Monday, August 25, 2014

Of Cohorts and Residential Requirements

Back in Boston!  I was off to Edmonton last week for my doctoral program orientation at Athabasca University. The orientation is a formal part of the first course (EDDE 801) and it is a requirement.  Not attending the orientation means not being the program.  Those who know me on campus know that I am not a fan of cohorts, and I don't like residential requirements, so it might seem illogical to apply to a program that requires both.  Well, what can I say? I thought I would try something new for a change and go outside of my comfort zone and see what it's like (who knows, maybe I'll re-assess my stance on cohorts and residential requirements).

The incoming cohort each year (this year we are cohort 7) is made up of 12 members.  We actually had 13 members to start off with, but one of us was wooed to go an join the DBA program at Athabasca, so he is gone from our cohort, but I consider him an honorary member. Apparently the optimal size of a cohort is 20-30 students (from one of the team presentations), so our cohort seems to be the minimum acceptable cohort size. So long as we all stick together we'll be fine.  I don't quite know how I feel about the cohort model yet, however  having only 11 more people in our cohort makes it easier to remember faces and names, and get to chat with others to a point where you get to know them and they can be your support network.  Most of my Master's level coursework had around 20 students, and while we started with several classes together (and had an opportunity to get to know one another), the people I remember the most are people I worked in teams with, so fewer people for me means more opportunities for mixing up the teams, and therefore getting to know people better.  Apparently, this year, Athabasca accepted one-third of the qualified candidates into the EdD program.  I guess we could have had an optimal cohort size, but smaller seems better to me at this point in time.

As far as residential requirements go, I am a bit torn about this one (at this point in time).  I am exhausted from the trip. Getting there (and finally resting) was a 24 hour day for me (luckily I had a day to recuperate). Getting back was an 18 hour day.  It's odd, but getting from Boston to Edmonton is not an easy feat! I ended up with 5+ hour layovers in Dallas (which wasn't a bad airport actually). From a travel perspective the residential requirement was a drag.  That said, while I didn't get to hang-out with everyone for the same amount of time, I think I did get a good sense of who everyone is, where they are coming from, and what their goals are.  I think that having those shared in-person experiences, both in the classroom, and outside, are quite important. Edmonton was also pretty nice, so we had a choice about which places to go to each afternoon once the classroom component was complete.  I have revisited my thoughts on residency: I think that a residency can be a good thing, but it needs to be planned and designed right.  A residency requirement that is completely flexible as to when you do it is almost useless because you don't have an opportunity to form bonds with your cohort early enough that it makes a difference in your studies.  I also think that what you do, in the residential component, is important.  If it can be done online (and better) why do it in person?

Things to ponder.
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