Interview with Paul Shotsberger, Ph.D. - Interim Coordinator of Doctoral Studies in the School of Education at Southern Wesleyan University

About Paul Shotsberger, Ph.D.: Paul Shotsberger is Professor of Graduate Faculty in the School of Education and Interim Coordinator of Doctoral Studies at Southern Wesleyan University. As Interim Coordinator, he oversees all aspects of the doctoral program, including course development and coordination, doctoral student admissions, recruitment and training of potential dissertation committee members, and instruction of ethics and research-related courses. As Professor, his primary teaching responsibilities are in the master and doctoral programs.

Dr. Shotsberger’s research and writing focus is in the area of ethics of care in K-12 and higher education. He earned his bachelor and doctorate at UNC Chapel Hill, and his master’s degree at UNC Charlotte.

Interview Questions

[] May we have an overview of Southern Wesleyan University’s Online Ed.D. in Curriculum and Assessment? What are the key learning outcomes for this program, and how does it prepare students optimally for roles in academic and institutional leadership, curriculum development and assessment, and education program improvement?

[Dr. Shotsberger] Program learning outcomes include: demonstrate a Christian ethic and professional norms to promote each student’s academic success and well-being; strive for equity of educational opportunity and culturally responsive practices to promote each student’s academic success and well-being; and develop and support intellectually rigorous and coherent systems of curriculum, instruction, and assessment to promote each student’s academic success and well-being. Courses are intended to provide the background and experience necessary for graduates to become experts and resources in curriculum and assessment in P-12 and higher education teaching and administration, non-profit and business training and assessment of personnel, and accreditation and institutional effectiveness work of all kinds.

The emphasis today on assessing effectiveness and efficiency in education, non-profit and business environments is an all-consuming reality and can no longer be just an add-on to graduate work in curriculum and instruction or educational leadership. SWU’s doctoral program puts assessment on an equal footing with curriculum, thereby more realistically meeting the needs of today’s schools, universities, businesses and organizations.

[] Could you please elaborate on the online learning technologies that Southern Wesleyan University’s Online Ed.D. in Curriculum and Assessment uses to deliver course materials and facilitate interactions between students and faculty?

[Dr. Shotsberger] Courses and coursework are fully online, employing Canvas and Google Tools asynchronously and Zoom synchronously to provide a rich framework for student interaction with instructors and peers. Instructors are encouraged to hold weekly Zoom office hours with their classes to provide an overview of the week’s work and answer questions from students. Students are encouraged to use Google Tools and Zoom to interact with each other in order to accomplish group projects, which are part of every course. Further, the program includes an embedded online librarian in each course who can assist students with research and accessing a vast quantity of e-book and e-journal resources. In addition to the online opportunities, students are required to come to the Central, South Carolina main campus for a one-week residency each summer of their program.

[] Southern Wesleyan University’s Online Ed.D. in Curriculum and Assessment requires that students attend a one-week summer residency during three of the summers in which they are enrolled. May we have more information on these residencies, what they entail, and how they enhance students’ learning outcomes?

[Dr. Shotsberger] All of the residencies are tied to students’ dissertation work. The first year emphasizes academic writing and quantitative methods, the second year literature review and qualitative research, and the third year dissertation defense and dissemination of findings. Rather than leaving the dissertation to the end, once coursework is complete, we believe students will be more successful if aspects of the dissertation are threaded throughout their program and they are given the opportunity to think deeply about their topic.

Each summer, students are given readings and assignments online for seven weeks prior to the residency, preparing them for discussions during the week-long residency; and then they have follow-up activities online for seven weeks after the residency. During the residency experiences students attend presentations from faculty and invited guests on subjects pertinent to their dissertation research, discuss concerns and research strategies with dissertation committee members and library personnel, and get to know personally those they have been interacting with online.

[] Students of Southern Wesleyan University’s Online Ed.D. in Curriculum and Assessment are required to complete a Dissertation. May we have more information on this requirement, what it entails, and the process students take to fulfill this requirement?

[Dr. Shotsberger] The program was begun in May 2018, so the first cohort is only now to the point that they are engaging with their comprehensive assessments and preparing their dissertation proposals. The program is structured to include a two-part Research and Analysis sequence during which students are expected to outline and conduct a pilot study for their dissertation. Students take Research and Analysis I, generating a research proposal; then they have about a year to collect and analyze data for their project; and finally they take Research and Analysis II and complete the pilot study, having the same five-chapter structure as a dissertation.

Some research topics that are being pursued for student pilot studies include effects of teacher beliefs on grading practices, middle school girls’ perceptions of science, measuring the impact of career training for African American males, effect of a character development program on student academic responsibility, and efficacy of online school programs for students with emotional/behavioral disorders. Students are closely supervised by faculty in the pilot study and dissertation research process. Dissertation committees are composed of a chair, a methodologist, and a reader, all trained through CITI and all available to the student for consultation. The program employs a cohort model, and so peer support is readily available to students throughout the program.

[] What role does faculty mentorship play in Southern Wesleyan University’s Online Ed.D. in Curriculum and Assessment? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems while they are enrolled?

[Dr. Shotsberger] Faculty are readily available for mentoring students in the program, whether it be course-related or having to do with meeting the milestones of the program. We primarily use Zoom to interact in real-time, whether in a class setting or one-to-one. Faculty are also responsive through email, Canvas, and Google docs.

We have a diverse faculty (fulltime and affiliate) representing many different realms in education, including early childhood, elementary, middle school, high school, special education, administration, and higher education. Once students have the opportunity to meet faculty during the first residency, they are encouraged to construct their own dissertation committee with those who are specialists in their area of interest, and with whom they easily relate.

[] For students interested in Southern Wesleyan University’s Online Ed.D. in Curriculum and Assessment, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Shotsberger] Applicants should know that the Graduate Admissions Committee combs through every document we receive, and we carefully consider applicants based on the quality of their submissions. Though our applicants tend to be K-12 teachers and administrators, we have had applicants from higher education who are both professors and administrators. We also seek those who might be involved with a non-profit or business that is concerned with curriculum and/or assessment in its various forms.

We ask applicants to take the Miller Analogies Test (MAT) instead of the GRE, and applicants can help themselves by taking the MAT as soon as possible in the application process, so that we can receive official scores in a timely manner. We also ask applicants for a resume, official transcripts of all college/university work, two letters of reference, and a personal statement that addresses why a doctoral program in Curriculum and Assessment is suited to their background, interests and career goals. Please request those providing letters of reference to be specific as to your qualifications for our program.

[] What makes Southern Wesleyan University’s Online Ed.D. in Curriculum and Assessment unique and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students? How does this program prepare students for advanced careers in education leadership and education systems improvement across a wide variety of academic environments?

[Dr. Shotsberger] There are a number of strengths of the program that we feel set it apart from other doctoral programs: 1) the emphasis on curriculum and assessment and how those two aspects of education can work together to strengthen schools, universities, organizations and businesses; 2) the summer residencies, which augment the online work and allow students face-to-face interaction with faculty, staff and students who they work with throughout the year; 3) the nature of the coursework, which builds toward and supports the dissertation writing process, rather than leaving the dissertation to the end as an after-thought, and which we believe works to ensure that students successfully complete the program; and 4) the nature of the course assignments, wherein students are presented with challenges requiring creativity in solving problems and applying what they are learning in their current and future environments.

Thank you, Dr. Shotsberger, for your excellent insight into Southern Wesleyan University’s Online Ed.D. in Curriculum and Assessment!