Interview with Nancy Hastings, Ph.D. - Assistant Dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies at the University of West Florida

About Nancy Hastings, Ph.D.: Nancy Hastings is an Associate Professor and the Assistant Dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies at the University of West Florida. As Assistant Dean, Dr. Hastings has overseen the development of the new Online Ed.D. in Instructional Design and Technology, and helps to manage this program’s curriculum design, student recruitment, admissions, and advising. Dr. Hastings teaches several courses in the program, including those that focus on advanced instructional design theory, human performance technologies, performance interventions and improvement, and the program’s capstone course. She also serves as a dissertation advisor for numerous students in the program. In addition, Dr. Hastings is the Chair of the Department of Instructional Design and Technology at the University of West Florida, and is a highly active member of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT).

Dr. Hastings received her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and her Master of Training and Development from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. She received her Ph.D. in Instructional Technology from Wayne State University.

Interview Questions

[] Could you please provide an overview of the University of West Florida’s Ed.D. in Instructional Design and Technology (IDT), and how it is structured? What are the key learning outcomes for this program, and what types of careers does it prepare students for? Could you elaborate on the specializations in Administration and Leadership, Curriculum and Assessment, and Health and Physical Activity?

[Dr. Hastings] The EdD in IDT is being elevated from a specialization within the Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction to being its own freestanding program. We’ve had our Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction for over 25 years, and the specialization in IDT was the first specialization that we offered.

What we were finding is that many of our students wanted more of the IDT coursework, versus as much coursework on the Curriculum and Instruction side. So we created this new Ed.D. that will be much more IDT-focused to fill that need. Students will of course still have their research courses—qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods, action research, those types of courses—but the balance of the curriculum will really be about the theory and research behind the field of instructional design and technology. This incorporates instructional design, instructional technology, and performance technology—these are really the three distinct sub-fields that are wrapped up in the umbrella of IDT.

[] What kinds of careers and/or career advancements are students of this program interested in, and how do they apply the three sub-fields mentioned—instructional design, instructional technology, and performance technologies—to their respective work contexts?

[Dr. Hastings] People who are pursuing a doctoral degree are typically looking for leadership positions. But the thing about IDT is that it’s relevant across organizations. A lot of times, we talk about education in siloes because we work or research in a specific area, and that is just not how our field works. Instructional design and technology is powerful because it spans these siloes, and connects them. The things that we teach our students are relevant in any organization that might have a need for training, performance improvement, and/or technology integration—those elements are essentially in every organizational context.

We have students who are in military settings, both civilian and enlisted members, who want to advance in those careers. We have students in health care settings who are looking to move into chief education officer, chief learning officer, those types of leadership positions. Same thing in higher education and K-12 settings. So a lot of it depends on where they’re coming from and what they want their next step to be. But the things that we teach them can be applied across disciplines, opening all of the doors for them.

[] In online class sessions, when the students discuss course concepts and instructional design theories, how does the diversity of professional backgrounds in their cohort enhance their discussions and learning outcomes?

[Dr. Hastings] I think that the breadth of experiences amongst our student cohorts adds a lot of depth to the learning. It provides students with the opportunities to really examine how things are applied and how they’re relevant—how they impact other organizations and other settings. It allows them to look at things from a different lens, and in doing so it really enhances their critical thinking and idea of what is possible in terms of instructional design, performance improvement, or organizational enhancement, etc. We design our coursework so that students have the flexibility to do their key projects about whatever their particular interests and experiences are. The project assignments are not inherently narrow which allows them to customize. But just being exposed to others’ backgrounds, ideas, problems of practice and proposed solutions broadens their understanding.

[] The University of West Florida’s Ed.D. in Instructional Design and Technology is offered in an online format. Could you elaborate on the online learning technologies the program uses to deliver course materials and facilitate interaction between students and faculty?

[Dr. Hastings] We use Canvas as our learning management system, so the courses are all built into shells within Canvas. We use the discussion tool within Canvas. There are some special tools that are in Canvas that are designed specifically for collaboration. For any synchronous meetings we have with students, we use Zoom or WebEx—we prefer Zoom, however, as it is more stable and robust in terms of interactive capabilities. Most of us as instructors integrate videos in our courses, and we integrate different tools as they are relevant for the content. So you might have a course where you’re using tools like blogs and wiki pages, or you might have another course where you’re doing a lot of work with video using video editing software. The course content informs our choice of what other technologies to bring in.

