22 SES 07 A, Teaching, Learning and Assessment in Higher Education
This paper explores the extent to which social media usage by professional doctorate students and their tutors allows the building of communities of practice:
- within a cohort of professional doctorate learners?
- between a cohort of professional doctorate learners and academics within their University?
- between cohorts of professional doctorate learners?
- between professional doctorate learners and a range of academics, practitioners and doctoral students beyond their University?
The Doctorate in Education programme is a professional doctorate, which attracts senior education professionals (such as school leaders and teachers) to design and conduct educational research at doctoral level that will contribute to the development of an aspect of education practice and policy (Burgess et al., 2006). These professionals are usually working full time in education and studying their professional doctorate part-time. Thus, professional doctorates are likely to differ from traditional PhD programmes in terms of both pedagogic process and knowledge produced.
The research literature on student experience of doctoral education identifies a number of key themes. Firstly, the process of undertaking doctoral study necessarily involves a change of identity for students – ‘becoming a researcher’ – and this process of identity-formation should be an explicit part of the doctoral learning process (Drake, 2011; Crossouard and Pryor, 2008). Many studies identify the existence of an institutional research culture as important in doctoral students’ transformation into researchers. For example, Leonard and Becker (2009) found that a research culture which is academically and socially inclusive, and which enables students to make contacts and develop networks, can have a positive impact on student motivation, experience and outcomes.
Research degrees tutors often take on the responsibility for systems to support research students and to increase a sense of community. Most university departments run research seminars, but many students do not attend them on a regular basis (Leonard et al., 2006). They say the seminars feel inappropriate for their needs, the subject matter is not relevant and/or the setting is too formal (Leonard and Becker, 2009). Furthermore, students who do not attend seminars nevertheless often indicate that they want greater opportunity for dialogue and more help – but in specific areas. A proportion suggests that contact with others outside the university would be valuable because expertise in a specialised area is lacking (Green, 2009). Even when there is an ethos of collegiality, part-time students find research cultures more difficult than others to access and sustain (Leonard and Becker, 2009). This is significant as most professional doctorates in education are studied part-time.
It has been suggested that Twitter can help students proactively organise and tailor virtual peer support groups (Mollet et al., 2010). Moreover, Minocha and Petre (2012) suggest that Twitter can be used to encourage the development of interactive academic networks and help to establish social relations with relevant people beyond the supervisors. It can be used to share knowledge with others and to find colleagues with similar research interests. However, the quality of doctoral students’ experience is still seen as largely due to their relationship with their supervisor, and the way to improve it is seen as mainly by initial and in-service training of supervisors. This paper, however, goes beyond this and explores whether Twitter can be used to help students feel part of both the research community within a University and the wider research community. This paper’s findings are deemed as important, as feeling part of a community has been found to be motivating and also helps speed up doctoral progress (Leonard et al., 2006).
Burgess, H., Sieminski, S. and Arthur, L. (2006) Achieving your Doctorate in Education, London: Sage. Crossouard, B. and Pryor, J. (2008) Becoming researchers: a sociocultural perspective on assessment, learning and the construction of identity in a professional doctorate, Pedagogy, Culture and Society, 16 (3), 221-237. Drake, P. (2011) Practitioner Research at Doctoral Level, Abingdon: Routledge. Green, B. (2009) Doctoral education in transition, in D. Boud and A. Lee (Eds) Changing Practices of Doctoral Education, Abingdon: Routledge. Minocha, S. and Petre, M. (2012) Handbook of social media for researchers and supervisors: digital technologies for researcher dialogues, Cambridge: Vitae. Lee, N. (2009) Achieving your Professional Doctorate, Maidenhead: OU Press. Lee, A. and Aitchison, C. (2009) Writing for the doctorate and beyond, in D. Boud and A. Lee (Eds) Changing Practices of Doctoral Education, Abingdon: Routledge. Leonard, D., Metcalfe, J., Becker, R. and Evans, J. (2006) Review of the literature on the doctoral experience for the Higher Education Academy, Cambridge: Institute of Education and UK GRAD Programme. Leonard, D. and Becker, R. (2009) Enhancing the doctoral experience at the local level, in D. Boud and A. Lee (Eds) Changing Practices of Doctoral Education, Abingdon: Routledge. Mollet, A., Moran, D. and Dunleavy, P. (2010) Using Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities: A guide for academics and researchers, London: LSE Public Policy Group. Vitae (2010) Researcher Development Framework, Cambridge: Vitae. Available at http://www.vitae.ac.uk/CMS/files/upload/Vitae-Researcher-Development-Framework.pdf
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