Distance PhD in Philosophy?


The Philosophy Department at Staffordshire University is advertising a new distance-learning option for its PhD program:

Our doctoral programme can now be run on either an attendance or distance learning basis. The principles are the same – i.e. a course of high-level supervised research leading to a substantial and original thesis. However, the supervision happens online instead of in person, for example by Skype, email, or similar. In other words, as a distance learning PhD student, you can pursue your work from wherever in the world you live, and whatever your schedule. Our aim is to make your experience of doing a PhD by distance learning as professionally and personally enriching as it would be by attendance.

The philosophers at Staffordshire seem sensitive to the kinds of obstacles distance-learning presents. They add:

the monitoring of distance learning doctoral students will be more frequent, to try to ensure that the lack of face to face contact does not cause students to ‘drift off’ from their studies. This means that we will ask you to report regularly on your progress and your activities. Likewise, we will insist that you participate fully in the virtual life of the department, through online discussion forums, reading groups, organising virtual conferences, contributing to special online events, planning and delivering online learning materials, sitting in where relevant on online Masters courses, and etc…

 …distance learning study will normally only be available part time, and only candidates with extraordinarily high qualifications and references will be considered for full-time study in this mode.

I am curious what philosophers elsewhere think of the idea of a distance-learning PhD program, and whether their departments offer one (or are considering offering one). I imagine there is some resistance to the idea that extends beyond prejudice against the unfamiliar and it would be good to get those concerns out on the table, so they can be compared with the reasons that count in its favor (such as accessibility, cost control, etc.).

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Buck Field
6 years ago

While cost is always a significant consideration, I am thrilled by the prospect of being able to pursue a PhD in philosophy of science, even on Rapa Nui.Report

JDRox
JDRox
6 years ago

It is hard for me to see how this could provide comparable training to a “residential” PhD. I forget exactly how the saying goes, but it’s something like “half of what you learn in grad school you learn from talking with your peers”. That seems about right. I assume “distance” PhD programs will not offer TA ships, or maybe the offer online teaching opportunities? In either case, I don’t think they will produce people prepared to teach in the classroom, which I would think would be a problem for hiring committees. The last point I’ll make here is that learning how to have intense philosophical conversations without offending the other involved parties is an important skill that one normally learns, largely, in graduate school, but that would be much harder to learn in a “distance” grad program.Report

Anonymous TT
Anonymous TT
6 years ago

My department runs a distance learning PhD program (to avoid defending or debating any specific program, I will leave the name out). It is hard to dispute that a distance learning PhD will not be as valuable as one done in person. However, it is already true that different programs offer higher or lower quality experiences than other programs. For example, a standard US program will involve 3 years of taught courses involving 12-15 week terms, 5-7 years total in the program, extensive teaching experience, and multiple hoops to jump through to complete the degree (language requirements, comprehensive exams, qualifying papers, etc.) This in contrast to UK and Australian universities, for example, where there is no taught component, fewer evaluated qualifying efforts, and fewer teaching opportunities. So differential quality of provision is already built into the higher ed system. Even with universities that have exactly the same requirements, most people see a difference in quality between a degree from MIT and one from an unranked program.
One thing I would note is that most students I come across pursuing PhDs by distance are doing so for reasons that seem good enough and they don’t anticipate becoming TT faculty at great universities. We supervise students who are already teaching, say, in community colleges, but would like the degree to advance their careers but cannot move family to pursue the PhD in person. We also supervise students who are at the end of a professional career and are now simply pursuing the degree for the intellectual pursuit. And we supervise many international students who are already teaching in universities in predominantly low income countries who either for financial our visa reasons cannot do the in person degree. One could dispute whether such people should be allowed to received the degree of PhD if the program does not include many of the in-person components, but I don’t share that view.Report

Christina
Christina
Reply to  Anonymous TT
4 years ago

Would you be willing to email the name of your department to someone who is interesting in looking into its online program?Report

Gray
Gray
6 years ago

I don’t think you’re necessarily wrong but I just wanted to make a couple of points on the other side. I did my undergraduate degree via distance, and while it’s true that certain skills like face to face debating are less likely to be developed, the stronger focus on writing in forums, I found anyway, encourages focused development in another set of skills crucial to philosophy, in particular comprehension, structure of argument, clarity of expression, etc. The back and forth nature of forum discussions and the ‘permanency’ of published language encourages students to think carefully, firstly about the opposing argument, but also about their own response. It fosters the kind of ‘slow’ philosophy that I think is crucial (I’m setting that up against what I see as the potential for a kind of ‘rapid’ quick fire type of philosophical debate that sometimes occurs in face to face discussion, but of course both occur in either medium.) Your point about most of what you learn from your peers I think is correct, but I don’t really see it as a problem here. As someone who has very few peers interested in philosophy and who did his undergraduate online, I’ve had a whole globe of people to learn from and discuss and debate with on the internet. I genuinely think that part of the reason I did well in my undergraduate degree and got in to my program was because I had that background and resource. Now that I’m doing my postgrad on campus, while I’m stoked at the opportunity to meet ‘real’ people, face to face, who share my interest in philosophy, in terms of the breadth of views and approaches, compared to my experience in the online space, I actually find it quite a bit more confined in a great many ways.

