Using Wikis to Collaboratively Prepare for Qualifying Examinations:

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<ul><li><p> Volume 54, Number 1 TechTrends January/February 2010 25 </p><p>AbstractThis article focuses on the experiences of </p><p>seven Ph.D. students implementing a wiki to col-laboratively prepare for qualifying examinations in the educational technology program at a large southeastern university. Concomitant study for such a rigorous examination is rare, and the tri-als and tribulations of the group are described in detail. Specific guidelines highlighting effec-tive preparation options for qualifying exams are often elusive, and, as such, this article explores current research related to collaborative prepa-ration and mentoring, as well as the qualifying examination process in total, in hopes of add-ing to the scientific body of knowledge related to these subjects. It also offers best practice strate-gies, suggests possible technology tips regarding wiki implementation, and seeks to better scaffold future scholars and/or mentors seeking to ef-fectively participate in or plan for collaborative qualifying examination preparation.</p><p>Keywords: collaboration, graduate educa-tion, qualifying exam, Web 2.0, wiki(s)</p><p>The mere mention of the term qualifying examination (also referred to as qualifying ex-ams or quals) intimidates even the most confi-dent graduate students. The process is stressful and requirements are often vague or elusive. In some cases the exam creates so much anxiety that students delay its completion or even avoid it all together and remain ABD (All But Disserta-tion). In an effort to mitigate anxiety and demys-tify the process, the educational technology (ed tech) program at the University of Florida initi-ated a pair of two, semester-long seminar courses </p><p>in which doctoral students participated in the qualifying examination process collabora-tively under the direction and guidance of key program personnel. Acting as facilitators and guides, these faculty members offered insight into the professional duties students can expect to encounter in academia and/or the business world. </p><p>The collaborative ef-fort to collect, synthesize, and share key knowledge in the field of educational technology was a major component of the seminar. The group selected a wiki as the most effective and efficient tool to meet this objective for three reasons. First, the wiki served as a living document to which changes could be tracked through Really Simple Syndication (RSS). This is a process by which participants subscribe to the wiki and receive email notification when another member of the group posts a change or makes a revision. Second, the option to create multiple pages al-lowed for better organization of general content as well as individual pages for each seminarian to record content relative to his or her specific field of study. This helped bridge the knowl-edge gaps between participants and afforded insights and connections within the broader field of educational technology that might not have been made otherwise. Third, it was im-portant to the group that research and data collection be conducted in an open forum in </p><p>Using Wikis to Collaboratively Prepare for Qualifying Examinations:An Example of Implementation inan Advanced Graduate ProgramBy Joseph C. DiPietro, Wendy Drexler, Kathryn Kennedy, Vasa Buraphadeja,Feng Liu, and Kara Dawson</p><p>The studentswere encouraged to see the qualifying exam as a collaborative effort, especially to alleviate the feeling of going it alone.</p></li><li><p> 26 TechTrends January/February 2010 Volume 54, Number 1</p><p>which colleagues and other scholars, students, and those interested in educational technology could benefit from the work and provide feed-back as necessary.</p><p>This article presents an overview of the qualifying examination and emerging alter-native models as support for the collaborative format of a doctoral seminar. It will further ex-plain the use of a wiki to facilitate increased col-laboration and organized preparation for both the qualifying exam and dissertation process.</p><p>An Overview of QualifyingExaminations</p><p>A source of stress for graduate students on a global scale, qualifying examinations are an intimidating step in the process of at-taining advanced graduate degrees, and past studies have shed light on reasons these fears exist. Described as a kind of rite of passage (Estrem &amp; Lucas, 2003; Hadjioannou, Shelton, &amp; Dhanarattigannon, 2007), the comprehen-sive examination, or qualifying examination, allows graduate students to feel accomplished and knowledgeable in their discipline. Though </p><p>some argue it is one of the causes for an increase in the number of years it takes for students to graduate. Ac-cording to a study published by the National Science Foundation (2006), the av-erage doctoral student takes 8.2 years to graduate re-gardless of discipline while graduate students focusing on education average about 13 years to complete their programs; Schmidt (2008) reports that women and minorities take even longer to complete their degrees than do White males.