ABCs of D Education’s Future

A is for the Alternate Doctorate or Alternate Pathways to the Doctorate.   The EdD, DBA, the Future of the PhD in the Humanities, the three topic dissertation, the Open PhD, the online PhD/EdD, the PhD from the for-profit university, the collaborative dissertation, the project-based doctorate. the part-time doctorate; these are all variations of D degrees for new markets and for preparation for non-academic work.

B is for a global type of Bologna Process.  How does the marketplace value and make sense of the expansion in the type and number of D degree programs?  The Bologna Process in Europe included the D degree for coherence and commensurability.  As the world gets smaller and more global, may the D degree gain a world forum to study and improve D education.

C is for Confidence.  The value of the D designation comes down to confidence.  Confidence depends on the reputation of the university.   In the past, confidence used to be a function of the time spent and dropout rates.  Doctoral programs are known for high drop-out rates, where a 50% dropout rate was and maybe still is the norm.   Doctoral programs showed little interest in their drop-out statistic if it was known at all, let alone taking responsibility for it.  Confidence comes, when despite the massive expansion in D programs, the program conforms to the original pattern for the degree.  Ergo, even in a three year EdD program in which the only research methodology employed is action-research, the program ends in an oral defense.

D is for Desire.  Desire is at play, when a seemingly sane and reasonable person will toil away, ignoring friends, families and pensionable time to obtain an elusive qualification with little guarantee of employment.  Universities desire the prestige of offering doctoral programs, which are easy enough to start up if patterned from the narrow, atomistic training doctoral supervisors and examining committee members experienced.

E is for Epistemology.  After post-modernism tore apart universities, the politics of power in epistemology exposed privilege but still universities roar on, expanding graduate training by a factor of 400% in Canada in a thirty year time frame.

F is for Fabrication.  The fabrications of scholars are an art form that no form of Artificial Intelligence can or ever will produce; these fabrications are lies that tell the truth (until better fabrications come up).  Computers only know the fabrications, not how to make them up, even if they can win chess games with grand masters.  Maybe this is the new frontier, a new Turing test.  The test: Who can design a computer program that can make up a problem to investigate, examine the literature, find the appropriate research method, clear the ethics board, gather the data, write up the research and defend it, will win a million dollars.

G is for Graduate School.   Undergrad education now gets lumped with public school as almost an extension of public school. In North America the reference is to basic education being K-16, which tacks the 4 year undergrad degree on to public school.  So the great divide in academic education becomes research training.  A trend exists to design Masters programs as almost one-year ‘skills certificates’ rather than research degrees.  Universities promote one year, course-based Masters’ degrees, so that research training gets more cordoned off into doctoral education.  (The other advantage of the one-year Master’s degree is that it prevents doctoral level work from being produced in a Master’s program).

H is for #hashtag.  #phdchat, #acwri, #socphd bring together persons who could not contact each other otherwise.  Hashtags connect researchers and thereby accelerate and amplify scholarly exchange.

Live visualization of tweets surrounding hashtags at TampaBay Social Media Command Center, Demo by Robert Neff, August 2012
Live visualization of tweets surrounding hashtags at TampaBay Social Media Command Center, Demo by Robert Neff, August 2012

I is for Intellectual Property.  Every D program must make intellectual property a central topic.  The true spirit of scholarship requires creative commons, share and share alike licensing and open access journals.  The litmus test for a worthwhile D program in the future is the extent to which completers publish in creative commons and open access journals and the extent to which the university supports open access journals and multi-author academic blogs.

J is for Jason Richwine’s PhD from The Kennedy School of Public Policy at Harvard University.  The offensive screed speaks to the heart of doctoral education.  If a committee of distinguished Ivy League professors failed to find or take responsibility for the many troubling problems with Richwine’s racist dissertation, then maybe a new business ought to start up which offers to properly assess and certify a dissertation.  Assessment of the merit of doctoral work needs to go beyond the viva or oral defense.

K is for Knowledge.  Knowledge is power in the knowledge economy which rewards knowledge artisans, brokers and crafters.

L is for Liberate Libraries.   If libraries saved the extortion money they pay out to give their researchers access to the products of publicly financed academic labour in academic journals, the cost of running a university could come way down.   Meanwhile, the ease of internet publishing undercuts traditional academic journals.  In the future, academics may publish in multi-author academic blogs (MABs) which will get to interested readers faster.  An academic database like Google Scholar already includes MABS in searches.  Until the day that journals behind paywalls becomes obsolete, all scholars and universities should pay homage to the public which funds the bulk of research and release academic work into the public sphere.

