Integration of Technology and Academic Support to Create an Open Learning Community for Doctoral Research

Concurrent Session 1

Brief Abstract

This presentation describes the integration of technology and learner support to create and deploy a private on-line collaborative learning community for 5,000+ doctoral learners.


Dr. Berman is an experienced education leader who is passionate about researching, managing and deploying new products and processes that enhance the learner experience. Dr. Bermanís extensive management experience obtained at Fortune 100 companies (IBM, SAP) is augmented with broad academic credentials that includes a Doctorate in Education, a Master of Science in Engineering and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. A strong academic foundation combined with extensive business expertise has enabled Dr. Berman to lead customer, consultant and partner education organizations while introducing innovative learning technologies supporting the enhancement of curriculum development processes. Dr. Berman is currently the Director of Academic Excellence for the College of Doctoral Studies and is responsible for overseeing the development and implementation of long term strategies that enhance the effectiveness of Doctoral Education at Grand Canyon University. He is the primary architect of the Doctoral Community Network and has research interest in virtual learning communities, open source technologies, learning management systems, synchronous delivery systems, asynchronous delivery systems,research processes, computer tablets, and strategic directions to enhance retention of doctoral learners. Dr. Berman is also an Assistant Professor and regularly teaches leadership and other courses in the doctoral program.

Extended Abstract

Overview: The presentation describes a multi-year initiative to pilot innovative new approaches to address the national issue of doctoral attrition through the integrated use of technology and academic student support. This approach may be applicable to other academic on-line programs which require substantial group collaboration over an extended period of time.

Introduction: Pursuing a doctorate is an extraordinarily complex activity which requires doctoral learners to master content within a specific discipline and then design and implement independent research which adds to the body of knowledge within this discipline. Doctoral learners often struggle during the dissertation process as they attempt to move away from the familiar role of academic consumer to the more complex role of independent scholar. This transition from participating in a structured course environment to the unstructured world of research is challenging and often results in learner isolation attributing to doctoral learner attrition which often exceeds 50%.

Solution: In 2010, Grand Canyon University initiated a multi-year research initiative to address the growing national concern of online doctoral learner attrition. To facilitate this research initiative, the Doctoral Community Network (DC) was developed. The DC is a learner driven, online scholarly community designed to help doctoral learners successfully complete their dissertation and program of study. In a single virtual location, the DC provides a comprehensive catalog of support services to guide and assist new researchers as they learn the terminology, tools, and norms to become independent scholars, capable of producing high-quality research. Learner access provides timely content written by experts in the fields of quantitative research, qualitative research, and technology. Using a collaborative technology, the DC provides a mechanism for new researchers to receive feedback on prospective research ideas from a nationwide research community. Once learners post research questions and ideas to the DC, other students, faculty, and the full-time doctoral librarian offer feedback, suggestions, and references.

Concurrent with the technology deployment, the university expanded doctoral student support infrastructure. Programs were created to inform prospective students of program requirements, assist newly enrolled students in using the university's collaborative technology, provide counsel to existing students in developing long-term goals, and provide motivational support to doctoral learners in the dissertation phase.

Results: The Doctoral Community Network has grown from several hundred doctoral learners to several thousand learners. Preliminary research suggests that student collaboration positively affects doctoral satisfaction while reducing isolation during the very difficult dissertation phase.