Well, since I’ve now officially changed my affiliation on LinkedIn, I suppose it’s time to announce here that I am, after a year’s hiatus, returning to academia. I have been appointed a “faculty mentor” in the college of business and technology management at Northcentral University, based in Prescott Valley AZ. Northcentral is another all online institution operating in the same general domain as my previous employer, Trident University. However, there are some interesting differences between the two institutions. Northcentral operates on a one-to-one faculty/student ratio, at least as far as the students are concerned. Students can begin courses at any time, and work with their faculty mentor through the course work. Trident, on the other hand, operates on more of a traditional course/term schedule, largely indistinguishable from that of a face-to-face University except for its year-round operation. Whether this difference in the pedagogical model translates into significant differences in student performance and learning, I have yet to determine; I’m starting with my first students on Monday. I will keep you posted on this.
It’s certainly not my intent to criticize Trident in any particular way; I hope it won’t be interpreted as such to say that Northcentral’s infrastructure and facilities have actually implemented many of the innovations that I urged for many years at Trident. In particular, Northcentral has a much more extensive library then Trident was able to assemble, along with a trained team of librarians who are able to assist both faculty and students, just like a traditional FTF university library. I have already been able to use this library for some professional research, and it is both easy to use and quite extensive in terms of database coverage and availability of journals. I have written earlier about the difficulties of being an independent scholar without regular university library access. I cannot tell you what a relief it is to have this access restored, and to feel myself once again a participating member of the academy.
Northcentral has also implemented extensive and well-designed Internet portals for both faculty and students. While the look and feel of both could be rendered a bit more snazzy, both portals are extremely functional and should be relatively easy to use to manage communication between students and faculty. The portals are not merely storage devices for submitted papers, but full-fledged information sources and excellent general management tools. Again, I don’t know precisely how these portals work in practice in the middle of a crunch of student work, but having urged Trident to implement such student contact mechanisms for many years without success, I look forward to seeing how they do work.
Northcentral also deserves praise for its new faculty training. Following the model of a NCU course, new faculty have the opportunity to practice both using the tools and understanding the range of options provided. There’s a whole office devoted to managing faculty relationships, called the Center for Faculty Excellence. I’ve been very impressed with the people I’ve met they are thus far. I hope to be able to reconstruct some of the kinds of faculty collegial relationships that I have had for the past 25 years or so at my other universities. It will be interesting to be on the other side of the adjunct/core faculty divide for a change; at the least, it will be good for my pride.
This is, however, still simply a part-time position, and even if I also take a second similar position at another university (the possibility in the works), I’ll still be for a relatively large portion of my time an independent scholar. I’m hoping to fill some of this time with a new career I’m developing as an independent coach/consultant to students working on their dissertations at other universities. Over the years, I have supervised over 40 dissertations, many of them entirely online, and been a member of at least that many more committees. In short, I know a whole lot about how to help students through the dissertation, and the kinds of issues that arise and the kinds of help that are often needed. Not to criticize doctoral faculty at any particular institution, but many of them have not had a great deal of experience with such work or the kind of breadth of research experience with all kinds of methodologies and analytical techniques that I’ve been privileged to have. Plus I am actually pretty damn good at working with students, as many of them might testify. I have yet to work out the details of my business model or exactly how to structure the effort – I do hope to involve some former colleagues who think about dissertations the way I do in this effort – and I’m not quite sure what shape the program will take. There are also a lot of other coaches/consultants out there, and I’ll need to be able to establish my own brand with its unique advantages. I will keep you all posted on this effort as well. In the meantime if you know of any students who might potentially benefit from such a relationship, let them know that they might contact me to explore possibilities. I won’t be precisely cheap, but I will be reasonable.
Well, here we are at a fairly major transition point toward the rest of my life. The last year has been very difficult, but I believe that the silver linings are beginning to show through and that next year or two will mark renewed progress toward an effective story (if you don’t know what that means yet, watch this space – I’ll be exploring it one of these days. I will certainly be continuing to maintain and extend this blog and website, including a special page dealing with the dissertation consulting business. I hope you will all stay with me and wish me well for this next phase of my life.