DENTON (UNT), Texas -- As the president and owner of a communication skills training firm in Brooklyn, N.Y., Josh Gordesky wasn't sure he'd have time to go to a university campus several times a week to take classes for a doctoral degree, which he says will allow him to teach outside of his firm.
"While I am building my business in the field of professional development training, I would like to add teaching in college as an area of expertise," he said.
When Gordesky learned that the University of North Texas College of Information would be offering its doctoral degree program in learning technologies mostly online, he knew it was the right academic program for him. He grew up nearby in Richardson and knew that UNT was "a reputable school that I could trust" and "one of the leaders of learning technologies, which is my passion."
In the summer of 2012, Gordesky became one of the first 24 students to enroll in the first cohort of the online doctoral degree program. Twenty-one more students enrolled last summer, with a third cohort scheduled to begin courses this June.
The program is the first online doctoral degree program at UNT, and one of the first online doctoral programs in Texas. Newly enrolled students begin the online courses in June and attend an annual meeting that same month to meet with others in their cohort and with the program's associate faculty members, who are assigned to the students for advising. The meeting coincides with the annual conference of the International Society for Technology in Education, which students are encouraged to attend to present their research.
Robert Wright said he and the other associate faculty members serve as everything from coaches, mentors and advisers to proofreaders and editors of students' work, contacting the students regularly by phone and e-mail.
"We help students on almost a weekly basis," said Wright, who earned his own doctoral degree in the field in 2012 via UNT's traditional residential program in learning technologies. He noted that all doctoral programs are colleges' and universities' most intense academic programs "in terms of advising and coaching," because most students also have full-time jobs and family responsibilities, and many may have not been in an academic degree program for years.
"Time management is usually the biggest challenge for them. I find myself reminding students that they can do too much, and they need to learn to juggle their careers and personal lives with school without burning out," Wright said.
Jennifer Miller said she "doesn't have to see faculty face-to-face to know they care." A technology coordinator for the school district in the West Texas town of Dublin, Miller said earning her doctoral degree online has been "a life changing event" for her.
"Students living in different countries are in the program, and I'm broadening my global network by working on the same project with them," she said.
Miller's research involves 3-D fabrication and robotics as part of middle school students' instruction. After receiving her doctoral degree, she hopes to work at a university and direct an after-school research program in math, science, engineering and technology for middle school students.
Alana Phillips is also interested in using technology to motivate middle school students and instruct teachers about online teaching methods. A 21-year Army veteran who worked as a personnel and automation officer before becoming a middle school teacher, Phillips learned about the online doctoral degree in learning technologies when she accompanied her daughter to freshman orientation at UNT.
"I liked wearing a headset and walking around in my home while I was in class, and being able to be with my family while I was listening to the class," said Phillips, who also liked the online program's flexibility that allowed her to start attending classes at UNT after she and her family moved to Sanger.
Greg Jones, UNT associate professor of learning technologies and the program's director, said the College of Information's Department of Learning Technologies began the online program partially to "provide opportunities for students to study with us beyond the North Texas region" since peer universities "usually consider that UNT is among the top universities in the nation for learning technology.
"We were in the right time to put the online program together, and we have been very pleased by the interest," he said. "We have excellent doctoral students who are excited and energetic about their studies and research, which makes it all the better for us as faculty."
Jones added more than 80 percent of students who started the online program "are continuing to make positive academic progress" and are "on track to complete their degrees within the targeted four and half years."
The next cohort of online students will begin the program this summer.