Remilyn Mueller & Jeff Cranmore from Grand Canyon University discuss the skills doctoral learners need to acquire and the potential EdTech tools that can aid them in their learning experiences.
Organizing notes, storing data, managing references, and writing in a scholarly manner are some of the skills doctoral learners must acquire and there are educational technological (EdTech) tools that can perfectly assist them as they learn and practice these skills. Roberts (2010) asserted that doctoral learners are likely to succeed in dissertation writing and graduate if they are more organized because it is crucial to meeting deadlines, performing tasks efficiently, and managing information for easy retrieval and usage. Being organized is integral in managing the research component in the doctoral journey which entails a systematic way of storing data, managing references, and writing in a scholarly manner. According to Elmore (2021), managing the research component is one of the most common challenges and a determining factor for doctoral learners’ success.
Doctoral learners have been organizing notes, storing files securely, managing references, and improving academic writing skills using traditional methods. However, technological innovations in EdTech tools can have these done in more efficient and effective ways. Gone are the days when notes were written on a physical notebook, files were saved on computers, flash drives, or sent on personal emails, references were written and organized on notecards, and written works were manually proofread by another person.
Today, doctoral learners can turn to the influx of technological innovations in EdTech tools to help them learn and acquire the skills in organizing notes, storing data, managing references, and improving academic writing. Exploring these technological innovations by looking at specific examples and discussing their functionalities, the doctoral learners can choose the right EdTech tools that suit their preferences and fit their needs.
What Doctoral Learners Need
Doctoral learners must take notes during the research process. Relevant information from the readings of journal articles plus other resource materials such as videos and films must be noted and organized (Roberts, 2010). However, aside from the written notes, useful information from screenshots, pictures, voice clips, videos, and so forth. must also be stored and organized and there are EdTech tools for note-taking that can save notes in different file formats.
Storing information and data is also an integral skill in the research process. The data collected will add information to the existing body of knowledge and must be stored securely (Roberts, 2010). Organizing, saving, and storing these resources safely for easy retrieval during the writing process is important (Randolf, 2009) and there are available EdTech tools with secured storage systems.
In research, managing the information of resources such as the authors, date of publication, name of journal publications, page numbers, and so on, for citation purposes is crucial. To avoid plagiarism, this information is needed when citing and acknowledging authors of other resources (Roberts, 2010). On what used to be physical notecards where this information was written and the risk of losing them easily, technological innovations made available EdTech tools which serve the same function and even better because of safe storage functions.
Lastly, research skills require an academic voice expressed in scholarly writing. Crafting all information from other authors and sources and weaving them together with the doctoral learners’ own findings would require a distinct academic voice expressed in a scholarly writing style (Randolf, 2009). Technological innovations made it possible to have a tool that will aid doctoral learners in improving their scholarly writing skills.
Tools for note-taking, mobile storage, reference management, and academic writing aids are great EdTech tools to start utilizing what technological innovations can offer to assist doctoral learners. These can be learned individually or they can be integrated into the design of coursework, residencies, and dissertation courses.
Technological Innovations in Educational Tools
Doctoral learners can discover and use EdTech tools at their own time, pace, and preferences to assist them in note-taking, mobile storage, reference management, and academic writing. Although there is a variety of EdTech tools with these functionalities, doctoral learners are often not aware of how utilizing these can help them in their doctoral journey. Getting acquainted and starting with a few educational technologies is the first step in discovering the wonders of technological innovations.
Effective note-taking is important in academic and professional settings because it can help with recollection, retention, comprehension, and learning (Deniozou et al., 2020). It is a skill effective for making better decisions, solving problems, and collaborating with others (Friedman, 2014) Listening well, grasping key concepts, and summarizing main points demonstrate understanding and learning and are evident in effective note-taking (Deniozou et al., 2020).
