The Open PhD – What a Concept

17 Sep

I keep telling my friends and colleagues that I want to start my doctorate. In fact, I spend an inordinate amount of time on the internet exploring different programs, options (online or on the ground), costs, funding sources, etc. I work from home, teaching educational professional development and writing courses online – so I actually have the time to pursue my last degree on a part time basis. What I don’t have is the money. I won’t even finish paying off my M.Ed until June of this year, and I just can’t see taking on $45,000 debt during this recession with no guarantee of a tenured job on the other side of it.

So what’s a lifelong learner and tech geek supposed to do?

In my case, I simply had to read my Twitter stream and watch as an odd combination of posts and RSS feeds melded together to become my big idea.

A few days ago, Konrad Glogowski (@teachandlearn) tweeted about signing up for a class at Peer 2 Peer University.

Starting a Peer 2 Peer University course today! #p2pu #opened

In my usual wander down the rabbit hole fashion, I followed his tweet to see what Peer 2 Peer University was all about. Interesting! I needed to know more about this idea. I started searching with the terms “open education”, “open access”, and “free education”. These terms brought me to Curtis Bonk.

Bonk, an educator, national speaker, and writer, is also the author of a blog post about his latest book:Empowering Online Learning: 100+ Ideas, for Reading, Reflecting, Displaying, and Doing. While extolling the virtues of shared lists of open items that strangely often number 100, Bonk wrote:

One day I am sent a URL for an online resource summarizing 100 free podcast programs from the best colleges in the world. I am told that if I listen to these podcasts, I can skip the tuition.

A kernel of an idea began to form. What if? Could I really? Would it matter? Would it be worth the time and effort?

In Bonk’s post, he included links to itunes U andYoutube Edu . I had heard of these sites, but admittedly, I had never really explored them as I am not a big viewer of podcasts. When I need a video for one of my courses, I search it out and link to it – but that’s pretty much it.

I took the time to explore.


Did you know MIT has 1800+ courses available for your viewing pleasure? You can even download the syllabus and assignments (with answers). Some courses even provide copies of old exams. How could I have missed this? It’s not just MIT – other schools belong to the consortium – Carnegie Mellon, Standford, Oxford, Yale, the list keeps going.

I was so excited when I found MITs Physics III course to help my son who is struggling with his own Physics III course at another university. The video lectures from a world class engineering school professor should certainly supplement his studying. He was ecstatic – I’m pretty sure the link to iTunes U is now being rapidly shared among his fellow engineering student friends.

Now, you might be wondering what all this has to do, exactly, with my enrolling in a Ph.D. program.

Well, everything.

I am going to create my own Ph.D. program via open education using open courseware. My degree will be in Educational Technology with an emphasis in (what else?) Open Education as the Great Equalizer. As the tagline to my blog states: it will be all the learning, with none of the “doc”-uments. (Or none of the “cred”-entials). But I will have the knowledge; and, in the end, isn’t that the most important thing? (Oh, and I will still have my $45,000).

In the next few posts, I will lay out my 4 year plan – with help from the Twittersphere, blog readers, my advisors, and hopefully some subscribers. I plan on completing research and a dissertation as well – no shortcuts here. My first advisor – Dr. Kay Lehmann is a blogger, online instructor, book author, and course developer. I look forward to finding a few more Ph.D./Ed.D volunteers in my grand experiment.

Will this work? Can it be done? Can we make it rigourous enough to be equal to an actual online Ph.D program? Join me on this journey. Your feedback and suggestions are welcome!


Posted by on September 17, 2009 in The Plan


Tags: , , , , , ,

64 responses to “The Open PhD – What a Concept

  1. bmscounseling

    March 10, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    Well, thank you for this information. I have applied for three Ph.D programs now and have been held back by the gatekeepers. I am 60 years old and have completed a Masters in Diviniity degree. I have studied and worked for my entire adult life and know that I would be successful in anyone’s Ph.D program but know longer feel I have the time or energy to play the game. I also got a post graduate certificate in Marriage and Family Therapy and this is where I found my life’s passion and work. This being said I would like to explore creating my own advance study. I am hoping you can provide some sense of direction as it seems you have already begun to embrace this idea.

