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Three Women’s Educational Doctoral Program Experiences: A Case Study of Performances and Journeys


Three Women’s Educational Doctoral Program Experiences:
A Case Study of Performances and Journeys




Sarah Selmer

West Virginia University, USA
sarah.selmer@mail.wvu.edu

Meadow Graham

West Virginia University, USA
meadov.graham@mail.wvu.edu

Erin Goodykoontz

West Virginia University, USA
eniemiec@math.wvu.edu


Abstract



Three academic women joined to write this piece to explore individual doctoral program experiences and to establish common understandings. They collectively analyzed their experiences using the conceptual approach of doctoral program performances and journeys. This case study shares their experiences within the conceptual approach through emerging themes. The common understandings developed herein about doctoral education based on these themes are also shared. The broader contributions of the three women’s work are two-fold. First, the entire case study provides a way to view, discuss, and consider women’s doctoral education pluralistically. Secondly, perhaps readers of this piece will recognize that individual and common understandings with others are a way to develop professional knowledge as academics. Further, readers of this piece might be able to relate more deeply to their own and others’ unique doctoral program experiences through the lens of performances or journeys. Some of these connections might be based on the overarching framework, while others might be specific to the shared women’s experiences.

Keywords:

Case Study; doctoral experiences; program performances

Introduction



Three women embarking on the world of academia at different points in their lives happened to cross paths at a common institution. Working in a College of Education, they decided to form a group to discuss doctoral education. As beginning academics, they focused on their recent common experiences as doctoral students, their experiences as professional women, and presented questions related to working with their own doctoral students. Initial conversations explored typical doctoral educational experiences, such as coursework completion, comprehensive exams, conference presentations, publications, and dissertation defenses. As these women’s conversations and relationships deepened, discussing these typical doctoral program components did not allow the women to truly understand each other’s unique individual experiences (Grover, 2007). For instance, two of the women took a qualitative research course from the same professor. For one of the women the course was not an influential class. Yet, for another of the women it was significant in her program experiences. The reasons for these differences were difficult to discuss and understand without delving further into their individual experiences. For this reason, they conducted a study exploring their individual experiences in doctoral education. The following case study account of this work holds broader contributions for the women involved as well as for their colleagues, doctoral students, and administrators working within doctoral education. The authors hope that after reading this piece readers will be able to relate more deeply to their own and others’ unique doctoral program experiences. These relational understandings should enhance academics, doctoral students, and administrators present and future work in doctoral education.

Context



The professional interests of the group lie in mathematics and literacy education; however, all of the members hold a common curriculum and instruction doctorate foundation. Presently, the three participating women work at a large land-grant research university located in an Appalachian state. Throughout this piece the use of the names Stella, Elise, and Madelyn provide anonymity to the shared personal experiences. Stella and Elise completed their 2008 doctoral work in mathematics education at a common university, while Madelyn completed her work in literacy education at a different institution during the same timeframe. All three women work as beginning academics in their respective areas of interest; however, they have recently begun having difficulty understanding how to provide high quality doctoral experiences for their students. Each realizes that their own doctoral experiences were unique, but they want to search for common experiences in order to better understand their own present and future students’ experiences

.



This study uses a single case study of a cohort of the three women. The study is subjective in nature because the participants are also the researchers (Creswell, 1998). Thus, their individual perspectives, experiences, and meaning making (Kor-Ljungberg, Yendol-Hoppey, Smith, & Hayes, 2009) are heavily ingrained in the emerging themes and discussion. Within this piece doctoral program experiences are referred to as program journeys or performances. Experiences that are journeys refer to those that combine learning and teaching. However, if no learning or growth occurs, then these experiences are simply referred to as performances.

Ultimately, the purpose of this work is for the women to find ways to express and discuss their doctoral program experiences that provide depth and breadth to the importance of the individual in doctoral programs. Additionally, the common understandings that were developed based on these conversations provided a second purpose, which is further expressed through two guiding questions:

  1. How are the authors’ shared experiences expressed as program performances, program performances intertwined with journeys, and personal journeys?

  2. What common understandings about doctoral education did the authors discover?

The sampling strategies are homogenous (Creswell, 1998) within one cohort of women, all of whom work in academia. Although the women are in different programs and areas of emphasis, their commonalities within the field of education make the group homogenous. The data sources are observations, meeting notes, conversations, and written narratives from group meetings. Their discussions both written and oral based on the described data sources advanced a small number of themes that guide the analysis of the case study data and writing (Creswell, 1998).

Influence of the Literature



Turning to the literature, two areas of doctoral education research influence this case study. The first area of literature focuses on the broad aspects of institutions and programs that contribute to doctoral students’ successes within and among universities and disciplines. Further, these broad aspects of programs are often explored through discipline-specific doctoral program elements, such as coursework, dissertations, and mentoring. The research also explores each of these elements by looking at specific features, such as mentoring during the dissertation process. The second area of doctoral education research focuses on the individual nature of doctoral students’ experiences.

Broad aspects of institutions and programs



The PhD Completion Project, by the Council of Graduate Schools identifies key influential aspects of institutions and programs that influence students completion of doctoral programs. Aspects include the student selection process, student mentoring programs, financial support, program environment, and program processes and procedures (The Council of Graduate Schools, 2008; Golde, 2000; Golde, 1998; Herzig, 2002). Ultimately the research shows that these various aspects of institutions and programs affect doctoral students’ successful program completion (The Council of Graduate Schools, 2008; Golde, 2000; Herzig, 2002).

