Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Adult Learning and Doctoral Student Research Forum Participation: Insights into the Nature of Professional Participatory Experience

Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Adult Learning and Doctoral Student Research Forum Participation: Insights into the Nature of Professional Participatory Experience

Article excerpt

Introduction

Doctoral study in educational disciplines is designed to equip students with the concepts and skills necessary to become effective educational researchers. The teaching of educational research occurs in various methodology courses students are required to take, but students learn about research in a variety of ways, through collaboration on research projects and through conducting their own research. Training in research methods in graduate programs can vary widely and is influenced by a number of individual, departmental, and institutional factors (Astramovich, Okech, & Hoskins, 2004). We also know that doctoral students enter their programs with a variety of background experiences, motivations, ranges of academic and social situations, and capacities for teaching, research, and scholarly productivity, which result in varying developmental progression rates (Nettles & Millett, 2006). Knowing that not all learners learn and develop in the same way, faculty, and students, alike, call for continued investigation into best practices for preparation and training of doctoral student researchers (Drago-Severson, Asghar, & Gaylor, 2003; Young, 2001).

One way to attend to the needs of developing researchers may be the collaborative experiences offered at research conferences or forums. The objective of this study was to discover how participation in such an event may have played a role in student participants' educational development as scholars. The format of the event was unique when compared with many other research conferences. It was designed specifically so that U.S. and international doctoral students in education could come together at a pre-conference before an international academic and professional convention in their field. The eight-hour 'Doctoral Student Forum' invited doctoral students to submit proposals for presenting their research at varying stages of the dissertation process in poster sessions, as well as to connect with each other and other academics and professionals from a variety of institutions to discuss doctoral research. There were a series of three poster presentations that all participants attended throughout the day; a student would present at one of the poster sessions and be a part of the poster audiences in dialogue during the other two sessions. In addition, the forum invited 8-10 professors and professionals from national and international educational institutions to participate in the discussions and mentoring roundtable meetings in between poster sessions. Although not all of the student participants at the forum presented at the forum, the vast majority did. Framed through situated cognition, the concept of communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991), and informal learning theories our research questions were (1) in what ways does participating in this research forum impact learners' understanding of research and the community of scholarly practice? and (2) what is the nature of participatory learning for doctoral students who engage in such an event?

Review of Literature and Theoretical Framework

Literature in adult higher education calls for more investigation into the influences on adult learning in higher education in general (i.e., Donaldson, Flannery, & Ross-Gordon, 1993; Graham & Donaldson, 1999; Graham, Donaldson, Kasworm, & Dirkx, 2000; Kasworm, 2003; O'Donnell & Tobell, 2007) and on adult learning in doctoral programs in specifically (Drago-Severson et al., 2003; Young, 2001). This is particularly necessary because of the diverse nature of doctoral student populations and programs (Nettles & Millett, 2006) and the complex range of individual, departmental, and institutional factors that shape doctoral students' learning (Astramovich et al., 2004). Investigating the experiences of adult learners in these programs, as well as about students' meaning-making processes in formal and informal program-related experiences, are warranted if we are to shape effective curricula and educative paths that support learners appropriately. …

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