Changing Practice in an Ed.D. Program

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1 1 Changing Practice in an Ed.D. Program Beth Kania-Gosche, Lynda Leavitt, and Sherrie Wisdom In the Spring 2010 semester, an anonymous, electronic satisfaction survey was sent to all Ed.D. students (a population of about 250) at a medium size, private institution in the Midwest. The researchers aligned the survey to current literature on doctoral completion and the goals of the program using both Likert scale and open-ended questions. Professors in the program modified their courses using results from the survey, and program leaders worked to improve communication by revising the program handbook. In addition, more aspects of adult learning were incorporated into the program, since the population of students in this program was almost exclusively working adults. A similar survey was sent to students in the Spring of 2011 and demonstrated significant improvements in student satisfaction. The authors of this study would encourage other doctoral faculty to consider a similar survey to use as one piece of data to support program modifications. Introduction In 2010, the Council of Graduate Schools released a series of monographs revealing the results of their seven year Ph.D. Completion Project. This report indicated that doctoral programs need to create a culture of evidence to support any program modifications or policy revisions (p. 68). Other recommendations in this report included more support for students during the dissertation writing phase of their programs and better tracking of students throughout their program, particularly those who do not progress. As studies such as the Ph.D. Completion Project (Council of Graduate Schools, 2010) draw attention to the attrition rates of doctoral programs, many universities have turned their attention to dissertation completion. Research on dissertation completion varies across disciplines, often focusing on completion rates and time-to-degree as outcomes (e.g. de Valero, 2001) or quantitatively comparing factors that could predict completion (e.g. Seagram, Gould, & Pyke, 1998). Other research examined the demographics and completion of doctoral students in general in the United States, one example being Three Magic Letters: Getting to Ph.D. (Nettles & Millett, 2006). Few studies examine the changes in one program over time, although the Ph.D. Completion Project (Council of Graduate Schools, 2010) gave anecdotes of successful interventions including dissertation completion, a particular concern for faculty in the program studied for this research project. Most literature on dissertation completion focuses on traditional doctoral students who may have financial assistance through an assistantship, not adults with families working full time jobs. Students in this Ed.D. program, as typical of those in the field of education, often wait years or even decades after completing their master s degree to pursue a doctorate (Nettles & Millett, 2006). Almost all students in the program in this study worked full time, most in a K-12 suburban or urban public school, although with recent cutbacks in the region some of the population lost their jobs. Also, the majority of students in this program were female and about one-third of the student population was African American.

2 2 For research and program improvement, faculty at one private Midwestern institution surveyed their population of Ed.D. students. While admittedly a different population than typical Ph.D. students (Butin, 2010, p. 8), faculty in this Ed.D. program were concerned about the completion rate and the satisfaction of the students with their experience in the program. After a variety of modifications, based on strengths and weaknesses revealed in the survey data, the survey was repeated the next year to see if any improvement had occurred. This paper will summarize the changes from one year to the next in this program and if the Likert scale survey results demonstrated increased student satisfaction. Space does not permit analysis and reporting of the qualitative, open-ended questions on the survey. Overview of the Program of Study For the first time, during the Fall 2007 semester, the university opened its doors to aspiring doctoral students, the first doctoral program at this particular institution. The overwhelming response to the new program led to high enrollment, but two unexpected deaths of full time faculty members created confusion and inconsistency for students, particularly centered around the dissertations, which in the first year were read by both the Provost and the President of the University. The program consisted of two tracks: Educational Administration and Instructional Leadership, both under the umbrella of the Department of Educational Leadership. The Educational Administration track was designed for those who sought a career as a superintendent or building principal with coursework aligned to prepare for the Missouri Superintendency assessment and Advanced Certification in the state of Missouri. Although the majority of students were enrolled in this track when the program began, this track has become less popular as several other universities in the area have also begun Ed.D. programs targeting this population. The Instructional Leadership track was designed for individuals who wanted to focus on curriculum and instruction in a variety of contexts, including K-12 schools, higher education, business, and public service. The original program design across both tracks focused on the K-12 setting, but as the student population became more varied and the number of faculty grew, the Instructional Leadership track was differentiated in 2010 by designing two additional areas of emphasis; Andragogy (Adult Learning) and Higher Education. Over the past five years, inclusive of the school year, the program has seen a decline in doctoral student enrollment, viewed by the researchers as a leveling off period in which the demand is equalizing. Current active enrollment stands at about 250 students. The reduction of school districts who no longer supplement the cost of graduate degrees and the current number of educators who have been laid off due to state budgetary constraints are possible forces attributing to the decline in the number of doctoral student applicants. The number of doctoral faculty within the Educational Leadership department has increased since 2007, with the addition of the Andragogy and Higher Education tracks. Although there has been a decrease in the number of new students entering the researched university doctorate program, there are currently over 100 students who have completed all coursework, comprehensive exams but not completed the dissertation (ABD). The workload of the Educational Leadership faculty who teach, chair and serve as committee members has remained the same. The Ed.D. program of study follows the concurrent approach to dissertation writing (Willis, Inman, & Valenti, 2010). In this model, theoretically students complete assignments to help them progress toward dissertation completion while in coursework. Rather than 12 hours of dissertation credit hours at the end of the program, these research or dissertation hours are

