Reimagining the Doctoral Learning Experience

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1 Reimagining the Doctoral Learning Experience

2 WALDEN UNIVERSITY was founded in 1970 as a doctorate-granting institution for working professionals. Supported by a diverse and global faculty of leading scholar-practitioners and researchers in their fields, Walden doctoral students are able to dedicate themselves to research topics that fulfill their own interests and passions. As a result, Walden graduates are prepared to make a tangible impact in their communities and increase their influence within their professions, which is the signature of the Walden doctoral learning experience. Today, the university pioneers and looks to developments in doctoral curricula, including evolving technologies and opportunities to blend multiple delivery models through courses and programs as well as enhancing in-person doctoral residencies, to enrich the doctoral experience.

3 A Focus on Applying Knowledge to CREATE POSITIVE CHANGE At Walden, we recognize the special role that doctoral training plays in the contribution to academic literature as well as in the creation and transmission of knowledge across multiple fields of study (Golde, 2006). Walden doctoral students are encouraged to actively disseminate knowledge gained through research through publication and application of knowledge to problems affecting society. Many traditional doctoral programs prepare graduates with the assumption that nearly all will seek and obtain academic appointments after graduation. Yet the role of the doctorate in society is changing. In particular, close to half of doctoral graduates across the United States now take positions outside of academia (National Science Foundation, 2012). The emerging applied use of the doctorate beyond faculty positions highlights the reality that doctoral education makes a distinct contribution to professions outside of academia. Informed by the university s mission of positive social change, Walden s doctoral education is inspiring students and graduates to aim broadly to impact their communities with DOCTORAL EDUCATION MAKES A DISTINCT CONTRIBUTION TO PROFESSIONS OUTSIDE OF ACADEMIA. practical applications of their academic achievements. While there is a clear distinction between research and professional doctorates in demonstration of research (Council of Graduate Schools, 2007), at Walden, the difference is in the degree of direct focus on application in the doctoral capstone. Both research and professional doctorates reflect core knowledge of the discipline, encourage fundamental research skills, and require the student to demonstrate program knowledge and skills with an eye toward positive social change (Walden University Professional Doctorate Working Group, 2012). Students completing research doctorates at Walden are required to explain how new knowledge may be applied in the field to advance positive social change. Students completing professional doctorates, by contrast, are expected to actually demonstrate the application of research to a specific local problem. 3

4 A STUDENT-DRIVEN Doctoral Experience The graduate culture of Walden emphasizes the development of the student as a contributor to the greater good via scholarship. Similar to other doctoral programs, independent student research takes place following a broad training in research methods and grounding in the core knowledge of the discipline. Students undertake a rigorous process of committee review, recorded oral defense, and publication for use by the wider academic community to demonstrate their application of new knowledge. Walden s requirements for student doctoral research extend beyond making a contribution to knowledge of the field to articulating how research may be applied to practice. This, in turn, reinforces the university mission and transforms the professional lives of doctoral graduates. Recognzing the central role that faculty members increasingly play in doctoral student success (Council of Graduate Schools, 2010), Walden carefully recruits and trains its faculty specifically to be exceptional mentors for doctoral research. While dissertation committee members must have expertise in the areas of student research and be able to ground students in academic norms of each discipline, an emphasis is placed on encouraging students to pursue research questions of their own interest, rather than those of the faculty. By supporting student-driven research derived from students experiences in the field, Walden is able to reinforce its commitment to the practical application of research. From the university s founding, Walden s philosophy and practice have challenged the assumption that doctoral education is only for a range of students who fit a narrow profile of age and academic experience. Walden values a diverse community of career professionals with attributes and abilities that lend themselves to a Walden doctoral environment. The university offers students WHILE TRADITIONAL HIGHER EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS MAY MODIFY ON-GROUND SUPPORT SYSTEMS TO FIT THE DEVELOPING ONLINE ENVIRONMENT, WALDEN CREATES THESE SUPPORTS SPECIFICALLY FOR STUDENTS IN THE ONLINE ENVIRONMENT. individualized support meaning that we recognize varying levels of academic socialization and build on students prior knowledge and experience. Our broadbased admission practice and student-centric focus allow us to bring diversity in many forms to the traditional community of doctoral scholars and highlight the valuable contribution of adults of all backgrounds, cultures, and orientations to the evolution of their chosen fields. 4

