It takes an iron will to get published in an academic journal, as these four WilmU doctoral students will attest.
By Maria Hess
What do a program director, implementation success manager, director of compliance, and human resources professional have in common?
They’re all members of Cohort 24 in Wilmington University’s Organizational Learning, Leadership and Innovation doctoral program in the College of Education. Most cohort classmates form close bonds, largely because they take at least three years of classes together before branching out separately to write dissertations. But when four of Cohort 24’s members formed a team to complete a group project, they ended up doing more than earning credits.
The road to publishing is not for the weak. A writer may be passionate about a subject, but it takes serious legwork to turn a meaningful premise into a valuable idea. Then there are those finicky editors and reviewers whose maddening expectations vary from publication to publication. As many emotionally drained and cerebrally exhausted writers have learned, writing is rewriting — then more rewriting. Constant revisions drive even the best writers nuts.
Yet from Cohort 24 sprang a crop of four passionate writers who revealed a premise significant enough to catch the attention of editors of the Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning, a product of the Informing Science Institute — a global community of academics.
Doctoral students Debbi Bromley, Natasha James-Waldon, Silas Wandera and Zandra Henry didn’t actually set out to get published, at least not immediately. They were fulfilling a group project obligation as first-year students for their Disciplined Inquiry I (EDD 7106) class, taught by Dr. Lynne Svenning, associate professor and chair of the Ed.D. Organizational Leadership and Innovation program in the College of Education. The introductory course is designed to help students understand various types of data and provide the skills needed to read and interpret that data in various ways. Next sequentially is Disciplined Inquiry II (EDD 7107), where students become competent practitioners and eventually use this knowledge to develop research methods, mostly for their dissertations.
“As part of the two-class requirement, Dr. Svenning had us form groups and conduct a ‘mini-dissertation’ project over the 14 weeks of the two blocks,” says Bromley, the senior vice president of human resources at Genex Services in Wayne, Pa. “Since the blocks occurred in late fall and early spring, we also had the December holiday break to work on the project.”
As is customary, the group had to have a name. Theirs was Variance. “We discussed the importance of and the use of social media as a tool to assist us with our educational journey,” says James-Waldon, the director of compliance and community engagement at the Jewish Renaissance Foundation in New Jersey. “We decided it would be a good idea to study what impact social media actually has on students. So, as required by the course, we developed a study for Cohorts 22, 23 and 24 in the Doctor of Education programs at Wilmington University to determine what their levels of social media use were and the impact they were having on growth and development within their cohorts.”
After some exploration, they decided that the concept could affect a larger audience of learners and would be worth publishing. “The proliferation of social media has led to many assumptions that there are significant benefits of social media in learning institutions,” says Wandera, an implementation success manager at Apex Learning, a provider of blended and virtual learning solutions to the nation’s schools. “As authors we were curious about how social media influences the doctoral cohort group. In grappling with the social media influence, we were able to uncover some aspects of social media and technology, like utilization, choice of devices, choice of platforms, social media tools, benefits in collaboration and learning communities, and also academic success.”
According to the paper’s abstract, the students investigated the ability of social media use to develop a collaborative learning environment; access to social media content which supports learning; and whether social media use has contributed to the enhancement of doctoral students’ academic achievements and learning progress.
The cohort had already established a learning community in its first class, called Experiential Learning: Leadership Issues (EDD 7000). They were so inspired by a class discussion that they thought it would be interesting for the doctorate program and University to better understand how its students were using social media to assist them in their educational journeys. “We also saw our study as an opportunity to provide other institutions of higher learning with tools to assess the level of social media engagement in which their students were taking part,” says James-Waldon.
They were committed to reaching new cohorts through social media and collaborative learning, says Henry, operation director at First State Community Action Agency, an anti-poverty organization in Delaware. “The premise of our article was that social media enhanced the ability for the cohorts to collaborate and share information. It was cost effective and seen as an effective learning tool; however, it was not seen as having a direct effect on grades or academic achievement.”
James-Waldon developed a list of potential journals and the group chose to target Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning. “We knew we were taking on extra work, but we were really enthusiastic about our study,” adds Bromley. “After our final class presentation, we kept meeting via phone conferences until we finished the article.”
The hard work paid off. The article, The Influence of Social Media on Collaborative Learning in a Cohort Environment, was published on June 7, 2016.
Doctoral students become quite familiar with group projects, and there are more than a fair share of challenges: poor communication, scheduling restraints, or worst of all, team members who don’t pull their weight. None of that was the case with Variance. But there were snags.
