In an initiative to provide online organizational and planning support to graduate students and faculty involved in the dissertation process, information and technology experts at the Rackham School of Graduate Studies and the Duderstadt Center have teamed up to create an interactive website to respond to the needs of doctoral students.

The website, called Grad Tools, was launched this December after more than four years of research conducted by a University team assigned to determine what needs of students, faculty and staff at Rackham could be met with technology.

So far, only 500 of the 6,600 Rackham doctoral students have logged into Grad Tools since its launch. Some of the website’s features include a checklist of dissertation writing tasks, a document-sharing feature for collaborative work and a calendar that can be viewed by dissertation committee members.

“These resources work as a roadmap for students to follow in completing their studies,” Monique Washington, assistant to the dean for admissions and academic services at Rackham said.

The Grad Tools project team hopes that more Rackham students will take advantage of the website’s resources, which Washington said will fill the gap of communication between students and their dissertation committee.

The decision to focus on the dissertation process was the result of a series of focus groups and a commissioned study conducted to look at the potential for an electronic thesis and dissertation effort at the University.

Michelle Bejian-Lotia, a usability specialist at the Duderstadt Center’s Usability Support and Evaluation Lab who designed the study, said the goal was to find new opportunities to support graduate students online. “Grad Tools establishes common ground and understanding of how and when things need to be done,” Bejian-Lotia said.

Mark Clague, an assistant professor of musicology who has asked students in his classes to sign on to Grad Tools, agreed.

“Grad Tools provides a structure students often lose in writing their dissertation. One of the challenges graduate students face is staying connected to their dissertation faculty, and Grad Tools responds to that.”

Bejian-Lotia said the feedback from students who have signed on to Grad Tools has been great.

“Students have been very enthusiastic. Now they’re more able to focus on research and the intellectual and less on (administrative tasks),” she said. “It’s just out there to be helpful, but it’s meeting a real need.”

Wendy Sanders, who received her doctorate in mechanical engineering last year, said that Grad Tools facilitates some of the administrative tasks that become overwhelming when writing a dissertation.      

“Grad Tools has a lot of powerful capabilities for grad students just starting out,” Sanders said.

A Grad Tools personal workspace can be accessed through the University’s widely used website Coursetools. The Grad Tools team has been holding training sessions for the website since December and will hold a demonstration on March 31 in the Rackham Assembly Hall on the fourth floor of the Rackham Building.

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