</p><p>While there may be spurious arguments for graduate students taking longer to graduate (e.g. funding issues, teaching commitments, competitive job market, lack of effective </p><p>advising, (see Berger, 2007), personal charac-teristics, life situations, and difficulty meeting advisor expectations (see DAndrea, 2002)), fear of the qualifying exam was identified by the University of Florida educational technol-ogy department as a significant concern within this particular program. Identifying a research </p><p>focus is one aspect of the qualifying exam that seems to contribute to high levels of anxiety. An inability to organize, plan, and identify personal areas of interest causes some students to pro-crastinate and perpetuates stress. </p><p>Categorized as a self-sabotaging behavior by Kearns, Gardiner, and Marshall (2008), pro-crastination, along with over commitment and perfectionism (p. 79) should be behaviors that Ph.D. programs help students reduce. In order to alleviate their students self-sabotaging behav-iors, the University of Florida educational tech-nology program incorporated a two semester seminar to provide a framework for qualifying exam preparation. The students in the seminar were encouraged to see the qualifying exam as a collaborative effort, especially to alleviate the feeling of going it alone. Hadjioannou, Shelton, and Dhanarattigannon (2007) described the ini-tial processes of the doctoral program as peril-ous; however, because the group in this study worked closely with their advisor, they were able to navigate the obstacles and accomplish their shared goals of graduating with Ph.D. degrees. Lovitts (2005) affirms that doctoral programs should make their expectations for the program explicit in hopes of best meeting the diverse needs of graduate students. Krueger and Peek (2006) urge that the Ph.D. program be designed to allow for the existence and fostering of three intricate processes: (1) conversation, where stu-dents have a say as to how their experiences transpire; (2) reflection, where students can have a personal dialogue with themselves about the experience; and (3) interaction, where a com-munity of students have a collective dialogue about their experiences.</p><p>Models of Qualifying Examinations</p><p>A variety of qualifying examination formats have been used by different schools to achieve ad-equate student preparation. As one might expect, each model has advantages and disadvantages contingent upon subjective perceptions. Since qualifying examinations are such a major step in the process of attaining an advanced degree, nu-merous studies have been conducted in hopes of maximizing the efficacy of student preparation. The Carnegie Foundation, a leader in this area of research, created a program called the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate that focuses on help-ing U.S. doctoral-granting institutions restructure their programs in order to better prepare Ph.D. candidates for life after graduation (2008a).</p><p>Some of the programs involved in the Carnegie effort (Carnegie Initiative, 2008b) </p><p>Many academicinstitutions are</p><p>calling for explorationof their respective </p><p>Ph.D. programs inan effort to outline</p><p>best practicesfor maximizing</p><p>student preparationfor qualifying</p><p>examinations andsuccessful completion</p><p>of Ph.D. degrees.</p></li><li><p> Volume 54, Number 1 TechTrends January/February 2010 27 </p><p>have eliminated the exam altogether replacing it with a more project-based approach. One such school is Arizona State Universitys (ASU) special education program. In order to advance to doctoral candidacy, the students in this pro-gram need to complete four items including: (1) a literature review, (2) a single-authored article, (3) a co-authored article, and (4) a grant pro-posal. The work on these items begins during the second semester of the first year students enter the program. Dr. Rutherford, a professor at ASUs special education program, emphasizes that this approach to the qualifying process pre-pares his students to become familiar with the life they will lead as academics (Carnegie Ini-tiative, 2008b). The process is viewed as a more efficient expenditure of students time allowing for more resources to be devoted to building of respective vitae.</p><p>The University of Michigan School of Edu-cation used the Carnegie Initiative (2008b) to concentrate on creating a cohesive, intellectual community for their doctoral students. They did this using a cohort-based approach to the first-year curriculum plan where students took four required courses together. They also considered incorporating a first-year seminar where all spe-cializations would be placed together in hopes of encouraging cross-disciplinary research among the schools Ph.D. students. One of the interest-ing lessons learned by the program was the need to include the opinions of their students during the modification of the programs. In the future, they stated that they planned to incorporate stu-dent input in their decision-making processes regarding program reform.