21st century Doctoral Education: Apprenticeship on SoTLoids & Researcher Apprenticeship in Workplaces

Although graduate schools adopt practices like the 3 Minute Thesis Contest, researcher training needs to try new practices to update the apprenticeship.  How can research training better align with the affordances of the 21st century?  PhD by publication or career achievement pathways need more development. What if researchers trained with masters outside of universities?

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) blog says “a growing number of business-related MOOCs are being offered by institutions for whom academics are a less central focus.”  A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. It originated with an educational experiment in my home province at the University of Manitoba.  MOOCs afford learning on an enormous scale, to tens of thousands of learners at once.

Commercial interests appropriated the term MOOC and a number of commercial interests started to offer MOOCs.  Now the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign may offer a full MBA for completion of a number of commercial MOOCs.  The Australian National University charged Inger Mewburn, aka, The Thesis Whisperer from the #PhDchat community,  to facilitate a MOOC called How to Survive Your PhD in late August 2015.  MOOCs offer opportunities for researchers in training to connect with others, develop learning networks and participate in methodological learning on a global scale.

As Stephen Downes notes,  ‘The MOOC, it seems, is an excellent way to deliver a course if your business model does not depend on degrees and credentials.’  Stephen Downes would be a case in point.  As a pioneer of the MOOC, a learning theorist, philosopher and prolific writer, dissertations and scholarly articles cite his work.  He exudes doctorateness.  Sans a doctorate, he works in a community of practice for the National Research Council of Canada  and cooperatively with others in his learning networks around the globe.  His speaking engagements schedule speaks to his influence and heft.  Downes could sit on an oral examining committee for MOOC research, but for the lack of three magic letters beside his name.

These days scholarly practitioners like Downes abound.  Practitioners in business and politics copy the language and attitude of academics in writing and in speaking.  Note the language and mindset of an academic coming from the mouth of the former Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd in this interview with Charlie Rose. Seth Godin, a popular marketing guru, also injects scholarly detachment into his practice.

If researchers develop via apprenticeships & research and experts are everywhere, aspiring researchers may develop ‘doctorateness’ via other sources of apprenticeship, outside the university doctoral program. The PhD by publication route acknowledges doctorateness achieved through practice and experience.

What if via MOOCs and in communities of practice outside of The Ivory Tower, practitioners cum researchers developed as doctoral candidates and then applied for doctoral credentials to a doctoral degree granting institution?  Western Governor’s University uses a competency model which recognizes prior knowledge to award Masters’ degrees.  A similar institution to WGU, let’s say called The Doctorateness Assessment Centre could conduct valid, reliable assessments for practitioner-scholar degrees.

An entire class of doctoral degrees, (Ed. D., D. B. A., Psych D., D. Pharm., D. Eng.), strives to cross scholarly practices with work practices outside of the academy.  These degrees do not strive to produce a steward of a discipline but rather a practitioner with a scholarly mindset.  Formerly in the UK., a practitioner of engineering whose career showed advanced achievement, could be awarded a doctorate, the D. Eng.  In the 21st century,  a more fluid scholarly training from outside a doctoral program makes ongoing study in professional life, life long.  For doctoral educators, the challenge posed by the explosion in research capacity is to recognize doctoral worthy work that comes from outside a doctoral program.

The 21st Century affords a doctoral path decoupled from a doctoral program. The French-American mathematician Mandlelbrot practiced research in mathematics at IBM.  During his 35 year tenure at IBM, when he did his brilliant work on fractals, no doctoral researcher worked with him.  Too bad.  Would apprenticeship in a highly productive crucible like Silicon Valley produce researcher practitioners with a dynamic mixture of professional and scholarly habits?

Graduate educators need to credit work down outside the academy. Sadly no graduate student                                          worked with Mandelbrot at IBM, when he developed fractal theory. (fractal pictured)

Doctoral programs need to focus a scholarly mindset on the practices that make a researcher.  The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) movement studies higher education practice.  University teachers formally study their practice and write-up their findings in journals to create a teacher-practitioner scholarship.  Adding scholarship to doctoral program practices affords doctoral educator learning and controlled experimentation.  New practices beyond the transmission of innovations model as in the spread of the 3MT can take hold.  The ignorance of doctoral education in the 20th century with its indifference to long times to completion and high attrition rates, can gain insight and professional knowledge via SoTL.  20th century doctoral apprenticeship transforms to doctoral apprenticeship on SoTLoids.

Social anthropologist, Jean Lave made a career studying the apprenticeships of potter and tailors in Africa.  In this video, Lave draws parallels between research training and apprenticeship.  Lave says, ‘We are always learning what we are already doing. This makes us apprentices to our own practices.‘  Adding a scholarship of teaching and learning to a doctoral program, evolves the apprenticeship so that both early career researchers and their masters become apprentices to the practice of research training.

Lave’s insights go far to understand the making of a scholar.  The making of a scholar, like the making of a skilled artisan, benefits from a meta perspective to include learning about the training.  Doctoral programs need to study their own training and accrediting practices.

In the 21st century, research occurs in communities of practice.  In the 21st century, the information and communications technologies that support MOOCs, also disrupt and transform the practice of research and work.  A scholarship of research training may fuzz the monopoly of a doctoral program and discover how doctorateness develops in scholar-practitioners.  Doctoral educators need to recognize that now a community outside the academy can raise a researcher.