Thursday, March 2, 2017

Exploring the Future of the Doctoral Dissertation

The Innovative Dissertation
As the PhD / EdD is reconsidered as preparation for diverse career trajectories in addition to / beyond academia, the idea of the dissertation as monograph written for only for a scholarly audience comes into question. On May 31, 2016, five outstanding new scholars made brief presentations at the 2016 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, held at the University of Calgary, describing their innovative dissertation form, their reason for selecting this form, and how their research is being received. The following videos have been made available by NUTV, University of Calgary.
  • The Experiential Dissertation Faye Bres, PhD candidate, Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary; Presentation: 2016 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Calgary:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lV2BEb40W1c
  • Faye Bres’ research, based on a study conducted with The City of Calgary to examine how the City interacted with the environment during the 2013 flood. Funded by a MITACS internship, Faye examined how situations during the flood brought forth evidence of adaptive capacity that could be formalized to supplement environmental risk control with adaptation.
  • The Public Scholarship Dissertation Kirk King, PhD candidate, University of British Columbia; Presentation: 2016 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Calgary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Mzmfg87Whc
  • Kirk’s research, part of the UBC Public Scholars program, includes development of a website to tell the story of Okinawan folk singer Kadekaru Rinsho, taking an approach to ethnography in line with Okinawan traditional modes of knowledge transmission that rely on public storytelling.
  • The Community Engaged Dissertation Sarah Nickle, PhD, Simon Fraser University:  Presentation: 2016 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Calgary; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jHWhkQTO2Q
  • Sarah’s dissertation was a community-engaged study of a twentieth-century pan-tribal political organization, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. It used new ethnohistorical and critical oral history methods to understand the history of pan-tribal unity in BC.
  • The Graphic Dissertation Nick Sousanis, Post-Doctoral Scholar, University of Calgary; Presentation: 2016 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Calgary; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cJ1e1SoEkg
  • Nick’s Columbia University EdD dissertation, Unflattening, was presented entirely in comic book form. It has now been published as a book with the same title by Harvard University Press.
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  • The Noir Detective Novel Dissertation John Williamson, PhD, Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary; Presentation: 2016 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Calgary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6q0mCy6pq3c
  • Written as a fictionalized hard-boiled detective story, John’s dissertation drew on experiential data, primary sources, and interviews to examine the categorization of and programming for students labelled as “slow learners.” John was awarded the Chancellor’s Graduate Medal 2016 (Doctoral).
CAGS - Canadian Association for Graduate Studies

Earlier this year, a Canadian Association for Graduate Studies working group released a whitepaper entitled “The Doctoral Dissertation—Purpose, Content, Structure, Assessment.” The paper outlines challenges the traditional dissertation presents in light of changes to the academic work environment and the likely career trajectories of PhD students. Does the dissertation serve its intended purpose? How could it be changed to better suit the needs of students and the academy? From the report:

The challenge for supervisors, examination committees, and all those involved in graduate education is to find ways to allow (or even encourage) the inclusion of diverse forms of scholarship and scholarly products in the dissertation, while ensuring the rigour of the research.(4)

AECT - Association for Educational Communications and Technology

A sign that this conversation is underway elsewhere in North America is an upcoming AECT Webinar, "What are we preparing our students for? An argument for alt-format dissertations"

March 8th at 4:00 PM EST - [Webinar Registration]
Hosted by: Feng-Ru Sheu, Kent State University
Presented by: Rick West, Brigham Young University

Most scholars agree that the main purposes of the dissertation are to train students in proper research methodology and to contribute original findings to research. However, some worry that the traditional dissertation format is not conducive to either of these goals. Research has shown that dissertations rarely get disseminated into academic journals, and academics rarely cite dissertations that have not been published as articles. Additionally, some scholars argue that the traditional dissertation format is a poor training tool because it does not prepare scholars for future professional pursuits. Many departments, including mine, now offer alternative-format dissertations, including the option of defending a series of articles. In this webinar, Dr. West will share some of the research about alternative-format dissertations and our experience at BYU. He will discuss what lessons we have learned, and engage you in a discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of the alternative-format dissertation and how it might be used to improve scholarship in our field.

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