Interview with Ross A. Perkins, Ph.D. and Patrick Lowenthal, Ph.D. about Boise State University's Online Ed.D. in Educational Technology

About Ross A. Perkins, Ph.D.: Dr. Perkins is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Technology at Boise State University, where he also serves as the department’s co-coordinator for its Ed.D. program, and coordinator of its Ed.S. and M.S. (thesis option) programs. As co-coordinator, Dr. Perkins participates in curriculum design and updates for the advanced graduate programs, manages student recruitment and admissions, advising, and also supports faculty. He is past-president of the Association of Education Communication and Technology’s (AECT) International Division and its Design & Development Division. His research interests include the diffusion of innovations, instructional design and evaluation, and the adoption and integration of technologies into education spaces (real and virtual). He received his Master’s of Arts in Education in Instructional Technology and his Ph.D. in Instructional Technology from Virginia Tech. Prior to working in higher education, Dr. Perkins was a high school English teacher and director of public relations at a private school in southern Virginia.

Photo of Dr. Patrick LowenthalAbout Patrick Lowenthal, Ph.D.: Patrick Lowenthal is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Technology at Boise State University, where he is also the Co-Coordinator for the Ed.D. in Educational Technology. As Co-Coordinator, Dr. Lowenthal works with Dr. Perkins to oversee changes to the Ed.D.’s curriculum and course offerings, coordinates student advising and recruitment efforts, and supports faculty within the Ed.D. program. In addition to teaching courses in the Ed.D. program and serving as the advisor to numerous dissertations, Dr. Lowenthal has engaged in research on distance education technologies, blended online learning environments, and how to increase inclusivity and accessibility in the online learning space. He earned his Master of Arts in Information and Learning Technologies and Ph.D. in Education Leadership and Innovation from the University of Colorado Denver, and has also earned a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies from Georgia State University and a Master of Arts in Academic Study of Religion from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Interview Questions

[] May we have an overview of Boise State University’s Online Ed.D. in Educational Technology? What are the key learning outcomes for this program, and how does it prepare students to design and oversee innovative academic and organizational solutions using educational technology?

[Dr. Perkins and Dr. Lowenthal] Our doctoral program was specifically established as an Ed.D. in order for students to focus on “problems of practice,” which means looking at challenges or issues within the student’s professional context. The capstone experience of our doctoral program is an original, research-based dissertation study supervised by an advisor and committee members. Students complete a series of core courses, courses around a cognate (specialty) area of their choice, electives of interest, an “innovative experience,” and then dissertation research.

Students take four “core courses” (12 credit hours), and five research courses (15 credit hours). Additionally, they enroll in a “doctoral seminar” for four semesters. In all, the program has 66 credit hours. We actually allow a student to transfer in up to 33 credit hours into our program if it is the right blend of classes. Those students who are in our Education Specialist (Ed.S.) program, or who have graduated from it, can actually apply nearly all of the credits taken in the Ed.S. to the Ed.D., should they be admitted to it. The Boise State University College of Education also offers an Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, but nearly all courses for it are on-campus, and the majority of core courses are not related specifically to educational technology.

The majority of the professionals in our doctoral program are already, to some degree or another, in a leadership role with respect to educational technology. Even those who are classroom teachers typically have a substantial role within their own school: they are providing support for their peers and administrators on a regular basis, serving on school technology committees, etc. Doctoral students who are serving in the military, or who are instructional designers, or even consultants, are pursuing the degree not to “become,” but rather to brighten and refine existing practice. Although our courses contain content that is in most cases new to students, we help prepare them for the next levels of leadership by emphasizing connections to what they already know. Our students, in each course and in other doctoral experiences, can make the choice about how to apply what they’re learning to the context they are in or the context they seek in their future.

