Comps are done. Classes are done. First draft of lit. review and methods done for dissertation. First round of comments back from my advisor. Taking the advice of my advisor, I am not trying to change the education world with my dissertation ... just focusing on it as the next stepping stone in my journey (... and btw ... no, I don't know what I will be doing when I finish "it").
My dissertation focus is relatively (based on the others I've read) straightforward. Using a slightly modified version of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) survey instrument, I plan to survey several graduate level distance education courses at my university this semester. While all who have used the survey before capture a perception of learning measure, I will be seeking permission from students to access their actual final course grades. Yes, I know ... grades are not a perfect measure of actual learner performance and grades at the graduate level are usually of the A+, A, A-, B+, B, B-, Fail / Incomplete variety. However, a central criticism (Rourke & Kanuka, 2009) of prior CoI research is a lack of tie in to actual student performance. In other words, are the three presences embedded in the CoI (social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence) related to learning outcomes? (again ... yes, I know grades aren't a perfect measure of learning outcomes, but either are student perceptions of learning outcomes - which have been used exclusively to this point). I also plan to examine the discourse and interaction in one course to map the observed asynchronous and synchronous interactions with the perceptions of learners in the survey.
Rourke, L., & Kanuka, H. (2009). Learning in Communities of Inquiry: A Review of the Literature. The Journal of Distance Education, 23(1), 19-48.