Hiring committees may overlook distance students in the short term, for the reason you mentioned, that they’re ill prepared for teaching, but if distance education becomes a viable pathway for PhD students then it will need a wave of future teachers who are equipped with the skills to teach in the online space, which distance students will be well-placed to take on, while those trained in traditional ‘face-to-face’ methods may not be.Report

J D
J D
5 years ago

I would like to see a list of online PhD in Philosophy programs that are regionally accredited in the United States. Are there any?Report

PJPereira
5 years ago

I am thrilled that doctoral degrees are being offered through distance education. Folks who seek a degree through distance learning may have had enough socialization through face-to-face interaction in school; or they may be teaching at a school.

If an argument can be made that a distance-learning degree does not offer offer comparable training to a traditional class-room attendance degree, it can be argued also that a classroom-attendance degree does not offer comparable training to a distance-learning degree.

I say this because distance-learning may revolutionize education in the same way that the Internet has revolutionized culture–and those scholars who are not familiar with distance-learning tools may find challenges in staying ahead the curve.Report

Jay
Jay
5 years ago

Does anyone know if any schools in the UK offer an online PhD program in analytic phil (instead of of continental)? What Staffordshire is offering looks great, but I am looking for Anglo-American oriented meta/epist, action theory and phil of relig. Report

Nick
Nick
5 years ago

Did I miss the postings about which Departments in the English speaking world offer PHD’s in Philosophy? I see just one, Staffodshire in the UK. Although it looks like they have at least one or two staff members that are working in at least one of my areas of interest in the UK. As someone stated above I would be looking for a program that had some Analytic-Phil options as well. I am personally quite interested in issues at the intersection of Phenomenology on the Continental side and Philosophy of Mind/Neuroscience on the Analytic side. If there are any other programs that meet these criteria please list them. Report

Michael Franke
Michael Franke
5 years ago

Without a distance learning option, the barriers to an advanced degree in a field like philosophy are substantial. I have been a technology professional for 30 years. I missed my chance, many years ago, to take a fork in my road that would have me to a philosophy degree. Now, I find myself at a stage of life where pursuing an advanced degree in the field where I still have a lot of passion is again a possibility — IF I could do it on line.

My personal interest is in ethics of technology. I believe that the field, and, in fact, the world, needs people like me — with experience in technology — to be educated in philosophy. I feel very strongly about that. I think we need people who can speak both languages.

As such, I feel that distance learning in philosophy is not only a good idea, it’s a moral imperative. Bravo!Report

Nick
Nick
Reply to  Michael Franke
5 years ago

Hi all. BIG news for those looking for a distance learning MA and PHD.
Birmingham has an excellent distance learning program with staff covering nearly every area of analytic philosophy save historical emphasis. The regular fulltime faculty is solid. What blew my mind was when I saw the faculty page and I saw the likes of Kit Fine, Paul Boghousin, Harty Field just to name a few. I was perplexed. Had Birmingham come in and stripped a large segment of some of NYU top faculty? It turns out besides the regular faculty (which again is strong) there are several quarter appointments. But they are open to work with grad students. I e-mailed Kit Fine personally and asked if he was open to working with Birmingham grad students (me inparticular) in the capacity of a dissertation committee member. Sure enough. There are currently about 4 students pursuing the distance PHD.
There is a one week residency requirement once per year and as far as I can tell the funding at UK programs, in particular the distance program doesn’t appear to be as strong as US programs.Report

Alberto Casasus
Alberto Casasus
Reply to  Michael Franke
2 years ago

I realize that you posted a while ago and I am answering in 2019, but have you looked at the Humanities Ph.D. program offered by Salve Regina University? It explores the human-technology relationship and is mostly online, with some short residencies required.Report

Alejandro Salazar
Alejandro Salazar
4 years ago

It really does not matter, whether a distance learning program gives a person the ability, either in a formal or empirical way. A person chosen to do the work is one who already has proved, through the bachelors program (I at least had to teach for a whole year to get my degree), that he can do that. As for conversations go, without offending one another, is enough that one is familiar with what went on on the Agora. Now a days, people are just too sensible and get offended easily. Philosophy is a Leidenshaft, and my perception is that philosopher discuss and learn and grow, yes, through alternate changes of perspective and views, but also just the same, with and against or for with dead people. So… let the work talk for itself. Anyone with a formation in philosophy (not enough to make one a philosopher, though) is capable enough to recognize and accept. Im all for the distance learning program. Not everyone can (for many reasons) be present and learn through a body or mouth count. Philosophers read. And learn to learn from reading.Report