Virtual success: ASU Graduate College’s new online defense process

In March 2020, as more than 200 graduate students were preparing to finish their degrees by defending their thesis or dissertation, Arizona State University switched to online instruction in response to the growing spread of COVID-19. According to ASU graduate policy at the time, all student defenses were to take place in person and the quick transition to online instruction left these students uncertain about the process for completing their defenses in time to graduate.

Adapting to COVID-19 Pandemic

To address student concerns, the Graduate College worked quickly with the Provost’s Office to adapt the defense policy and process so that students could complete their defenses online using Zoom. In addition to quickly adapting existing policy, the Graduate Program Services and Data and IT teams updated the defense scheduling tool and quickly published new training guides and a video tutorial to help students transition smoothly to the new defense process.

New process, positive results

In spite of increasing anxiety around COVID-19, students were able to adjust to the new defense technology in order to complete their degree requirements, with the majority of students reporting that the Zoom features used in their virtual defenses like scheduling, screen sharing, and recording were easy to use. Students also reported that the Zoom virtual defense option offered unexpected benefits like enabling more people, including friends and family, to attend their defenses than would have been possible for an in-person defense. More than half of the students reported another unexpected benefit; they were able to record their defense and share it with others via email and/or social media. The result--more than 75% of students reported that, if they had to do it again, they would prefer to use Zoom for their defense either in a hybrid or completely virtual model.

Thanks to the overwhelmingly positive feedback from students on the current virtual defense process, it will remain in place through the Fall semester as the Graduate College continues to offer multiple ways for students to complete a thesis/dissertation defense.