Doctoral Program Design Based on Technology-Based Situated Learning and Mentoring: A Comparison of Part-Time and Full-Time Doctoral Students

Shaoan Zhang, Chengcheng Li, Mark Carroll, P. G. Schrader
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 15  •  2020  •  pp. 393-414

Most programs are designed with full-time doctoral students’ characteristics and needs in mind; few programs consider the unique needs of part-time doctoral students, including time restrictions, experiences during the program, identity development, and different professional aspirations. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the potential differences between part-time and full-time doctoral students in their scholarly development, and how technology may serve as a communication and organization tool for individual and program support.

Built on the application of communities of practice, information and communication technology, and situated learning theory, this study sought to evaluate the potential differences among full-time and part-time doctoral students associated with their scholarly development in a traditional doctoral program at a large research-intensive university.

This study used independent samples t-test to evaluate the potential differences between part-time and full-time doctoral students in their scholarly development. Data were collected from 98 doctoral students via a survey. This study also employed two hypothetical cases that described the issues and solutions related to the program pursuant to scholarly development, which further illustrated the quantitative results and provided more meaningful discussions and suggestions.

This study provided insights into part-time doctoral students’ scholarly development and provided suggestions for designing doctoral programs and differentiated mentoring for both full-time and part-time doctoral students. Further, additional multifaceted mentoring approaches including peer mentoring and e-mentoring were evaluated.

Significant differences were found in four aspects of doctoral students’ scholarly development: the opportunities to do research related to grants with faculty, support for scholarly work in addition to advisor’s support, involvement in the teaching/supervision activities, and goals for scholarly development.

Program designers, faculty, and especially mentors should appreciate the differences between part-time and full-time doctoral students. Potential program redesigns should include judicious applications of technology as essential components to address limited accessibility and opportunities for part-time students. An Individual Development Plan (IDP) should be used to mentor doctoral students to enhance the effectiveness of mentoring regarding academic goals, actions, and related roles and responsibilities.

Future research can further evaluate and develop the instrument to better measure more domains of doctoral students’ scholarly development. Additionally, qualitative methods may be used to further provide the emic description of the process of part-time students’ engagement with the program, mentors, and peers.

With consideration of the unique needs of part-time students and the application of technology-based learning community, opportunities are provided for mentors and doctoral students to engage in scholarship and develop a sense of belonging to their doctoral program.

Future research can examine the differences between male and female doctoral students, different race groups, and disciplines.

situated learning, mentoring, technology, part-time doctoral student, program design
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