  2. Andrew

    February 19, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    Hi! I have two masters degrees from two separate universities. Right now I am doing research on a trauma theory developed by a Psychologist that is nearing the end of his career. He would be willing to oversee direct my PhD studies. Does anyone know of an institution where I could bring a supervisor and independent research and get a PhD? I would be willing to pay for the university to simply issue the degree. I have been wondering if anyone knows of a school in Africa or the Pacific that would be open to getting paid to issue a degree. They really wouldn’t have to provide any resources since Im already doing the research and publishing on my own.

    Thank you for any help you can offer!

  3. Lisha Sterling

    October 25, 2012 at 6:49 am

    Hi! So, you are a few years into this process now. This is super cool. I’m also an “ungraduate student” ( I’m also one of the moderators over at Hack your PhD on Facebook ( I already shared your webpage with the group, but it would be awesome to have your voice over on the Hack your PhD project.

    • Lisa Chamberlin

      October 25, 2012 at 6:54 am

      I’m not sure I fit in a group with scientists (though I did survive sophomore biology :D). I’d love to take a peek. In the interest of openness, I notice it is a closed group though??

  4. James Smith

    October 9, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    Hi! I think this is a great idea. I really believe that you should pursue this. Many people could benefit from this. Since expenses are getting higher and our budgets getting tighter, less people can afford studying in a prestigious accredited doctorate school. An open courseware is just brilliant! I hope you will succeed on your aims, I can see that you are really passionate about this. I would love to follow your journey. I will certainly come back to your page every now and then to read your blog. Please don�t hesitate to update your blog. Thank you very much!

  5. Robin Hood

    September 2, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    I have this idea…

    A Self-Guided Masters Degree.

    At its most fundamental core, A SGMD (self guided Master’s Degree) is a complete change of the legacy Higher Education Paradigm. It is changed from a paradigm of winning, to a paradigm of maximizing your potential. The entrance criteria, the goal, and the completion of a SGMD is maximizing one’s own potential without comparison to an other’s accomplishments.

    It would be just like the self-guided program on the Bachelors level at Evergreen but on the next level up. It would require certain things to be accomplished that would qualify it for Masters work, but would be different in certain ways from a traditional Masters Program.

    At the core of this idea is Trust. Trust in people to do well if they are allowed the freedom, support and positive affirmation to do so. I believe that this particular implementation of a higher educational goal is not about money, prestige, power, or domination; it is about achieving your own personal fulfillment and becoming someone better able to do no harm to others and have a part in reducing suffering in the world. Becoming someone with more skills in solving problems with a better ability to see the world than one had before embarking on this particular journey. I believe people have an innate desire to learn and improve.

    Also at this ideas core is inclusion, not exclusion, or not even inclusion based on competition. It is already hard enough to become a Master, to do the work of this quality and caliber, without having to overcome an unnecessary resistance within an educational hermeneutic that puts value in proving trustworthiness or potential by only allowing a small predetermined number of people into a program.

    The real attraction to higher learning is not the higher, it is the learning. No matter what level the learning is on, the idea that one can keep going, that the adventure is not over, that the quest continues just around the next corner, thats what makes learning, and yes, life wonderful. It is our gift in being alive that we can explore and discover and in the process grow, mature, and gain abilities and skills and become capable of contributing more; of being significantly helpful to others. This should be available to everyone as far as anyone wants to go. Giving through becoming a more educated person is meant to be open ended. We can take the first, fundamental step in helping the world and individuals by making this educational opportunity as easily available as possible and making it as supported and affirmative as possible. Lets create, support and develop an inexpensive self-guided Masters degree available at Evergreen.

    It would not require a certain completion time. The progress rate and amount of work, just as in a true self-guided program would be up to the student. The student would be trusted to have the desire and drive to do the work. The motivation would reside entirely in the student, not in the teacher or the program or any other student, teacher or administrator in the program. Once a pre-determined amount of work was accomplished, then the student would receive the credits for that work.

    It would not have an overall time limit in years. People have their own built in desire to complete a goal, especially one that is genuinely born within the heart and mind of an individual. This type of inception tends to carry its own desire and excitement and to only increase over time.

