DoctoralNet: An Innovative Digital Platform for Postgraduate Research Students
Dublin City University
This innovation provides an online platform with
a range of tools for supporting postgraduate research students. The case study
describes how Dublin City University has been using a subscription-based service
known as DoctoralNet to enhance postgraduate completion rates and the overall experience of
The major objective of this innovation was to
provide a suite of online tools and services to enhance the postgraduate
research student experience and more specifically support the development of
research proposals, completion of thesis writing and dissemination of findings.
The current set of tools and features available
through DoctoralNet include:
A branded university level portal
where research students can sign in to locate all relevant resources for
postgraduate study. For example see https://dcu.doctoralnet.com
A range of opt-in tools
students can choose when they require additional or more personalised support
during the research process. Many of these resources can be sent to the student
privately either by the Graduate Studies Office or the supervisor, and accessed
through the DoctoralNet app.
Webinars and the
international groups in which those conversations are embedded are a favorite
for many students giving them not only new or refresher knowledge but
membership in a bigger network. Some of
these services require specialized IT tools and DoctoralNet partners with an
outside company for their production.
Importantly, these tools for supporting research students are offered as
open educational resources (OERs). For
examples visit: https://www.bigmarker.com/communities/doctoralnet/conferences
Several major outcomes underpin our increased
understanding of postgraduate use of these digital tools:
Students don’t know what
they don’t know – while pedagogically driven supports underlie the technology,
students tend to hunt and peck until they find the resources they need.
Wellbeing and work-life
balance are significant challenges, especially for the part time, distant
postgraduate student and these wrap around services need to be included as
Universities will not
adequately predict which students will need the services. Everyone was surprised by some of the usage
results, such as full-time and part-time being about equal. Therefore, costs of
services need to be low enough that everyone has access.
Technology changes quickly
and students expect universities to keep up with the times, requiring
collaborative effort between the university and the technology provider.
Lessons about Innovation
We have learned that innovation in both
technology and how to continue to grow supports and services for research
students is an ongoing process. More specifically, the services available
through DoctoralNet need to be embedded in the range of existing resources available to
postgraduate research students rather than seen as an ‘add on’ solution to the
challenge of student success. Additionally, we now better understand the
importance of personalizing the tools and resources to meet individual students’
needs depending on their progress and the nature of their research.
How it Challenges Conventional Thinking
We have found that you can support
postgraduate research students in ways that go beyond traditional models of
supervision. Also we have discovered that you can’t predict who will need or
use the tools available through DoctoralNet. For example, both the strongest and the weakest postgraduate students
use the tools. Moreover, while Business, Health and Social Sciences faculty may
perceive the greatest need, STEM students use the digital tools as well.