and end meetings with a short informal chat about non-academic topics, just as you would often do when you have face-to-face meetings with students. It is important that you build a trusting relationship early in the supervision process, and therefore, it is a good idea to have face-to-face meetings to begin with. If face-to-face meetings are not possible, video meetings are recommended. At the introductory meeting, focus could be on clarifying the overall framework of the project and on aligning expectations with regard to the frequency of meetings, contact between meetings, deadlines for sending material before meetings and the use of digital technologies.

Students may be reluctant to reach out. Therefore, it may be a good idea for the supervisor to make contact first and take charge of the process at the beginning, and then gradually let the student take more responsibility for collaboration and communication. Online supervision can be divided into oral and written supervision.

Oral online supervision

Oral supervision takes place synchronously by using online meeting technologies, such as Zoom. Synchronous oral supervision works well for dialogue, dynamic interaction and collaboration. Oral supervision is also suited for the more complicated parts of the process, and when the student is “stuck”. This is why it is important to have synchronous online supervision sessions early and midway through process, when important decisions about the theme, research questions, data collection and analysis need to be made. For example, you could:

  • Draw up an agenda for the meeting
  • Allow time to talk about non-academic content
  • Meta-communicate about how the meeting will proceed and how to use the technology
  • Be aware of your visual on-screen presence

Advice for written online supervision

Written supervision is typically asynchronous in the form of exchanging emails and sharing files. In online written supervision, technologies can be used for 1) file sharing, e.g. in Google Docs or SharePoint, and 2) audio and video recordings of feedback, for example in Zoom.

The advantage of written feedback is that it is flexible in terms of time and space and can be used to provide answers to simple questions. It is best suited for swift exchanges of information and to read written drafts and outlines and provide feedback on texts. Written supervision is thus appropriate for relatively smooth writing processes after a good collaborative relationship has been established.

  • File sharing
    It can be an advantage to use a file-sharing platform, such as Google Docs or SharePoint as an alternative to sending files via email. As a supervisor, you can follow the student’s progress and comment on the text. You will not have to send documents back and forth and keep track of several versions. However, you need to agree on this process with the student beforehand, because they may otherwise feel they are being monitored.

  • Provide audio or video feedback
    Feedback given purely as written comments to a text, without being accompanied by the facial expression and tone of voice of the person giving the feedback, can be difficult for students to decode. Criticism can thus be interpreted as more severe than was actually intended. It can also be difficult for the student to distinguish the key points of the feedback from minor corrections.
    Therefore, providing feedback using audio or video can enhance students’ ability to decode the feedback. An easy way to do this is to share the document in Zoom, and then talk while recording. Another advantage is that providing feedback using audio or video can be timesaving.

Supervisors should ask themselves the following questions

  • Which technologies are best suited for your supervision?

  • How can you ensure a good collaborative relationship online?
  • On which aspects do you need to align your expectations?
  • Would it be appropriate to include video and audio in your text feedback?

Technical guides for Zoom

Further reading

  • Nielsen, T. A. & Wichmann-Hansen, G. (2019) Onlinevejledning. i God vejledning: af specialer, bacheloropgaver og projekter. red. / Lotte Rienecker; Gitte Wichmann-Hansen; Peter Stray Jørgensen. 2. udg. Frederiksberg : Samfundslitteratur,


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