Interview with Donggil Song, Ph.D. - Director of the Doctoral Program in Instructional Systems Design and Technology at Sam Houston State University

About Donggil Song, Ph.D.: Donggil Song is the Director of the Doctoral Program in Instructional Systems Design and Technology (ISDT) at Sam Houston State University, where he also teaches numerous courses as an Assistant Professor. As Doctoral Director, Dr. Song oversees curriculum design and development for the Ed.D. in ISDT, hires and supports faculty, and oversees student advising and the quality of students’ experience while in the program. In addition to his work in teaching and administrating the doctoral program, Dr. Song also conducts research on the applications of virtual communication technologies and conversation systems in online learning contexts. He runs the Einbrain Lab, which focuses on artificial intelligence and its uses in education, adaptive learning systems, self-guided and self-regulated learning, and education analytics.

Dr. Song earned his B.A. in Religious Studies, his Master’s in Cognitive Science, and his Master of Science in Computer Science and Engineering from Seoul National University, after which he earned his Ph.D. in Instructional Systems Technology from Indiana University. Dr. Song is also the Managing Editor of The International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches.

Interview Questions

[] May we have an overview of Sam Houston State University’s Online Ed.D. in Instructional Systems Design and Technology (ISDT)? What are the key learning outcomes for this program, and how does it prepare students to build and improve educational programs and systems of instruction through technology?

[Dr. Song] The field of instructional design and technology actually encapsulates all of online learning and distance education, and how to implement it effectively. Therefore, in many ways, the form of our program parallels the content we are teaching students–they are learning about effective curriculum and program design, even as they are experiencing education technology on a daily basis as students. This makes our program a perfect match for students who want to interact with online learning systems in a way that enhances their own understanding of how to build effective instructional systems using the latest technologies. The Online Ed.D. in ISDT at Sam Houston State University is designed to train future technology leaders and scholars to direct and guide the integration of technology, facilitating collaboration in life-long learning. The key learning outcomes from this program are directly related to marketable skills, which include but are not limited to the identification of learning problems, problem-solving with learning technologies, and design of evidence-based learning environments.

SHSU’s Online Ed.D. in ISDT began in 2015, so it is a relatively young program, but we have done very well and attracted a diverse range of students. Some of the older programs in SHSU’s College of Education focus more on K-12 education administration, but we broadened the focus in our curriculum. Therefore, we not only have students who are in the K-12 space, but also those working in corporate situations as training experts and training directors. Additionally, we have students who are working as their school district’s technology directors, and individuals who are military or medical educators.

[] Sam Houston State University’s Online Ed.D. in Instructional Systems Design and Technology (ISDT) requires students to take classes in Instructional Technology Research Methods and Multivariate Analysis and Learning Analytics. What sorts of research methodologies are specific to instructional systems design and technology? What are some of the powerful applications of such research in education systems?

[Dr. Song] The courses cover core research methods in the field of learning technologies, including quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods research. Specifically, the research methods courses focus on the unique research methodologies in this field, such as developmental, formative, and design-based research. These research methods support ISDT doctoral students in solving real-world problems in evidence-based, systematic ways. Basic and advanced statistics courses consist of real-life examples in this field and how to analyze them.

In our curriculum, we discuss research methods that are specific to instructional design and technology, as well as instructional systems assessment. These include multivariate methods such as computational analysis, and both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Recently, there has been a trend in utilizing machine learning techniques, which we refer to as learning analytics and educational data mining. Leveraging big data to evaluate and improve learning systems has become a huge player in the education field, and therefore we’ve prioritized it substantially in our program. For example, the kinds of learning management systems that are being used now, such as Blackboard and Canvas, are collecting all sorts of relevant data on student and instructor behavior within their LMS: students’ learning paths and patterns, how they navigate their educational experience, etc. The insights from these forms of data help instructional technology companies and the schools they work with make their online learning delivery better.

