Connectedness as a Measure of Doctoral Student Success

Concurrent Session 9

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This study sought to discover optimal opportunities to enhance connectedness as a measure of doctoral student success. The ultimate goal included identifying interventions to assist doctoral students in rising to the challenge and thriving through the dissertation experience. The research results revealed emerging educational trends towards technology and on-demand options.


Marlene Blake has enjoyed working in higher education for over 15 years in various roles from student services, academic operations, student support resources as well as faculty training and development. She has also taught student success, critical thinking, and interpersonal communication courses along with workshops, orientations, and trainings for over 11 years. Beyond her passion for teaching, training, mentoring, student success, and supporting faculty, she enjoys traveling with her husband and daughter!

Additional Authors

Extended Abstract

Goal and Engagement:

The goal of the session is to disseminate the research results of the study. A unique PowerPoint will be presented. Participants will learn the valuable role of creating connectedness for doctoral students with increasing demands during dissertation stages of the program (Powers & Swick, 2012). The audience will be engaged with the use of the poll everywhere. This technology tool will encourage audience contribution with the use of interactive question and answers.

Presentation Description:

Exploring the educational experiences in the online distance learning environment is increasingly important in identifying specific strategies to support students in doctoral programs. The role of connectedness was of particular interest in this study. Researchers have found connectedness can contribute to improving persistence (Laux, Luse, & Mennecke, 2016; Yang, Baldwin, & Snelson, 2017). Specific study findings highlight how a sense of connectedness can contribute to active participation, doctoral progression, and ultimately the completion of the dissertation process (Erwee, Albion, and van der Laan 2013; Rockinson-Szapkiw, 2012).  To that end, it was integral to gain a better understanding of connectedness as a measure of doctoral student success.

The problem of the study included the lack of connectedness for doctoral students in online programs. Researchers report the important link between student perceptions of connectedness and persistence at the doctoral level (Rockinson-Szapkiw, 2011; Terrell, Snyder, & Dringus, 2009). The role of connectedness is more meaningful as a result of the obstacles doctoral students may experience during the dissertation stage including inadequate interaction, poor program integration, and insufficient support (Kennedy, Terrell, & Lohle, 2015, p. 223; Lovitts, 2001).


The primary purpose of this study included assessing the level of connectedness after taking the Dissertation Resources workshop, via a pretest-posttest using the Doctoral Student Connectedness Scale (DSCS). The study was guided by the following research question: Is there a difference in doctoral students’ pretest and posttest scores on the DSCS after taking the Dissertation Resources workshop?

The study was conducted using a quantitative, quasi-experimental research design. The convenience sample for the study consisted of 39 doctoral students in the dissertation stage of the program at an online university with coursework and comprehensive exams complete. Participants completed the pre DSCS, then took the Dissertation Resources workshop, and finished the study by completing the post DSCS. A paired-samples t-test calculation compared the pre-and post DSCS scores. A paired-samples t-test calculation compared the pre-and post DSCS scores. The research results suggested that there was not a significant average difference between the means for the pre-and post-scores (t38 = -.659, p < 0.514).


Implementing initiatives to ensure learners are proactively prepared for the transition to the doctoral dissertation phase of program is key to student success. The findings provide contributions and future recommendations to the topic of doctoral student connectedness for further consideration. The study supported researcher recommendations to empower students by offering orientation sessions explaining expectations and resources about the dissertation process (Kennedy, Terrell, & Lohle, 2015; Di Pierro, 2012; Terrell, Snyder, & Dringus, 2009). The intent of the Dissertation Resources workshop was to provide learners with an orientation to the dissertation process while providing connections to faculty, peers, and important information in completing the program. The research findings indicated that the solution is not as simple as connecting students with fellow peers, faculty, and resources in one place.


The study findings exposed emerging educational factors including increasing interest in on-demand opportunities, generational growth reliant on technology trends, and the influence of meaningful motivation as it relates to doctoral student connectedness. Important implications are identified offering opportunities for higher education leaders to consider establishing experiences that are uniquely innovative with intentional engagement expectations.


Di Pierro, M. (2012). Theoretical foundations for strategies for increasing doctoral students' retention. Journal for Quality & Participation, 35(3).

Erwee, R., Albion, P., & van der Laan, L. (2013). Connectedness needs of external doctoral students. Outlooks and Opportunities in Blended and Distance Learning, 316.

Kennedy, D. H., Terrell, S. R., & Lohle, M. (2015). A grounded theory of persistence in a limited-residency doctoral program. The Qualitative Report, 20(3), 215-230. Retrieved from

Laux D., Luse, A, & Mennecke, B. E. (2016). Collaboration, connectedness, and community: An examination of the factors influencing student persistence in virtual communities. Computers in Human Behavior, 57, 452-464.

Lovitts, B. (2001). Leaving the ivory tower: The causes and consequences of departure from doctoral study. Lanham, UK: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Powers, J. D., & Swick, D. C. (2012). Straight talk from recent grads: Tips for successfully surviving your doctoral program. Journal of Social Work Education, 48(2), 389-394.

Rockinson-Szapkiw, A. J. (2011). "Improving Doctoral Candidates’ Persistence in the Online Dissertation Process". Faculty Publications and Presentations. Paper 184.

Rockinson-Szapkiw, A. (2012). Investigating uses and perceptions of an online collaborative workspace for the dissertation process. Research in Learning Technology, 20. doi:

Terrell, S. R., Snyder, M. M., Dringus, L. P. (2009). The development, validation, and application of the Doctoral Student Connectedness Scale. The Internet and Higher Education; 12(2-12): 112-116. DOI:10.1016/j.iheduc.2009.06.004.

Yang, D., Baldwin, S., & Snelson, C. (2017). Persistence factors revealed: Students’ reflections on completing a fully online program. Distance Education, 38(1), 23-36.