Interview with Tony Talbert, Ed.D. and Sandi Cooper, Ph.D. about Baylor University's Online Doctor of Education (EdD) in Learning and Organizational Change

About Tony Talbert, Ed.D.: Tony Talbert is the Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives at Baylor University, where he also teaches classes as a Professor of Social/Cultural Studies. As Associate Dean, Dr. Talbert oversees the development of innovative faculty and student programming for Baylor University’s School of Education. He also forms partnerships with local and national organizations to further the mission statement of the School of Education. As a Professor, Dr. Talbert teaches courses in qualitative research, ethnography, mixed methods, social issues in education, and the history of education.

Dr. Talbert has over 30 years of experience in teaching and educational leadership. Prior to his role at Baylor University, he was an Assistant Professor of Qualitative Research and Social/Cultural Studies Education at the University of Houston and an Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education and Qualitative Research at Mississippi State University. Before entering research and academia, Dr. Talbert worked extensively in theatre, and the principles and methods of audience engagement that he employed during his stage career enliven his classroom instruction to this day. He received his Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Science from Stephen F. Austin State University, his Master of Arts in American Studies from Baylor University, and his Ed.D. in Qualitative Research and Social Studies Education from the University of Houston.

About Sandi Cooper, Ph.D.: Sandi Cooper is the Program Director for Baylor University’s Online Ed.D. in Learning and Organizational Change. As Director, she oversaw the design of the program’s curriculum and manages updates to course content. In addition, she coordinates student admissions and recruitment, oversees student advising, and supports all faculty in the program. In addition to her work as Program Director, Dr. Cooper is also a Professor of Mathematics Education at Baylor, and teaches numerous courses in the undergraduate elementary teacher certification program, as well as graduate courses in mathematics pedagogy. She also is Coordinator of Baylor University’s Mathematics Education Program.

In addition to her responsibilities at Baylor University, Dr. Cooper has served as the President of the Texas Council of Teachers of Mathematics and President of the Central Texas Council of Teachers of Mathematics, as well as several leadership positions in national professional organizations. She has served as Project Director for several education projects funded through Eisenhower Grants, including initiatives for the U.S. Department of Education. She earned her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Elementary Education from Louisiana Tech University, and her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Texas A&M University.

Interview Questions

[] Could you please provide an overview of Baylor University’s Online Doctor of Education (EdD) in Learning and Organizational Change? How is the program structured? What are the key learning outcomes for this program, and what types of careers does it prepare students for?

[Dr. Cooper] We have offered the EdD program here at Baylor University since the 1950s, and it has evolved to become a highly practitioner-oriented program. We recently got the opportunity to offer it online, which has been a fantastic experience integrating interactive learning technologies into the program while making it more accessible to students nationally and internationally.

We crafted this degree to be more than just curriculum and instruction: it is advanced training in enacting organizational change through education-based principles and methods. We could see the broader scope of what we, as experts in education, had to offer. This broader scope allows our program to serve a wider range of professionals, such as individuals in the health sector, the military, or non-profit leadership. In any organization there is a need, a responsibility, for leadership to educate staff, whether at the individual level or the group/organizational level. Our program gives students the skills, principles, and strategies to design better educational programs and organize effective educational environments within their place of work. We saw a lot of professions where that kind of responsibility was important for advancement, and this degree helps move students in that direction by providing them with the knowledge and experiences to lead their organization through education.

The online EdD program in Learning and Organizational Change is comprised of 54 credit hours that cover three key areas: Learning Foundations, Organizational Change, and Research Methods. Students also complete two Immersion experiences on our campus and a Capstone course where they synthesize all that they have learned in a Problem of Practice project.

We designed our program to be flexible to help our students to either advance within their current position or move laterally to a different company or industry. For example, if a student is working in a school district as a classroom teacher, our program can provide opportunities for professional growth to enhance their potential to become a curriculum coordinator. We have also helped individuals who have a background in education to translate their skills to a leadership position in a different arena.

[] Could you please elaborate on the online learning technologies this program uses to deliver course materials and facilitate interaction between students and faculty?

[Dr. Talbert] Our partner company 2U handles all of the learning technologies, and through their platform we have the opportunity to interact with students in live course sessions each week. Through 2U’s learning management system, we can also integrate a great many documents into class lectures and discussions. We also use Zoom as our primary platform for interactive discussions.