“The biggest challenge for me was interpreting the data,” says Henry, who earned her bachelor’s in Education at the University of Delaware and a master’s in Community Counseling from what was then Wilmington College. “But as we collaboratively analyzed it, we were able to decipher what the data showed us. The experience was a mini-dissertation project with the exception of orally defending our work.”
The team took the learning process seriously, says Wandera, who holds a bachelor’s in Computer Science and a master’s in Education, both from the City University of New York (CUNY), College of Staten Island. “At the get-go, we were able to set goals and agree on project guidelines. The only challenge was identifying a topic that we would all gravitate toward. Once we settled on one, we utilized different skills that we could tap from each other.”
According to James-Waldon, who holds a juris doctorate and a master’s of professional studies in Media Administration — both from Syracuse University — and a bachelor’s in Journalism from Temple University, it wasn’t challenging to collaborate during the course. “But the real challenge came when continuing to work on the project and balance it with the classes we were taking — and life. As a group, we continued to meet for a year after the two courses to continue to research, expand and edit our paper into something that would become the published article.” (The group sent the first draft to Svenning. They credit Drs. Jason James, Annie Kingcaid and Julie Lanzillo for editing, and owe a debt of gratitude to Senior Administrative Assistant Ann Gibason.)
Bromley earned a dual bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Sociology from Fairleigh Dickinson University and a master’s in Organizational Development and Leadership from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. She echoes the sentiments of WilmU students of all levels who juggle career, life and school. “We all work full-time and have families and other responsibilities,” she says, “but this was something we all really wanted to do. We met via phone, or sometimes before class on a regular basis until the original draft was completed. I honestly don’t recall any difficulty in collaborating with this group. We all have distinct personalities and have no trouble voicing our opinions, thoughts or concerns. We also are good listeners, so there was not a lot of difficulty in arriving at a consensus. Silas was our statistics guru, so for the most part, we listened to his advice on how to present our findings.”
The doctoral candidates chose WilmU for the same reasons many students of all levels do: flexibility, convenience, caring staff and excellent faculty. “WilmU’s Ed.D. program had an Organizational Leadership track that fit my education and career goals,” says Wandera. “The scheduling was optimal for my career, which requires more than 70 percent travel. The faculty were passionate, supportive and interested in what I was doing and also my future career goals.”
Bromley’s WilmU advisor, Dr. Julie Lanzillo, was also a friend. “She had been urging me to apply for this program for a number of years since she knows I enjoy the academic environment and did have a wish to pursue a doctorate,” she says. “I will be retiring from the corporate world in a few years, but I don’t want to stop working altogether. I’d like to consult, coach and write, and I believe the learning from this program will be an enormous help as I enter what I call the ‘second half of my adult life.’” (She credits author Gail Sheehy for that expression.)
After finishing law school, James-Waldon figured her coursework was over. But once she became a WilmU adjunct and fell in love with teaching, she knew she’d need an academic degree to become a full-time college professor. She explored various programs and settled on WilmU for a number of reasons: the program met once a week; courses occurred in seven week cycles, which gave her a work-life balance; and she was impressed with Svenning’s passion. She also felt that the combination of her own leadership experience and years of working in the nonprofit sector would enhance the degree and make her more marketable.
Henry, a longtime devotee of Wilmington University, has always loved “small interactive classroom settings, the commitment, availability of the faculty, and the overall investment that was put in each student,” she says. “I chose Organizational Leadership because I believe that leadership makes or breaks organizations. I was interested in finding out what makes great leaders and the impact I could have on salvaging organizations with poor leaders. I decided that with this degree, I would either become a consultant or write books about leading organizations.”
The foursome is ahead of the game. “Natasha, Debbi, Silas and Zandra are dedicated to making the most of all their learning experiences,” says Svenning. “In this case, I think publishing an article early in their doctoral studies makes them aware of what it will take to publish articles based on their dissertation research. They all have very interesting research projects in the works, so I’m hoping to see more articles from each of them in the future.”
The students learned about persistence, but also about collaboration. All of them forged meaningful relationships. “We were four first-year doctoral students who decided we wanted to publish an article,” says James-Waldon. “We had no idea what it would take. But we worked together, supported each other and encouraged each other. We were required to do numerous edits, but we didn’t give up or give in. It was a process that helped prepare us as we begin our dissertation process, but also for a future in academia.” WU
(To read Team Variance’s published article, visit http://ijell.org. The editors thank Dr. Lynne Svenning.)