3 3 imbedded in the program. This particular program uses three courses, two three credit hour courses and a final six hour course at the end of the program. Students in this program did not follow a formal cohort model; students could take the courses in any order, with the exception of the dissertation writing hours. This final course underwent much revision after analysis of the survey results. Methodology The overarching research question for this study was How do Ed.D. students perceive their doctoral program differently in 2011 than they did one year previously? This question was investigated quantitatively, comparing the Likert scale responses, by applying a z-test for difference in proportions. Cronbach alpha analysis revealed a 0.90 reliability on the Likert scale survey. Qualitative data for the open-ended questions will not be reported here. A set of Likert-scale statements were a part of the survey administered to Lindenwood University s Ed.D. students in the spring of 2010 and This survey was administered with both IRB and university approval. The survey was completely anonymous and was sent to all active Ed.D. student s university accounts. Response rates were 35% in 2010 and 40% in Respondents rated individual statement through use of a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 representing strong agreement, 3 representing neutrality, and 1 representing strong disagreement. Statements described characteristics of the structure of support provided for students enrolled in the doctoral program related to student support, academic rigor, and departmental-to-student communication. The responses were organized into the proportion of respondents in each Likert category for each individual statement. Proportions for scale categories 1 and 2 were then combined to represent group disagreement with the statement while proportions for scale categories 4 and 5 were combined to represent group agreement. This allowed analysis of the difference in agreement response rates to specific questions when comparing 2010 results to This organization of data allowed an examination of non-response rates, as well as additional analysis applied to each individual statement of the difference between proportions of students in agreement and those in disagreement. Results Students who took the survey were remarkably responsive with only thirteen statements in the 2010 survey received a non-response from one or more participants compared to six statements in the 2011 survey. An examination of response rates for both surveys revealed that all statements except one averaged a 3.0 or above rating. The statement, The Educational Leadership Speaker Series added value to my learning experience, yielded average ratings of 2.7 and 2.9 on the 2010 and 2011 surveys respectively, the lowest average both years. All other statements averaged ratings of 3.0 and above. Those statements earning a higher average rating of between agree (4) and strongly agree (5) for both yearly administrations of the survey were: The courses provided me with new ideas that are applicable in my working environment; My chair was informative; helpful and available; I had access to the faculty who taught courses within the Ed.D. program; and I felt free to express my opinion in class discussion and assignments. This indicates that the strengths of the program remained consistent both years the survey was given.

4 4 Student response to both surveys indicated significant overall agreement with statements. A z-test analysis for difference in proportions yielded a significant difference in the proportion of respondents in agreement with statements when compared to the proportion of respondents in disagreement. The 2010 survey results indicated significant agreement for 15 of its 20 statements while the 2011 survey results indicated significant agreement for 18 of its 21 statements. The statements common to both surveys yielding significant improvement from 2010 to 2011 included the following: Involvement in the program helped me to expand my connections with other colleagues in the region; The Professors challenged me in my coursework; The courses provided me with new ideas that are applicable in my working environment; The Capstone courses supported me when writing my dissertation; My advisor was informative; helpful and available; My chair was informative; helpful and available; I had access to the faculty who taught courses within the Ed.D. program; I felt the coursework (not Capstone courses) prepared me for the dissertation process. The School of Education website provided useful information; I use university once a week; The University's Ed.D. program has a reputation for excellence; The internship course provided me with experiences that translated theory into practice; I felt free to express my opinion in class discussion and assignments; and The professors implemented a wide variety of instructional strategies that met my learning styles. Since the researchers had different rates of response and thus different samples for each year, the responses were examined in terms of the proportion of students who agreed or disagreed with the statements. A z-test for difference in proportions was applied and four statements yielded an increase that was statistically significant, although fewer items were significant than in the previous analysis using averages. Also interesting to note are that several different items demonstrated a statistically significant improvement from 2010 to They are as follows: The Educational Leadership Speaker Series added value to my learning experience; Communication regarding Ed.D. policies and expectations was clear; Communication regarding Ed.D. policies and expectations was timely; and The University s Ed.D. program has a reputation for excellence. An examination of response to statements common to both surveys revealed a supporting downward trend in proportions of respondents in disagreement when comparing the 2011 survey results to those of 2010, indicating higher satisfaction with the program as measured by the survey. Discussion Results from both surveys indicated that students were, in general, satisfied with the program. The strengths of the program, according to the students, included the faculty and their accessibility to students, class discussion, and application of coursework to the workplace, indicating a respect for the adult learner. However, the weaknesses of the program included timely communication of policies and procedures and dissertation writing support. Students did not feel their coursework had prepared them for dissertation writing. After a presentation to the Ed.D. faculty, the authors of this study and others began to make changes based on the results as well as other data gathered such as completion rates. One basic change, which extended beyond the Ed.D. program, was to insist that all professors teaching in the School of Education use APA citation style. Open-ended survey responses from 2010 indicated that students struggled using this style and were unfamiliar with its use. The Dean of the School of Education stressed this at both full time and adjunct faculty meetings. In addition, materials were created such as Power Points and handouts to assist in APA

