Dr. Amanda Durall never imagined that she would complete her doctorate in the backseat of her minivan in the middle of a global pandemic.
“My dissertation year was a crazy experience, to say the least,” said Durall, an associate lecturer in exercise science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
She had twin girls in January 2020 and finished her online EdD in kinesiology dissertation while on bedrest and in between countless trips to the neonatal intensive care unit. When they arrived home in February, Durall prepared to defend her dissertation while caring for the two newborns.
On the day of her defense, March 24, Durall was nervous and sleep-deprived. The World Health Organization had recently declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a pandemic, many states had issued stay-at-home orders, and the UNCG community was adjusting to online instruction.
Despite the stress of the current atmosphere, Durall and her committee remained in good spirits throughout her virtual presentation, “The Effects of an Experiential Adapted Fitness Course on Students’ Attitudes Toward Adults with Intellectual Disabilities.”
Everyone got a good laugh out of my ‘office,’ which was the backseat of my minivan.Durall
The EdD in kinesiology at UNCG Greensboro is the only online program nationwide and only one of two online EdD programs in the entire UNC System. The program is in its sixth year.
Due to its online nature, when the University made the call to move classes online, the program didn’t skip a beat.
“We are ahead of the curve, our students and faculty are prepared for this new reality,” said Dr. Pam Brown, professor and director of the EdD in kinesiology program. “We have students and alumni who have sent messages to say that some of the courses, and the overall experience in the program, has prepared them to transition their own courses online as a result of the current situation.”
The 16 candidates who defended their dissertations this spring received detailed information and instructions prior to their virtual defense. Presentations were held using WebEx and Zoom and lasted about an hour, including the topic defense, a Q&A, committee discussion and presenter discussion.
“It really was a way for students to finish as planned,” Brown said. “And find some normalcy in the current crazy world.”
Committee members received a reminder about virtual meeting etiquette: “Ideally you will enter the room before the presenter begins, but since this is virtual, it is okay to come/go from sessions as long as you have your mic muted and do so without disrupting the presentation. If you want to keep your own camera muted that is also an option and a good one if you are actively doing other things while listening/watching the presentation. Act as if you are coming to an in-person presentation – be considerate of the presenter and others.
”While it was business as usual for the EdD in kinesiology students and faculty, who were used to conducting classes and presentations online, the pandemic created unexpected challenges for students.
Defenses were always going to be virtual, so nothing changed there, but the stay-at-home orders across the country did change a lot.
Dr. Shannon Cross, a lecturer in kinesiology at California State University, Los Angeles
California’s stay-at-home orders were mandated by the state on March 19. Cross had been off campus for a week conducting online instruction.
“All of this meant that the week prior to defending, I was frantically working to get my courses online, and the week of, I was dealing with students and technology issues via email and web conferencing,” Cross said. “It also meant the internet was massively overloaded because everyone was on the internet now working from home.”
Three days prior to her defense, she was having bandwidth issues with her internet. When she reached out to Brown, however, she was reassured they would work something out if she could not access the internet on the day of her defense.
“This was comforting, knowing my defense wouldn’t be sacrificed if something beyond my control ended up occurring,” she said.
Luckily, Cross found a faster network and successfully completed her defense on March 25.
Dr. Christine Rockey said the pandemic led to additional anxiety. When states began issuing stay-at-home orders, she grew nervous that they would have to postpone defenses because committee members may be tied up in the transition to online classes or dealing with other issues.
“I was and am very grateful that they arranged everything through WebEx and Google Hangouts to allow our defenses to go on as scheduled,” said Rockey, senior lecturer at Coastal Carolina University in Conway. “It seems weird that four years of work leads up to one day, and it is great that we have all learned so much both academically and socially. I have met friends that I will have for a lifetime, and I am grateful for almost every part of this process.”
The 2020 EdD in kinesiology graduates agree that their dissertation defense experience is one they won’t soon forget.
“Aside from finishing my doctorate, all of these other factors made for an absolutely unforgettable experience,” Durall said. “One that I can’t wait to share with my girls someday.”
Story by Elizabeth L. Harrison
Photography courtesy of Dr. Pam Brown