5 At Walden, academic progress is seen as the continuous growth of the student throughout his or her program to ultimately demonstrate a high level of academic and professionally recognized outcomes. This progress depends on both individual student effort and the ongoing activities of faculty and staff to support student learning. Technology, hands-on mentoring, and carefully designed academic support services form the foundation that supports and enables student progress. Clearly articulated outcomes within a set time frame measure progress. Key to this model of seeking a broad community of students and enabling their growth as scholars is the role of academic support services. At Walden, this includes the Writing Center, the Career Services Center, the Center for Research Quality, the Academic Skills Center, the library, academic advising, technical support, and financial aid advising. Student support is characterized in several ways. First, while traditional higher education institutions may modify on-ground support systems to fit the developing online environment, Walden creates these supports specifically for students in the online environment. Thus, the supports are particularly effective for our population. Second, based on decades of experience with graduate students in distance learning, our support services leverage multiple ways of reaching learners at different times in the learning process. Our students are provided the right services and the right support in the right time frame. Finally, because Walden differentiates support services by degree level, departments such as the Writing Center have services developed specifically for doctoral students. The right support for doctoral students means support that is familiar with and responsive to the doctoral experience. This often means assisting the student through the dissertation or doctoral study process. This includes but is not limited to access to research tutorials, secondary data sets, assistance in constructing faculty committees, and workshops and intensives to support the dissertation or doctoral study process. Independent scholarship is the goal and the defining requirement of the capstone experience in Walden s doctoral programs. To this end, student support naturally evolves over time to reflect changes in the field and best practices in doctoral-level education. 5

6 Finally, while much of Walden s doctoral education is presented in an asynchronous format, we have long recognized the role of supplementing programs with synchronous, in-person doctoral residencies. At these required events, doctoral students have the opportunity to meet their faculty and other students, gain advanced knowledge related to their field, and practice research and professional skills. Both students and faculty report that these residencies, a hallmark of Walden doctoral education since its founding, complete the picture of the program. A DIVERSE AND ENGAGED Faculty All Walden faculty facilitating learning and guiding research in the doctoral programs must demonstrate a record of successful research to qualify to mentor doctoral projects and dissertations. Of our faculty members teaching at the doctoral level, 99% hold a research doctorate or terminal professional degree (e.g., JD, MD). Our faculty members are routinely recognized for their contributions outside of the university as well. They lead national and international professional organizations, serve on boards of nonprofit organizations, publish peer-reviewed research, and are honored for their achievements in their field or profession. The faculty is composed of both full-time (core) and part-time (contributing) members. Contributing faculty participate with the university in all of the same ways as core faculty, with the exception of supervising other faculty members. This includes participation in curriculum development, academic governance, policy development, teaching, committee service, and doctoral mentoring. Walden requires all faculty to broadly contribute to scholarship and service outside the university (Boyer, 1990). For both INTERNATIONAL FACULTY MEMBERS BRING DIVERSE PERSPECTIVES.S TO THE UNIVERSITY 6

7 core and contributing faculty, expectations around scholarship and service are included in their annual performance reviews. These contributions outside the university are also supported through regular stipends and grants to faculty. Since 2009, the university has provided over $1.5 million in internal research grants to fund THE UNIVERSITY RECRUITS AND SUPPORTS STUDENTS WITH THE AIM OF DEVELOPING SKILLS FOR EFFECTING SOCIAL CHANGE. dissemination of more than 1,000 publications and presentations under the Walden affiliation. Faculty members come from around the globe, bringing international and diverse perspectives to the university. Faculty members in the U.S. often have international involvement, and they bring this experience to the classroom. With respect to diversity, women have a slight majority among faculty members, cultural and ethnic diversity stands up well to the national average, and the number of minority faculty members in key leadership positions is better than the national average, overall. The Walden faculty receives support through the Center for Faculty Excellence, which guides training for instruction and research mentoring, research support, and grant development. Faculty members adhere to specific target times for responsiveness to students, provide regular and substantive feedback, and are evaluated, in part, through measures of performance in the classroom and in mentoring roles. The concept of substantive feedback is operationalized such that the feedback is actionable and allows students to make significant changes in their evolving research projects. Measurable faculty engagement is a hallmark of the Walden doctoral experience. A Commitment to GRADUATE SUCCESS At Walden, we view the outcomes of our graduates broadly. Success includes some of the same measures of traditional programs, such as dissemination of research. The university trains and encourages students to share what they ve learned with the wider academic community through initiatives such as the New Scholars Workshop and Presidential Alumni Research Dissemination Award. But we also look at a much more comprehensive set of outcomes that includes positive changes in the graduate s professional standing (including advancement to leadership positions, licensure, or other externally awarded certificates or qualifications) and regional or national recognition for professional contributions. 7

