COACH the journey: Committee chair reflections on guiding doctoral students
Paper presented at December 2014 Academic Forum conference, later in press for September 2015 issue of The Exchange.
Since 1976, online college-level education has significantly broadened access to higher education. A natural extension of the online model has been to offer doctoral level graduate programs. However, coaching students to achieve success in the doctoral studies is considerably more challenging than guiding them through their formal structured course work. The purpose of this phenomenological research study was to explore the lived experiences of doctoral chairs with ten or more years of demonstrated success guiding students through successful dissertations. These chairs were queried in order to discover practices, guidelines, and tips for assisting doctoral students. Participants were solicited from a unique online professorial group on a public website who had at least ten-years of experience as online doctoral chairs. The researchers’ questions invited comments in two areas: 1) From their perspectives as experienced dissertation committee chairs what essential actions, activities, and services helped insure doctoral students were successful completing dissertations? 2) What were the lived experiences of online doctoral chairs contributing to successful approved student dissertations? The researchers purposively selected a nonprobabilistic, convenience sample consisting of 11 experienced doctoral committee chairs to capture and understand the lived experiences of successful dissertation chairs. Three nodal themes were identified describing how online chairs helped students successfully complete dissertations. These were (1) by demonstrating empathy and support, (2) by teaching students how to plan and meet goals, and (3) by providing regular consistent communications. Three additional nodal themes described issues students faced completing their studies. These were (1) frustration and confusion cause by lack of face-to-face communications and student candor, (2) competition for student attention and time from students’ work commitments, and (3) students’ poor time and project management compounded by weak prioritization skills. The researchers summarized their findings with the COACH model (Cheer, Organize, Act, Communicate, and Help) of effective action.
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