Two Tin Cans and a Piece of String
Pursuing Doctoral Studies Via Distance Learning
John A. G. McKeown, Ed.D.
Are you an international educator in a remote or isolated location with limited access to higher education? Has this location deterred you from undertaking doctoral studies in education? If so, you’ll find this article of interest because higher education now caters to an internationally diverse clientele, and with the variety of available options for doctoral studies, you can find a doctorial studies program to fit your circumstances.
A search for available doctoral programs in education via distance learning reveals intriguing results. Programs in English run the gambit from degree mills — where a degree can be awarded despite the fact that the school is not recognized as a degree-granting institution — to American, British, Canadian and Australian university programs which require residency on a part-time basis or offer the option to complete the entire degree by distance or online learning.
Three Distance Learning Options to Choose From
1. Consider distance learning focused on a research dissertation based on your local circumstances. Available at reasonable cost, with flexible scheduling, this option may meet your demands.
2. Some universities offer distance research studies in which learning modules are completed during school breaks in hard copy, or online.
3. A doctoral degree completed by distance learning coursework and shorter thesis, or professional portfolio.
While the choice of coursework (option three) may at first seem the likely route as it is more structured, the research approach (option one) can be more effective and less expensive. Focused on local workplace conditions, the research data can be applied back to the school as a basis for further study, and may offer some added benefit to your school. The distance learning research approach (option three) is your opportunity to use local factors in context, and by choosing a topic that highlights local conditions, can produce authentic results, applicable elsewhere.
The program you choose depends on individual circumstances such as fees, locale, preferred supervisors, or areas of specialization. Affordability is a major consideration when modular coursework or residency requirements involve travel and accommodation costs. Choosing a doctoral program that is innovative in its focus will support greater congruence between the university, the workplace and your professional endeavors, with results more focused on school transformation, and with the possibility for comparative studies conducted with other colleagues.
When considering a path to earning your doctoral degree, keep in mind you will be better able to sustain your research efforts if they are focused on an area of education about which you feel passionate. After all, you will be investing three or more years into the process.
Challenges of Doctoral Studies by Distance
Completing a dissertation by distance does have special challenges, especially from a remote location. The lack of reference resources including periodicals, texts and doctoral dissertations is a major obstacle. However, data generated in context and gathered from the internet may compensate for this lack. If access to print materials is limited from your location, a topic that investigates new areas of study may be more generative (e.g., Surakkhaka:2002; McKeown:2005).
Staying connected is essential! An experienced, empathetic tutor provides guidance and encouragement to assist you in crafting research arguments. Communicating by email, text messages, video conferencing, and online phone are all ways to maintain contact. Supplied with particular circumstances of the local context, your tutor will assist you in establishing connections that add relevance to your work. Your university tutor will request reports at scheduled intervals.
Periodically, take available opportunities to explain your work in progress to a circle of critical friends. Family, supportive colleagues, and other online students may provide regular, direct, timely and specific feedback, and help you refine ideas as data is gathered. To clarify developments, share your progress with school colleagues or at conferences. Sharing with individuals outside the area of expertise may help you to clarify issues and refine your arguments.
When your dissertation is submitted, there are three options that the appointed readers will give: accepted, accepted with revisions, or not accepted. Your dissertation may be recommended for additional clarification after the external readers have deliberated on the merits of the thesis and the supporting evidence.
Keep in mind that when submitting your dissertation, special binding, paper bond or other requirements may be stipulated and the needed materials may, or may not, be available locally. Fortunately printing services are available for distance learners, at a cost. A Google search should reveal the right printer for you.
The Viva Voce
Following the acceptance of your thesis, you will be invited to defend your work. The viva voce or oral is typically held at the university. However, in the case of distance learners, the viva can be accommodated in different ways, taking into account the requirements of the institution and the circumstances of the examiners and candidate. Since you and your tutor, external readers, and the institution may be separated by great distances, suggested viva voce alternatives include video-conferencing, on-line examinations, or a list of selected questions to be answered online within a restricted time frame.
If you have been contemplating earning your doctorate in education but didn’t think it possible from your current geographical location, think again. If you can connect to the internet you can earn your doctorate in education and from any corner of the world.
