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As a fourth year doctoral candidate, in addition to having completed comprehensive examinations and prospectus and working on the dissertation, my thoughts are also turning towards the job market and securing that first academic position. This purpose of this blog is to chronicle the trials and tribulations of completing my Ph.D. and finding that first job.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Prospectus Defense

Well, a couple of posts ago (see Okay, getting back to task) I promised that I would talk a little about my prospectus defense. Unlike the oral defense of my comprehensive examinations, where I had seen two or three other people defend their comprehensive exams, I did not have a first-hand sense of what the prospectus defense would be like. Essentially I went into this defense sight unscene.

The defense itself went fairly well, so well in fact that I believe that I have less work as a result of my committee. It was interesting... Originally, I was going to have two students per district over four school districts that I would interview over the telephone for four or five months and these eight students would also complete weekly reflections. I also had two schools (none of the original eight students would attend either of these schools) that I would spend two weeks in each, observing the students engaged in their distance education. I was also going to conduct a focus group at the beginning of each of these two observation periods and have two students in each of these schools that I would conduct weekly interviews and daily reflections for me.

While this would have given me a lot of interesting data, across many different contexts that all could have been points of comparison within the case study (e.g., schools that are new to distance education compared to ones that have a long history with it or students taking their first distance education course compared to students who have already completed one or more courses), however, none of these comparison points were really important to addressing my four research questions:
  1. What are the students’ experiences during their synchronous time online?
  2. What are the students’ experiences during their asynchronous time online?
  3. What is the nature of the assistance students seek?
  4. After they feel they have successfully mastered a piece of content, what do students attribute their success to?
I guess the interesting part was that my committee was more interested in focusing upon one school to address these questions. To the point that one member asked me what I would gain by having more than one school, and before I answered another member cautioned me to think about how much I want to fight this. As I answer the question, I too realized that while these would make interesting comparisons and things I could do with the data post-dissertation, they did not help me address any of the research questions I was asking.

So, my dissertation study was scaled back to include the students at one school. I was to conduct monthly interviews and receive weekly reflections from as many students from this school as I could for four to five months, I would physically be in this one school observing for a full month, and I would conduct a total of three focus groups with them (i.e., one at the very beginning of my data collection, one immediately before I came to their school, and one shortly following my time in their school).

In the end, there is a chance that I will be conducting more than eight monthly interviews, so it may not be less work. Although my month of May won't be as bad, as I only have one set of students to worry about now, instead of two groups of students to keep track of (i.e., the distance students that I would have been telephone interviewing and the local students in the two schools I would have visited). So, things will be a little less hectic near the end of my data collection period.

Overall it was an interesting and enjoyable time. I got some ideas for potential follow-up studies to this dissertation study, based upon a brief conversation at the beginning about what this dissertation could have been, so once I get that "oh-so-important" first position, I have some ideas on where to take my program of research.

More on the dissertation as I get closer to starting my data collection, and I'm sure I'll have some thoughts on the actual content of the dissertation on my other blog (i.e., Virtual High School Meanderings), as the topic of my dissertation is more focused upon virtual schooling. Until then...

Tags: graduate student, graduate students, graduate school, higher education, education

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