When students get to the dissertation phase, we use Zoom a lot because it’s much easier to work with a student when you are talking with them in real time and when you can see their confusion and even potential frustration on their faces. One of the big challenges of teaching online is that I don’t always get to see your face so I don’t know if you’re looking at me as though you are thinking, “What the heck is she talking about?” But with Zoom, that is made apparent immediately, and I can take a step back and say “Let’s revisit that.” So these real-time tools are very valuable.

[] The University of West Florida’s Ed.D. in Instructional Design and Technology requires students to complete a Dissertation. Could you please elaborate on this requirement, what it entails?

[Dr. Hastings] We encourage students to start thinking about their dissertations at the beginning of their program. With that said, we don’t want them to decide exactly what they want to do for their dissertation on day one, because we haven’t taught them anything yet! We would like them to be open to different areas of interest and then maybe consider different avenues based on what they learn in their courses. But we do talk to them about identifying that Problem of Practice that they’re going to research quite early on.

Most students come in and start with a broad topic, and as faculty members our job is to ask them, “Ok, what’s the problem though? What is the specific problem related to this topic of interest?” These questions help students narrow down to something that is a true problem that is worthy of being researched. Once they have identified their problem of practice, we help them find a chair that can help them start the research process. It is very important to us that we find the person who is the best fit for each student. Students then put together their committee and start working with the committee, ideally early on, to craft their proposal, conduct data gathering and analysis, etc.

We’ve built three residencies into this program, and they are linked tightly to the research and dissertation process. For example, the second residency takes place at a professional conference. And the advantage of that is that the students get to see how people conduct research, and how they disseminate research. And they also get to meet experts beyond us. And we do allow our students to include people external to the university on their dissertation committee—their chair has to be a faculty member from the university, but they can bring somebody in if there is an individual they know who really has a lot of expertise in the particular niche that the student is interested in. We welcome that, because we know there is a lot of value in it. So we do everything we can to get students connected and thinking and researching and networking early on, because that helps them with the whole process.

And then of course, the one-on-one meetings I mentioned using Zoom are immensely helpful. Each faculty member handles dissertation mentorship with their students a bit differently. With my students, when they are in dissertation, depending on how they are doing, I meet with them at least every two weeks and sometimes every week. This is something I put on my calendar like a regular class, just one-on-one, because I feel it is extremely important to keep students connected to faculty—and to each other—during dissertation.

Even if you are a traditional face-to-face student, when you get to dissertation, it’s like you are out there on your own. You aren’t in a class, you don’t have classmates to meet with, and you don’t have somewhere to go where you have to have done something beforehand. This unstructured environment can be really isolating when you are in dissertation. So just making sure we have that touch-point every week or every other week makes a big difference.

Topics that students have explored have been quite diverse, and are across the range of different situations and problems of practice in instructional design, technology, and leadership. Everything has, of course, a strong link back to instructional technology and design. It might be investigating a specific learning strategy or a specific technology, it might be examining different feelings and perceptions around teaching or learning. I’ve got a K-12 student I spoke with this morning and she’s researching teacher burnout and how that impacts performance and learning outcomes. I’ve got another student who just recently finished a dissertation on students’ use of the academic library—we know it has value, why don’t students use it? I’ve got a student who looked at the impact of metacognitive learning skills on people’s performance in a cardiac care course, because he was a Director of Education at a hospital. So it really does run the whole gamut. We’ve got people looking at different technologies, different processes, and different learning strategies.

[] May we have more information about the three on-campus residencies that students must attend during their tenure in the program?

[Dr. Hastings] Certainly. Each residency is embedded in a different class, by which I mean each residency is a component of a 15 or 16 week class, so students do some course work leading up to that residency.

For the first and the third residencies, we have an on-campus long-weekend event of about four days or so. The first one takes place during the first year, and it is really focused on scholarly writing and research. We bring students to campus and get them introduced to the library, the librarians, and other key resources. Of course we have all these things available online but it is so much easier for them if they have made a connection prior, if they understand what those resources are and what they can offer.

