2 Academic advising

Academic advisers can be expected to provide advice on a range of academic issues confronting students:

The LSE approach

The particular model of 'contested knowledge' advocated across the majority of disciplines at LSE may not be familiar to most undergraduates and graduates depending on their educational and cultural backgrounds and experience. The demand placed on students for original thought, clear argument and substantiated analysis can prove very challenging. It is worth asking all advisees early on in their university lives how they are experiencing this LSE approach and providing additional developmental support where necessary, either by working directly with advisees or by referring students on to other academic support departments  including the Teaching and Learning Centre, the Language Centre and the Library. In order to make the most of office hours and feedback sessions academic advisors may consider asking their students to prepare an agenda for their termly meetings identifying areas where they would benefit from academic developmental input. Issues of concern are likely to vary at different stages in the academic year and at different times in the degree cycle, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

2.2 Developing students' learning in the department

Essay writing

Many undergraduates and a considerable number of postgraduate students arrive at LSE with little experience of the conventions of academic essay writing in UK higher education and also within their discipline. In addition many students will be writing essays in English for the first time. Thus at the beginning of their time at LSE students can face a steep learning curve. Though it is now accepted School practice that students in their first year of study have to submit and receive feedback on a piece of formative work from their core courses by the end of Week 5 or 6 of Michaelmas Term, academic advisers can support their students in developing their essay writing skills by helping them to understand different aspects of essay writing. These may include:

  • building a clear line of argument, which is developed throughout the work;
  • developing a logical structure;
  • constructing a substantiated analysis, where appropriate informed by theory and empirical examples;
  • engaging with relevant academic literature;
  • writing clearly and succinctly;
  • adopting a complete and consistent referencing system.

Students do not necessarily understand exactly what these different elements entail so it is worth spending some time covering them.

All departments have marking criteria but these are not always comprehensible to students, and academic advisers can usefully assist students in explaining and clarifying them. In some departments, such as Anthropology, academic advisers mark student essays on first year core courses, providing a useful opportunity to work with advisees on some of these questions. 

Through LSE For You academic advisers will have an overview of their students' ongoing performance and they are therefore in a position to identify areas for development, and support their advisees in making effective use of formative feedback to improve their academic performance. In this regard it may be worth directing students to the Teaching and Learning Centre’s Advice to Students leaflet on Making Feedback Work for You (available at lse.ac.uk/tlc/resources|) and alerting them to the essay writing sessions run by the Teaching and Learning Centre at the start of the academic year.

There are also useful resources on different aspects of essay writing on Learning World, one of the Teaching and Learning Centre's Moodle sites. In addition the Language Centre runs courses on English for Academic Purposes.

Problem sets

Students in quantitative disciplines are usually required to complete problem sets as part of their course work. Some departments such as Mathematics and Statistics require students to submit work for marking before every class and their grades are entered on LSE For You whereas some other quantitative courses require work to be handed in for marking twice a term.  From the outset it is a good idea for academic advisers to underline to their advisees the cumulative nature of almost all quantitative courses which means that once a student gets seriously behind it is hard to catch up. In this regard they may also want to emphasise the critical importance of practice in order to be able to know: (i) what the question is asking; (ii) what approach to use; and (iii) the steps that are required in order to implement the approach. Some academic advisers may have advisees who are not completing their problem sets as part of their course work. The challenge for academic advisers is to identify the students in question and the possible causes of their behaviour, which may range from lack of motivation to lack of understanding or other personal/pastoral issues discussed elsewhere in this handbook, and then to seek to address the issue(s). Where appropriate the academic adviser may provide additional developmental support by working directly with the student. Alternatively advisees should be encouraged to attend their class teachers' and/or lecturers’ office hours and feedback sessions and/or to make an appointment at the Teaching and Learning Centre to see a quantitative study adviser.

Information and digital literacy skills

Students may be unfamiliar with many aspects of study at LSE. In particular they may not have encountered in-class student presentations and the use of PowerPoint, the need to word-process all submitted work, or the use of a Virtual Learning Environment such as Moodle.  Academic advisers should try to identify as soon as possible which aspect of study might be new and challenging to their students, both undergraduates and graduates. Where they are able to illustrate or demonstrate the skills required during office hours and feedback sessions they should try to do so as these skills are best learnt in the context of an academic discipline. If this is not possible they can refer their students to the Library Companion to Moodle, an online course open to all students at LSE, or to the guided self-study opportunities and one-to-one sessions offered by the Library, Learning Technology and Innovation and IT Training, all of whose websites contain a wealth of resources too.

Likewise although students may be active users of social networking sites and mobile phone technology in their social lives, they may need additional guidance in using technologies for academic purposes. This includes skills such as finding information for a literature review, managing large quantities of information, evaluation of source material, referencing and citation (see below) and other information and digital literacy skills. Some students may also need more guidance in how learning technologies such as Moodle can facilitate their study and research while at the School. Undergraduate and graduate students should be encouraged to consult the Training and development system (lse.ac.uk/training|) to investigate the wide range of workshops run by various training providers at LSE.

