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Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning


An introduction to supervising online and the differences with face-to-face teaching


Key points

  • What is involved in conducting supervisions online?
  • What is addressed in this introductory guide?



Supervision is fundamental to Cambridge undergraduate education. There are variations, of course, across the spectrum of academic disciplines and a supervision at the beginning of the first year is different from a supervision towards the end of the first year – and from a supervision mid-way through the final year.

While we know that lectures at Cambridge will be online during 2020-21 (unless and until public health guidelines change), how supervisions will be held may vary. Some supervisors and students may return to meeting in person, albeit adhering to social distancing guidelines. Others, for various reasons - illness, shielding, caring responsibilities - may need to continue with supervisions online.

The purpose of this guide is to help you prepare for supervising online by considering both technological and educational matters. It draws upon the experience of those who supervised remotely in Easter Term 2020 to provide insights into the particular challenges and benefits of online supervisions. As many in that period learned, supervising online does not require you to transform your teaching practice into fully developed online education, but neither is it merely a matter of translating your in-person supervising to a digital setting. There are many factors to consider, and you will want to proceed with a strong emphasis on your students' learning experience and with an understanding of what it takes to create inclusive environments online.

There are also important considerations concerning the requirements of disabled students and staff, including those with neurodiverse profiles. And, as anyone who has taken part in a multi-person video call will know from their own experience, it takes time to learn how to take part in - and to guide - discussions and exchanges that include, rather than exclude, contributors.

This guide highlights the range of digital tools that are available, their advantages and limitations, and suggests some alternative ways of supporting students' supervision learning. It takes time to develop and improve different approaches, so once you've identified any particular considerations that you and your students need to be aware of, it's reasonable to start with what you and your students know and are comfortable with.

If as a supervisor you have questions about supervising online, try to find others to share your questions with:

  • your students may be able to give you ideas about what’s working and how to engage with challenges
  • fellow supervisors may be able to help each other to share ideas and resources: this is a great opportunity for cross-fertilisation and innovation
  • as ever: if you’re worried about supervisees or have difficulties holding supervisions in the way you had expected (for example, illness/serious interruptions to internet connectivity): contact their Director of Studies or Faculty/Departmental Teaching office (as appropriate).

While this guide addresses accessibility considerations throughout, we would also recommend taking a look at the DRC's pages on Remote Teaching and Learning, which contain some deeper guidance and signposts to further information.


In this Section

Basics of supervising online

Basic information to guide you through online supervision, including: technologies, connectivity & accessibility, differences with in-person supervision, video-conferencing options and recording supervisions

Planning your supervisions

Guidance on planning your online supervisions, including: inclusive discussions, feedback and supervision activities

Learning from experience

Guidance on how best to learn from your own experience of supervising online and that of others