8 Success is also defined by how graduates apply their skills and knowledge to positive solutions for public problems (e.g., serving marginalized populations) in their postdoctoral careers. Walden s Scholars of Change, awarded annually since 2009, highlights just a few examples of this (www. WaldenU.edu/scholarsvideos). The university recruits and supports students with the aim of developing skills for effecting social change. As a result, doctoral students learn skills applicable in both academic and nonacademic positions such as systems thinking, leadership, strategic planning, clinical skills in education and social service professions, data analysis and program evaluation, and other higher-order skills valued and required by organizations serving large populations. Macro-level change is highly valued at Walden as well and emphasized in the doctoral curriculum along with traditionally held academic values. In this way, the university recognizes and encourages a broad applicability of skills long embedded in doctoral education (Aanerud, Homer, Nerad, & Cerny, 2006). THE FUTURE of Doctoral Education At Walden, we foresee enhanced opportunities to collaborate with other doctorate-granting institutions to share what we do well while pushing ourselves to grow and change. We anticipate additional competition as traditional, on-ground institutions develop and explore the realm of online education to meet student demand. These areas of challenge and opportunity will likely result in a mix of competition and focused collaboration, nationally and internationally. There is opportunity in educating beyond borders, and one result is that international knowledge and influence will continue to infuse doctoral curriculum. Dual degrees with international institutions and partnerships with other programs will allow Walden to offer curriculum in the areas of greatest need as well as expand educational opportunities for students. Curriculum delivery is changing, and our faculty is adept at employing media and alternative methods of teaching for different populations of students. As education has WALDEN IS UNIQUELY POSITIONED AND INTENTIONALLY FOCUSED ON THE FUTURE, ON ADULT LEARNERS AND ON BEST PRACTICES IN DOCTORAL EDUCATION. evolved and student populations have broadened, education at Walden has shifted as well. The university uses insights about our students to drive our delivery models. This is unique, as doctoral programs often derive 8

9 methods of instruction and focus of study from discipline-specific traditions and preferences. Walden optimizes learning through pilots, research, and awareness of the needs and attributes of adult learners without compromising quality of education. Our goal is to provide an education on par with, or superior to, traditional education through our broad-access mission and dedication to positive social change. Recognizing the increasingly fluid boundaries between research and practice in society, the core function of independent research may also continue to evolve. Professional doctorates hold opportunities to specifically and intentionally address this evolution, and the definition of research will necessarily broaden to include nontraditional methods and products. Examples could include the development of a unique, patented idea or product; peer-reviewed articles in place of the dissertation; a portfolio; case studies; and doctoral research study that applies research to a specific organizational or local problem. Application of research has become an increasingly pervasive feature of democratic societies and we look forward to continued leadership in this area. Walden is uniquely positioned and intentionally focused on the future, on adult learners, on best practices in doctoral education marrying the concepts of academic and practical contributions, and on effecting positive social change. We do this through a myriad of delivery models and discipline offerings, providing a rich and intentionally nontraditional educational environment for diverse adult learners that adheres to the academic rigor defined by its contribution to the discipline or field of practice. 9

10 References Aanerud, R., Homer, L., Nerad, M., & J. Cerny. (2006). Paths and perceptions: Assessing doctoral education using career path analysis. In P. L. Maki & N. A. Borkowski (Eds.), The assessment of doctoral education: Emerging criteria and new models for improving outcomes. (pp ). Sterling, VA: Stylus. Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate. (2014). Council of Graduate Schools. (2007). Task force report on the professional doctorate. Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools. Council of Graduate Schools. (2010). Ph.D. completion and attrition: Policies and practices to promote student success. Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools. Golde, C. M. (2006). Preparing stewards of the discipline. In C. M. Golde & G. E. Walker (Eds.), Envisioning the future of doctoral education. (pp. 3 23). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. National Science Foundation, Survey of Earned Doctorates. Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: start.cfm Walden University. Scholars of Change. Acknowledgements Authors: Eric Riedel, Chief Academic Officer; Marilyn Powell, Associate Dean for the School of Psychology; and Kelley Costner, Associate Dean in The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership. The authors wish to thank the members of Walden University s Research Process Advisory Committee and Office of Academic Affairs Advisory Council for their substantial contributions to this document. 10

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