4 October 2016
By Bryan Smyth
New technology is beginning to impact the world of PhD education .
According to Dr E. Alana James founder of DoctoralNet Ltd based in Kinsale, Co Cork, “Using technology, universities can now increase their quality assurance through making it nearly impossible for a student to be lost in the process. At DoctoralNet we have developed a subscription service that partners with universities to end these challenges. Using technology to meet the student where they are and to deliver just what they need quickly, 24/7, addresses the ups and downs inherent in the PhD research and writing process as well as other considerations such as finances, child rearing and health which impact on drop out levels no matter how motivated the students might have been whey they started”.
How does it work?
The university is set up with its own portal of content which guide students through the process and when they run into specific issues there are another dozen tools they opt-in for. For example, when students have a quick question they access a professor on skype chat. When they feel adrift they attend webinars that help them ground in the subtleties of the work. When they feel isolated from their campuses they participate in online groups. When they lack motivation they opt-in for the motivational emails that help keep them on track. When they are insecure in their academic writing they attend groups online, self-assess their ideas using interactive tools, and develop skills through practical webinars. Throughout it all, they have guidance through maps, personalized content brought to them instantly and tracking their progress through milestones.
How can universities engage and who are using it now?
The cost for the university is the price of a textbook per student per year (averaging €50 depending on the number of students enrolled). Dublin City University (DCU) subscribed students in education, business, and nursing over the 2015-2016 school year and about 50% of them each cover the range of full and part time, based on and off campus. Results indicated strong engagement and usage and students this Autumn will return to an individual DCU portal, built just for them. Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT) and the Institute of Technology Sligo (ITS) employ the technology as a support for their staff who are in the midst of an advanced degree process as part of their move towards becoming a technological university. Several universities in the US are also testing the system.
Dr James says, “International figures demonstrate that only about 50% of all those working towards a PhD will finish. Universities in Ireland are ahead of those figures but are experiencing challenges as they attract the non-traditional PhD candidate – the mature, working, parenting adult who works largely at a distance from their university campus”.
DoctoralNet Ltd is an Irish company, founded in 2013 by E. Alana James, Ed.D. Dr James worked for a number of US online universities at the beginning of the online education revolution in the states in the 1990’s. Her experience (at one time as supervisor for almost 50 PhD students in education and business) began her interest in helping this population succeed.
Dr James is an Author for Sage Publications, Inc. and her latest book, Writing your doctoral dissertation or thesis faster: A proven map to success was published in 2014.