Referencing and citation styles

There is no single citation protocol established for all departments at LSE. Rather, different disciplines support different citation and referencing approaches. Students may arrive at LSE both at undergraduate and graduate levels with limited knowledge of noting and referencing practice or having been used to different cultural conventions. It is thus important that students are introduced to LSE/UK higher education protocols around citing and referencing early on in their course of studies by their course teachers and and that these protocols are reinforced, where appropriate, by Departmental Tutors and academic advisers. Guidance should also be articulated clearly and unambiguously in course handbooks. Early engagement and education on this issue is likely to mitigate plagiarism and similar incidents later on. It is worth noting that the rare incidents of plagiarism that do occur at the School arise largely from ignorance around noting and referencing practice. Some departments use Turnitin, the text matching software for educational purposes. In addition the Library and TLC run regular workshops throughout the academic year on avoiding plagiarism, academic integrity and citing and referencing practice that students should be encouraged to attend.

Dissertation writing

All master's students and a growing number of undergraduate students are expected to write a dissertation as part of their programme of study at LSE. However the timing and organization of practice in supporting students' dissertation work and the nature of supervision varies widely across the School.

Undergraduates

An increasing number of undergraduate students have the opportunity to undertake research during their degree programmes. This sometimes forms an integral part of the assessment on a particular unit or may constitute a self-standing dissertation half or full unit course. The role played by the academic adviser in the students' research projects varies from department to department. In International History (HY300), for example, students are expected to approach academics according to their research interests to ask them to be their supervisor. Unless the students' research interests coincide with the academic adviser their role is largely confined to making sure students are progressing with the project. In Government (GV390) it is the role of the academic adviser to provide broad direction in terms of scoping out topics and research design and this may be supplemented by the appointment of a supervisor who has expertise in the chosen topic. In Geography and Environment (GY350) Students regularly report on their research progress to their academic advisers during meetings in MT and LT and they can also work with their “PhD adviser” on an individual basis. Academic advisers should bear in mind that for many undergraduates the dissertation or independent research project will be the student’s first experience of working on a project of this nature and so even if they do not play a direct supervisorial role they can provide invaluable advice about different aspects of research design as well as on overcoming the inevitable psychological challenges of such a project.

Postgraduates

There is considerable variation in the degree and timing of supervision and developmental support offered to Masters students in the dissertation writing process. Some departments run dissertation courses and workshops; others rely almost entirely on the academic advisers. Yet others allocate dissertation supervisors based on the topic chosen by individual students and the area of expertise of academics in the department.

Academic advisers are expected to meet their advisees several times in the course of the academic year to discuss possible research questions and the accompanying theoretical and methodological questions that arise in the process of developing a viable research project. While advisers should make it clear that they are not necessarily subject experts on the topic under discussion, it is entirely appropriate for them to provide general guidance on literature searches, methodology and research planning. In most departments students have to submit a dissertation approval form signed by their academic adviser by the end of Lent term or towards the beginning of the Summer term in which they lay out their research question, a synopsis of their proposed dissertation and an explanation of the sources they will be drawing on. Regardless of the specific organisation of supervisorial relationships supervisors or academic advisers or members of the wider university community are not permitted to read or comment upon a draft of the dissertation.

Students should also be encouraged to approach other members of the academic staff with complementary research interests within their Department and across the School with concrete questions concerning their dissertation topic. The Departmental Liaison Librarian may be of assistance in locating relevant source material. The Teaching and Learning Centre runs MSc Dissertation Week at the end of summer term which includes lectures and workshops on different aspects of dissertation writing.

2.3 Developing students' learning beyond the department

A range of different learning development, personal development and extra-curricular activities are available to students outside their home departments and it is useful for academic advisers to be aware of these possibilities. Where appropriate, and depending on each individual student’s progress through their studies and other interests, the academic adviser should encourage their students to take advantage of such opportunities.

LSE Teaching and Learning Centre programmes and resources

While the development of students’ academic literacies is most effectively embedded within students’ academic departments and the Teaching and Learning Centre’s Educational Development team’s departmental contacts (see box below) are working with individual departments to build capacity in this area, the Teaching and Learning Centre offers a range of free resources and activities that complement and extend students’ academic learning. There are several components:

LSE Study Toolkit| - a brand new web resource designed to help students tackle LSE-style study with confidence. Four areas identified by current students as vital to success at the LSE - justifying your arguments, studying independently, communicating your ideas and honing your quantitative skills - are addressed with short films and expert guidance that provide the tools necessary for effective and rewarding study.

• Learning World – a dedicated Moodle site containing many developmental materials.

• Learning and personal development programme – a year round series of workshops and lectures on topics such as effective reading strategies, participating and presenting in classes and seminars, exam preparation, stress management and MSc dissertation. See the inside back cover for details of this year’s programme.