    I would not have a core program that was required. But it would require a certain minimum number of skills demonstrated to be on the Masters level. The depth of pursuit would be more profound than that of a Bachelors program. There would be a certain feel for the hours of time invested into study and output. Although the student would be free to work as slow or fast as they desired, a certain achievement would be necessary to warrant a certain number of credits. Many times, especially for the non-traditional student, slowness is not a function of lack of application, but of many other inescapable responsibilities, and at times the unique way an individual learns.

    There would be certain specific skills that would be required that would be individually tailored to match the type of general pursuit being sought. It would not be geared to policy administration or statistical research or non-profit administration. However, it could include any of the skills that comprise these types of Masters programs.

    It would require achieving a higher level of understanding and/or skill in any area of learning than would be demonstrated on the Bachelors level.

    It might be in scholarly in nature, that is, one may be inclined to become erudite in wide areas of knowledge. A well rounded individual many times can bring a perspective that goes very far toward strong and lasting solutions to complex and difficult conflicts or situations.

    It might be epistemological and/or philosophical in nature. One may be inclined to ponder very deeply and ponder others ponderings very deeply. Many institutions in societies suffer from the lack of looking outside the box, and including considerations beyond the bottom dollar or only the impact on profit. It is the philosopher who is uniquely prepared to include many non-traditional considerations to any problem: a more holistic passion.

    It might be scientific in nature. Many of the worlds greatest scientists self-discovered. Many of the worlds greatest inventions and technologies were developed in self-guided environments and scenarios.

    It might be social in nature. A great cause or desire to help others might involve learning to initiate and develop a new venture or idea. Many entrepreneurs were self-guided and self-driven.

    It might be performance in nature. It could include any of the forms of multi-media, written, video, art, musical, dance, etc.

    The output would not be constrained to written output. It could be output in any way that displays substance on the Masters level. This even includes only verbal lectures, discussions, debates, speeches, rhetorical, or passionate monologues. There is far too little connected speaking in todays world.

    It would cost the same for each quarters credits as the under bachelors degree credits cost; thus making it affordable to the greatest possible number of people. Education should not only be for the rich or lucky, we all need a better world, and this would make it possible for more people to become the problem solvers and doers that would make the world better, faster. We shouldnt be idle when there is so much suffering and/or disconnection in the world.

    Out world is rapidly transforming, especially due to the Internet. More and more traditional institutions are going online. Many traditional paths and venues are being supplemented and in some cases supplanted by the Internet. A Self-guided Masters degree from Evergreen could more easily be tailored to an online offering, than traditional class room programs and would most probably attract and capture many students would might otherwise go elsewhere.

    It is clear that those parts of our society that are part of the solution, that are doing the hard work of facing, dealing with, and doing their best to follow through on making things better look to qualifications in order to open the door for people in order to give them responsibility to significantly be a part of that good effort. A Masters degree should be a clear sign that someone is qualified to have a very good chance to successfully help in all positive efforts, private or public. However, a Masters degree should not be subjected to the pitfalls that contribute to so many of the shortcomings and problems within our society. It should be protected and be in the spirit of an atmosphere that is conducive to the most honest and noble motivations, best insuring that those who are formed in the crucible of the natural challenge learning presents will be the citizens who are truly experienced in thinking and acting freely and openly, those who have been trusted and excelled who can then turn around and trust and inspire others to great achievements in all parts and areas of our society and world.

    Always thinking and caring,

    Robin Hood

    • xunperumejor

      May 14, 2013 at 8:31 am


      I quote from the author’s article: “I am going to create my own Ph.D. program via open education using open courseware. My degree will be in Educational Technology with an emphasis in (what else?) Open Education as the Great Equalizer. As the tagline to my blog states: it will be all the learning, with none of the “doc”-uments. (Or none of the “cred”-entials). But I will have the knowledge; and, in the end, isn’t that the most important thing? (Oh, and I will still have my $45,000).”

      Many educators/intellectuals have already been doing this without using ‘the” institution to make their learning “qualify” for a degree. Abraham Lincoln was a self-taught person, what degree would he had received from an established institution before becoming president?

      Evergreen has all the possibilities to create the program you are presenting here, perhaps a student organization will adopt the idea and then push it forward, it might take a little time for the idea to really sink in and generate a movement.

