5. Teaching and learning

5.1. Overall expectations

The principle of an individualised educational experience shaped through ongoing support from a senior academic underpins the University’s approach to postgraduate study, enabling students to develop their capacity to think critically and independently beyond the undergraduate level. All teaching and assessment at Oxford should provide an appropriate opportunity for students to achieve and demonstrate their full academic potential at master’s level.

5.2. Teaching methods

Postgraduate taught courses should utilise a variety of teaching methods to foster the development of a range of skills. Departments must publish norms for each programme in accordance with the requirements stipulated in the Policy and Guidance on Course Information, setting out the amounts of teaching of different types to be provided. The balance of lectures, classes or seminars and seminars, and laboratory or fieldwork within each course should be carefully and regularly considered by departments, including on occasions when external examiners’ reports are reviewed. Given the three major types of postgraduate taught courses: research preparation, high level professional or disciplinary development, conversion courses, those constructing courses will need to reflect how the teaching methods employed meet the overall purpose of the course. This is especially important where a single course has to serve more than one of these purposes.

5.3. Relationship of teaching to assessment

Assessment forms an essential element of the learning process: students learn both from assessment activities and from their interaction with staff about their performance in those activities. It is also the means by which teaching staff can form judgements as to what extent students have achieved the intended learning outcomes of a course, or of an element of a course.

5.4. Formative feedback

Formative feedback is an essential component of postgraduate taught courses, and should be provided  promptly to students. It should combine information which enables students to understand the strengths and limitations of their past performance, and information which enables them to recognise how future performance can be improved.

As part of Education Committee’s revised policy on feedback for postgraduate taught courses (see Section 7.5), departments are now required to ensure written feedback on at least one designated piece of formative assessment, e.g. essay or assignment, during the course of the first term1. The purposes of this feedback are to:

  • provide guidance to those for whom extended pieces of writing are unfamiliar forms of assessment;
  • indicate areas of strength and weakness inrelation to the assessment task;
  • provide course members with an indication of theexpectations and standards towards which they are working.


5.5. The link between teaching and research

In all aspects of its teaching the University stresses the distinctiveness of the high level of engagement of senior research-active academics in all its taught courses, which it sees as putting teachers’ own research-based learning to use in enhancing the learning of the students they teach. The University is committed to sustaining a significant proportion of the teaching and supervision of all students by senior research-active academics. Department documentation should make clear the links between research and teaching, especially:

a) highlighting parts of courses which are intended to promote or develop skills relevant to a later dissertation or project;

b) making explicit elements of courses which are intended to develop an understanding of how disciplinary knowledge is developed and articulated;

c) encouraging students to take full advantage of research seminars, visiting speakers, and other aspects of the life of the scholarly community/network of which they are members.

5.6. Progression monitoring

Each student should, as early as possible, be allocated an academic advisor (or ‘general supervisor’ in some divisions) for the purposes of both progression monitoring and academic guidance. In small courses this will typically be the course director/s, but where the cohort is larger (ie. more than 20), students should be allocated to another member of academic staff to fulfil this role. The academic advisor should monitor and submit a termly report on the student’s progress via the Graduate Supervision System (GSS). These reports  should then be reviewed by a staff member with overall responsibility for graduate students in the department , typically the Director of Graduate Studies. The academic advisor should also be available to provide further guidance to the student on academic-related matters.

It is essential that when problems arise, corrective action is clearly identified and full guidance and assistance are given to the student.

5.7. Supervision

Each student should also be allocated a supervisor (or ‘dissertation supervisor’ in some divisions) to support the student’s work on his or her dissertation or project. The supervisor should endeavour to ensure that, within a pattern of regular meetings, the student works on the dissertation/project within a planned framework. This should always attempt to establish the stages which the student should be expected to have reached at various points. The supervisor should see that written work is prepared as appropriate in accordance with the course requirements and structure. Such work should be returned with constructive criticism and in reasonable time.

Supervisors should ensure that, from time to time, students are told how their work is progressing and should also try to ensure that the student feels properly directed and able to communicate with them.

Responsibility for the dissertation rests ultimately with the student, who should be proactive in seeking support and guidance when necessary.

Departments and faculties should provide guidelines to supervisors setting out clear expectations of the amount of involvement they should have in dissertations and projects. These guidelines should be made available to examiners and assessors.  In the sciences, including some social sciences, where levels of involvement in a project will vary depending on the nature of the project, departments should ensure that the supervisor provides a statement setting out the extent of supervision given, as well as the frequency of supervisory meetings. This statement should be provided to markers. The exact format of the statement will vary between subject areas, but should be provided as consistently as possible within subject areas.


[1] For the BCL/MJur in the Faculty of Law, this takes place early in Hilary term.