A key part of the program, which as stated culminates in a dissertation, is our focus on tying everything they do to existing research and theory. We feel this explicit link, which is reinforced time and again, not only prepares students for their own eventual research, but also prepares them for the kind of thought leadership and perspectives that organizations of any kind need. So much decision making around educational technology is driven by an institution or organization’s fascination with “shiny things,” so leaders who understand and can articulate the relationship of tools, pedagogical goals, and systems perspective are necessary. We’d also mention that our program brings students together with each other and with faculty in multiple ways–not just in classes. We make a point of acknowledging that collaboration is massively important (not “group projects,” but true collaboration), and this is also such a critical part of developing the knowledge and skills of people who will develop, design, implement, and assess educational technology solutions.

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

[Dr. Perkins and Dr. Lowenthal] Boise State University is transitioning to become a “Canvas” school, and all content will be offered by Instructure’s learning management system by Fall 2021. The Department of Educational Technology itself has offered courses and programs online for more than 20 years, so we have experience with other LMSs (Blackboard and Moodle). The university has been a “GoogleApps” school since 2009. We in Ed Tech are heavily “GSuite centric” and all our program administration and nearly all of our courses require students to create and share documents, spreadsheets, etc. in the GSuite ecosystem.

Our courses are predominantly asynchronous as we are sensitive to the needs of the professionals enrolled in our program, and due to the fact that we have students from California to Idaho to North Carolina to Kyrgyzstan to Japan. Any synchronous communication (any that are mandatory are offered at various times, and enough times/dates, where students have a choice), are done through the University’s Zoom account or via GoogleMeet. Some professors might elect to use other communication tools (e.g., Twitter, VoiceThread, FlipGrid, Slack), etc. Our program administration is done through a “portal” in our LMS, but we also reach prospective and current students, and alumni, via our social media accounts.

[] Boise State University’s Online Ed.D. in Educational Technology 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. Perkins and Dr. Lowenthal] Our signature pedagogy is faculty-to-student mentoring during the program. Students receive close, personalized guidance on their research, and this starts with building a relationship with the advisor starting in the first semester. Although some students have a concept of what they want to do for their dissertation research (at least the context in which they would like to do research), many need encouragement to explore in the early stages. We scaffold students and advisors to make sure that topics and issues can be freely discussed. Sometimes that helps a student select something more focused, and other times it helps a student exclude a topic area to research.

We use various approaches to the dissertation with respect to format: a traditional “chapter-based” dissertation, an article-based dissertation, or other possible forms can be explored. The dissertation is not merely a “capstone project” and it is not co-authored, although the student does work closely with their chair on it. Ultimately, students decide what they want to investigate for their dissertation, and they work with their advisor on its format.

Once they have passed their comprehensive exam, they will write a dissertation proposal where they describe the purpose of the study, related literature, and the method they plan to use. The typical dissertation proposal consists of three chapters: Chapter 1: Introduction, Chapter 2: Review of Literature; Chapter 3: Method. The student then has to present and defend the dissertation proposal to their committee. Their committee provides constructive feedback on the proposed study. Once approved, the student will then get IRB approval to conduct the study, collect data and write up the results in a Chapter 4 and discussion in a Chapter 5. The student then has to complete an oral defense. Students often research problems of practice in their place of work. Students have been able to use their research at work, to publish articles, and at times to get a promotion or a new job.

Our program has had 41 graduates through Fall 2020 (we list their names, dissertation titles, methods, and committee members in our program handbook). All of our students have benefitted, from one degree to another, through peer support. We actively encourage this via our doctoral seminar and in classes. The seminar, required of all students in their first and second year, gives them opportunities to connect and work with their advisor and with peers. In some cases, students take it upon themselves to form their own groups through Facebook, Slack, and so on. Students collaborate on projects, papers, and presentations (by choice) even outside of class requirements as these activities help further their professional interests and development.

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

[Dr. Perkins and Dr. Lowenthal] Our doctoral advising actually starts right away, but that does not mean that professionals who enter the program need to have a “perfectly formed” idea about their research when they start the program. Many indicate a particular area or context of interest, however, and that at least allows our faculty (during the application review process) to partner with students whom they feel they can best mentor. Our cohort selection is very much individual faculty choosing “teams” of one or two applicants to whom we then extend the invitation to join our program. Faculty make their selection based on an applicant’s overall background and fit with their own lines of inquiry. Because of this, when students begin the program and enroll in their first semester of the doctoral seminar, they begin to correspond with the research and program advisors straight away.