As our students want to work in instructional systems design and education technology, they need to know how to handle huge amounts of complex educational data, and to gather key insights. Learning analytics, machine learning, adaptive learning technologies–all of these elements of online education work in tandem to support students better, to predict when and where they need help, and to discover what their potential and actual pain points are and how to address them.

[] Could you please elaborate on the online learning technologies that Sam Houston State University’s Online Ed.D. in Instructional Systems Design and Technology (ISDT) uses to deliver course materials and facilitate interactions between students and faculty?

[Dr. Song] We use the Blackboard Learn system as our learning management system. The program course formats depend on course instructors and the nature of the courses. Many of the courses are asynchronous, but when necessary, we have synchronous online meetings. We provide different types of online collaboration spaces for the ISDT doctoral students within the learning management system, as well as additional tools. Furthermore, the faculty supports each student’s individual research through one-on-one advising via Zoom and other platforms. Students are not required to attend any on-campus meetings, but we have an annual social event, which is a face-to-face meeting, and students can meet their cohort members and College of Education faculty.

To my earlier point about the importance of familiarizing students with online learning management systems (beyond their personal experiences as an online student), we also have a course called Management Application Analysis, in which students explore other learning management systems, such as Canvas, Moodle, and MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) systems, their specific characteristics, and the nature of each learning management system.

[] Sam Houston State University’s Online Ed.D. in Instructional Systems Design and Technology (ISDT) requires the completion of a Dissertation. What does the Dissertation involve, what processes do students take to complete it, and what kinds of faculty/peer support do they receive during their work?

[Dr. Song] The dissertation process is not different from other face-to-face doctoral programs at this and other universities. After the dossier (i.e., comprehensive exam) process is successfully completed and 48 credit hours are completed in the program, students will review SHSU College of Education faculty information with the goal of selecting their dissertation committee chair and committee members. Each student works on their dissertation with their chair and committee members.

In terms of their dissertation topics, many of our students have full-time jobs, and so they already have their own context upon which to base their research questions. For example, one of our first cohort students has a background in computer science, and he completed his doctoral dissertation on how students conceptualize learning in the computer science field. The subjects for his dissertation were actual undergraduate computer science students at Sam Houston State University, and he conducted surveys where he measured and evaluated students’ performance, their level of conceptual understanding, and the different variables included in their educational experience in the computer science field. Another student conducted his dissertation study on Minecraft and its potential to be used as a form of educational gaming. He was so interested in that field that he actually became the technology director of a specific school district, and since graduating from our program he has used Minecraft in his school district’s schools. In his dissertation, he sought to measure students’ growth and academic performance and progress when using Minecraft as an educational tool.

Every student’s research is tailored to their professional experiences and interests. We work with each student individually to teach them the requisite research methods and to provide them with the tools and resources to optimally investigate their research question. Students begin their search for their dissertation committee members in their seventh semester, so in their third year. In the eighth semester of their enrollment, as long as they pass their comprehensive examination, they are ready to recruit their committee members. Only students who have successfully passed their comprehensive examination can move on to work on their dissertation. If they do not pass their comprehensive exam, they have one more year to complete it and to pass.

[] May we have more information about the comprehensive examination that students are required to take? How are the exam questions determined, and how are they customized to each student’s academic path in the program?

[Dr. Song] In our field, the main pedagogical philosophy is student-centered learning. In keeping with this, it was very important to us that we make students’ comprehensive examination beneficial for them in a way that extended beyond our evaluating what they have learned. So what we require from students is that they create an online website with a portfolio (also known as a dossier), wherein they outline their research, their professional history and teaching experience, and volunteer/service work. On this online portfolio, they should include their literature reviews, independent studies (mostly first-authored research) and conference presentations, direct teaching experiences and/or educational administration work, teaching materials they have created, and volunteer work they have done relating to teaching, educational conferences, etc.

