What Leaders Should Know about Social Media, Collaboration, and Doctoral Learning
Graduate students are reaching out through social media to enhance their Personal Learning Networks (PLN) (Bennett & Folley, 2014); however, very little is known about the how or why doctoral students use social media to help them complete their degrees. The need to answer these questions provided a strong motivation for a team of researchers who work closely with doctoral learners to conduct an exploratory qualitative content analysis study of the views and experiences of a group of doctoral students participating in Path to Dissertation (PtD), a closed group on Facebook.
Despite having access to many resources, fellow students, and instructors through conventional and online methods (Hilscher, 2013), some doctoral students do not graduate and become ABD. Blogs (Adler, n.d), Facebook and Twitter pages, and graduate student association websites show doctoral students posting about their experiences and sharing advice. Understanding how doctoral students are reaching out to enhance their learning experiences would improve how educators, learners, and career networks communicate, distribute information, improve marketing, enhance doctoral student learning and form a foundation for emerging careers.
Permission was obtained from the director of PtD to conduct research, IRB approval was obtained, and the researchers gathered and analyzed posts and comments made January 1, 2016, through October 31, 2016. After the posts and replies had been collected, they were rated as to their level of significance to the purpose of the study by the researchers and then the ratings were averaged. Posts that rated 3 or higher on a 1 to 5 scale were considered for the study. The data from the posts and the interviews were analyzed using NVivo software. Informed consent was obtained from the students to use personal postings, and nine students were interviewed for further clarification of their posts.
The research questions and the findings are:
RQ. How are students using social media for communication? Finding: Students use social media for communication in a variety of ways with support and direction from other students.
SQ1. How are doctoral students using social media and the relationships formed to avoid feelings of isolation and disconnectedness? Finding: Student postings fell into three groups: a) questions and answers about conducting research, b) frustration /questions about the IRB process, and c) celebrations with others.
SQ2. How is social media helping students to proceed through their doctoral programs? Finding: Social media helped some students complete their dissertation but did not help others due to: a) varying degrees of student study and preparation, b) information or answers that students may or may not have trusted and c) lack of understanding or completeness of some answers.
The study clarified some of the initial questions and concerns of the researchers and has added insight to current research about how or why doctoral students use social media to enhance their PLN. Research on how doctoral students are using social media in their online learning experiences fills a significant void of information in the current learning continuum and understanding at the doctoral level.
Adler, J. (n.d.). Top 50 blogs for PhD students. Retrieved from http://www.online-phd-programs.org/top-50-blog-for-phd-students
Bennett, L., & Folley, S. (2014, May 26). A tale of two doctoral students: Social media tools and hybridised identities. Retrieved from Research in Learning Technology, http://www.researchinlearningtechnology.net/index.php/rlt/article/view/2...
Hilscher, J. (2013). A case study examining how students make meaning out of using Facebook as a virtual learning community at a Midwestern university (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from lib.dr.iastate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4041&context=etd