      Meanwhile, I would just continue pursuing my own learning at my own pace, following my own interests and giving myself the credentials/credits that I (not others) know I deserve. Lincoln used to say “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity”, I think he was right.

      Thanks for sharing Robin.


  6. Clark Quinn

    December 14, 2009 at 9:51 am

    Lisa (have seen you in #lrnchat, no?), some thoughts. As an anonymous poster pointed out, a real advisor/supervisor relationship is a big commitment (having supervised 2 PhDs, multiple masters, and lots of honours theses 🙂 if done right. Self-definition around what’s the significant contribution, methodology, scope, etc. There used to be a wonderful set of guidelines about traps (both under- and over-thinking it) called how to Get a PhD in AI that I think has been generified into a book.

    There’re benefits to the recognition of an academic imprimatur, but also the self-knowledge of having taken your learning to another level may be sufficient reward.

    Happy to provide small guidance, at least! Without any institutional association at this point, can’t do more ;).

    • Lisa

      December 14, 2009 at 10:24 am

      Hello Quinnovator! Yes, I am a #lrnchat regular and zombie killer extraordinaire (DevLearn 09). I appreciate the the guidance (small or large). Since I stop by your blog frequently, you contribute more than you think – lol.

      Glad to have you join the conversation!


  7. Stian Haklev

    December 13, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Hi, great idea and very interesting to read the comments. I actually know some other people interested in similar projects, and I forwarded your blog to them.

    One aspect that hasn’t been mentioned much in the comments is academic journals. At the PhD level, I would think that the Open Access movement which tries to (and is progressing rapidly!) to free up access to journal articles, would actually be much more important than OER. In fact, since the first year of undergrad, I’ve barely had any textbooks at all (a few research monographs, but that’s different from a textbook). In almost all classes, the teacher would just select a list of academic articles from journals, and either create a compendium that we had to buy, or just put together a list of links to our online library system.

    This is even more so in grad school, I can’t think of a single class that uses a textbook, except for perhaps introduction to research methods.

    So that is one aspect, but the other is for your own output. If you actually want to progress academically, you should aim to publish a number of articles in reputable journals during your program. Not only will this be extremely valuable on your CV, and provide some form of external validation of your progress, but the best journals also pride themselves on giving very extensive and detailed feedback. I’m not saying this can replace having a mentor, but i can certainly be an extremely valuable addition to blog comments etc.

    In fact, despite all misgivings about rankings of journals, impact factors etc, journals are one of the more open aspects of academia. Theoretically, they mostly work on a double-blind basis (you don’t know the reviewers, they don’t know you), and your credentials, educational background etc is completely irrelevant, you are judged only on the background of the quality of your paper. And it’s in most cases completely free to publish (and get the “services” of detailed feedback, editing etc).

    In fact, a number of PhD programs have now shifted to require a number of journal articles on the same topic, rather than a 500 page PhD thesis that nobody would ever read, and is of a format that you’ll never be required to write again (at least outside of the humanities).

    Good luck!

    PS: If you want to include a teaching component in your PhD, the Peer2Peer University, which I am involved in, would be the perfect place! 🙂

  8. Rom

    November 25, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    This is a great idea. Will follow your journey on this one.

  9. Dave Morgan

    October 20, 2009 at 8:31 am

    I’m an Adjunct Professor at the University of Phoenix in OKC and have been intriqued with the whole concept of open content on the web. In the last few years I’ve focused on blogs, podcasts and web sites dedicated to 21st Century technologies such as Social Media and have been incorporating that into my classrooms.

    The thing I noticed was that the last couple of years of self discovery has proven to be the best education I’ve encountered despite having previously attended six different Universities and taught at two. I wasn’t limited by a traditional syllabus that would direct me to one to two textbooks and a few articles to study when any Google search will result in millions of possible choices. I’ve always felt that a PHD program would also have the same limitations. With three small girls to raise, my free time is limited and I didn’t want some traditional University to direct my studies onto a narrow pathway.

    I think this is what we should be teaching our students. They must become self sufficient learners with the bulk of their learning after they graduate of they are to thrive in the 21st Century.