We encourage regular communication with their research chair, especially, so that they can begin to read resources the faculty member thinks are important as they complete projects in classes, etc. We’ve been particularly fortunate to partner with many students who work as co-authors or co-presenters on journal articles and conference papers, and these elements also help students further refine or extend their ideas for dissertation research. Each student has a supervisory committee comprised of the research chair and two other faculty members (though one of them, if approved by our Graduate College, can be from outside BSU).

[] For students interested in Boise State University’s Online Ed.D. in Educational Technology, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Perkins and Dr. Lowenthal] We are fortunate to get applicants from a wide variety of backgrounds. Many applicants have at least one degree pertaining to K-12 education or educational technology, but certainly not all of them do. We have had, or have, students with a background in corporate settings, health care, the military, and higher education. A master’s degree earned in any field must have been completed before a student can enroll.

In the cover letter, it helps if an applicant describes how her or his experiences are related to employment goals and to research interests and directions. Career goals we see are commonly “vertical,” meaning that a professional seeks a higher level of responsibility within his or her own organization (e.g. a classroom teacher who becomes a teacher-trainer or an educational technology administrator). But an applicant might also have a “horizontal” goal, meaning that she or he would like a job different than the one they are doing or one that is in a different context (e.g. a K-12 teacher wants to create and lead a business offering online education).

We are careful to screen out people who seem only to be looking for a generic “doctorate,” or just letters behind their name. Applicants need to clearly articulate why they want a terminal degree in educational technology specifically and how their own research interests tie in to faculty research. Applicants should spend time researching our program and our faculty. We try to identify students whose research and/or professional experience aligns with our faculty. They should demonstrate why they want to attend Boise State University and how completing their Ed.D. will help them meet their professional goals.

With respect to logistics, we have a comprehensive “Application Guidebook” that clearly describes all required components. We are as prescriptive as we are because we process a number of applications and it helps us to have all components in place and uniform. In the past we have required current scores from the Graduate Record Exam, although these are waived under unique or very specific circumstances. For example, no GRE is required for applications to the 2021 cohort given considerations due to the pandemic.

There are minimum expectations for an applicant’s undergraduate and graduate Grade Point Average, but a GPA lower than those expectations (3.0 and 3.5 respectively) should not be interpreted as screening a person out altogether. Again, the application review process looks at all aspects, not just GPA. If an applicant has a solid rationale as to why a GPA might be low, then we consider that. Students whose first language is not English and who’ve not completed a degree from an English-speaking institution must take the TOEFL.

All faculty are involved in application review. Interviews have tended to be asynchronous, but some faculty like to have additional 1:1 synchronous interviews via web-based video conferencing. No on-campus interview is required.

[] What makes Boise State University’s Online Ed.D. in Educational Technology unique and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students? How does this program prepare students for advanced careers in innovative education solutions and educational/organizational leadership?

[Dr. Perkins and Dr. Lowenthal] Our program prepares students for career “next steps” and for innovative leadership in many ways. First is our emphasis on research. We are entirely focused on making sure students’ research direction is centered on problems of practice. We’re strongly focused on integrating research into practice and vice-versa. All students complete an actual doctoral dissertation. Second is our emphasis on diversity, which we think about in many ways – not just with respect to ethnicity (although we do have many students of color in our program). The diversity also includes different work backgrounds and life experiences. As we’ve already noted, we have (or have had) students from K12 education, corporate settings, higher education, the military, and so on. The diversity includes a wide spectrum of research interests on contexts: gifted education, instructional design, game-based learning, special education, K12 online education, simulations for nursing education, and so on.