M is for Marketing and Missing research.  Whereas once the doctorate was for the elite, now savvy marketing entices a paying customer to sign up for a doctoral education.  The education consumer chooses where to go.  The paucity of research in doctoral education means that many experiments with the form and delivery of doctoral education exist in the marketplace with little sharing of knowledge as to the difference these changes make.  Only one journal exists which is solely devoted to doctoral education and none to graduate education.  At least it is an open access journal, published online.  Missing is knowledge of doctoral education.

N is for Niche.  Every doctoral student needs a niche, a gap in knowledge or someway to bring about novel knowledge as in the digital humanities.

O is for Open Access.  Intellectual efforts of academics must belong to the world public.  Doctoral students need to graduate savvy about copyrights and academic publishing.

P is for Personal Learning Network.  Doctoral researchers need to forge personal learning networks from connections to stay abreast of developments before they appear in the pages of a journal.

Q is for Qualification.  While it seems like the doctoral qualification is the point, it’s other talents in addition to the qualification which now makes the difference.  The doctorate provides fodder for some other talent, application or knowledge to carry the candidate forward.  How many PhDs does it take to change a light bulb?  One, but 800 apply.  Doctoral programs need to engage and embrace the world beyond academia.  A Texas university advertised for a customer satisfaction specialist in advertising for a literature professor; the PhD merely got a candidate on to a short list.

R is for Research Methodology.  Maybe training research students should be lumped together according to research methodology.  Instead of producing stewards of a ‘discipline’ maybe graduate schools should concentrate on stewards of a research methodology.  Disciplines are becoming too vast, interleaved and arbitrary.  If graduate schools put together all students using social sciences research methods, research training would be closer to the bone.  Or maybe at some point in research training students take part in a never-ending MOOC devoted to research methodology.  Such an experience would bring together learners, bring down silos, free up university resources and emphasize scholarly development via the affordances of the web.  Wouldn’t it be great if doctoral researchers employing a case study approach could join a stream of exchanges and dialogue with others using the same methodology?

S is for (Scholarly) Social Media.  Entering into scholarly streams of discourse via social media quickens connections and needs to be encouraged in graduate school.

T is for Time to Completion.   ‘How much time to completion on average and by median?’ A research training program should be able to answer this question with evidence from an ongoing collection of data.  A program concerned with renewing its pedagogy should post on its admission information website its time to completion statistics, which should match to the program design.

Time spent in graduate school was once associated to quality but does not quality guarantee.  Jason Richwine’s ‘work’ took five years so its not like he cut corners to get it done.  Getting started on doctoral research sooner in a program shortens time to completion.  Maybe North American doctoral programs should try the UK model, where the student starts into research quickly and gets through the thesis within three or four years for the most part.

U is for the Unique Research Training Function of a University.  Colleges and high schools now compete with universities to teach undergraduate courses.  Research training remains the preserve of the university, ergo universities should start research training sooner.

V is for Variegation.  Gone are the days of the white, male club of scholars.  The scholarly function is executed by women, the peoples of the non-Western world and even those from the less privileged sector.

W is for Writing.  Amongst the biggest tasks the doctoral researcher undertakes, producing a coherent, scholarly text of 80 000 words strikes terror into many a novice. More help with writing earlier in the doctoral program may keep more students in the program and let them complete sooner.  Doctoral programs need to emphasize ‘writing short’ along with how to make info-graphics and posters.  The Three Minute Thesis contest ought to be mandatory and every program which admits EFL students needs a plagiarism policy that specifies the point at which (purchased) editing help becomes plagiarism.

Students compensate for inadequate language mastery by purchasing ghost writing from editorial services  to complete the writing requirement. Tracking ongoing revisions from the first draft would red flag ghost writing.

X is for X Factor.  Great research requires an x-factor.  When Turing contended that digital computing would program for multitude functions, not just calculations, he made a leap that others, including those at Harvard, could not.

Y is for You.  D education would benefit from adding a meta level to every program.  In general, students are treated as the products or by-products of the program or as consumers.  Engaging with doctoral learners in an examination of the teaching and assessment methods of the program would do more to change the nature of doctoral education going forward than any single other change.

Z is for Zenith.  Completion of doctoral research represents a high point and low point.  On the one hand a significant project which furnishes forth new fabric has been achieved by a solitary singularity and sacrifice that verges with mental illness for some.  The high point would be all the sweeter and the low point less severe if doctoral education embraced collaborative and networked research projects.  The doctoral research world is the only place in academia in which researchers must work entirely alone.  Let’s change that.