Upon the conferral of my degree in July of 2016, I completed the seven-year journey of earning my doctoral degree. The final stage of earning the Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Indiana State University was to defend my 169-page dissertation on June 1st. My study, titled, The Impact of Hazing Rituals on the Intent to Report: Examining the Perceptions and Beliefs of Undergraduate Students in Greek Letter Organizations, examined factors that influence the intention and likelihood of reporting hazing violence among members of sororities and fraternities. Staying true to my belief that digital media can be used to influence learning, one of my major recommendations focused on applying social media and digital tools as educative levers to influence fraternity and sorority member behavior.
While I chose not to broadcast my dissertation defense and did not structure my research agenda around social media, there are a number of dynamic digital media centric dissertation studies, including some researchers that offered live broadcasts of their defense. These studies easily demonstrate that student engagement and learning through social media and digital tools has outpaced the blogosphere and evolved into a crucial part of the research agenda. Below, I will highlight the most robust dissertations that highlight social media, learning, and student engagement within the digital space.
Dr. Cabellon’s dissertation was titled, “Redefining Student Affairs Through Digital Technology: A Ten-Year Historiography of Digital Technology Use by Student Affairs Administrators” Via his blog, Ed shared his entire doctoral journey. This enlightening dissertation defense was broadcasted live and offered insight into the data and results that Dr. Cabellon produced through his research.
One of higher education’s top researchers, Laura’s study, Organizational Identity and Community Values: Determining Meaning in Post-Secondary Education Social Media Guideline and Policy Documents, is filled with pertinent information. Laura’s defense was broadcasted live and this Slideshare provides robust detail about Laura’s study. You can learn more about Laura’s consulting and research via her blog, Techknowtools.
Dr. T.J. Logan offered one of the most useful dissertations for admission and enrollment management leaders to understand how digital engagement impacts the process of college decision making. Dr. Logan’s study, An Investigation of Twitter Interactions amongst Newly Admitted College Students at a Large Public Institution, analyzed over 10,000 tweets and retweets and provides effective practices and guidance on how to apply social networking sites as part influencing enrollment.
Dr. Paul Brown’s dissertation, titled, College Students, Social Media, Digital Identities, and the Digitized Self uses qualitative research to look at how traditionally aged college students use social media, explore construction of online identities, and examine how social media impacts individual development. Via Slideshare, Paul offers a look into his dissertation proposal, and his defense can be viewed online.
Dr. Liz Gross, won the Outstanding Dissertation Award for her study, titled, An Examination of the Relationship Between the Communication Methods Used in Out-of-Class Student-Faculty Interactions and the Content and Frequency of Those Interactions. Liz’s dissertation defense can be viewed here and this Slideshare shares more about her award-winning research.
Dr. Paul Eaton completed his study, titled, #Becoming: Emergent Identity of College Students in the Digital Age Examined Through Complexivist Epistemologies, where he highlights seven college students actively engaged in multiple distributed social media spaces. According to Paul, his study articulates “how educators, particularly college student educators and curriculum theorists, might view digital spaces as always authentic, partial, and ontological – and what such an approach means for practice and future research” which offers a clear path to applying digital tools to student learning. You can learn more about Paul’s research on his blog.
International speaker and researcher, Dr. Josie Ahlquist defended her dissertation study, Developing Digital Student Leaders: A mixed methods study on student leadership, identity presentation and decision-making on social media in 2015. Josie’s study, which documented the experiences and online behavior of 40 student leaders, provides a host of recommendations to help students become effective digital leaders.
There are numerous tools, implications for practice, and policy levers to consider after reviewing this bevy of robust studies. The value of each of these studies lies in the application of substantive research to demonstrate that learning, engagement, and connectedness exist just as strongly in the digital space as in any in-person environment. When considering how to implement some of the ideas and strategies offered by the researchers above, it is important to develop measurable and realistic objectives that are designed to impact student learning. My 2015 post, Creating a Collaborative Student Affairs Social Media Strategy offers tips and effective approaches to collaborate with campus partners to start and maintain a digital engagement plan. It is important to remember that while traditional spaces for learning are still viable, curated learning in digital spaces is influencing the research agenda for doctoral dissertations, and evident in the daily habits of students everywhere.