Typical class sizes are between 15-20 students. Students complete asynchronous lectures that are pre-recorded before engaging in synchronous discussions with classmates and faculty in a flipped classroom format. The asynchronous sessions are also highly engaging, in that students are expected to complete a lot of writing assignments, learning activities, and projects that they then bring back to the synchronous classes for presentation and discussion. The small class sizes of 15-20 students per class allow for seminar discussions in which all students can contribute. We often ask students of a given class to meet up in small groups before their scheduled weekly live session in order to discuss and work on projects that they then present to the class. The pre-recorded asynchronous lectures provide students with the background knowledge to complete their assignments, and the synchronous discussions reinforce their learning and their connections with class peers. We have observed that our cohorts of students become so engaged with one another that they develop a culture of collegial collaboration.

As an example, a typical synchronous discussion session might start with the instructor providing a brief summary of the topic at hand, and a review of students’ work, which they have completed prior to meeting. Afterwards, students immediately go into virtual breakout rooms with a group of their peers, and tackle problem-based scenarios through discussion and analysis. Together, they come up with a solution to the provided scenario, and once they solidify their small group work, they return to the main virtual classroom to present. This flipped classroom model, in which students are the primary drivers of the conversation and the teacher simply mediates these engaged discussions, has been found to be highly effective.

[] Baylor University’s Ed.D. in Learning and Organizational Change requires students’ attendance at two on-campus immersion experiences. Could you please describe the two immersion experiences and what they entail? Could you also describe the on-campus sessions included in the program, and how they enhance the learning experience for students?

[Dr. Cooper] The Immersions are designed to accomplish two main objectives: 1) to help students prepare their Problem of Practice Project, and 2) to give students the chance to interact and network with instructors, peers, and leaders in the industry.

For their Problem of Practice project, students receive support from an individual faculty advisor, and they meet with this advisor during each of the Immersion experiences. The Immersion experiences are a key opportunity for students to meet with their advisors in-person regarding their project and to receive feedback.

Before each Immersion, students are expected to have completed key tasks for their Problem of Practice project as part of their 3-hour course for that trimester. For the first Immersion experience, students complete a literature review and must develop a strategic plan for their project, which they present to faculty and peers during their visit to campus. We ask students to develop a poster outlining their plan for their Problem of Practice, and when they come to campus, they have their poster prepared, and we print it here for them. Other faculty will attend these presentations and provide feedback on their project idea, and we host these presentations in rotations so that other students can attend each other’s presentations and provide feedback to one another. Faculty mentors serve a similar role as a chair for a graduate student’s dissertation, in that they work with students throughout their enrollment to support them.

For the second Immersion experience, students are required to have completed a formal proposal for their Problem of Practice project, and present their research before faculty and peers for feedback. Once they receive this feedback, students make changes if necessary to their proposal and submit it for final review. These two campus-based Immersion experiences prepare them for the final Capstone course, in which students work to gather and analyze the necessary data for their project, and draw conclusions from their results. Students present their findings to the appropriate stakeholders (for example, members of a non-profit organization, the leadership at the students’ place of work, etc.), after which our faculty team reviews the final Project for assessment.

In addition to providing structure and guidance around students’ final project for the program, each two-day Immersion experience provides students with a wealth of academic mentorship and professional development opportunities. From the start, students engage in lots of great experiences, including touring campus, and hearing from several keynote speakers that we bring in who really highlight information that will help them grow as leaders. They’ll get a chance to meet with the faculty that they’ve already had classes with, but also faculty that they will get to have classes with in the future years. We have roundtables, or mini sessions where faculty present, giving students a learning opportunity and a chance to interact with faculty. They also get the opportunity to meet leaders at the university, such as the president of the university, the provost, and our dean.

[] Baylor University’s Online Doctor of Education in Learning and Organizational Change requires the completion of a Capstone course, during which students complete a research project that is relevant to their current or desired professional work. Could you elaborate on the Capstone course and what it entails?

