Do Graduate Students Utilize the Virtual Research and Writing Development Center in Writing their Dissertations? Why or Why Not?

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Brief Abstract

What are graduate students’ characteristics who use the online research and writing development center (RWDC)? How often do they visit, what for, and how are the visits associated with dissertation progress?  We share research results with three cohorts of graduate students (n = 150) that examined RWDC engagement and dissertation writing progress.


Extended Abstract

Overview of Research

              Program Background: Over 500 students are enrolled in our online professional 3+ year doctoral degree, which includes 9 cohorts of 40–90 students each. While working on their degree, students can visit the program-specific Research and Writing Development Center (RWDC) for help with class assignments or planning documents leading up to their dissertation. In students’ fifth term of the scheduled course sequence, students enroll in a course designed to facilitate writing their literature review and methodology chapters. While working on a dissertation, starting in their fourth term, the RWDC allows students to book a 30-minute appointment once every 21 days subject to consultant availability.

             Participants and Data Collection: We examined three cohorts of doctoral students’ (n ≈ 150) frequency of engagement with the RWDC midway through their doctoral program. Using a survey, we collected demographic information, including perceptions of previous writing experiences, and, if applicable, the reasons for not visiting the RWDC. Second, using RWDC records, we investigated the frequency of visits and topics covered in those meetings during the dissertation writing course in the fifth term. Finally, we collected whether the students earned candidacy at the end of the dissertation course to examine the relationship between the outcome and RWDC visits. 

             Preliminary Results (2 Cohorts): Seventy percent of students had visited the RWDC before term 5, while 30% had not per student reported data. We discovered that students who supervise others in their professional contexts were more likely to have attended the RWDC than their peers who are not supervisors. Our Black students and students with a parent who was an English Language Learner were less likely than their classmates to have visited the RWDC. The themes we found in a qualitative analysis of their motivations included: scheduling, not seeing a need due to perceived skill or faculty feedback, feeling insecure or anxious, or not seeing value in working with the RWDC. 

According to RWDC data, 96% of students attended RWDC consultations (~270 appointments) during their fifth-semester dissertation course, while 4% did not. On average, students attended two appointments during term 5, with nearly 20% of students attending 3–5 appointments. The RWDC utilizes 19 categories to track the topics discussed. The most prevalent topics were: Outlining/Macrostructural organization (14%), Topic Sentences/Paragraph Breaks (12%), and Baylor Formatting (9%).

             Implications & Recommendations:  Given these results, it is important to seek to encourage students that are less likely to reach out for ongoing writing support. Understanding what makes students more or less likely to visit the RWDC can help advisors and RWDC faculty to better support students and target outreach and support to those less likely to seek it out on their own. Since the majority of conversations in RWDC consultations was macrostructural, those guiding graduate students’ writing might benefit from prioritizing outlining and topic sentence development. These conversations underscore a need for additional research into how graduate students access writing support. 


Session Goals:

Individuals viewing this virtual presentation will learn details about how the online program-specific research and writing development center serves graduate students who are writing their dissertations. You’ll learn from our research which students are utilizing the services and how they use the RWDC and which students are not and their reasons why. Viewers learn how graduate students’ actions relate to getting to doctoral candidacy.


Interactive Participation:

Individuals viewing this virtual presentation are invited to provide presenters with complete a short-reflective submission and provide suggestions for future research. We are also inviting partners from other universities in researching online graduate student persistence and/or graduate student writing to collaborate on submitting for large-scale grants.