Preparing Learners for Online Doctoral Study: Readiness App
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The origins of the doctoral degree can be traced back to guilds in the Middle Ages in Europe. There are now a variety of doctoral degrees such as professional, applied, practitioner, and clinical. Completion routes may be research-based, module-based, publication-based, portfolio-based, and exhibition-based. Students can enroll in doctoral programs conducted fully or partially at a distance. Regardless of modality, statistics show that current completion rates (within a 10-year period) in doctoral programs across universities range anywhere from 30 to 70 percent. Low completion rates are not only harmful to learners at a personal level, but may also bring into question the societal value of supporting doctoral-level research. So, how can learners prepare for doctoral study, particularly online programs? One solution is to help potential doctoral students reflect upon their readiness—prior to applying. To this end, I have begun development of an app based upon the results of recent research. The objective of my research was to explore the variety of social discourses that shaped doctoral students’ views of themselves and how these discourses affected their positioning within their social, personal, professional, and academic contexts. Understanding the learners’ sources of support and social positioning could help to identify stressors that may affect dropout and/or persistence. Ultimately, the main goal is to help learners to better succeed in their doctoral programs through the development of tools designed to increase awareness of the demands of doctoral study and their personal readiness for doctoral study. The main theoretical lens used in this study was Harré’s (2010) social positioning theory in which social interaction is viewed as the foundation of behavior and learning. Within this view, identity formation is viewed as a cyclical learning process within social contexts. Nineteen doctoral students were interviewed. The resulting transcripts were subjected to discourse analysis and open coding for thematic categories. The results guided the design of a doctoral readiness app. Six main areas of social positioning emerged: general-societal, friends-family, professional, cohort, academic-department, and the academy. Each of these “social locations” presented opportunities for support as well as potentially troublesome challenges to their persistence. Participants described alienation, indifference, hostility, encouragement, and a variety of other reactions. The ability to identify sources of troublesomeness, ultimately, may aid in increasing completion. Although the participants described their experiences of positioning in varied ways, it was clear that at various positions in time their commitment to their doctoral studies was challenged in some way. This app is being developed to assist potential doctoral students to reflect upon and assess their personal situations prior to application. The questions are based upon the areas of social positioning identified in my research. In this presentation, I plan to demonstrate the app and how I will use it for further research on doctoral student readiness.