[Dr. Talbert] Students begin thinking about their Problem of Practice project from the very beginning. In fact, when they apply for the program, they pitch a Problem of Practice idea as part of their application. And we review their ideas as a way of shaping the class cohort. The Problem of Practice project is highly student-directed, and may take on a wide variety of forms depending on students’ interests. For example, it can take the form of a traditional five-chapter dissertation. On the other end of the spectrum, it could take on the form of a business plan with an executive summary, addressing a problem within the industry and/or the student’s particular profession. And anywhere between those two points are projects in product development, software programs, and artistic projects incorporating different forms of media. Students have the flexibility to employ the form that interests them the most, as long as it is related to education and organizational change. The Problem of Practice project is one of the most exciting and dynamic aspects of our program. Presently, most of our students are leaning towards a research product, whether that is a traditional dissertation, a proposed business model, an executive monograph, or another project that is relevant to organizational or educational settings.

Here are a few examples of projects students have completed, to illustrate the possible range: we have one person who is concerned about the environmental impact of a growing landfill in her community. She has a background in environmental studies, and is interested in community action. Her whole research focus right now is to find ways to develop community partnerships that take on responsibility for waste management and community education, and which don’t cede decisions on how to manage waste to government or county authorities. This student wanted to examine how to build an entire curriculum and a program that educates communities at the grassroots level on addressing long term environmental needs and issues at a local level, from managing how much plastic we are using to cultivating a sense of community pride, which then translates into advocacy and action.

We also have people who are looking at issues of distributed justice within academic and organizational contexts. For example, one of our students researched how African-American males were more frequently identified for disciplinary referrals within a particular school district, and how that phenomenon relates to having a predominantly Anglo administration. She asked questions such as, “Even within a school district that works towards resolving multicultural issues and preparing teachers and administrators to be culturally conscious, responsive, and sensitive to differences in both teaching and learning, if you have a predominantly Anglo administrative staff, do you still see an overrepresentation of males of color receiving disciplinary referrals? And if so, why?” Through her project, this student introduced and explored this concept of distributed justice, with the aim of developing a model that changes the way we look at how we intervene and implement corrective measures with students. She wanted to design a way to approach these situations, not from a punitive standpoint, but rather from a dialogue-centric standpoint. How do we develop dialogues among teachers, students, and administrators? Through this project our student endeavored to apply complex theories to real situations affecting students within her community.

We also have students who either have a military background or who are closely connected to someone with a military background, and we have seen very interesting project ideas from these students. For example, one of our students looked at the impact of relocation on the professional trajectories of highly educated spouses of military officers.

Our students from the health care industry also develop projects that are specific to their profession, and highly relevant to improving the efficiency and efficacy of patient care. We have a student who is the director of nursing for a children’s hospital. She wanted to develop an entire curriculum and protocol for directing asthma education, and teaching families about issues of asthma. She set about trying to understand why families who are provided information on how to address these childhood asthma episodes are not changing their behaviors at home. And she’s largely focusing on low socioeconomic families where English is not their primary language. So here is a student coming from a medical perspective, who recognizes there’s a sociological impact to how information is delivered. Just because you provide the prescription doesn’t mean that it’s going to be filled. Or just because you provide the protocol, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be understood within a specific environment. Our student’s goal was to develop a curriculum to help medical professionals understand it’s not enough simply to prescribe or simply to give the information. The family has to be integrated into the whole process.

[] What role does faculty mentorship play in the EdD in Learning and Organizational Change program? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems while in the program?

[Dr. Cooper] Each of our faculty members has about 15-20 students that they mentor throughout the program, with particular emphasis on supporting students during their work on their Problem of Practice project. Prior to the campus Immersions, students and their mentors meet over Zoom, which allows them to have real-time discussions. Apart from their individual mentors, students also interact with and receive mentorship from the faculty members with whom they take their courses, both through class-time guidance, office hour sessions, and individualized advice that faculty can provide by email or phone chat.

Apart from faculty mentorship, we also offer numerous opportunities for both our campus-based and online students. We offer travel support if they want to go to a conference to present a paper they are working on. And students can apply for that travel support through the School of Education or through our specific program. We want to offer the same option for our online students so that they can begin to think about attending conferences in their field, where they can go present their ideas, their research, or just engage with fellow scholars.

We also have a Graduate Student Association (GSA) for our students on campus, which comes together as a group to talk about challenges they’ve encountered, or ideas that they have for improving the students’ experience. The GSA is a platform for our students to voice their thoughts to the administration, whether it be regarding the School of Education, or an across-campus issue. And for our online program, we’ve been working on ways to allow our online students to have a similar platform to discuss the challenges they are facing, and suggestions they have for improving our program. So those are just a couple of examples of ways we try to integrate mentorship into the structure of the program outside of faculty-to-student mentorship.

