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What is the Cost of PhD-level Intellect These Days?

Apparently my idea of an Open PhD has garnered a little attention as I’ve been seeing reader referrals from some interesting and diverse sites. Occasionally, for fun, I follow these blog stats trying to guess how my readers may have landed here. It’s my own little way of understanding the broad reach of social media and how connected we’ve all become.

Recently, I was intrigued to find a mention about my blog from a professor at SFSU who, according to her brief post on her Ning discussion forum, she “…mentioned this [Open PhD blog] in my ITEC 800” course. She linked to my blog and asked others, “What do you think?” Catherine’s answer framed the issue quite well. She responded:

To me, this the $64,000 question for advanced education in the coming years –will universities still be the only way to legitimize one’s learning or, given advancements in communication technologies, will there be some way to qualify independent intellectual attainment? And even now, is there a way to measure what a PhD means (other than the $40-60+++ thousand one has spent to gain it)?

You can read the rest of Catherine’s post here. The other pertinent point she made was when she added a statement that I’ve come to realize as well reading through the comments on Open PhD. She wrote:

It might also help for universities to better define what constitutes a PhD-level intellect in this information-rich world.

In the short time this blog has been up and running, we’ve already seen that debate begin to play out as doctoral readers from different parts of the world compare the various gauntlets they’ve had to run to earn their credentials. I think it may surprise more than a few people to find out that not all degrees are created equal world-wide…or even nationwide.

Catherine asks the question: Is it the dollars spent that determines the legitimacy of the degree?

If the answer is a quietly whispered “yes” that no one willingly admits out loud, then I am guessing the PhD earners from a school in my state like Old Dominion University can’t hold their own to our doctoral neighbors a little to the north at George Washington University . Anybody want to take that bet? I didn’t think so, yet the Tuition and Fee Rankings for all US institutions of higher education listed at the Chronicle of Higher Education let me set up this intellectual monetary showdown for any number of states and their PhD’s all day long.

If the answer is “no” – that the amount of money spent on a graduate education does not define how we separate the intellectually rigorous advanced degree seekers from the dog with the MBA, than how do we do it? Plenty of people are looking into that right now.

And why can’t we legitimately allow the attainment of advanced degrees by alternate routes devoid of the almighty dollar?

The answer is we can…if we want to.

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8 Comments

Posted by on October 20, 2009 in The Plan

 

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Just some thoughts…

As this project is taking shape, and is being shaped by suggestions from my learned colleagues on the blogosphere, Twittersphere, and by email, I have the occasional moment to reflect on the comments I have received so far, and my own observations (limited as they are in these beginning stages). My ruminations are in no particular order:

  • Science (engineering, in particular), math, and technology courses seem to be the most readily available courses in OCW…is this because they are already in an extended classroom/hybrid/online mode so offering them OCW doesn’t take much more effort, or are those subjects areas more on the cutting edge of the open access movement? (Disclaimer: Their availability is just an impression I have from my completely non-scientific approach to wading through the course offerings of most of the major universities’ OCW, trying to meet my own particular Open PhD needs)
  • Things I can do with an Open PhD:
  1. Point people to a really great blog of my experience
  2. Provide leadership in the field of OCW, Open Access, and Open Education
  3. Discuss the topics I’ve learned intelligently
  4. Discuss the process of being a student of OCW with graduate level courses
  5. Share my research and dissertation
  6. Publish my dissertation somewhere
  7. Write a book about my experience
  8. Posit the theory that there may be more than one way to approach the doctoral tree of knowledge
  9. Present at conferences on open education/open access on the topic
  10. Continue teaching as an adjunct (that’s my M.Ed talking).
  • Things I can NOT do with an Open PhD (to my Friendfeed friends – I hope this answers your concerns):
  1. Put “Dr.” before my name or “PhD” after my name – (these are titles conferred by an accredited institution, and while the “University of OCW-Independent Study” might just provide me with the knowledge I need, I would never try to imply or mislead anyone that I took the same path as those with the papered credentials).
  2. Receive tenure or a full time academic appointment to a university teaching position – well, I specialize in teaching online…this pretty much wasn’t going to happen anytime soon anyway.
  • I am seeing at least three prongs to approach my learning/research: 1) The technological one – simply getting the information in the hands of the learners in the most effective way – both technically and pedagogically/andragogically; 2) a sociological/political approach – how does the digital access to education change the landscape? and 3) and economical approach – while it may be a wonderfully Utopian idea to provide free access to all knowledge, the producers of said knowledge (i.e. book writers, course creators, instructors, researchers, etc.,) all also need to eat and pay bills – how does the “business” survive, if they give the “product” away for free?
  • We have charter public K12 schools to explore new ways of doing things, and they are fully accredited. Why don’t we have charter institutions of higher learning for the same idea? Especially in the digital age! For instance, here is one of my ideas for a “Charter University” – a school that simply is a credit clearing house and testing body. For example, if a student wanted a degree in English, “Charter University” would list course descriptions and number of credits required for a standard BA in English – the student could collect these credits from any and all accredited universities/community colleges across the country – submitting transcripts along the way. Once all the course work was completed, the student would sit for a comprehensive exam in the major. If passed, the degree and the accumulated credits/gpa would be awarded. No “in house” residency rule required. If proving a student has the knowledge is what matters, does it really matter from where they got the knowledge?
  • 20 something doctoral students who have never left school have a hard time relating to the concerns of 40-something individuals with a career, mortgage, working spouse, kids of their own in college, etc., who would like to complete their last degree but can’t uproot to live a life of academic poverty for three-four years.

As always, your comments and feedback are welcome!

Lisa

 
10 Comments

Posted by on September 29, 2009 in The Plan

 

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Crowdsource credentials?

One reader posted this comment and I thought it was an interesting way to suggest the conferring of  “credentials”  for an Open PhD (I’ve reposted it along with my reply for your scrolling convenience):

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” :-)

My reply:

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 highly doubt it.  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 my interests down to a very specific 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.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2009 in The Plan

 

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