My experience as a first year doctoral student in the Learning, Design, and Technology program has been a positive one. I have found this department to be a diverse, engaging, and inclusive community of scholars and learners. It is clear the faculty care about students, and there is a vested interest in supporting each student’s personal and professional success. The Doctoral Seminar (WFED 8990) is a great example of this community in practice. It provides a low-stress atmosphere to discuss program expectations, meet faculty and upper-level students, and explore research in our field. Another example would be the opportunities put forth for mentorship or to participate in research projects with faculty. I was fortunate enough to participate in two research studies in the fall. These projects provided me with valuable experience, and both faculty researchers were receptive to my ideas, feedback, and boundaries for time commitment to the projects.
In addition to being a full-time student, I am also a full-time employee and supervise a staff of more than 30 full-time employees. When I decided to return to school after 10 years, I was very concerned about the department’s requirement to be a full-time student while continuing to work. Despite my concerns, I found the pacing and course load in this program to be appropriate for my first year. The Doctoral Seminar had small, targeted, and manageable assignments distributed throughout the semester in order to focus on program expectations, collaboration, and community-building. The format of the Design Studio (EDIT 8190) and the Foundations in LDT (EDIT 9990) courses worked well for me because the syllabi clearly outlined assignment expectations and deadlines, so I was able to budget my time accordingly. I do have concerns about balancing three, assignment-heavy courses each semester moving forward to maintain a full-time student status, but my advisor has been very open in our discussions and I feel confident together we will determine the best course progression for me.
Looking ahead to next year’s cohort, I feel there are opportunities for possible refinements to the current first-year cohort model. Below, I have outlined several specific examples:
- Consider a program model that encourages inclusivity for part-time students
Since my admission to the department, I noticed (whether deliberately or not) the terminology around full-time status has been removed from promotional materials on the website and much of the handbook. This is a wonderful move! Having to work or be a parent does not impact one’s ability to be a good student or researcher in this field. I believe that by designing a Ph.D. program of study that is more inclusive will recruit students who are actively working in the field and/or who may be discouraged from the applying because of financial or family-related concerns. In addition, continuing to schedule classes to provide flexibility for non-traditional student schedules is a good move. (Of the six courses I have completed thus far, only two required me to be out of the office during regular work hours.)
- Consider a student’s prior knowledge/skills for required courses
One area that I feel could be improved would be to consider providing non-traditional and experienced students with the ability to “test out” of certain courses so they can progress without additional delay. For example, if a student has worked as a software developer, it is not likely he or she will need to take the Design Studio (EDIT 8190). The same is true for students who have graduated from the master’s degree program in LDT since they will have completed several semesters of studio coursework.
- Consider finalizing handbook revisions earlier
I feel it would be beneficial if the department finalized revisions to the Ph.D. student handbook earlier in the summer (i.e. June or July). This fall, the revised handbook was presented to students on Thursday of drop/add week, leaving students one day to consult with advisors and modify course registrations if necessary. There was a lot of confusion about the handbook revisions, and ultimately there were decisions made in the fall and spring that negatively affected students in our cohort. By publishing the handbook earlier, students — particularly those who are coming from overseas or working — can be more organized and informed when scheduling advising appointments prior to registration in August.
- Consider revising the course progression to be more linear
It was clear there were changes made to the course progression for this year’s cohort in response to feedback from last year’s cohort. Many of these changes were great, and I feel they made a positive impact. To further improve, I feel it would be beneficial if the department reviewed and updated the course progression to be more linear. For example, I believe a better first year progression might be to schedule the Foundations of LDT (EDIT 9990) in the fall semester followed by the Conceptual Framework (EDIT xxxx) in the spring and one semester of the Design Studio (EDIT 8190) in either the spring or summer. This provides a thorough introduction to seminal readings early in the program, and it eliminates the need to include much of the foundational reading in the Design Studio (EDIT 8190). It also allows the Conceptual Framework (EDIT xxxx) and Design Studio (EDIT 8190) assignments to compliment one another in a more appropriate setting (i.e. students could focus on researching and writing the introduction and research proposal in EDIT xxxx and spend more time designing/developing a tool or research protocol in EDIT 8190).
- Consider providing alternative course progression examples
The example on page three of the handbook is a helpful visualization, but it causes confusion for students who may take longer than four years to complete their doctoral studies. It is also unclear for students who do not have a master’s degree in LDT what courses they are required to backfill. It would be helpful if the handbook included recommended course pairings, yearly offering information, and alternative course progression examples.
- Consider de-emphasizing tool development and increase emphasis on accessibility and universal design standards
When I entered the master’s program in 2003, there was a need to train instructional technology professionals to have an understanding of tools development for use with the instructional design process. Having experience with labor-intensive tasks such as web design and coding, video editing, and multimedia production provided graduates with an edge in the job market. In 2015, the need for these basic skills has diminished with the development of easy-to-use applications and available training through free or low-fee, web-based resources. Companies that develop these easy-to-use tools need highly skilled developers graduating from computer science programs. That said, they also need experts who can focus on usability design and accessibility compliance. In addition, education systems need individuals who can help test and select tools that are accessible, communicate design needs to companies/developers, demonstrate appropriate use to end users, and serve as advocates for best practices to ensure compliance with federal law. I feel this department is in a perfect position to meet this need, producing graduates with a solid understanding of and appreciation for accessibility needs, universal design, and sustainable design standards. A great opportunity would be to develop a partnership with the UGA Web Accessibility Group (WAG) to begin this conversation.