A good example of an EdTech tool for note-taking is Evernote. It has a free version that only requires a sign-up using a Google account. The premium versions for personal, professional, or team usage require payments upon subscription to maximize its full functionalities such as storage capacity, offline access everywhere, synchronization with calendar applications, and so forth. (Kerr et al., 2015). It can store notes with attachments in different formats such as files in MS Word document, PDF, MS Powerpoint, or MS Excel. Screenshots, photos, and audio recordings can also be captured and stored, and be part of a note. By using the “Tag” feature, retrieving a note using keywords on a search bar will produce the notes that have those keywords. Another feature of Evernote is its synchronicity across other devices such as phones, laptops, or desktops but the number of devices that notes can be synchronized in depends on whether it is a free version or a paid plan. Utilizing this feature means that wherever the doctoral learner is, they can write or capture the “notes” and store them in one place without having to update the file on another device.
Other EdTech tools for note-taking are Pages, Roketbook, Bear, Microsoft OneNote, Nimbus Note, Notability, Otter Voice Notes, and so on. Each tool has its own best features that the other may not have. Doctoral learners have the freedom to choose which of these EdTech tools for note-taking works best for them.
Storing files securely that can be easily retrieved anytime and anywhere is made possible by cloud storage technologies. The perceived usefulness, user-friendly features, facilitating conditions, and personal innovativeness are some of the users’ criteria for choosing a mobile storage application (Alharbi et. al, 2020). For doctoral learners, organizing and storing files securely is salient to the successful acquisition of research skills. Utilizing mobile storage to save and organize files during the coursework in the doctoral journey would familiarize the learner with its functionality making it easier to use it with confidence during the dissertation writing stage.
While the ability to save and access documents from any device is an advantage for learners, it does present some occasional challenges. Some storage programs will automatically save documents as individuals work on them. If learners want to keep some documents intact, such as previous feedback, they need to perform a “save as” to create a new document. Naming conventions differ from university to university; however, updating a date is a good practice to keep the most current version up to date. This can also prevent sending the wrong document back for various reviews.
One example of cloud or mobile storage is Google Drive. It is free cloud storage upon signing up with a Gmail account. Aside from its main function of storing files, Google Drive has many useful features for doctoral learners. It can create new files in different formats such as Word, Powerpoint, and Excel and saves automatically as changes are made in the working document. This tool provides assurance that the documents they are working on are safely stored, organized, and updated as they make changes to them (Calaunaa & Capelo, 2021). They do not have to keep saving them in different versions across different devices because it updates as soon as some changes are made in the document. The different versions of a document can also be retrieved from the version history. Through this tool, doctoral learners do not have to fear losing their files, especially their dissertation documents because of a virus or unintentional deletion. Deleted files will go to a trash bin that can be retrieved within 30 days. Aside from saving while working on a document, Google Drive can also store files such as journal articles, Powerpoint presentations, Excel files, screenshots, images, and video/audio recordings. Furthermore, files on Google Drive can also be shared with other people so they can also open and work on the same file even at the same time. This is very helpful when doing collaborative projects, or even when providing edits or suggestions on documents. All these can be organized into labeled folders for easy retrieval and access.
Once a person has a Google account, they can have access to other Google services such as photo storage, calendar, maps, messaging apps, and so forth. Google Drive, a cloud storage system, is just one of the many cloud storage tools online that are available. Other services for mobile storages are Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, iCloud, and Amazon Drive. Each one offers unique services depending on whether one subscribes to the free version or the paid version. Doctoral learners must explore the cloud or mobile storage services that are available and utilize its features to store, organize, and retrieve files securely.
Information of resources used in the coursework and for dissertation writing must be properly documented and saved. Such information may include the author’s name, date of publication, the title of the journal article, volume, issue, and page numbers, and the digital object identifier link. Product knowledge, experience, and skills are associated with the popularity and usage of a reference management system (Motlhake & Bopape, 2021). Learners utilize a reference management system for its basic purposes such as saving and organizing citations, retrieving and creating a reference list and exporting citations to be used in a paper (Motlhake & Bopape, 2021).
A good example of a reference management system is Mendeley. Mendeley is a reference management software that can assist a doctoral learner in organizing references. Scholarly academic papers required during coursework and a polished dissertation must be saturated in researched literature evidenced by its in-text citations and a substantial list of references. Details in the formatting of the in-text citations and reference list must be done accurately. While knowing how to do the formatting manually is ideal, using reference management software will not only help with the formatting but with the secured storage of references as well (Zahro & Nugraha, 2021). When writing the dissertation, the doctoral learner does not have to waste time searching for information and its references when they are organized in a reference management software like Mendeley where the original journal article can be attached, the annotation, and the reference details.
