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Gap-Spotting or Knowledge in Pieces: Michelangelo or Jeff Koons

In doctoral or academic study, we’re supposed to fill the gaps in knowledge and use gap-spotting to warrant the research.

Is that a Platonic model of knowledge? Knowledge exists in some perfect form; it’s just a question of filling in the gaps.


Michelangelo used a platonic model for his sculptural process. He said he was liberating his forms which he thought trapped in the blocks of marble, chipping away, and bringing forth the form unencumbered. (I know his sculptures changed to much rougher forms at the end of his career, but suspend your disbelief.)



Then comes artist Jeef Koons with his blue spheres sculptures. With this work, Koons comments on Michelangelo. Rodin, and the history of seeking the perfect form in the legacy of Greek and Roman art and knowledge too. Koons places a startling blue sphere, in which the viewer is reflected back, which imbalances the statue and suggests there is no perfect knowledge whose gaps need to filled in. Knowledge exists in a commentary about other conceptions of knowledge and in our reflection on it. Knowledge will never be perfect no matter how many gaps are filled. That is what Koons blue sphere sculptures say to me. What do you think? Should academics add in a metaphorical blue sphere?


If the Only Assessment Tool You Have is the Oral Defense Then Every Problem is Looked at as a Nail a Nail

Think about it. The dissertation gets assessed in committee through an oral defense. But what if the research methodology is autoethnographic, or arts-based, or action research or a project..

How is an oral defense the best way to assess projects outside of a positivist paradigm?

why supervisions can be hard

why supervisions can be hard.

Taming the Ink-Squirting Monster

Major change in doctoral pedagogy gathers force now to push down the giant squid of the doctoral research project. Learned associations in the humanities convene with a message that Four Years is Enough for a Ph. D. in the humanities. But what about the equation of time to quality…will Ph. D.s and Ed. D.s suffer?

What tames the ink-squirting monster in Canada now?

A new kind of Ed D informed by the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED) which aims to graduate and grant an Ed. D within three-years. The Western University Faculty of Education mostly distance education program works with learners working full-time around professional practice issues of educational leadership. The course –based program of continuous enrolment ends in a capstone dissertation project and an oral exam. Supports for students completing the dissertation project are designed to expedite completion of the dissertation within the three year time allotment.

Ten Things Doctoral Programs Fail to Disclose

If you were examining a doctoral program on its worthiness, would you be able to find Information regarding:

  1. Its Quality Standards: What does the program want in terms of a first research project from a doctoral researcher? How does the program uphold these standards? What steps has the program taken to ensure that assessments are transparent? are valid? are reliable? are relevant?
  2. Its Criticality, Self-Assessment and Plans for Change: Does the program disclose its own self-assessment criteria on how it’s doing? Does the program even try to evolve or better align its self to achieve mission critical in any way? Does the program criticize its self, gather evidence, make changes, study changes, evolve over time etc.? Does it look ?the same today as it did 10 years ago, or 20 years ago, only now it has a web site.
  3. Its Activity in the Research of Doctoral Pedagogy: Does the program and its practitioners engage with research or discussions into doctoral pedagogy? Would administrators be aware of trends, new ideas, and the evaluation of same in doctoral pedagogy? Do academics in the program publish regarding their engagement with doctoral programs, doctoral pedagogy and doctoral innovations? Would academics be able to discuss differences in a doctoral program that is a one-stage or two-stage model, that has mode 1 or mode 2 knowledge production focus, that aims to produce a scholar-practitioner as opposed to a disciplinary-focused academic for example?
  4. Its Openness to Innovation: How is the program adapting to the infusion and penetration of ICT in scholarship? For example, the vast majority of academics can now work with other academics in other institutions and locations thanks to communications technologies and yet the vast majority of doctoral programs require solitary work on archaic document formats like the dissertation as monograph. Collaboration now defines academia, yet doctoral programs fail to reflect this.
  5. Its Awareness of Dysfunction in Academic Cultures: How does the program create and sustain a vibrant intellectual community for students? How does the program monitor its own culture to avoid the excessive isolation of scholars from each other in the past? How well can the program stretch its culture to diversify its student body?
  6. Its industrialized features or lack thereof: Not all features of industrialized educational packaging were bad: guidelines for supervision, for the oral exam, for editing/editorial assistance and some attempt at internal consistency for same would all be good for students and for the program quality for example.
  7. How it provides Experience with the Work of Academics: Most programs would like students to publish, but how is this incorporated into the program beyond a would–be-nice? Ditto for conference presentations, for collaboration, for inter-disciplinary experience, for the three minute thesis challenge etc.,
  8. Its Important Statistics: Time to completion, attrition, and exit interview data concerning early departers, the experience of graduates, or students in the program would be nice..
  9. Its Plan for Student Involvement with Doctoral Pedagogy: Do students blindly follow the footsteps of the program with little understanding or engagement? For example are students sent into an oral exam without any information or help with preparation? (Is the exam its self an assessment instrument worthy of a lengthy research process?) Where is student voice in the program and how is it heeded?


  10. What do you think? Please nominate #10


    Considering the failure to disclose this information, how serious are these omissions for the public or a potential supplicant oops applicant, and how can the world of doctoral study be changed so that important features of doctoral pedagogy and doctoral program success are disclosed?

