May 29th, 2019
On Thursday, May 23, a Symposium on Electronic Theses and Dissertations was held at Purdue University. Ashlee Messersmith, manager, thesis/dissertation, The Graduate School at Purdue University, and Michael Witt, associate professor, Purdue Libraries and School of Information Studies, organized the event, with support from the United States Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Association (USETDA).
By Michael Witt, Head, Distributed Data Curation Center (D2C2), and Associate Professor of Library Science
The presenters at the Symposium on Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETD) highlighted a wide variety of creative works produced by graduate students in earning their degrees, such as:
Graduate students will typically prepare and defend a written thesis, even if their research can be communicated in a more meaningful or impactful format than a document. There are other examples, such as software source code and research data, videos and photos from exhibits and performances, mixed media, dynamic websites, and much more produced by students; but this type of content is often left out of a traditional thesis.
In some cases, these non-traditional works could be considered as the primary product of the students’ scholarship — without the need for a written thesis.
Recent changes to the policies of Purdue’s Graduate School reflect a progressive approach and support for non-traditional theses, embracing both the opportunities and challenges they present for the Purdue’s faculty, thesis office, and libraries.
“As emerging technologies continue to influence higher education, we needed to set a precedent through which students are permitted to express their creativity,” Messersmith explained. “Exploring these influences and their implications was the focus of the symposium, which was held in the Wilmeth Active Learning Center. We invited experts to share ideas and brainstorm with participants who supervise theses and manage the processes and platforms for producing and archiving them.”
The opening keynote presentation by Professor and Dean of Libraries at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Martin Halbert addressed the landscape and life cycle of electronic theses and dissertations, as well as the ETDPlus resource.
The closing keynote, delivered by Jean-Pierre Hérubel, professor, Purdue Libraries and School of Information Studies, dove into the history and culture of the doctoral dissertation, as well as variations and transformations of its purpose and form.
Other presentations from Purdue faculty and staff explored issues related to student perspectives, digital humanities, graduate college policies, research data management, digital preservation, and scholarly publishing. Throughout the symposium, participants discussed important questions related to sharing current practices; interfacing with faculty to observe and respect local cultures related to credentialing students; identifying concerns and opportunities for graduate colleges, libraries, and technology providers; and increasing collaboration within the University and among universities. A lively round of lightning talks in the afternoon featured specific examples of theses that challenge conventions from other universities.
Presentation slides and collaborative notes from the symposium are available on Purdue Libraries and School of Information Studies’ e-Pubs repository at https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/etdgiantleaps/.
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