Dissertations at a Distance: Students' Perceptions of Online Mentoring in a Doctoral Program

By Kumar, Swapna; Johnson, Melissa et al. | International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Dissertations at a Distance: Students' Perceptions of Online Mentoring in a Doctoral Program


Kumar, Swapna, Johnson, Melissa, Hardemon, Truly, International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education


Abstract

The purpose of this research was to identify online mentoring strategies used to mentor doctoral students through their dissertation in an online doctoral program. During semi-structured interviews, students (n = 9) reflected on the challenges faced when communicating with their mentors using online technologies, the usefulness of online mentoring strategies, and their own approaches that were instrumental in the successful completion of their dissertations. Themes in the findings specific to the online mentoring of dissertations that were uncovered are discussed in the context of prior research on best practices for dissertation supervision.

Résumé

Le but de cette étude était d'identifier des stratégies de mentorat en ligne utilisées pour conseiller les étudiants au doctorat par le biais de leur mémoire dans un programme de doctorat en ligne. Lors d'entrevues semi-structurées, les étudiants (η = 9) se sont exprimés sur les défis auxquels ils ont fait face en communiquant avec leurs mentors en utilisant des technologies en ligne, l'utilité des stratégies de mentorat en ligne, et leurs propres approches qui ont été déterminantes dans la réussite de leur mémoire. On discute des thèmes découverts dans les résultats qui sont spécifiques au mentorat en ligne des mémoires, et ce, dans le contexte de la recherche antérieure concernant les meilleures pratiques pour la supervision des mémoires.

Introduction

A successful doctoral supervisor in higher education assumes multiple roles and functions during a doctoral student's journey from coursework to research proposal to a dissertation, with the aim of preparing the student for a professional career in academia (Burnett, 1999; Gaffney, 1995; Lyons, Scroggins & Rule, 1990; Rose, 2003). Supervisor-student communication and the mentoring relationship developed between a student and his/her graduate advisor are vital to the student's success in doctoral studies (Ives & Rowley, 2005; Lee, 2008; Maher, Ford & Thompson, 2004). This is especially the case in the dissertation stage of a doctoral program where supervisors guide doctoral students in defining their research topics, managing and implementing research, and disseminating findings (Burnett, 1999). Through supervision, the graduate student is expected to develop into a credentialed scholar who can "pursue research unsupervised, autonomously" (Johnson, Lee, & Green, 2000, p. 136).

This research explored how a supervisor-student mentoring relationship can be successfully created and how doctoral students can be successfully supported in an online environment. Given the increase in online graduate programs in the United States in the last few years, online mentoring of graduate students is on the rise. Mentoring at a distance using online communication technologies is also often the case with professional programs where graduate students work full-time and pursue a doctoral degree. However, the research on online mentoring in doctoral education is scant, with the research on e-mentoring in other contexts (Bierema & Merriam, 2002; Loureiro-Koechlin & Allan, 2010; Schichtel, 2010) providing best practice guidelines. When considering doctoral education in online contexts, it is increasingly important to identify the strategies used by graduate supervisors or mentors to guide doctoral students toward degree completion. This research focused on the lived online dissertation mentoring experiences of nine graduate students who recently graduated from an online doctoral program. Strategies used by the online mentors as well as the students, especially those that were perceived by the students as valuable to dissertation completion are presented in this paper. The results are useful to all faculty engaged in doctoral education as well as all students who use online communication tools to work with their graduate supervisors or mentors during the dissertation stage of their doctoral studies. …

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