Other reference management software with similar functions are Zotero, Recite Works, RefWorks, EndNote, EasyBib, CiteULike, and so on. Mendeley may be one of the most user-friendly and popular among students of all levels; however, doctoral learners must explore a few reference management tools and choose the one they are most comfortable with and which works best for their writing needs.
Academic Writing Tools
The level of writing expectations for doctoral learners is considerably high and most learners would realize that they are unprepared to meet these expectations (Chittum & Bryant, 2014). Scholarly academic writing can be developed through practice and feedback. However, professors at the doctoral level are not expected to teach and correct all the intricacies of academic writing. Thus, utilizing technological innovations to improve academic writing skills is invaluable.
Grammarly is one technological innovation that can improve scholarly, academic writing skills. The free version of Grammarly can provide basic feedback such as spelling, punctuation, and grammar. However, paying the fee to maximize the premium services Grammarly offers can be a reasonable investment for those who need help in academic writing. With an annual, quarterly, or monthly subscription for the premium service, Grammarly will not only check for spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Grammarly will also help improve clarity, enhance vocabulary, strike the right tone, and help doctoral learners avoid plagiarism. A polished paper, for instance, a dissertation proposal, can save time when the writer clearly communicates what they want to express. These tools may also save the doctoral learner some fees in paying a proofreader to improve their work.
Microsoft Word also has free tools on the Editor feature that can provide the first round of editing that can be controlled by the author (Valenzuela & Benau, 2018). Using the File- Options- Proofing-Settings commands will take users to a menu of editing features where they can control what writing conventions, punctuations, or even stylistic considerations can be controlled. This option can be used to check common errors such as the use of the Oxford Comma, writing out numbers greater than 10, to more complex issues such as using inclusive language and avoiding jargon and colloquialisms.
Furthermore, other helpful features in MS Word to improve academic writing are often underutilized, and here are some of them:
- Tables and Charts. This easy-to-format and editable feature allows authors to create tables and charts inside their document. This is an advantage to creating tables in other programs and copying and pasting them. Often those images cannot be edited, which can lead to redoing the whole work if the information is updated.
- Track Changes and Comments. This is a tool to provide communication between the author and a reviewer. This is used quite often in doctoral writing. It is important to view the changes needed or suggested and to resolve them before submitting a clean copy. If the wrong view is selected, several track changes may still be present when submitting. This can delay formal submissions.
- These tools can be used to create headings, and update a table of contents to a larger document. Some universities have templates with styles pre-set. In other cases, authors may need to create their own styles.
Technological innovations in EdTech tools that help with the basic writing tasks in checking the spelling, punctuation, and grammar are usually free. Aside from the examples discussed, other proofreading tools that can help improve academic writing styles are Google Docs, Grammark, Wordrake, and Essayroo among many others. All these have their own unique functions and purposes. Some of these are only available online and the texts should be pasted on the site. Others offer several days of trials before charging a fee. Again, doctoral learners should explore what best suits their needs and if they can afford to pay the fee for premium services.
Recommendations for Future Research
Assessment of EdTech tools after the implementation is necessary to see if they have provided the solutions to the defined and refined needs (Lindl, 2017). The process of assessment and evaluation of EdTech tools is done in increments of time addressing problems as they arise (Ostrow et al. 2017). There are many possibilities for future research on this topic. First, the perceptions of doctoral learners who are already using tools similar to the functions of note-taking, file organizing, reference managing, and academic writing and how these have contributed to their overall well-being can be investigated. Future research can also experiment on the impact of providing training for doctoral learners on the usage of EdTech tools to their perceived quality experience in their doctoral journey.
Learning how to use EdTech tools can take time and lots of patience but once learned, they can do automation in a lot of otherwise manual work. These EdTech tools, namely: Evernote, Google Drive, Mendeley, Grammarly, and MS Word for note-taking, file storage, reference management, and academic writing, respectively are suggested for doctoral learners to try and start exploring the wonders and benefits of technological innovations in their doctoral journey.
Remilyn Mueller & Jeff Cranmore
Banner image: Ferenc Horvath, Unsplash
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