Saturday, July 9, 2011

Designing Low-Residency Doctoral Programs for High Impact: Recommended Hybrid Delivery Approaches, Frameworks, Benefits, and Strategies

Hi Colleagues,

After searching nearly 2 years for a doctoral program, I've learned a thing or two about the doctoral landscape.  Here I propose innovating programs for impact.

Doctoral Landscape

Programs run point in the cross hairs of state budget cuts, stand at odds with federal disparities per other spending priorities, and feel unappreciated in practice.  Governing institutions with political or discipline-centric bias neglect, defund, or terminate programs leaving graduates with degrees without a home.

This landscape looks dismal, but thankfully many people have offered their insight, encouragement, and time to talk with me about intersections with my goals and their programs.  For the longest time I felt frustrated with trying to find that "perfect fit." Then I realized that perhaps I'm being entitled assuming that a program must "fit" into me.  What about Follett Parker's (1918) view on democracy, that we contribute our ideas and gifts to mobilize the collective will for a holistic good? This ephiphany budded into an opportunity.

I'm presently collaborating with a leadership doctoral program to offer suggestions on improving access to out of region students via a global low-residency model.  By global residency model I mean that the program's delivery method is accessible to students around the world.  Such programs combine online learning with on-ground intensive classes, practica, or seminars.  

Graduation Commencement 2011 (above)
Residency Models

Ideas are as follows for applying a summer residency format, with each model including online pre-/post-work and seek ways to integrate program themes and research/teaching development throughout:

[1] Day Count
The current model uses 3 days/course/term, or 1 day/month/term, where a term is 3 months. Full time load as 2 courses/4 terms/year means residency requirement equals 24 days/year.  If we want to condense via day count, then we could require 2 residencies/year of 12 days/each. e.g., January/June or June/September.

[2] Core Courses
We could require residencies of 5-10 days per year for the core courses such as
Residency 1:  Leadership Studies, Social Critiques, Research Seminar, Leadership and the Creative Imagination, Leadership Through Writing
Residency 2:  Mastering and Guiding the Process of Change, Collaborative Leadership, Transforming the Public Agenda, Transformation Through the Arts, Doctoral Seminar, Intermedia Team Project
Residency 3:  Intermedia Team Presentation, Defending 

In this model, I recommend adding research and teaching projects for learners while on-campus.  This model we can pull core themes we want to emphasize. It makes sense to do twice a year, say first residency closest to admission January/June or June/September.  If we want to offer both residencies at the same time, this will allow more convenience for students enrolling, but more time and effort from faculty to teach. Perhaps we could allot 1 day/course, requiring us to be creative assuming it difficult to par courses down to 1 day/each. The intermedia teamwork keeps online learning innovative and moves beyond a "post-it" approach that over-emphasizes posting papers to discussion boards.

[3] Themes
This model can emphasize themes, e.g., contemporizing Aristotle's appeals
Year 1:  Leadership and Personal Change [Poesis/Ethos: Reflection, Creativity, Character]
Year 2:  Leadership and Social Application [Praxis/Pathos: Organizational, Political, Public]
Year 3:  Leadership and Cultural Integration [Logos/Holos: Transformation, Collaboration] The benefit of this model is that the themes allow focus for the core and elective requirements, but give wiggle room to develop the residencies and learner interests.

[4] Research, Teaching, Critique
This model emphasizes skill development as embedded in critique.  The critique aspect can emphasize themes from model 3. The benefit of this approach is that it scaffolds the dissertation early on into the program, where learners can develop their bibliography in the core courses while learning to research synchronously.
Year 1:  Choosing a topic, Principles of Research, Dialogic Learning
Year 2:  Ethics in Research, Arts-Based Research, Leading Production Teams, Collaborative Projects
Year 3:  Promoting Research, Writing for Journals, Presenting and Defending the Dissertation, Influencing Publics via Findings, Transitioning to Teaching

[5] Special Topics
This model allows flexibility for the program to build and test new courses or topics of interest.  For instance, we can design topics based on themes for change, the arts, innovation, and social application, such as
Year 1:  Education Reform, DA Background
Year 2:  Narrative Literacy, Digital Literacy for Community Development
Year 3:  Organizing and Leading Virtual Teams for Impact, Program and Curriculum Development

[6] Praxis
We must also choose the areas of society that we want to impact. For example, I want to apply writing, broadly conceived, leadership, and communication to developing and organizing for health, education, and the public commons.  I aim to explore social media and its ability to tell stories, start conversations, draw attention to topics of concern, organize, and even delivery quality or humane outcomes.  