    Sure, it won’t lead to PHD but are we seeking a degree or knowledge. I will always choose knowledge.

  10. alexanderhayes

    October 12, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    Just pinging Leigh Blackall on this one – – I’m about to drive to Canberra tommorow afternoon to discuss exactly the same reality on a differing co-discipline scale.

    Will keep you in the loop.

    • Lisa

      October 13, 2009 at 7:55 am

      Enjoyed my lurk into Leigh’s blog – I’ll be adding him to my Twitter list and blog roll as soon as I get a chance. I’ll be interested in the conversation.

  11. Michael Werner

    October 6, 2009 at 4:10 pm


    This is one of THE single most intriguing “big ideas” I’ve yet to come across. I love it. To pieces. I’m also intrigued with some of the nay-saying comments. I’m really looking forward to following your progress. Also, not exactly sure how, but if you see anything at our site that you could make use of, we’re happy to offer it without obligation of any kind. Best wishes and have a great journey!

  12. Beryl

    October 5, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    I wonder what you all would think of an “open” medical school?

    • Lisa

      October 5, 2009 at 2:36 pm

      I think there was an episode of House that just covered this issue…but seriously, and once again, I do not claim to be any kind of expert on the topic of open education, open courseware, or open ed resources. I am but a fledgling in the cause. I like the concept. I like the ideas of open and connected learning. I don’t believe $$ = brilliance in education. I do believe the more minds that approach a problem in a systematic way, the more chance of said problem being solved. Open education doesn’t suggest that your brain surgeon should operate without having attended medical schools or residencies, but it does suggest that others who are doing research on the topic of the brain might benefit from some of those same lectures if they’d been shared via podcast, or if the text had been made available via Open Access. Plus, the overall cost of medical school might be lowered by the sharing of resources via digital technology – and I’m pretty sure there is not a medical student on the planet who would argue against that idea.

      So, could some more “openness” in the field of medicine and its study help? Let’s let the real experts weigh in…

    • everyman

      October 5, 2009 at 6:43 pm

      Ha good point. There is a lot of text information online already, but who do you want to DO your surgical procedure? Someone who read about it or someone who did it under the best surgeons in the world – the economics almost guarantees the number of surgeons expert at a rare surgery will be extremely limited, hence “openness” doesn’t solve this issue.

  13. Curt Bonk

    October 3, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    Glad you like my book Lisa. Best of luck on the nontraditional journey. Millions more will be coming after you during the coming century. Here is a guest blog post I did this past week for Jeff Cobb over at “Mission to Learn” that perhaps has a few more open education links than the Powell’s Book Blog post ( that you refer to:

    Bonk, C. J. (2009, September 28). Ten Tips for Navigating an Open World, Mission to Learn;; Available

    Again, I hope your unique journey is rewarding. Report back when you get a chance.

  14. Anonymous

    September 28, 2009 at 12:15 am

    Courses and books and requirements are by far the least important aspect of a Ph.D. program. They are really no different than in any other degree program, and they play an insignificant role after the first year or two.

    Joining an intellectual community is much more important: you need colleagues who will push you, inspire you, and learn with you. You can build such a community yourself, but you should expect that this will be far more difficult than finding the equivalent of coursework.

    Finally, the key, defining aspect of a Ph.D. program is being mentored in research by an advisor. Without this, you may learn a lot (and you might even figure out how to become a researcher on your own), but it will be nothing like a Ph.D. program. That might be fine: maybe your goal is just to learn a lot, regardless of how Ph.D.-like it really is. However, if you want to approximate the Ph.D. experience, you’ll need an advisor.

    This is a pretty serious commitment on the part of the advisor. At a minimum, it would require an hour per week over several years, and that’s the absolute, bare minimum (I’d argue that going beneath that is seriously mistreating the Ph.D. student). If you add up time spent meeting in person, dealing with e-mails, reading what the student has written, and thinking about how to guide the student, I’d estimate that I average at least three hours a week per grad student, and some advisors spend more time.

    So ultimately you’ll need to find an expert whose work you admire and convince them to spend 500+ hours mentoring you. The big advantage of Ph.D. programs is that they institutionalize this.

