Student and Alumni Experience on Comprehensive Examinations in Doctoral Education at Fielding’s School Of Human And Organization Development -- Jackie Eder-Van Hook, Student, School of Human & Organization Development
In a perfect world, Comprehensive Examinations or “Comps” in doctoral programs would provide evidence of student achievement and programmatic performance. This study, an Internet-based survey of 46 students and alumni in a distance education doctoral program followed informal and unstructured individual interviews with seven faculty members in the School of HOD. The study highlights the experience of those 46 individuals.
Five key themes emerged from the data: (1) knowledge (e.g., demonstration, filling gaps, and reinforcement), (2) integration (e.g., deep thinking, synthesis), (3) reflection (e.g., student’s journey, developmental process), (4) skill building (e.g. writing, personal voice, critical thinking), and (5) feedback (e.g., nuance, presentation) in which respondents explained whether Comps prepared them for future doctoral work.
Feedback from students, alumni, and faculty made it clear that there is a great deal of confusion about purpose, process, and expectations of Comps. Except in some limited cases, the process does not seem to positively contribute to the student experience or enhance student outcomes. The findings included:
- Student and alumni participants alike indicated that the primary purpose of Comps was developmental (i.e. readiness for the dissertation) (39.1%), and secondly the integration of writing and thinking (39.1%).
- Of the participants who began or finished Comps, 38.3% indicated that Comps had prepared them for other doctoral work, while 61.7% said it did not prepare them for future work or they were uncertain as to whether it had any effect.
- Among the many suggestions from participants, critical ones included, clarify the purpose, analyze the administration of Comps vis-à-vis time to completion and/or graduation rates, clarify what Comps measures, and clarify how Comps integrates with the curriculum.