5 5 instruction, especially in the prevention of plagiarism. This aided in consistency, especially since the sixth edition of the APA manual had just been released. Several professors in the program began demanding more scholarly, rather than reflective, writing in their courses, even those not designed specifically to support dissertation writing. One professor who taught a Human Resources course began posting example papers and using Turnitin.com. Another professor required comparison/contrast papers, which many students could then use, with modification, in their literature review chapters. Both professors emphasized APA style, organization, and clarity with the students. Although the survey did not ask specifically which courses had challenged the student or prepared the student for dissertation writing, these two examples provide a representation of the small changes made in the coursework. A dramatic change in the coursework was the revision of the last dissertation writing course. Students who were ABD were invited to attend this course, which consisted of a series of workshops on varying aspects of dissertation writing. Consistent with adult learning, students completed a learning contract and chose which workshops to attend. The instructor of this course also created a template for the dissertations, to avoid student frustration with page numbers and section breaks as well as posting all course materials on a website accessible to any Ed.D. student in the program. In addition, to better prepare students for dissertation research, an advanced research course, either qualitative or quantitative, was added to the program, and a Leadership Seminar course was combined with another to keep the total number of credit hours required the same. While this change was only required for students entering the program in Fall of 2010, many students enrolled after that date have chosen to take one or both of the advanced research courses as electives. In the Summer of 2010, the Supervisor of Graduate Research, in collaboration with all other Ed.D. faculty and several student reviewers, revised the student handbook, consistent with the recommendations of the Ph.D. Completion Project (Council of Graduate Schools, 2010). Much of this revision involved the dissertation writing process. The process was clearly described for students, and checklists with expectations for dissertations and program completion were created. This handbook was reviewed with the entire Ed.D. student population in a session before one of the speakers brought in every semester. The revised handbook is available on the program website. Finally, the Ed.D. faculty continued to improve their processes for tracking students, in conjunction with university personnel. One of the frustrations of faculty was that if students had completed all coursework and failed to enroll in the zero hour, continuous enrollment course, their university was canceled. Better tracking of students and their contact information led to more accurate numbers in the continuous enrollment course. The Supervisor of Graduate Research is now listed as the instructor of this course, and she holds a meeting with these students each semester to track their progress and s the list of students regularly with opportunities for dissertation writing support. Conclusion While this study focused on one Ed.D. program, the authors of this paper would encourage other faculty to consider a similar survey or collection of data to determine student satisfaction. This data can then be analyzed for strengths and weaknesses to improve the program

6 6 and tracked longitudinally as changes are made. This study demonstrates that statistically significant improvement can occur in just one year. Although there are limitations with any selfreport, anonymous survey, the author of this study believe this method can gather valuable data about student perceptions and satisfaction. This data could ultimately impact retention as the program is and continues to be revised to better meet the needs of the students enrolled. References Butin, D. (2010). The Education Dissertation: A Guide for Practicing Scholars. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. Council of Graduate Schools (2010). Ph.D. completion and attrition: Policies and practices to promote student success. Washington, D.C.: Author. De Valero, Y.F. (2001). Departmental factors affecting time-to-degree and completion rates of doctoral students at one land grant institution. The Journal of Higher Education, 72(33), Golde, C.M. (2000). Should I stay or should I go? Student descriptions of the doctoral attrition process. Review of Higher Education, 23(2), Isaac, P.D., Quinlan, S. V., Walker, M.D. (1992). Faculty perceptions of the doctoral dissertation. The Journal of Higher Education, 63(3), Lovitts, B.E. (2007). Making the implicit explicit: Creating performance expectations for the dissertation. Sterling, VA: Stylus. Nettles, M.T. & Millett, C.M. (2006). Three magic letters: Getting to Ph.D. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Seagram, B.C., Gould, J., & Pyke, S.W. (1998). An investigation of gender and other variables on time to completion of doctoral degrees. Research in Higher Education, 39 (3), Willis, J., Inman, D., & Valenti, R. (2010). Completing a Professional Practice Dissertation. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing. Beth Kania-Gosche, Supervisor of Graduate Research, Lindenwood University, 504 S. Kingshighway, St. Charles, MO Lynda Leavitt, Assistant Professor, Lindenwood University, Sherrie Wisdom, Assistant Professor, Lindenwood University, Presented at the Midwest Research-to-Practice Conference in Adult, Continuing, and Community Education,

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