    You may find it easier to piece together mentoring from several people. It’s not really the same, since you’ll miss out on having a single, really deep relationship. Some people may argue that they didn’t have such a relationship in their actual Ph.D. program. It’s surely true that sometimes a Ph.D. program doesn’t work out the way it ideally should, but there’s no point in deliberately imitating such a case unless you have to.

    Good luck! I’ve always disliked the way a Ph.D. functions as a union card for academia, and it will be great if you can demonstrate how a motivated student can achieve the same outcome without the formalities.

  15. alexholcombe

    September 27, 2009 at 12:50 am

    go for it!

  16. Lisette

    September 26, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    I wish you MUCH success! I’ll also follow along and read your jouney. I’m 44 and have decided to finish my PhD, but I’m going the traditional route. A couple more classes and then my dissertation and then I plan to walk that stage. Since I’m faculty at a college, I would like (need) that accredited doctorate so I can teach at a university rather than only a community college, if I decide to move elsewhere. Otherwise I’d continue to create my own learning, mainly through open courseware, too. My teen son, who is an unschooler (child-led/interest-led homeschooling) has “taken” many courses from Princteon, MIT, and Stanford
    through iTunes University and open courseware. There is simply a world of wonderul learning opportunities out there for anyone who’s interested and who has the discipline to keep it up without externalities like grades.

  17. Meryn Stol

    September 26, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    Hey Lisa. What a great plan. Totally of these times. 🙂

    We have been talking about you here:

    Good luck with it. And, if you listen and adapt appropriately, I’m sure hear I’ll hear about you at some later point in time.

  18. Paul McConaughy

    September 26, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    • Lisa

      September 27, 2009 at 7:43 pm


      I did see the Harvard EdLD announcement. What a wonderful opportunity for some – a fully funded three year program! Unfortunately, it is a residency-based program (as most PhD’s and EdD’s are unless they are online where fellowships and teaching assistantships are few, if non-existent). We are tied to our community by my husband’s employment as a contractor with the US Navy – there is not an option to move. For those with the freedom of relocation, I would say apply, apply, apply!

  19. everyman

    September 24, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    “Biosphere … they got the job done”

    Considering there is the word “technology” in your desired degree and information technology changes faster than academia can keep up with (I am not talking about “high tech” such as nanotech), you probably don’t need it for anything “real”. Academia is largely behind in this kind of technology (whereas it is at the cutting edge in much of high tech). If you want an academic track, I agree you probably need a PhD. If you want applicable knowledge you can get it online and most of all by DOING.

  20. Terry Hogan

    September 24, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    Hi Lisa,

    I have a Ph.D. in Economics from Berkeley, 38 years ago. If I had it to do over, I would do what you are doing, only I wouldn’t worry about the degree. Nurture your dream/vision. Guide your studies to help you fulfill that dream.

    I just finished reading Me and the Biospheres, by John Allen. Allen and the core creators/designers of Biosphere 2, had a dream, and few degrees/credentials. They educated themselves and carried out their dream.

    They were attacked by many of those with the degrees, but they got the job done.

    Open Education Resources and the Internet open the door for us all to carry out our visions.

  21. Parag Shah

    September 22, 2009 at 8:52 am

    This is a very nice initiative. I am sure it you are going to inspire many people who have thought of doing a PhD, but lacked the resources.

    As for credentials, I wonder if they can be crowdsourced. What if you maintain a blog and wiki as you make progress in the PhD. Some sort of rating system (and comments) on the blog posts, maybe podcasts of what would traditionally be presentations, and a real project which is visible to everyone on the Internet, may all accumulate towards crowdcourced credentials. It may not be conferred by a university but it will be conferred by the “wise crowd” 🙂