We give students freedom to explore their area(s) of interest, but we also ask that they read broadly about other aspects of educational technology to which they might not have been exposed, and this further prepares them for whatever is ahead. Finally, we’d point to our focus on connection. We have learned that what helps make our program successful are the ways our research expertise can help students grow, and how our students’ expertise in practice can help us grow; we truly feel that we’re a community of learners. It’s an amazing thing to have doctoral students living and working in Central Asia collaborating with high school teachers in suburban Northern Virginia – this can only happen in a 100% online program, as travel requirements would preclude some of the more remote or place-bound students we get.

[] Boise State University also offers an online Ed.S. in Educational Technology. May we have an overview of the curriculum for this program, and how it is distinguished from the Ed.D. program?

[Dr. Perkins and Dr. Lowenthal] The Ed.S. program was started in 2016 for primarily three reasons. First, we know there are a number of people who already hold a master’s degree of some kind and who want to study educational technology, but do not want a second master’s degree–they want a step beyond that. They do not necessarily want to do a doctoral dissertation, though, so the Ed.S. is a relatively short (33 credit hour) program that is a step beyond the master’s degree.

Second, we know that in any given cohort of doctoral students, there will be some who simply cannot finish their Ed.D., and this can be for any number of “life” reasons (an elderly parent needs care, or a job change, or change to financial situation, or just burn out). We wanted a degree that doctoral students could thus earn if they decide to “stop out,” which would mean more than simply having a transcript with a number of course credits listed on it. For those who have used this option (there have not been many up to this point) have been thankful for it.

Finally, one of the must successful aspects of our Ed.S. program is that it is kind of a built-in “Lab Program” for the Ed.D. Many students start the Ed.S. with varying degrees of uncertainty about the Ed.D., so they apply to it and start the Ed.S. with the intention of trying it out. The advantage is that should they then apply to the Ed.D. (admission is not automatic and is competitive with other doctoral applicants), they can use almost all of the Ed.S. course they’ve taken toward the Ed.D. itself. This can help shorten the length of the doctoral program or, at the very least, take pressure off of courses they are required to take each semester.

Students in the Ed.S. program can specialize (as a cognate) in any way they choose, even if the courses they string together are not a specific “certificate program” such as we describe below. The “lab” of the Ed.S. is also advantageous because it gives us, the faculty, a real look at how students are performing in our classes–some of which are specifically doctoral program courses (ex., educational research, intro to stats, etc.). That way, should the Ed.S. student apply to the Ed.D., we have a much better sense of who s/he is, and the work of which they are capable, rather than simply seeing their name and application materials along with all the others we receive. Again–we must emphasize–admission to and enrollment in the Ed.S. is not a guarantee of admission to the Ed.D., but we can say, overall, it is an advantage to be enrolled in it.

[] In addition to its Ed.D. and Ed.S. degrees, Boise State University also offers numerous certificates in educational technology. May we have more information on these certificates, and how they can benefit students?

[Dr. Perkins and Dr. Lowenthal] We offer four graduate certificates, any one of which can be earned in parallel with one of our graduate degree programs (MET, EdS, or EdD). Our certificates include: Technology Integration Specialist, Online Teaching, Educational Games and Simulation, or School Technology Coordination. Students take the specified courses for the certificates, which range from 9 to 15 credit hours. It’s important to keep in mind that the certificates are not additional credits beyond the degree, but can be counted as part of the degree program. Since both the Ed.D. and Ed.S. programs require students to complete a “cognate,” (an area of emphasis within educational technology), it’s often the case that a student chooses to enroll in a certificate, which allows them to complete the cognate and earn the certificate at the same time.

The benefit to the student is that the courses on the transcript do not only count to a degree, but have an actual official designation by the University. In cases where students are trying to distinguish themselves with credentials beyond only the degree, the certificate can stand as proof they’ve applied themselves to a particular area of study that is recognized by the University. In cases where many professionals applying for a certain position have the same kind of degree, an additional certificate can make them stand out as being more knowledgeable and qualified.

Thank you, Dr. Perkins and Dr. Lowenthal, for your excellent insight into Boise State University’s online Ed.D. in Educational Technology!