That is the first. The second residency, as mentioned earlier, takes place at a professional conference, and it’s all about disseminating research: how do we report it, how do we craft it?

The third residency is part of their Coursework Capstone course, which is the stage where students have finished their coursework and are moving on to their dissertation. During this residency, students have their comprehensive exams, and work with faculty on whatever other measures they need to complete in order to move from coursework to the dissertation phase. So students come to campus and they may do a presentation or submit a portfolio to their faculty advisor.

The comprehensive exam’s purpose is to validate that students have a certain amount of foundational knowledge about the field. The way I always explain it to students is that if you have a doctorate in a field, and someone comes up to you in the hall and asks you a question about your field, you should not have to say, “Wait, let me go get a book and look this up.” You have to have a certain amount of knowledge. You have to know who the key theorists are in your field, the key theories, and how they apply to various contexts and challenges. That is the point of exam: to validate that they have attained the learning outcomes necessary to move forward.

[] What role does faculty mentorship play in both the University of West Florida’s Online Ed.D. in Instructional Design and Technology? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems while in the program?

[Dr. Hastings] Every one of our students is assigned a mentor once they start. They have an academic advisor and a faculty mentor, and those are two different things. The academic advisor helps students navigate their course selections, provides them with their registration information, and is there to help them with the logistical aspects of the program. The faculty mentor is the one who helps them with career development and research. We help them talk through what path to follow, brainstorm dissertation topics, prepare for professional conferences, and narrow down their dissertation area of research well before they connect with their chair, so that they can hit the ground running. Faculty mentors are required to reach out to each one of their students at least once per semester, but it is oftentimes more than that.

The thing about mentoring is that it should be organic. It’s not something you assign. It’s a personal connection, and we as faculty members are very aware of that. If I am assigned as your mentor but you’re way more comfortable with one of my colleagues and you just really clicked with that person, that person should be your mentor. So we encourage our students to change mentors and make it really easy for them. We tell them all the time—if you’re comfortable with somebody else just send us an email and we can get that changed, so that you are working with the person who is the best fit for you.

We also have monthly webinars the faculty hold for all their students. The topics covered are what students tell us they are interested in. “How do I form my committee?” is a big question, for example. Last week we had a Thursday night mentoring session using Zoom where we just talked to students about this process. We had students in there who had already established their committees, and who said, “This is what I did and it worked really well,” or “This is what I did, and don’t do that.” This kind of candid peer-to-peer advice can be immensely helpful, and also builds our cohort’s sense of community. And the faculty provided their advice. We find that coming together like that in those monthly meetings makes a big difference and typically all faculty attend so that students have the opportunity to get to know all of us in a much more relaxed environment. It’s not class, it’s just talking to each other, like an informal panel. The sessions are not required and we record them and we send everybody the link afterwards so that if a student cannot attend he or she can view it if they choose too.

[] For students interested in the University of West Florida’s Online Ed.D. in Instructional Design and Technology, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Hastings] We require the GRE or Miller’s Analogy test scores, if their GPA on their most recently completed graduate degree is below 3.75. If they have a 3.75 or higher, we waive that test score requirement, because the test score is really just intended to tell us whether they are going to be successful in graduate school.

We require a letter of intent, and what we want in that letter is an understanding of their professional and academic background, experiences, and their goals. What we’re really looking for there is whether or not our program is a good fit for them, if this is the right place for them. If it isn’t, we don’t want to do them a disservice by bringing them into the program. Our key question as we review your application is, “What are you trying to get to, and can we help you do that?” The writing sample also gives us an opportunity to look at their writing skills, which is critical in doctoral education.

The other requirements for the application are three letters of recommendation, and an interview. The interview is conducted via Zoom and it gives us an opportunity to ask any questions we might have about your application, and to get an idea of your investment in learning more about instructional technology design and performance improvement. And it’s also the applicants’ chance to ask the questions that they might have about the program. That piece is probably the most important part, because I can tell a lot more from talking to a person for ten minutes than I can in a letter that they spent three weeks drafting and have had lots of help editing and refining.

The most important part is that interview but as far as being competitive, effective communication is the most important thing. We don’t look for people from any specific background, and you don’t have to have your master’s degree in a specific field because what we do and what we teach is relevant across the board. So those aren’t the things that we are looking at as much as what you plan to do in the future, and how likely you are to be successful in our program and benefit from it.

