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Will traditional PhD programs that move to online provide the same quality education?

The continued lock-down due to COVID-19 has resulted in an increased number of traditional PhD programs transitioning into online education. This tradition might be temporary while the world tries to develop a safe vaccine and effective treatment.

While online doctorate degrees are not uncommon, the traditional seated (or hybrid) model of doctoral degrees is still considered a better quality program. Many top-tier schools will not consider a faculty candidate who attended a non-traditional program. Therefore, the need to continue to offer quality education is a must not only for the existing student but for the future faculty candidate.

But, with the coronavirus requiring more online and less face-to-face instructions, will universities still provide the same quality education?

As schools struggle to figure out how to make the transition, it can be argued that a temporary, or permanent change, can still provide the same quality education. The most effective way to ensure this is to provide a similarly structured classroom environment and not follow the same models as fully online programs.

What is the difference between traditional and online programs?

Many fully online programs rely on an asynchronous model of instructions. Such that students do not interact with each other except for online forums. In addition, it relies heavily on multiple papers or groups projects.

There are advantages and challenges to both. With traditional, students are able to focus on their studies and receive greater interactions with their peers and faculty. With online, students are able to avoid moving and leaving their jobs.

How to keep the same level of quality?

The best way to maintain the high level of quality needed is to have synchronous classroom instructional time. This means that students will need to log into a virtual meeting using Zoom or Microsoft Teams at the same time.

PhD students should not be forced to read endless papers without having the opportunity to discuss the readings with their professors and other classmates.

The heavily based theoretical discussion do best when the students and faculty can discuss these concepts with each other in a classroom setting, virtual or in-person.

Avoid discussion board

I have taught many classes that rely too heavily on discussion board. This is because the Federal Government has mandated that students need to interact with each other and their professors on a weekly basis. If not, the class is considered a correspondence course and federal students loans could be revoked.

Unfortunately, there not does seem to be a viable option to ensure these standards are met outside discussion boards. Discussion boards, in my opinion, are a substandard method to provide interaction with the classroom. Students typically do not read all the discussion posts and faculty are overwhelmed with trying to interact with a number of students in an online forum.

Having students log-in at the same time and discuss with each other the concepts and reading for the day is a better option.

Avoid falling into the trap of accepting non-full-time students for full-time instructions

Too often, universities try to cater to the working student and allow part-time students to take on full-time course loads. This is only accomplished because the students are able to log in any time and complete their discussion boards and write their papers.

Traditional doctorate programs are conducted during the day and thus full-time students need to avoid the distractions of full-time work.

Overall, if faculty and universities use the web-based tools available to them, traditional doctorate students can receive the same quality education. Yet, we need to make sure that traditional students are not instructed in the same manner and fully online non-traditional students.

Students who are unsure if they a traditional or online program is right for them, should speak to an expert with experience in both programs to determine which program is right for them.