    • Lisa

      September 22, 2009 at 10:50 am

      This is precisely where I was going with my idea – I am hoping to shape and refine it over time with helpful suggestions from those already in possession of the knowledge I seek. I’m sure there are plenty of things I haven’t yet considered, and plenty of naysayers who feel doctoral study/research can only be done in its traditional box. I just don’t happen to be one of them. As for what my final
      specific research will be…who knows? Do traditional brick and mortar students know what their PhD dissertation research will be as soon as they earn their masters – especially in the education field? I came up through the public school teaching ranks and moved into higher education as an adjunct. I completed my M.Ed in 1994. This 2009. What I was passionate about researching in the mid 90s would probably make me chuckle with my knowledge base and hard-won experience now. I have a lot of interests in the area of educational technology – I will whittle it down to an area of research and a good research question with the help of my committee of (how many readers will I have by that time??? – lol) as this project develops and the program takes shape. In the meantime – look at the background material I am gathering and learning from already: open education, open courseware availability, advanced Twitter skills (archiving here I come) , and the fact that this topic is definitely touching a nerve in the edusphere if my blog stats are to be believed. But in a general sense – I know my area of inquiry already – can this be done?

      As a writer, I do know we write from what we know. And I know this. The gap between those who can afford college easily and those who cannot is real. It has little to do with intelligence, initiative, gpa, or the student’s neighborhood school. I want my PhD. But I am 43. I have two kids and a stepson in college right now. I am place-bound by my husband’s job as a contractor with the military. Does that mean I am less interested in my academic career? No. It means I have a real life that I am bound to support along side my academic one. They are equally important to me.

      I do have one luxury. My academic career has evolved to an online one. Now, so has my education. It is no longer place-bound or even institutionally-bound. And finally, due to this flash of an idea, the last educational hurdle will not be financially-bound any longer either.

      • Parag Shah

        September 23, 2009 at 3:00 am

        Somehow it gives me immense joy that you are pursuing a PhD in a non-traditional way. Maybe because I have also wanted to do it, but somehow did not …

        The way you are going about pursuing your PhD, the process, tools, technology, and community… this itself is also a topic worthy of doctoral research 🙂

        Lot’s of good wishes, you may be creating a trend with far reaching effects.

        I will be delighted if my little open education website for computer science courses can help you in whatever little way.


      • Bertil

        September 23, 2009 at 5:33 am

        A PhD without a supervisor isn’t “non traditional”, it’s a label that you decide to put on your surfing — I could call my surfing “cooking” but it won’t make food. I’ve very surprised that you use your social status as an argument to say that what you are doing somehow qualifies: it is what you bring new that counts, not were you are from. There are plenty of ways to do research, but as I pointed out, only one institution that can call it a PhD: a tenured university professor. Most of them are bored, they were selected because they had innovative ideas earlier and now have to face undergrads who think they are lagards: I can’t imagine of a population more eager to listen to a new idea.

  22. Peter

    September 22, 2009 at 12:10 am

    Will your OpenPhD have any teaching requirements? Many PhD programs expect grad students to teach (and I can see this being especially true for an Education PhD). On the other hand, if you already have teaching experience, I suppose this might not be as crucial.

  23. Bertil Hatt

    September 21, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    Open Course Ware doesn’t seem to include testing material, does it ? That might be an interesting addition to think about.

    • Lisa

      September 21, 2009 at 8:57 pm

      I am definitely not the expert here, I am just beginning this process, but I did see some exam materials available on the MIT OCW site in at least one Physics course. I did not whether the answers to said exam materials were available as I was just looking for the lecture vidoes at the time. My guess is the universal educators’ answer of “it depends” (on the school, course, instructor who supplied the OCW materials, etc.) applies here.

      • Bertil

        September 22, 2009 at 4:01 am

        I spend far more time correcting essays then teaching or even preparing the class, so I guess many educators will tell you that both critical interactions and senior feedback are needed. I guess how comments on this blog could become the first one, but I’m not sure about how you’ll get senior over-look. In the case of a Bachelor’s, it would make sense to try to have it validated through tests, but I would be horrified to have a Master’s aknowledged only through that; I’m not sure about what a PhD would be without academic access (and that’s the polite way to say: what you are doing is a academia-oriented Master’s, PhD is about learning a job with the people doing it, and classes are more a catch-up on what you should have taken before hand).

  24. joseph thibault

    September 21, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    kudos, it’s nice to see a long term plan in the age of 140 characters or less.

    I’m eager to see your roadmap but I can already see a lot of benefits of “opening” the doctorate.

  25. Parnell Springmeyer

    September 21, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    Fun idea! I’ve been progressively trundling down a similar path, autodidacticism isn’t easy in the beginning but very rewarding once you get a good rhythm going.

