Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Crowdsourcing the PhD search...

Since I have a captive, in a sense, audience, I thought I would use the power of the crowd to help me identify a suitable PhD program for myself :)

Now, over the years I've been thinking about pursuing a PhD, but a sage mentor once told me that I should take at least a year break from school before making any decisions.  Essentially clear the head out, think about what I like to do, and then think about what PhD program might be most appropriate for me.  Well, it's been four years, and I've already made a few excel spreadsheets with potential programs, but they all fall short in some way shape or form, usually the main issue is financial ;-)  So, I thought I would tap into the wisdom of the crowds on the web, on #edcmooc, and people following the Sloan Consortium to see what you all think about my (potentially unreasonable) conditions for the "perfect" PhD program; it can be an EdD too - PhD is just short-hand for the purposes of this post.

Program of Study

My educational background has taken me to many places. All of those places are quite fun, but I think I've settled on the intersection of distance learning, language learning, and educational technology (ICT).  This means that I am looking at a Universities that have faculties of Education, or faculties of liberal arts or language and literature (Applied Linguistics can fit in a variety of places) that can mentor me in these fields.  I am both a US citizen and a Greek citizen, so I guess that opens up the doors on a couple of continents.  Some initial ideas floated to me were the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, which seemed quite promising, but the recent strikes, and related uncertainty make it a problematic candidate. I can't even apply since it's closed due to strikes :).  Athabasca University is another option. Great program, really interesting faculty mentors, and they tackle a topic of interest: distance education. Cost is a bit of an issue. The Open University in the UK was/is also another option of consideration. But I am not all that familiar with the UK system.  From my various spreadsheets of research into PhD programs over the years, most universities that I scoped our originally are out of the picture because they would require me to move and quit my job - which isn't an option. This leads me to the residency requirements...

Residency Requirements

Since I need to maintain my day job, which I like by the way, in order to pay my bills, a program of study that requires me to quit my job to be a full time student, or required frequent traveling, is out of the picture for practical purposes. I can take a trip once or twice per year if needed and use up my vacation time to attend required local meetings. So, I would say that, my options are programs that are predominantly distance education; or perhaps european programs that work more on an independent study basis and I can work on my dissertation from day one and cover any gaps as I need to. Personally I like the independent study idea much more for a variety of reasons - this brings me to Entry Level requirements and Coursework.

Entry Requirements & Coursework

One of the things that was disheartening, when I was creating my big ol' spreadsheet of academic programs, was entry level examinations like the GRE. I contacted a variety of programs to see if the GRE requirement can be waived, and I explained my background.  The response I got was a polite, but canned, response that the GRE is a requirement.  In all honesty, having completed 4 masters degrees, for 2 of which I received the Academic Excellence award, and having completed 138 credits of graduate academic work, I think that institutions can show a bit of flexibility ;-)  This also brings me to the question of advanced standing.  In the US we seem to have a lot of coursework required to do a PhD above the MA degree. Is it really necessary to take 12, 13, 14 or more courses before you are even allowed to present a dissertation proposal?  In my humble opinion, no.  So, my ideal program would minimize the coursework requirement, allow me to work independently when appropriate, and would allow me to work on my dissertation on day one.

Cost 

Cost is a big issue, looking back at my good ol' spreadsheet I see two basic options:
1. Quitting work to get a Graduate Assistantship that pays for all tuition and fees, but you'll be eating ramen noodles for the next six years. That is if you are lucky to recuperate work-wise and get a job right after you are done with your PhD studies.  This isn't an option

2. Keep your job, pay your bills, but take our crazy amounts of loans in order to subsidize your PhD studies.  Thank you, but no thanks.  The student loan debt crisis is already crazy in the US, so I don't want to add to it, and put myself into further debt.

Is there a third option? Reasonable tuition that can be paid for in full by grants or scholarships?

My Dissertation idea

So, now we get to the heart of the matter.  What is the dissertation topic?  I've been involved with MOOCs for the past three years now, and online education for five or so. I am interested in continuing to investigate this topic, and specifically I am looking at designing, and implementing, an ESL MOOC based on whatever research is currently out there.  In this MOOC I plan to collect a variety of data.  I haven't decided what I will be analyzing yet for the dissertation part, but in one form or another the following types of data seem to be prime candidates for analysis in a MOOC, and a language learning MOOC at that:

  • Learner scaffolding
  • Learner linguistic production
  • Learner-constructed corpus data analysis
  • Learner participation patters (deep topic, can span many media, or just some)
  • Pathways that learners take to learning
  • Learner motivation
  • Learner resilience in massive open learning environments (MOLE!)
So, my friends and peers,  do you know of a good place I can take this dissertation topic where I can be mentored, have a ton of fun with it, and earn a PhD, without quitting my job, going into crazy amounts of debt, or have to waste time taking unnecessary coursework?  Your input is much appreciated ;-)


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