Specific doctoral program elements



Specific doctoral program elements also influence students’ successful graduation rates. For instance, studies have shown that the level of guidance programs provide to aid students in navigating program elements, such as course work, qualifying examinations, candidacy, and the dissertation process (Earl-Novell, 2006; Erdem & Ozen, 2003; Grover, 2007; Ray, 2007) affects overall student attrition rates (Grover, 2007). Further, the Carnegie studies reported in the book, The Formation of Scholars, the results of a five-year study done by the Carnegie Foundation looking at doctoral education in six fields (chemistry, education, English, history, mathematics, and neuroscience). Similar to other research the results offer a set of generalizations for successful program elements across disciplines including; purposeful curriculum design; recognizing the special role of students’ learning communities; and concerted approaches to mentoring, advising, and faculty role modeling (Walker, Golde, Jones, Conklin-Bueschel, & Hutchings, 2008).

Specific to purposeful curriculum design, the literature suggests that doctoral education curriculum should focus more on practically preparing students for professional practice (Shulman, 2010). To summarize this area of doctoral education research, doctoral students’ graduation success rates can be affected by program elements being more purposefully designed to focus on the practices of scholarship (problem framing, question development, research design), teaching (large, small, and individual settings), supervision and mentoring (modeling and coaching), and service (Shulman, 2010). Doctoral students experiences with this purposefully designed curriculum will further be affected by the previously mentioned institutional and program aspects, including, for example, financial assistance and program processes and procedures.

Individual Influences



A second area of doctoral education research has a focus on the individual nature of doctoral program experiences (Lee, 2009; Brailsford, 2010; Grover, 2007). Students’ individual experiences are affected by different doctoral students’ motivations (Brailsford, 2010), life factors (Lee, 2009), and interpersonal relationships (Brailsford, 2010; Mainhard, van der Rigjst, & van Tartwijk, 2009). These individual factors all shape students’ experiences and, ultimately, their successful program completion.

Motivation



Doctoral students often have career, personal, and inter-personal motivations for embarking on and successfully completing doctoral education (Brailsford, 2010). In the area of career motivation, individual aspirations and/or changes in career circumstances, such as the loss of a job, often inspire people to enter into doctoral programs. Further, personal motivations, such as giving back to the community through scholarship, provide the catalyst for some doctoral students’ success (Brailsford, 2010). The influence of friends, family, colleagues, and academics provides additional motivation for doctoral students’ successes through support and advice (Brailsford, 2010). Ultimately, the research shows that these individual motivations for pursuing doctoral education affect student success by either inspiring or deterring individuals to successfully complete doctoral programs.

Individual factors and interpersonal relationships



Other research indicates that a doctoral student’s unique traits, such as self-discipline and positive academic self-concept (Lee, 2009), also impact overall success. Also, interpersonal relationships, particularly in the area of mentoring, enhance the benefits of individuals’ motivations and life factors on students’ success. Researchers have found that some of the most successful doctoral students had mentors who not only provided guidance but also the freedom and autonomy they needed to grow as scholars (Ray, 2007).

Issue



Based on the literature above, the women began to discuss what was more influential in doctoral students’ successful program completion. Successful program completion means not just graduating but includes significant growth through learning. Was it the broad program and institutional aspects; the program elements with designated features, such as a focused curriculum on professional practices; or was it the individual students’ motivations, life factors, and interpersonal relationships? Interestingly, the women’s conversations emphasized the importance of the individual experience within doctoral education. However, rather than offering definitive answers, research in this area often leaves readers to speculate about the motives, life factors, and interpersonal relationships that lead to doctoral students’ success. Thus, this studies focus is on finding ways to further capture and understand the individual nature of doctoral program experiences.

Conceptual Approach



The conceptual approach for this work draws from theoretical perspectives offered within the field of education based on the work of Elliot Eisner (1994) and William Ayers (2001). In his book on school programs, The Educational Imagination, Elliot Eisner speaks of teaching and learning in two ways. First, Elliot Eisner views teaching as a “variety of acts performed by individuals” (p. 158) with the intention of promoting learning. Similarly, William Ayer conceptualizes this view of teaching as “mainly instruction, partly performing” (p. 4) in his book To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher. These acts performed by teachers include lectures, demonstrations, discussions, advising, etc. (Eisner,1994). Similarly, doctoral students’ experiences within programs can be considered as a “variety of acts performed by individuals” (p. 158) with the intention of learning. Typically, doctoral students attend classes, have discussions with professors and peers, conduct research, and have teaching experiences within their educational doctorate programs. Within this piece, these acts performed by doctoral students are considered doctoral program performances.

The second way Eisner conceptualizes teaching and learning is radically different. This conceptualization regards teaching as a form of achievement directly related to learning (Eisner,1994). In other words, if a student does not learn anything, then no teaching has actually occurred. For example, if a student attends a lecture and does not learn from that experience, then teaching has not occurred. Ayers ties this notion of teaching with learning by defining teaching as being able to “counsel, organize, assess, guide, goad, show, manage, model, coach, discipline, prod, preach, persuade, proselytize, listen, interact, and inspire” (p. 4). Further, Ayers states the following: “teaching is more than transmitting skills; it is a living act, and involves perseverance and value, obligation and choice, trust and care, commitment and justification” (p. 4). All of these facets of teaching define it directly in terms of students’ learning. Similarly, if doctoral students are going to be successful in learning in their doctoral programs as they attend classes, work with professors and peers, conduct research, and have teaching experiences, these actions must move beyond performances and become experiences in which teaching and learning are connected. Within this piece, these types of experiences (i.e., those that combine learning and teaching) are referred to as journeys. However, if no learning or growth occurs, then these experiences are simply referred to as performances.

Findings/Results



How are the authors’ shared experiences expressed through the conceptual approach of program performances, program performance intertwined into journeys, and personal journeys?


2010-07-19 18:44 Читать похожую статью
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