The cool part about blending praxis into academic programs? You prepare your students for work as they learn by doing.  Ask applicants to write a research proposal, or vision statement, or do a volunteer project in their community via their discipline and submit a report as part of their application.  Move beyond the purpose statement and faculty resources to regarding students as bringing tacit resources to contribute.  They immediately apply what they learn instead of a waterfall approach, or waiting until one moment at the end where they make their contribution (traditionally the dissertation) and their contribution is "an inch wide and a mile deep."  Students gain breadth and see themselves as situated in systems.  They see less distance or separation between themselves and solutions.  They regard their energy, gifts, and foci as contributing to solutions.  Create projects that allow students to apply their foci or skills to make the program prosper. If a student is researching marketing strategy in political campaigns, for instance, create an internship or independent study option for the student to work with the Dean's or President's office to improve university or program marketing.  

In addition, include some interdisciplinarity.  Similar to UCDavis' doctoral designated emphasis areas, allow students to minor or emphasize in another discipline(s) and note that emphasis on their transcript.  Students today need a diverse portfolio, which will mesh nicely with your globally diverse student body.  Global hybrid programs also forge a large network that can feasibly benefit international relations.  Education can contribute to diplomacy, such as via exchange programs.  Why not make your student body a permanent intercultural exchange?  

Transition from waterfall to iterative education by scaffolding the dissertation into the taught courses; show students how to build their bibliography via course projects.  Let students teach, research, write, and grip and grin with decision-makers now and not later.  Create a through-put of students, where doctoral students can teach the MA, and the MA students can teach undergrads in, say, summer institutes for your given discipline(s).  Alternately you can collaborate with creating panels or writing papers for conferences, or create your own conference on your campus.  Praxis requires establishing partnerships with organizations and individuals in your community.  

A praxis approach resists using education as a ready-made for money and just might silence the disillusioned and bitter sarcastic diatribes directed at higher education and retrieve an answer to the ever evasive and elusive "so what are you going to do with your degree?"   Nevermind that degrees aren't things outside of us; degrees symbolize the learning that takes place within and provide a credential on which to continue building.  Salary is value-laden, or society pays for those roles and disciplines it believes important.  "You need to go into technology" a politician told me when an English major undergrad, "because that's where the jobs are at." I graduated in '01 during the tech recession. Me? Gainfully employed as a technical writer serving an engineering department in a large aerospace co.  Sure, technology had the jobs, but here's where a cross-disciplinary model helps education.  I could write and I double-majored in a social science (communication).   

Lesson: Follow your heart/gift and find a way to apply it.  Appreciate education as vocation in the classic sense, or formative. Do what you love and love what you do to love others.  Doing so increases visibility of your program's value to the community and communicates a conscientious expectation to your students' performance.

Duration & Delivery

You will notice that these models cap taught courses at three (3) years.  Quantity in time buttressed by meritocratic assumptions do not always return quality in experience or application.  Students will be required to perform regardless; merit is not the only learning metric.  I've seen residencies range from 3/days to 1-2 weeks to 8 weeks once to four times per year at the same or different locations. Some schools require multiple residencies per year.  I suggest the sweet spot is between 1-3 intensive residency of at 5-10 days, with residency timeframe lesser the more residencies required, but no more than 10 days total considering most of our learners work and may not have more than 10 days vacation per year.

Regarding delivery technology, we can research what is out there now that goes beyond board posting.  There are free tools such as that takes a Facebook thread approach to document sharing and team production.  I know that Old Dominion U's PhD in English uses a tool where students attend class "live" with the software displaying them on the classroom wall as on-ground students attend class.  Of course one challenge in global delivery models are core working hours or time zones, but this challenge mirrors organizational life elsewhere.  

We can frame each residency via an annual theme that we choose such as "Social Media and Implications for Leadership." I suggest program themes that resonate with our delivery method for the first few years to help build a learning paradigm that includes our ethos, or credo, praxis, and framework for learning with digital technology, such as including digital and narrative literacy and organizing and leading virtual teams for impact. Such skills cross-over to other sectors such as business and civic leadership's need to communicate with cross-cultural competency and in virtual learning spaces without core working hours.

Education, as many things in life, is not something to possess, consume, control, or contain.  The two main misconceptions in education include viewing it as something final and separate.  Education is revisory, multi-faceted, on-going, and continuous as it is responsible to engage, participate, and contribute.  Hybrid learning provides a revisory and innovative delivery format that requires people to contribute their skill set and apply what they learn within their locale.  Locale-based praxis allows people to draw near to a research phenomena to serve their public(s) and will bridge the seeming divide between academia and civic affairs. 

Background & Benefits

Graduation love (above)
I found that my hybrid experience in my MA equipped me with narrative and digital literacy, a public service mindset to apply what I learn in my local community, and competencies in building quality projects with virtual teams.  Contrary to popular misconceptions about e-Learning, my hybrid experience was highly social and the research and learning creative, insightful, and rigorous.  Writing is an essential skill, and projects often included intermedia production.  I find these skills essential to my consulting work and to living a productive and healthy life.  The flexibility, interdisciplinarity, iterative, and narrative approach to my hybrid MA experience gave me the space to reflect and rehearse my ideas to express them with greater confidence when on-ground with diverse people.  My experienced mirrored "the real world" as I want it to be:  engaged, interactive, conversational, reflective, and narrated wisdom for a social benefit.  Hybrid learning maximizes the many ways we communicate today.  

