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New Web Tool Helps Doctoral Students Finish Dissertations

Date:
March 24, 2005
Source:
University Of Michigan
Summary:
Earning a doctorate takes several years of classes and seminars, with a massive research paper—the dissertation—as the final hurdle. For some students, the enormity of it can be overwhelming. A team at the University of Michigan has been working since 2001 to develop tools to help students of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies in the dissertation process. The result is Grad Tools, an interactive web site launched in December.
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Earning a doctorate takes several years of classes and seminars, with a massive research paper—the dissertation—as the final hurdle. For some students, the enormity of it can be overwhelming.

A team at the University of Michigan has been working since 2001 to develop tools to help students of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies in the dissertation process. The result is Grad Tools, an interactive web site launched in December.

Already some 500 students are using Grad Tools, and the project team hopes even more of Rackham's 6,600 doctoral students will sign on after a push this semester to show off the features including:

• A personalized dissertation checklist documenting the major steps students typically follow

• Document-sharing capabilities

• Online collaboration for the student and dissertation committee members

Rackham will update individual student activity on a weekly basis, and students can personalize their checklists to help them keep track of their own progress.

The Grad Tools project team will demonstrate it for the Rackham Graduate Student Forum March 31, from noon to 2 p.m. in the Rackham Assembly Hall, on the fourth floor of the Rackham building on U-M's central campus. This event will include student, staff and faculty comments from users of Grad Tools.

Rex Patterson, director of information and technology services at Rackham, said prior to 2001, Rackham held a series of focus groups and commissioned a study to look at the potential for an electronic theses and dissertations (ETD) effort at the University.

As a result, Rackham decided to focus on the dissertation process itself. "What we wanted was a better way for all involved to manage the process and help students in completing the dissertation," he said.

Patterson linked up with technology experts at the University's Duderstadt Center. Together they conducted a study and focus groups consisting of faculty, staff and students. Michelle Bejian-Lotia, usability specialist at the Duderstadt Center, who designed the study and the dissertation checklist, said the purpose of this work was to gain insight into current processes and determine which needs technology could meet.

The team, after completing the study and reviewing a pile of documents representing the dissertation process, saw a fit with a new dissertation support tool and CourseTools, the online collaboration software used by U-M instructors.

"We quickly recognized the features already being used on campus would facilitate the needs we saw," said Joseph Hardin, director of the Collaborative Technology Lab. CourseTools includes functionality like scheduling, discussion and document sharing.

Grad Tools is part of the Sakai Project, a joint collaboration and course management system software development project funded by U-M, Stanford University, Indiana University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It promotes open source software development to support campus research and learning. Hardin is Sakai Project Board chairman.

Monique Washington, assistant to the dean for admissions and academic services at Rackham, said Grad Tools is much more than technology—it is part of an organizational vision of supporting students and faculty so they can focus on what matters most.

"There is so much administrative stuff that has to happen in the last three or four weeks and it would be much more overwhelming without Grad Tools," said Wendy Sanders, who was part of a pilot study of the software before receiving her doctorate in mechanical engineering in 2004. "I wish it had been available earlier in my graduate career because I think it has a lot of powerful capabilities for grad students just starting out."

"I've been having each of my students set up a Grad Tools site," said Mark Clague, an assistant professor of music who enthusiastically endorses the site. "I've also set up a 'Clague-Advisees' project site in CTools, to which I have each of the students link their schedules. This way I can see everyone's deadlines at a glance." CTools is a new generation of CourseTools.

Grad Tools is available exclusively to Rackham doctoral students. Students control faculty access to their sites. Logging in to the CTools Web site, https://ctools.umich.edu/portal, students can open a section called "My Workspace," click on "Worksite Setup" along the left bar, and click the button called "New" in the upper left hand corner of the page to get the option to choose "Grad Tools site" as the type of site. Click "Continue" and then "Create Site" to establish a student Grad Tools site.

For more information, visit:

* Sakai (http://sakaiproject.org/)

* CourseTools (http://coursetools.ummu.umich.edu/about/)

* Rackham Graduate School (http://www.rackham.umich.edu/)


Story Source:

Materials provided by University Of Michigan. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Michigan. "New Web Tool Helps Doctoral Students Finish Dissertations." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 March 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/03/050323132100.htm>.
University Of Michigan. (2005, March 24). New Web Tool Helps Doctoral Students Finish Dissertations. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2024 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/03/050323132100.htm
University Of Michigan. "New Web Tool Helps Doctoral Students Finish Dissertations." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/03/050323132100.htm (accessed July 24, 2024).

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