[] What makes the University of West Florida’s Online Ed.D. in Instructional Design and Technology unique and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students? How does the program prepare students for advanced careers in performance improvement, education leadership, innovative instructional design, organizational change, and other impactful areas?

[Dr. Hastings] One of the unique and most beneficial things about our program is the different areas of focus that we have. What I mean by that is instructional design and technology encompasses a lot of things, and we structured our program to allow students to delve into the areas of instructional technology and design that particularly interest them. Everybody is going to come in and get some foundational education in instructional design and instructional design theory, but then beyond that the student really gets to choose his or her own path. They get to ask themselves, “Am I more interested in the instructional technology side, the distance learning and emerging technologies side, technology integration, or a combination of these? Or am I more interested in the performance improvement side?”

Our coursework in performance improvement is another area where we really stand out because not that many universities offer that performance technology piece. That is in my mind really important. Performance technology provides a broader look at organizational performance than do instructional design and instructional technology, because both of them start from the position of instruction: somebody needs to learn something. Performance technology starts from the perspective of, “You can’t fix everything with training, so let’s take a real holistic look at this situation and dig deep through a lot of analysis to figure out what the real gaps in performance are, how critical they are, what their root causes are, and then figure out how to solve them.” And we may solve them through training interventions or non-training interventions or a mix of those two things. Performance technology and improvement also focus on the change management piece, because whenever we introduce change into an organization, whether it is a new process or a new software tool, it’s a change and people are resistant to change, and we need to help them through that process. So our focus on change management as a necessary piece of performance improvement and instruction makes us unique as well.

The other thing I would say that is a real competitive advantage for us is our faculty. I’ve got a wonderful team. We all have very diverse backgrounds, which is exactly what we need in the program. It would not be beneficial to our students if we all came from a K-12 background or if we all came from a corporate background, so we’ve got a nice mix of expertise across the entire range of areas that instructional design and technology touches—we’ve got folks who have experience in K-12 education, higher education, corporate settings, and non-profit settings.

We are a member of the Carnegie Project for the Education Doctorate, and the resources our membership provides to our faculty and students also make us stand out. The Carnegie Project is all about recognizing that an Ed.D. and a Ph.D. are two very different things, meant for different audiences. Over the years, that distinction has disappeared, to the point where most Ed.D.s are what I’d refer to as a pseudo Ph.D.s at this point. Students of these types of programs do the same kind of coursework that one would do for a Ph.D. and they do the same kind of traditional style dissertation. And that is not what a practitioner needs. A Ph.D. is for someone who wants to work in higher education, do research, and teach in that setting.

An Ed.D. is for the practitioner—the person who is looking to be the leader in their organization. The chief learning officer or performance consultant, those are people who are going to stay in practice. They’re not ever going to do another traditional dissertation type research study in their lives because that is not who they are. They are going to do action research in their settings, addressing actual problems of practice that are impacting their work. So that is exactly the kind of dissertation that our Ed.D. is going to have them do, and that aligns with the CPED framework that is all about distinguishing Ed.D. research and Ph.D. research and recognizing that the Ed.D. is a professional doctorate. It’s not meant to be a research doctorate, or the stepchild of the Ph.D. It is equal yet different.

So being part of that organization is helping us frame our work and it also gives our students and faculty access to tons of resources. There are a lot of things that CPED makes available to its members and membership requires effort on the part of the university—we as an institution must submit an application, really take time to explain what we are doing, what our program is, and why we are a good fit for them. So we’re really excited about that and it makes our program unique, because we really are embracing the fact that this is an Ed.D., not a Ph.D. We really want to help students be successful in exactly where they want to be.

Resources that CPED provides our students and faculty include a journal that they publish, annual conferences where everybody can come together and have all kinds of different breakout sessions, with lots of discussion about best practices, what different organizations, students, and practitioners are doing, and how those things working for them. CPED also has a database of past dissertations, dissertation award winners, and a tremendous amount of other research that is available to its members.

Thank you, Dr. Hastings, for your excellent insight into the University of West Florida’s Online Ed.D. in Instructional Design and Technology!