What’s in a Name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…

A name changes everything. . Something I read yesterday changed everything.

In my research proposal, I was describing the type of program I want to investigate as an ONLINE doctoral program. Luckily I read Distance Education in the United States: Past, Present and Future (Saba, 2011) yesterday and learned that the use of the word online is off base and ignorant. The word
Online fails even the most perfunctory of face validity tests. Online does not smell so sweet now, so I’m glad I found out, save what word would be appropriate?

Saba underlines the problem with descriptors based on a technology or mode of delivery, such as mLearning, eLearning or online learning. Distance education fits as it refers to a physical or temporal separation between learners and instructor. Whew!

Yet, at least for library-based doctoral researchers, ‘distance education’ describes the nature of their learning. Even if some attend a cubicle in a department in a campus, as they are separated by space and time from the supervisor and committee members for which they labour, distance education fits the nature of the learning. I wonder how many doctoral researchers stay home, or in the library or live in a different city and communicate with the supervisor via email, phone, etc. If you are a doctoral student in a program tied to a brick and mortar setting, do tell. How do you communicate with your supervisor, is it usually in the same room at the same time?

If any instance of temporal or physical separation between teacher and student, as in ‘homework,’ equals ‘distance education,’ then distance education pops up frequently in traditional same place, same time education. So how helpful is the label distance education to my study?

“Distance education,” while all the rage now, as it frees the student, teacher, and institution from so many constraints garners an unfair degree of suspicion and mistrust. The worry is that students get away with cheating when the teacher is in a different place. Cheating happens in the face to face world of education too, but somehow it’s a fatal flaw of the distance education world. Maybe cheating is a bigger problem in distance education. I don’t know. If distance education invites cheating, then distance educators can plug that gap by doing different kinds of assessments that betray a cheater and of course distance education spins off work for invigilators now more than ever. Then too diploma mills bring down distance education, but diploma mills are also a phenomenon of the face to face world of education. All of these concerns reflect quality. Quality is a function of successful learning not of space and time separation between teacher and learner.

Be gone the terms online program, eLearning, Internet-based education. Be gone the term distance education too. It’s all learning. ( it’s ironic that the Ed. D., should I complete it, will be in distance education.) We need a better nomenclature.

What do you think? What word should I use to describe a doctoral program where no brick and mortar building houses students and teachers for the purpose of attending face to face classes?



Doctoral Education Only Works If it Doesn’t Work

My previous post was about new thinking in doctoral education and featured two quotes from esteemed thinkers on the subject.

One quote said, “It is also important… that new pedagogies and programs elements be treated as education experiments. They must be carefully assessed and the resulting knowledge shared with those in the field so that good ideas can travel and ineffective pedagogies can be avoided. (Golde, 2007, p. 350)

The other quote from the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate urged doctoral programs to make “a commitment to the ongoing process of improvement: deliberating about purpose, asking questions about effectiveness, gathering evidence to shape improvement over time, and taking action.”

This quote was prefaced by “our message.. is less about particular innovations, successful or not. Successful or not, better not successful.

Sure doctoral programs can experiment, but the culture of doctoral education is about following the tried and untrue format of doctoral education and not changing a thing.

Question the purpose behind the pedagogy of doctoral education? I don’t think this happens.

Where is the ongoing process of improvement within Canadian doctoral programs? I wonder if any graduate school in Canada has instilled an ongoing process of improvement regardless of its benefits. Please tell me if you know of an ongoing process of improvement.

As long as the oral exam caps doctoral programs, I’ll be skeptical as to any questioning of purpose or ongoing process of improvement. I just don’t see how this exam is a reliable and valid instrument. What is it that is assessed anyway? Is it the doctoral candidate or a doctoral candidate’s dissertation or some combination thereof? The oral exam may easily subject the taker to grandstanding, bullying and pettiness. Is it really an initiation ritual into a mid-evil secret society? Do tell us about the contradiction in the footnote on page 100 say the examiners tightening the torture victim in the vice grip of the exam. Besides which oral examination has hardly characterized the doctoral education received by the candidate. How would it then be a fair measure of whatever it measures?

The exam heralds back to the mid-evil roots of the university. The oral exam survived for hundreds of years as a crown to doctoral programs: one of the few traditions of the early university to do so. But the times they are a changin’ for graduate programs.

So claims the Canadian Association of Graduate Studies. “The very practice of research has changed.” Really? You can hardly tell from the typical Canadian doctoral program which is mired in a culture of doctoral studies which has done little to examine its own traditions and processes, to move the dial on its own statistics for attrition and time to completion, or to introduce and study pedagogical experiments.

Doctoral education only works if it doesn’t work. The prevailing ethos of doctoral education in Canada, even with its 450% increase in enrollment in doctoral study and the ever increasing global demand for knowledge producers harkens back to the power of program officials to carry on as if nothing has really changed in the Ivory Tower. A doctoral student faces the dual difficulty of completing original research for the first time within a doctoral program which has failed to examine and correct its own methodology. Doctoral education must be littered with failed attempts, with poor communication, with unexamined traditions so as to be doctoral education.

If the makers of doctoral education had a voice it would say, “Nope we ain’t changing the dance steps. ‘Dey been down der for hundreds a years. Follow ‘em and if you can’t, den you can’t dance.” If this sounds ignorant, that is because it is.


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