Through this dossier process, we want students to provide evidence that they are capable of completing and defending their dissertation, as well as going out into their respective fields and applying the leadership skills and advanced instructional technology concepts they have learned to improving learning outcomes and systems of education and communication in their place of work. Once students have completed their online portfolio, all of our faculty review it and provide feedback so that students can revise it. We have students work on their dossier before their third year so that they have time to build up all of the content that we require, and to receive our feedback to incorporate into their final submission. The goal for our comprehensive exam is to make it highly functional and to have it work for students and their career goals.

[] What role does faculty mentorship play in Sam Houston State University’s Online Ed.D. in Instructional Systems Design and Technology (ISDT)? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems while they are enrolled?

[Dr. Song] Each faculty member has their own research agenda in the field of instructional technology, and all students are asked to participate in at least one faculty-led research team. All of our faculty members have their own research lab and research group. For example, one of our faculty members, Dr. Kimberly LaPrairie, is working on social media’s effects on community and coalition building, and recently she has been investigating how social media has impacted our discussion of and views/actions around the COVID-19 crisis. While her lab focuses on that, my lab focuses on artificial intelligence and how it can be used to improve students’ performance. The mentorship within research teams includes the faculty-student and student-student interaction.

Similar to our faculty members, each of our students has their own research interests and agenda, based on their own job and career goals. What we try to do as a faculty team is to provide each student with individualized support around their goals and interests. From the beginning of their enrollment, we try and match them with potential advisors from our faculty team based on their stated interests and goals.

[] For students interested in Sam Houston State University’s Online Ed.D. in Instructional Systems Design and Technology (ISDT), what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Song] Prospective students must have strong backgrounds in technology and instructional/learning design. In addition, analytical writing skills and critical thinking skills are required. Our program is founded upon a combination of interdisciplinary concepts, skills, research methodologies, and technologies. We welcome students from areas such as computer science, cognitive science, learning sciences, curriculum and instruction, medical education, organizational or corporate or military leadership, etc.–our admissions team can appreciate any type of background, as long as students have career goals that involve leveraging education technology and design. Applicants should also clearly demonstrate that they understand the importance of technology and how to use it.

We require a personal statement, a writing sample, and their curriculum vitae, as well as three letters of recommendation. Students’ writing sample should show their abilities regarding the use of technology in learning/training settings, and their understanding of the importance of leveraging technology in instructional/learning design.

[] What makes Sam Houston State University’s Online Ed.D. in Instructional Systems Design and Technology (ISDT) unique and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students? How does this program prepare students for advanced careers in academic systems improvement, instructional design, and leadership in education technology and innovation?

[Dr. Song] The uniqueness of ISDT Doctoral Program is its adaptability and flexibility to a wide variety of individual students’ career goals. While each student learns the same underlying research and industry concepts in instructional design and technology, our faculty team works with every student individually to help them apply their research interests and individual professional contexts to their learning in the program. We support students’ goals from the beginning of their enrollment, through the dossier/comprehensive examination process, and on through the completion of their dissertation. The doctoral dossier serves to organize and present evidence of competencies attained by the individual candidate within the program. The program is intended to provide students with the knowledge, skills, dispositions, and experiences necessary to be successful in the field.

To that end, we also make sure to think outside of the box and outside of our own department at times, should we decide it will benefit our students. If we have a student who wants to learn more about a related discipline and how it impacts instructional design and technology, we work to connect them with real professionals and other faculty members within and outside of SHSU to ensure they have a diverse array of perspectives and expert mentorship. In the case of our student who has a computer science background, I have been working to connect him with virtual reality companies to help expand and deepen his perspectives on his research topic and his career objectives post-graduation. On a related note, we also allow students to bring people from outside of the College of Education or the university on to their committee, in order to make it easier for students to connect with the advisors who can truly support them.

Thank you, Dr. Song, for your excellent insight into Sam Houston State University’s Online Ed.D. in Instructional Systems Design and Technology program!