I want to contribute my input to help design a low-residency global program as I believe this will be an asset to you in many ways, such as increase applicant pool, student diversity, opportunity to bridge theory and praxis, improve digital and narrative literacy, and allow students to work on virtual teams, and more.  A self-centric interest includes my uncertainty over relocation viability for us.  Hybrid delivery methods may even benefit the environment.  Additionally, the millennials will enter college in 2014 and may expect crossovers with social media.  The global component will expand access to make hybrid programs open to people with illness, caregiving responsibilities, and, as you know, working adults.  

General budget woes in education may be another motivator; in increasing applicant pool and access, you may increase enrollment and possibly decrease cost (though digital resources cost, too, they may be less than say maintaining several campus sites).  I take the idea a step further: Generate partnerships with organizations and other universities.  Ask candidates to create the theme and curriculum for next year's residencies.  Keep learning overlapping and on-going.  Similar to software's open source, make education open course.  Socially just and conscientious people are already exploring utilizing technology to make education accessible (i.e., free) to people in impoverished areas.  Does this mean profs will be required to work for free?  Incentives and rewards still need to be addressed in an economy that devalues education.  In any case, now is a culture of sharing, which prompts me to make education match that cultural expectation.  Learn more about my experience in Gonzaga's hybrid MA program.  

Implementation Framework & Strategy

Diploma: Woot! (above)
Reforming education includes improving access.  Improving access sets a stage for education as a democratic ideal and necessity to create sustainable societies with a viable future.  I conceive social media broadly to include education and peer-to-peer learning technology, which I believe contributes to fashioning the public commons, something seemingly eradicated by budget cuts.  I believe it essential for us to design systems and shift paradigms in advanced degree programs to make them relevant to our communities and world.  I find virtuous education that applies theory and findings and creativity for the benefit of society.  Academically speaking, I'm seeking academic programs that embed praxis, theory, poiesis, and ethos in their design.  

I recommend coming up with a task list on what we need to do and conversations we need to have to organize for a summer residency format, and what delivery tools we want to adopt. We will need to create standards, perhaps, for evaluation of what we mean by "participation" and of papers, etc.  Digital learning requires more participation from everyone such as by evaluating papers with track changes, etc.  I also suggest adding frameworks for digital literacy, narrative literacy, and our praxis areas that we want to emphasize. It may be helpful to anticipate where we will face resistence and to develop a strategy to "draw near" to that resistence. Responding to resistence includes correction misperceptions based on hype or hysteria about technology.  Addressing resistence upfront may help us challenge our own assumptions on what model may be best or well received; I suspect we need university and college influencers' support for longevity and health of our program.  

We must also find or innovate technology that appeals to peer-to-peer learning and the human senses; it is a fallacy to assume that learning on-ground is better because it is "in-person." Remember that a "real" person exists on the other end of the virtual.  I also recommend drawing on current students or recent graduates' for what ideas they find desirable, such as from recent accredidation sessions, etc.  Finally, regarding social media, I offer my assistance with initially building and/or strategizing social media channels to promote the program and also support our current student base. Remember that the "real world" only exists separate from our conclusions when we deny our responsiblity to serve our communities with what we learn and when we forsake the sacred that makes us human, that is our creative spirit and will.  

Overall, higher education can benefit from soul-searching and a paradigm shift in what constitutes andragogy, or adult learning.  When I consult people, I encourage them to embed their vision, mission, and desired outcomes into their communication strategy.  "Without vision the people perish" (Prov. 29:18) suggests that vision gives direction and so must come first.  It's too much of a drain on society and individuals to keep education on the mainframe, or as large campuses with high costs, low and lengthy completion rates, and high saturation of PhDs on the market.  We must critique our texts and roles and challenge our assumptions on what comprises learning. Let's concentrate our ideas beyond reducing education to technology/infrastructure, each of which are value-laden, yes, so we take care how we build. We need to retool how we "do" education and hybrid programs may be one way to do so.  You see from the above 6 models how applicable, flexible, dynamiccreative, and scalable a hybrid program can be.  I invite my colleagues in academic, business, and civic spheres to embark on a deliberative process to imagine the possibilities.

What do you think? Are there any formats here that appeal to you? What "cutting edge" technologies do you use in your hybrid programs that you find useful? What apprehensions or areas for change do you see in adopting a hybrid model? Why?

Thank you for reading,

Special Thanks

Special thanks to all the professors, students, and alumni who spoke with me about your respective doctoral programs!  Thank you to Maggie and Jim for inviting me into the doctoral landscape.  You contribute to my growth and education in general so that I can contribute my ideas and gifts.  Thank you!


Parker Follett, M. (1918). The new state. Danvers, MA: General Books.