    I dropped out of senior year in high school and have pursued self directed learning ever since.

    I have an enthusiasts level of knowledge and skill in the academic topics of Logic, Rhetoric, and Grammar. Slowly improving and refining my knowledge the more I read, write, and think.

    I am a skilled industry professional in web application programming and a few other technical cultures.

    Also, I love to travel, back packed through India for two months and have done a number of in-country traveling too.

    I highly suggest the use of Mnemosyne, or some other spaced repetition learning system; it is a tremendous help – especially with topics that require repetition of concepts to create larger sets of knowledge.

    I also highly recommend altering your course work to focus on project based learning, rather than degree based learning. Decide to build, write, or create something that you have never done before and will test your skills in multiple domain areas (math, writing, and construction or something). Figure out which scholastic topics will need mastery, or, familiarization to achieve the goal – before you know it you know more than you originally anticipated 🙂

    Use the open course ware, books, and mentors to help with attaining knowledge in those scholastic topics; but not as an end in and of themselves.

    Hope this helps, good luck! It is a fun journey 🙂

  26. bahiyyih maroon

    September 21, 2009 at 11:35 am

    I love your passion and creativity in designing an educational path. And I am delighted to volunteer as a teacher. Drop me an email to discuss further

    Bahiyyih Maroon Ph.D.

  27. Meredyth

    September 21, 2009 at 10:00 am

    I think it is a great idea that if you put together a comprehensive plan I bet you could get a University to look at it. Research those educators who are interested in open education they might be interested in taking it on as a project. Basically aren’t you coming up with the “mashable” version of a Phd?

  28. monika hardy

    September 20, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    i’m with you. i’d like to do the same for highschool and college. money spent on books alone is crazy. ask the kids – their learning isn’t coming from expensive texts. just seems we could be more resourceful. more learner centered. and yes – i think if enough care to do it right – the rigor element will even surpass….

    nice post. thank you.

  29. kathy shields

    September 20, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    I’m interested to see where you take this. I’m open to getting my Phd too!

  30. Norman Noordin

    September 20, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    Greetings from Malaysia. I am excited and fascinated by your idea. What an exciting concept, and I eagerly look forward to see how it can be implemented here in my home country – barring the traditional requirement for a basic entrance paper qualification (aka HSD).

  31. Raul

    September 20, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    As someone who holds a PhD from a traditional institution (in a non-traditional, interdisciplinary program), I can completely understand that while this is a great idea, unless you have the “paper in hand” (e.g. the PhD diploma from an accredited university) you may have problems teaching at college/university.

    That said, who says that you can’t create your own programme and then propose it to someone in an academic institution? That could even be a “best of both worlds” proposal.

  32. everyman

    September 20, 2009 at 9:26 am

    Every autodidact has always read voraciously and done “continuous learning”. Now the reading material and other media are more available so there is no excuse not to keep learning.

    The key for me, though, is direct interaction with people who can explain things, whether professors or peers – if twitter or other social media can do that, then things are certainly easier now. Everyone should be “getting a PhD”.

  33. Benjamin Geer

    September 18, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    It sounds like a good experiment. Whether you need the credentials depends on what you want to do afterwards. If you want an academic career, you’ll need a PhD from a university, but if you just want the knowledge, then yes, I think you can get it. It will help if you have access to a good university library, though. Gigapedia should help, but you’ll also need access to electronic journals.

    If you’re interested in the potential of education to reduce class inequalities, you really ought to have a look at Pierre Bourdieu’s studies on education and social class, in which he argues that the idea of education as a social equaliser is largely a myth. You could start here. Since you’ll be an autodidact studying autodidacts, you might want to pay particular attention to what he says about autodidacts in Distinction. See also the analysis of the social function of elite universities in The State Nobility.

    • Lisa

      September 18, 2009 at 11:34 pm

      Thank you, Benjamin, for the links and suggestions. I do plan to continue to work in higher education – though without a PhD my status as adjunct may not change. However the experiment and experience will be worth it, I believe, both in what I will learn about the open education movement and in my growth in educational technology. Ever onward!

  34. Pingback: The Open PhD «

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