Process Considerations for the Development and Assessment of Virtual Education Doctorates

Process Considerations for the Development and Assessment of Virtual Education Doctorates

Erika Prager (Northcentral University, USA), Barbara M. Hall (Northcentral University, USA), Laurie Wellner (Northcentral University, USA), B. Andrew Riggle (Northcentral University, USA) and Robin Throne (Northcentral University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1622-5.ch008

Abstract

This chapter focuses on the use of a customized backward instructional design process used to re-engineer a virtual university's integration of institutional learning outcomes within a practice-based online dissertation process for a doctorate in education (EdD). The EdD will incorporate specialization areas in instructional design, learning analytics, and e-learning and through a lens of best assessment practices for doctoral education. This program will highlight the unique considerations for virtual environments especially those that incorporate asynchronous instructional elements in program and course design. The education doctorate is leadership-based and practitioner-focused to prepare candidates as scholar practitioners who utilize the learning outcomes for research-based decision making and problem solutions within their scope of practice. A new three chapter dissertation allows candidates to solve a practice-based problem as a culminating doctoral learning activity which will be assessed across institutional outcomes and expectations.
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Introduction

The education doctorate or Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) is a leadership-based/practitioner-focused terminal degree developed for the purpose of preparing candidates as scholars who utilize best-practice research for decision-making, effective real-world leadership, and outcome-based applied problem-solving within the individual practitioner’s scope of practice. The practice-based dissertation, now a component of the redesigned Ed.D. program of study presented in this case, allows candidates to address a field-based problem as a culminating doctoral learning activity. The revised Ed.D. program is assessed across institutional outcomes and expectations with the intent of the Ed.D. dissertation research study to serve as a rigorous culminating activity related to the practitioner’s field of study. Topolka-Jorissen and Wang (2015) stressed the importance of program redesign for Ed.D. degrees due to the significant implications for practice, ensuring carefully selected learning outcomes and structures support the development of effective applied leaders. Further emphasis on the integration of institutional and program learning assessment within the redesign was added as a further enhancement and measurement for program effectiveness.

The original Ed.D. program was first revised in 2012 to align with the Guiding Principles of the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED). The establishment of complex practice-based problems serving as the focus of Ed.D. research has been well documented within the literature (Hawkes & Yerrabati, 2018; Perry, 2015). The relevant literature has also expanded in recent years with reports of re-engineered Ed.D. programs and improved practice-based initiatives within practitioner doctorates driven by an advising framework specifically to facilitate the improved Ed.D. (Buss et al., 2017). Further, the preparation of scholar practitioners engaged within an online doctoral community of practice through the inquiry-as-practice model and the use of high-mentoring, technology-rich resources led to improved Ed.D. persistence and completion (Throne, Shaw, Fore, Duffy, & Clowes, 2015).

In 2016, the Ed.D. degree program underwent a five-year academic program review focused on improving student persistence, scholar-practitioner preparation, and dissertation completion in practitioner doctoral programs (Throne & Duffy, 2016). The following year, Northcentral University conducted an annual program review resulting in further changes and substantive enhancements targeting improved program entry foundational skill development, sequence and scaffolding of graduate-level research skill development, and innovation in practice-based research for a dissertation-in-practice (DIP). Finally, a task force was created in 2017 comprised of administrators, faculty, and other stakeholders called upon to again to make extensive revisions to the existing Ed.D. based on the analysis and results of these previous reviews. This updated Ed.D. program successfully launched in early 2019.

Based on student perceptions noted through informal communication between faculty and students and through ongoing student satisfaction and graduation surveys, University leaders identified a need to develop clear and distinguishable differences between the Ed.D. as a practitioner-based doctorate compared to the more traditional theoretical-based PhD degree program. As both degree programs are delivered similarly via the online teaching and learning platform employing an asynchronous, one-to-one learning model, a clear delineation was necessary to ensure that students and advisors could recognize the distinctions between the two programs and choose the program best aligning with the personal learning goals and objectives of the students. Starting with the end in mind, the culminating learning experiences in each of these two programs could demonstrate these distinct differences in the program expectations and student preparation as well as the outcome of the program components. Thus, the Ed.D. degree program was re-aligned to ensure the dissertation research was focused on the complex problems of real-world application.

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