Sunday, July 2, 2017

Redefining the Research Doctorate

Professor Imelda Whelehan, Dean of Higher Degree Research, Australian National University
Professor Imelda Whelehan, Dean of Higher Degree Research at The Australian National University (ANU) has invited staff and students to help in Redefining the ANU PhD:
  1. "What should a 21st century PhD look like?
  2. How can we ensure that the ANU secures our position as a world leader in graduate research education?
  3. What is best practice for PhD delivery worldwide?
  4. What changes can we make?"
Some of thoughts on the questions (my own, not necessarily the ANU view):

1. What should a 21st century PhD look like


The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) recognizes two forms of Doctoral Degree, both at Level 10 (the highest level of qualification): a Doctoral Degree (Research) and Doctoral Degree (Professional). A PhD, while clearly a research doctorate, I suggest should include elements of a professional degree. The community expects a PhD graduate to not only be able to conduct research on a very focused topic, but also to be an expert in their field, able to teach, lead and advise. Teaching, leading and advising are not skills which can be obtained just by conducting research: these require formal training and testing by staff qualified to teach and test.

Research graduates are expected to be teachers and supervisors in academia, as well as leaders industry. So I suggest that doctoral students should be required to undertake teaching and supervision of students and learn education, leaderships and communication theory, sufficient of awarding of a Graduate Certificate in Education (University Teaching and Supervision).

This education can be tailored to the needs of specific disciplines, to meet professional certification requirements. For example, the computing profession has skills definitions for computer educators.

2. How can we ensure that the ANU secures our position as a world leader in graduate research education?

ANU should reestablish formal programs in education, including a Graduate Certificate in Education (University Teaching and Supervision), Masters and a Doctoral Degree in Education. These can build on the reflective portfolio approach of the existing education fellowships, along with e-learning, supplemented with classroom based learning. This can be designed as an exemplar of a new flexible approach to non-lecture based education. The new education programs can be based at the ANU's new union court teaching building.

What is best practice for PhD delivery worldwide?

Dilly Fung's new book "A Connected Curriculum for Higher Education" (UCL Press, 2017), proposes a framework building on the Humboldtian teaching /research approach (full text is free on-line).

The Cambridge University Doctoral Training Centre for Social Sciences provides support for PHDs and might be a useful model for Australian universities. In 2015 I talked to Cambridge University staff on how they could use e-learning for their graduate students, the notes from the meeting are available from their Office of Scholarly Communication.

Athabasca University (Canada) offers doctorates in education, with the students required to be at the campus for only five days. This reflects a new reality of higher education, which Australian universities need to embrace, where students will be out in the field, or workplace, not on campus.

3. What changes can we make?

ANU could require research supervisors to obtain formal education in teaching at the level of at least a graduate certificate in education, in addition to any fellowships obtained.

Universities could offer doctoral students the opportunity to obtain real-world relevant qualifications and certifications, alongside their doctorate. Using the same e-portfolio evidence based techniques for the Grad Cert in Education, students could obtain certifications required for other fields by collecting evidence in a structured way.

This year I have been helping ANU TechLauncher students in computer science and engineering complete their Personal Development Review (PDR). This is a portfolio describing what skills and knowledge the students have acquired in their project work, in a format suitable for a future employer. Some of this is covered in my book "Digital Teaching In Higher Education".

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