Independent research is a fundamental element of a Level 8 degree. The level descriptors for a Level 8 qualification set down by the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland require the learner to “use and modify advanced skills and tools to conduct closely guided research”, “to learn to manage learning tasks independently, professionally and ethically” and to “transfer and apply diagnostic and creative skills in a range of contexts”. The undergraduate dissertation, or “capstone project” as it is referred to in the United States, is an ideal vehicle through which students develop and apply these skills.
The Report of the National Strategy Group on Higher Education in Ireland (2011) recognises that teaching in higher education is distinguished from teaching at other levels by its focus on the integration of research with teaching and learning. It points out that this integration can take many forms – teaching and learning can be research-led; it can be research-oriented; it can be research-informed and it can be research-based. In the case of the latter, the curriculum includes activities in which students themselves conduct research through dissertations, projects or other independently carried out course work.
The undergraduate student dissertation is now a standard requirement of a Level 8 degree in Ireland. It places new and additional demands on students and on their teachers and requires a level of confidence and expertise on the part of teachers as supervisors for which they may not have been prepared. This eBook will therefore be particularly welcomed by novice undergraduate supervisors but it will also be welcomed by more experienced supervisors as it addresses so many aspects of the supervision of undergraduate dissertations. There are chapters on choosing a research topic; on honing and refining research questions; on identifying the most appropriate methodologies for the study in question, and on the moral and ethical issue which will be encountered both by students and supervisors.
The contributors have all been supervisors themselves and their advice comes from many years and decades of hard-earned experience. Their chapters address the personal, psychological and emotional issues that will inevitably impact on the student-supervisor relationship and emphasise the importance of empathy and sensitivity on the part of the supervisor. Readers should remember their own early forays into the world of research and the insecurity and apprehension that enveloped them at that time. The central role of the supervisor in providing support and reassurance should never be underestimated. At the same time, the supervisor plays a central role in ensuring that high research standards are maintained and that the research is carried out with rigour.
The editors of this eBook, Roisin Donnelly, John Dallat and Marian Fitzmaurice, are to be congratulated on bringing together so many prestigious and experienced supervisors who have generously shared their expertise and experience in their chapters. Some of them are already well-known and are widely-published. They come from all corners of the globe – the U.S., Australia, and elsewhere. Others may be entering the publications field for the first time but this does not in any way take from the value of their chapters. The eBook was a formidable undertaking – no less than twelve chapters, many of them over thirty pages long.
I am very happy to endorse this collection of essays and to recommend it to the thousands of academic staff who find themselves every semester supervising undergraduate dissertations in colleges and universities throughout the world. I also commend the editors on their vision and future-oriented approach of making this publication available in eBook form, thereby ensuring its availability to a very wide audience. I wish the editors, the contributors, and readers–whether supervisors or students–the very best in their endeavours and I am confident this eBook will help to smooth the path of undergraduate researchers in the years ahead.
Emeritus Professor of Education
University College Cork