SOME DO’S AND DON’T’S GAINED FROM EXPERIENCE!
|RESEARCH SCHOOLS THAT MEET YOUR NEEDS||TAKE THE CHEAPEST, EASIEST OPTION|
|CLEAN YOUR SLATE FOR 2/3 YEARS – FIND A JOB THAT SUPPORTS YOUR PROJECT AND PROMOTES ORGANIZATIONAL LEARNING||MAKE OTHER MAJOR COMMITMENTS DURING THIS PERIOD OF STUDY|
|TAKE TIME TO FIND A SUITABLE TOPIC THAT IS A GOOD MATCH WITH YOUR WORK SITUATION REALITIES||CHOOSE A TOPIC THAT NEEDS MOUNDS OF SUPPORTING RESEARCH ARTICLES|
|KEEP A SEPARATE PLACE TO WRITE||PROCRASTINATE ON ANY ASPECT|
|READ BOOKS ABOUT PH.D. OR ED.D PROCESS AND EXPECTATIONS||BE REACTIVE – TRY TO KEEP POSITIVE – FIND SOLUTIONS TO WORKING INDEPENDENTLY|
|CREATE A GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR TUTOR OR MENTOR||ISOLATE YOU, OR YOUR PROJECT|
|SHARE YOUR DEVELOPMENTS WITH CRITICAL FRIENDS||OVER-SHARE YOUR WORK WITH COLLEAGUES (EVERYONE HATES A SHOWOFF!)|
|PLAN TO SPEND YOUR HOLIDAYS IN LIBRARIES AND BOOKSHOPS – AND WRITING!||PLAN FOR OTHER PROJECTS; KEEP FOCUSED ON THE TASKS AND STICK TO A TIMELINE|
|PLAN TO BORE YOUR FRIENDS – YOU WILL GROW TO LOVE YOUR TOPIC; OTHERS WON’T||WRITE AT INTERVALS (RATHER, KEEP GOING AT EVERY WEEKEND AND VACATION BREAK TO MAINTAIN MOMENTUM)|
Following is a selection of schools that advertise Educational Doctoral studies in various focus areas with distance learning and online options. Not an exhaustive list, it provides a starting point for searching for relevant and applicable alternatives. These schools are given as suggestions without endorsement for any particular university or program.
|George Washington University||www.gwu.edu/-distance|
|Nova Southeastern University||www.nova.edu|
|University of Phoenix||www.university.phoenix.edu|
|University of Birmingham||www.education.bham.ac.uk|
|University of Kent at Canterbury||www.kent.ac.uk|
|Warnborough University, Canterbury||www.warnborough.edu|
|University of South Australia||www.usqonline.com|
|Melbourne Graduate School of Ed||www.edfac.unimel.edu.au|
|University of South Queensland||www.usqonline.com.au|
John McKeown, Ed.D., John McKeown, Ed.D., currently serves as School Management Advisor for the educational reform project underway in Qatar. When not traveling or working, he can be found at his house in a Turkish village. He successfully graduated via the research option and is now an advocate of distance and online learning. John may be contacted through ISR at Distance Learning.
Adams, J. & DeFleur, M.H. (2005). ‘The Acceptability of a Doctoral Degree Earned Online as a Credential for Obtaining a Faculty Position.’ The American Journal of Distance Education, 19(2), 71-85.
Berry, J. & Hackmann, D. (1999). ‘Distance Learning in Educational Administration Doctoral programs: The Wave of the Future?’, Journal of Educational Leadership, Vol. 9, 349-367.
Maxwell, T.W., McConaghy, C., & Ninnes, P. (2004). Offering a Doctoral Program Internationally, Journal of Research in International Education, 3(10), 71-85.
McKeown, J.A. (2005). ‘Toward a professional learning community: societal and cultural factors affecting the development of informed professional practice at Turkish Foreign National Schools’, Ed.D. dissertation: Warnborough University, Canterbury, UK.
Surakkhaka, A. (2002). ‘The Effect of a Diverse Community of Teachers on Professional Development in Thai Schools’, Ed.D. dissertation: Illinois State University.