• One to one and group sessions with qualitative study advisers to discuss written work, a reading list or particular readings; with quantitative study advisers to work through problem sets, course notes or particular difficulties; or with the Royal Literary Fund Fellow for guidance on writing style and structure.

• Maximise Your Potential: for undergraduates, intensive two week programmes at the end of Summer Term to broaden skills in job searching, languages, research and peer support.

• MSc Dissertation Week: five days of events at the end of Summer Term to help students plan, write and make the most of their dissertation. 

 

More details on all of these can be found at lse.ac.uk/tlc/taughtstudents |

 

Departmental advisers at the LSE|

Other skills development opportunities at LSE

The Language Centre runs a range of English for Academic Purposes courses, both pre-sessional and in-sessional – see “English programmes” at lse.ac.uk/languages|. The LSE100 Writing Lab offers a free tutorial service to support undergraduates in their academic written work from Weeks 3-10 of Michaelmas and Lent terms – see lse.ac.uk/LSE100|

2.4 Recording students’ progress in their studies and in broader skills’ development

LSE for You

LSE for You is the School’s online system for keeping track of students at both undergraduate and graduate levels. It enables academic advisers to monitor students’ class attendance and assessment results as well as class teacher comments. LSE for You is thus an invaluable source of information when preparing end of term reports (which are also posted on LSE for You) as well as for reference writing. It provides a record of office hour meetings and thus can be a useful audit trail if problems arise. It also enables academic advisers to pick up on unsatisfactory progress which can be relevant to making decisions about student progress at the end of each year.

Student course choice is also managed through LSE for You. In the case of undergraduates LSE for You will usually restrict students to choices available within their programme regulations, at master’s level students are free to choose any course; in both cases academic advisers will need to check that their advisees’ course choices are consistent with their programme regulations. Many academic advisers also find the “Tutee Emailer” a useful way of keeping in touch with their students. Finally you might want to ask your students to book appointments with you via the “Office Hours” function in LSE for You.

Some additional points worth noting about LSE for You:

  • LSE for You is an evolving system. At present it allows academic advisers to access student class registers, student photos and examination results.
  • Different people have different levels of access to student records on LSE for You. Academic advisers should be able to access both present and past advisees, and departmental tutors should be able to access all undergraduate students in their departments. Departmental administrative staff also have access to all students.
  • Students can see all that is recorded about them and have a right to ask for errors/factual inaccuracies and any inappropriate comments about them to be altered/removed.
  • The “Class Register” section includes an area for student comment, where they can reflect/reply to class teachers’ and academic advisers’ comments. They can also keep a record of their extra-curricular skills development and interests on their Personal Development Aide Memoire (see below) which is also accessible to them via LSE for You.

There is a “Tutorials” link at the bottom of all LSE for You pages, providing guidance in using the various sections, and training is a standard part of the induction for new class teachers and new lecturers. Contact IT training for further information and/or training: IT.Training@lse.ac.uk|

Academic advisers should also be aware that personal files on students (eg, “logs” of meetings that some departments keep) could be recovered under a Data Protection Act Subject Access request to check personal/sensitive information, and should be kept factual.

The formal student record is kept electronically on the SITS system. Advisers do not normally have direct access to SITS, though departmental tutors can get access (contact your departmental manager in the first instance). The most useful SITS information available is recorded in LSE for You. Each student also has a Green File which contains the student’s UCAS or initial application form. Staff are strongly discouraged from keeping confidential information in their own filing systems.

Section 3| provides more detail about the decisions and procedures around students’ academic progression.

The Personal Development Aide Memoire

The Personal Development Aide Memoire (PDAM) is LSE’s alternative to the HEAR (Higher Education Achievement Record) which is used at a number of higher education establishments in the UK. It enables undergraduates to track and keep a record of the skills they develop as a result of participation in extracurricular activities, both within and beyond the school. The PDAM is automatically populated from a number of different School systems and can also be added to manually by individual students. It is accessible to students via LSE for You.

The PDAM is broken down into eight core areas:

1) Application of information skills

2) Application of numeracy skills

3) Commercial awareness

4) Communication

5) Leadership

6) Problem solving

7) Self-management

8) Team working

and also includes the possibility of recording information about specific skills such as those in research or languages, or those relating to a particular discipline.

A completed PDAM enables students to provide information and evidence about the skills they have developed through their extra-curricular activities. Though academic advisers do not have access to their individual students’ PDAMs and there is no explicit expectation that academic advisers have to engage with students about them, they may wish to encourage their students to keep them up to date for the benefit of future job applications, interviews and networking. Discussion about the PDAM may also give academic advisers a clearer sense of their students’ broader skills and extra-curricular development which may be useful for advising students on their ongoing academic progress and future education and employment choices, as well as for reference writing.

For further information, including suggestions for the sorts of activities students can undertake to boost their PDAMs, see lse.ac.uk/apd/PDAM| 

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