</p><p>Though these alternative formats were ac-knowledged by some academic institutions for their authenticity, the established theories un-derlying them are still not accepted by many graduate schools (Estrem &amp; Lucas, 2003). Con-sequently, the majority of Ph.D. programs still adopt the comprehensive examination that in-cludes both written and oral sections serving as students qualifying assessments. As Kearns, Gardiner, and Marshall (2008) stated, alterna-tive examinations such as portfolios and field work, reduce students stress during their stud-ies, enhance their ability to conduct academic work, and cut down the overall time needed to finish their Ph.Ds.</p><p>Many academic institutions are calling for exploration of their respective Ph.D. pro-grams in an effort to outline best practices for maximizing student preparation for qualify-ing examinationss and successful completion of Ph.D. degrees. Andrea (2002) emphasized the important role structure plays in the pro-</p><p>cess of advanced degree completion in col-leges of education. Furthermore, she stated that professors should play a significant part in helping students structure this process, and subsequently, students should stick to it. In ad-dition, as Hartnett and Katz (1977) argued, in the graduate students eyes, their relationships with the professors are extremely important in improving the overall quality of student life. Emilsson and Johns-son (2007) described how the role of Ph.D. students supervisors has changed since the 1900s, evolving from the professor-cen-tered lectures of the past to more modern graduate seminars where students play much more active roles. They also empha-sized how Ph.D. students and their problems should be the focus during the su-pervisory process that ex-emplifies the philosophy and importance of stu-dent-centered learning.</p><p>Hadjioannou et al. (2007) presented a study of how four doctoral students in the education program at the University of Florida collabo-rated under the guidance of one faculty mem-ber to get through their doctoral programs. In this study, the researchers emphasized the im-portance of the dynamic and strong relation-ships among the five members that were estab-lished through their weekly meetings as well as informal interactions. Peer sharing and sup-port were adopted by this group and benefited the members academically as they worked to present at professional conferences, published scholarly works, improved writing skills, ap-plied and received much-needed financial aid, gained experience in balancing different roles within their respective lives, and provided emotional support when needed. This student-led support group that created strong peer and mentor/mentee relations played a critical role in improving the quality of doctoral students experiences while enhancing their develop-ment into successful scholars (Hadjioannou et al., 2007, p. 16).</p><p>The University of Florida educational technology program highlighted in this article takes a phased approach to qualifying exams that includes a written and oral component as well as deeper exploration into the field of in-dividual expertise. The written component of the qualifying exam may be traditional, alter-</p><p> wikis can be le-gitimate research re-sources, as long as the content is accurate; the content of a wiki can be maintained adequately in terms of accuracy by way of its users or collaborators.</p></li><li><p> 28 TechTrends January/February 2010 Volume 54, Number 1</p><p>native, or some combination of these two mod-els dependent upon committee approval. Exam-ples of alternative written options are focused literature reviews, scholarly articles, or special research projects where students are expected to focus more deeply on individual areas of ex-pertise. This includes detailed knowledge of key contributors in the field, reviews of pertinent literature, and establishing theoretical frame-works aligning with their work in the field. The oral exam incorporates questions based on foun-dational and specialty knowledge in the broader context of educational technology. Since founda-tional knowledge of the field is the same for ev-eryone, participants used a wiki to organize this content and to facilitate collaborative preparation for the oral portion of qualifying examinations. In addition, each member created an individual wiki page that served as a constantly evolving study guide for the specialty portion of oral ex-aminations.</p><p>WikisBell (2008) describes wikis as online collab-</p><p>orative, project managing areas that can be used in a myriad of work places. She also emphasizes that wikis can be legitimate re...</p></li></ul>

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