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Three New Efforts to Improve Doctoral Education at Penn State

The dean's Connections column for January 2008

Dean's Message, January 2008

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Welcome to the Spring 2008 semester, which is already very well under way. In keeping with the spirit of spring and its connection with things new, I have news to share of three ongoing initiatives that could lead to some change in doctoral education within the College at Penn State.


Redesigned D.Ed. Degree in Educational Leadership

As you may be aware, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teacher, under the leadership of Lee Shulman, has been studying doctoral education in a variety of fields, including education. The education part of the initiative has involved an effort to think carefully about the meaning of doctoral education for the purpose of professional practice, in contrast to the more traditional form of doctoral education with its focus on research. One of the concerns being addressed by the Carnegie Foundation is a feeling that the difference between these two types of preparation programs has become significantly blurred. In some cases, the requirements for the two degrees are indistinguishable, and this blurriness invites questions about whether the two degrees in their current forms are really serving the field well.

At Penn State, we have a long history of offering both the D.Ed. and the Ph.D. degrees. The former is focused on various aspects of professional practice and has proven to be quite a successful degree in fields like Educational Leadership and Higher Education. In fields such as Curriculum and Instruction, the differences between our D.Ed. and Ph.D. programs are less clear, and the D.Ed. has fallen largely into disuse.

Penn State has been actively engaged in the Carnegie effort. Jackie Edmondson, Jim Nolan, and Bernard Badiali have been working to redesign the D.Ed. degree in Educational Leadership so that it will more effectively integrate professional practice into the doctoral program. The inspiration for the new approach is the Professional Development Model that has proven itself to be so effective within undergraduate teacher preparation. The Penn State team has been meeting with teams from other universities that are also engaged in redesign efforts. As the work matures, it will be shared with faculty colleagues here for discussion and further refinement. Any changes that might be made in our Educational Leadership doctoral program will be subject to all of the customary reviews.


Doctoral Study in Teacher Education

There is a related effort to think more deeply about what we might do as a College at the doctoral level to be helpful to graduate students who will be entering careers as teacher educators. Many of our doctoral candidates in fields like educational psychology, curriculum and instruction, educational leadership, and special education might benefit from a parallel program of study that is organized around a teacher education theme. The Faculty Council recently sponsored a Town Meeting on this topic, and it appears that a number of suitable courses are already being offered within the College. The effort is at an early stage, and the idea will be examined by the Teacher Education Study Team that is part of the College’s Strategic Planning effort. Jim Nolan and Jackie Edmondson are good points of contact for more information about this endeavor.


Exploration of the Viability of an Online D.Ed. Program

The third initiative is an effort by Penn State to explore the possibility of offering a professional practice doctorate in the field of education that would make significant use of distance learning technologies. We have been asked by the University’s central administration to convene a group to explore the viability of this idea, with the stipulation that we involve colleagues from the World Campus as well as other campuses—Penn State Harrisburg and Penn State Great Valley in particular.

The two chancellors and I have organized a group that includes two faculty members from each location as well as from the World Campus. The College of Education members of the group are Gary Kuhne from LPS and Bernard Badiali from EPS. The task force convened toward the end of the fall semester and will be meeting again in February. There are many issues to resolve, not the least of which is figuring out how residency requirements for a D.Ed. degree would be met in a program that is substantially offered online.

The president has made it clear that if Penn State is going to embark on this kind of endeavor, the highest standards must be maintained so that the degree is something the University can be proud to offer. I see this as an opportunity for the College to provide leadership for the entire field of education, but I also recognize numerous possible pitfalls and difficulties. If these discussions move in the direction of developing a proposal for the University to consider, there will be numerous opportunities for the faculty in this College to offer comment and to become involved.

I’m sure the individuals who are working on these projects would welcome and respond to any questions you might have, and I encourage you to follow up with the participant or with me if you would like additional information. In the meantime, I hope the semester is off to a good start for you and that you are enjoying the early days of 2008.


David H. Monk