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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.

 
8 Comments

Posted by on October 20, 2009 in The Plan

 

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Hurdle #1 – Open Ed at the Graduate Level

When I first had this idea of an Open PhD, I really thought the difficult part would start when I started cracking the books (or the pixels, as it may be).  Instead, I have encountered Hurdle #1 at the very start – though I suppose in any good race, that’s exactly where you expect the first hurdle to be, right?

Over the last few days, in between prepping for a course I teach that started on Sept 24th, I cross-referenced my comparison schools and comparison degrees, trying to sort out exactly what kind of coursework I really needed, from what kind of course work some of the schools added in to justify their online existence.  I then cross referenced these titles against various local universities’ face-to-face PhD offerings just to make sure I was in the ball park.

Once I created my proposed course program, I ran it by my virtual advisor looking for holes.  We allowed for my background in education and distance learning to be “transferred in” (my Masters is in curriculum and instruction with a technology integration emphasis), so we focused forward from there.  We came up with this list for my Open PhD program. Obviously, I couldn’t use any particular university’s course title, so I left it more descriptive to make sure I could find the right subject matter.  Creating the ideal program on paper was the easy part.

Finding graduate level open courseware to fit my needs has not been so easy and I wonder why that is. Could it be as Gideon Burton says in his blog post:

The traditional scholar, like the scholarship he or she produces, isn’t open–open-minded, hopefully, but not “open” in a public way. No, a typical scholar is very exclusive, available only to students in specific academic programs or through toll-access scholarly publications that are essentially unavailable to all but the most privileged. In the digital age, the traditional barriers to accessing scholars or scholarship are unnecessary, but persist for institutional reasons. To put that another way, institutions of higher education are invested in keeping their scholars and those scholars’ intellectual products limited and cloistered.

Is that the school protecting the intellectual property of it’s scholars, or the intellectual property and its associated dollars? In other words, does it come down to just plain economics for the institution?  With hundreds, if not thousands, of incoming freshman required to take Bio 101, for instance, is XYZ University really sacrificing anything if they post a three year old video version of one instructor’s lectures and some handouts online?  However, as the enrollment numbers for courses get smaller when the course number nears the graduate level, the economic impact of making that coursework freely available may cause the school to think twice.  I am curious what the research shows. I don’t know yet, but, anecdotally, I do know there are proportionally many less graduate courses available as Open Courseware than undergraduate ones.

Your thoughts as to why?

 
7 Comments

Posted by on September 25, 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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The Open PhD – What a Concept

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! http://ow.ly/oEkR #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.

Wow!

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!

 
62 Comments

Posted by on September 17, 2009 in The Plan

 

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