Encouraging student independence

Maria Zackariasson (School of Historical and Contemporary Studies, Södertörn University, Stockholm, Sweden)

Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education

ISSN: 2050-7003

Publication date: 4 September 2019



The purpose of this paper is to examine if and how supervisors’ use of two kinds of potential scaffolding means – asking questions and giving instructions – could contribute to fulfilling the scaffolding intention of student independence, in the context of supervision of degree projects within higher education.


The paper is based on qualitative content analysis of two series of supervision meetings between a supervisor and a student in Swedish higher education, comprising a total of eight recorded sessions. The theoretical framework of the paper is centered on scaffolding and independent learning, and central concepts are contingency, fading, transfer of responsibility and student independence.


The analysis shows how the supervisors’ use of questions, and in some respect instructions, could contribute to fulfilling the scaffolding intention of student independence through enabling active participation of both student and supervisor and that the supervision was based on contingency. The analysis further shows that the supervisors tended to become more directive as the work came along, especially when students appeared to be running out of time. The supervision processes did thus not appear to be characterized by fading and transfer of responsibility.


This paper contributes to the research field of higher education through discussing student independence as a potential scaffolding intention within supervision of degree projects, based on recorded supervision meetings. Supervision of degree projects is a highly relevant context for discussing scaffolding, since it combines increased student independence with close interaction between student and supervisor for an extended period.



The paper is part of the research project Independence in Higher Education funded by the Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies with Jenny Magnusson, Södertörn University, Stockholm, as Project Manager.


Zackariasson, M. (2019), "Encouraging student independence", Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/JARHE-01-2019-0012

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