On SAGE Insight: Supporting Students in the ‘Virtual Doctoral Land’

Article title: Faculty Best Practices to Support Students in the ‘Virtual Doctoral Land’

From Higher Education for the Future

Doctoral students form a significant ratio of the total graduate student population and are the core of academia, research and industrial organizations. Research has indicated that graduate students, and particularly online doctoral students, face numerous challenges from a cultural and academic standpoint. The result of these challenges are such that dropout rates for these online doctoral students are high and the development of retention strategies has become the focus of the university sector.

In an online context, where students often struggle to maintain social and face-to-face contact, it is important for the faculty to positively support the online doctoral student. The relationship between the faculty and its online doctoral student is obviously important for their long-term success. However,   to facilitate this, it is important to offer support at every level, including the taught module and dissertation development stages. For instance, in the early phases of the doctoral program, the support should be focused on helping the student to understand the needs and demands of the program. For example, students can benefit through the faculty making them more aware of the importance of issues such as time management and workload balance in achieving good results.

This article has uncovered the fact that faculty needs to be aware of the various cultural challenges faced by students and thereby help them overcome these challenges for their success in online doctoral program.



Online students face numerous challenges in successfully completing doctoral programs. The aim of this article is to explore the best practices that can be employed by faculty to support students in achieving this. It also seeks to categorize and identify the best practices emerging from literature into themes. An exploratory research method was used involving a two-stage process, which had both broad and specific levels. Literature on online learning and doctoral education from the past 22 years (1993–2015) was reviewed. Eleven major journal databases were searched to identify articles for this review. In addition, a list of key journals that published studies on online doctoral pedagogies was also used to source relevant literature. This article reported five major themes that have emerged from the literature review, including the provision of timely and good quality feedback, providing continuous support and promoting peer-to-peer facilitation, the pairing of new and experienced faculties, providing supportive mentoring to students and developing sensitivity to cultural issues, that could influence successful online doctoral study. This research is unique because there has not been any systematic review of literature that explores faculty best practices within a unified framework in an online doctoral program context. A comprehensive understanding of existing literature can help establish important areas with regard to supporting the study of online doctoral students. Conclusion and directions of future research are also presented.

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Article details
Faculty Best Practices to Support Students in the ‘Virtual Doctoral Land’
Higher Education for the Future
4(1) 2017
DOI: 10.1177/2347631116681211




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