In the early 1990s, the Faculty of Education made a decision to foster research and research students, and as part of that direction appointed a new Professor and Head of School with the explicit goal of building a stronger research base within the Faculty. At that time, research students were primarily part-time and mature age, and most came with minimal research experience but with the intention to research a specific topic of their own. This meant that few of them were able to join in a research group or join an existing project. The longer-term intention was to create a context in which these research students would be able to engage in a strong research community as part of their research experience. Developments over the following 20 years were initiated and implemented by a range of local academic leaders.
Move from traditional coursework to an integrated program of activities for all doctoral students
The new appointment coincided with the start of an expansion of research student places. However, there was a sense of uncertainty in how to deal with the increase in students and supervisors. Many were encouraged to do a professional doctorate (EdD) rather than a PhD, which was an attractive alternative for many students and numbers increased. In the early stages, the first year of the EdD was coursework, with fairly traditional research-oriented coursework units. The problem was that while most students completed the coursework stage successfully, they then had difficulty making the transition into doing their own projects. Staff tried all sorts of different ways of dealing with this; trying to do things that carried into the second year, adding activities, building the cohort so they could support each other more, and having meetings. For many years aspects of the EdD were tinkered with, in an effort to get it to work and to stop the large drop-out rate in the second or third year. There was concern about completion rates, which were not satisfactory and not as good as the PhD.
As part of the reforms in the faculty, another academic leader was influential in identifying the kinds of things that should be included in the coursework. She suggested a move away from traditional masters’ subjects to block activities around the different elements of what you need to do for a thesis; for example, early discussions about ‘what’s the difference between a PhD and an EdD?’ and including blocks on ‘the literature review’, ‘ethics’, ‘planning a study’, ‘methodology’ and so on. Rather than organising the program around different course units, it was an integrated program with continuity and oversight from a single coordinator. These changes were instituted for the EdD and, although it was generally regarded as a better program, there were still problems with drop-out rates after the end of the first year.
Parallel to the EdD developments, there was an increase in PhD enrolments. There was considerable overlap in the EdD and PhD cohorts in terms of demographics and types of study, although some PhD students were younger, more likely to be full-time and more likely to be attached to externally-funded research projects. PhD students showed interest in the EdD block programs and requested to be included. Over time the new model became accepted as the introductory program for all doctoral students in the Faculty. Students don’t have much sense of being enrolled in coursework in the traditional sense because every first year assignment is a part of what they would be doing anyway for their research activity.
In the next section you can see what particular initiatives were undertaken.