[] For students interested in Baylor University’s Online Doctor of Education in Learning and Organizational Change, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Talbert] Great question. One of the most fun and yet most difficult aspects of being a part of this program is that we have so many applicants that we can and choose to be selective. The rigors of our admissions process equal if not exceed those of our campus-based programs here at Baylor. We want to build a community of students who enhance each other’s learning outcomes from the very beginning of their tenure in the program. This means being selective.

Early on in the admissions process we know upfront whether an applicant meets or doesn’t meet the essential criteria for admission based on their GPA and the writing sample they submit. We have high expectations for applicants and for them to make the first cut they have to meet a certain baseline GPA (though there are rare exceptions) and submit a writing sample that demonstrates their ability to handle the rigorous assignments we expect them to complete. We generally look for GPAs within the mid 3.0s or higher. We also look to see what kind of degree they received—whether they are coming from the sciences, or a technical field, or the arts—we welcome students of all academic backgrounds, but at the same time our degree is a rigorous one requiring a great deal of writing, reading, and reasoning, and students’ academic track record should demonstrate their strengths in these areas.

We have a highly evolved review system, where the entire faculty team participates in the review of applicants who submit their materials. There are a minimum of two faculty members who review each student’s application. In the case of a discrepancy in the review, a third faculty member (most often the program’s Graduate Program Director, Dr. Cooper) reviews the application to render a decision on admission. This process provides each applicant a thorough review and ensures inter-evaluative reliability for the review process. We believe each applicant deserves the most precise and personal review we can offer.

We look at their background as to why they want to apply for the program, but also what their research interests are. We also look closely at the quality of their writing. Students also have an online video interview that allows us to get a sense of how well that person can articulate their ideas. How well are they able to present a sense of curiosity?

We’ve had students submit a wide variety of writing samples and other creative work as part of their application. For example, students have written short stories, novels/novellas, and other creative work. We want students to have a clear thesis across their application that answers the question, “What are the skills and experiences I can bring to the program?” Students who articulate clearly and in an engaging way how they are going to help shape our program for the better, and be a real part of our student community, are highly compelling. Students who have all of these components—a strong GPA and background of academic success, creative and analytical thinking as illustrated in their statement of purpose and writing sample, and a clear drive to contribute to the academic community here at Baylor—those students rise to the top of the list. With the overall student community and learning environment in mind, we also make sure to prioritize professional, cultural, and academic diversity, because our students can learn as much from each other (especially in the small class sizes and the group project-oriented work we require) as they learn from their instructors.

I will also note that we pay close attention not just to the track record, but also to the trajectory of our applicants. By this I mean it is not just about what you have already done—it is also about where you’re going and how you’re going to change your trajectory. One example that comes to mind: we once had a student whose undergraduate GPA was very low, but he had done some good graduate work, and wrote an essay that was captivating. He had had some excellent professional experiences, and was a creative individual who also worked as a musician. We knew he’d be a great individual for our program, even though his undergraduate grades were not within our typically expected range.

[] What makes Baylor University’s Online Doctor of Education in Learning and Organizational Change unique and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?

[Dr. Cooper] One of the best qualities of our program is how it accommodates a broader scope of students when compared to other EdD programs. We offer courses and experiences and interactions with faculty and leaders in education that prepare them for roles in education, leadership, and organizational change. This program is a great option for any individual who wants to enact organizational change through education and curricular development and design.

[Dr. Talbert] Baylor University’s Online Ed.D. in Learning and Organizational Change program is distinct from other online learning, leadership, and organizational change doctoral degrees. First, from the moment the most highly qualified students enter our/their Ed.D. program, they are fully integrated into a learning community that values their voice and experiences. Each member of an Ed.D. of Learning and Organizational Change cohort is asked to provide a professional and personal profile that is shared with all faculty members of the program. These profiles then inform the curriculum and pedagogy of each course. Simply put, the courses are student-centered from day one, tailored to students’ experiences, interests, and goals.

On a similar and no less important note, recall that part of the admission criteria for each student in the program is the ability to articulate a research agenda (i.e., a Problem of Practice). The Problem of Practice project serves as one of the key indicators in shaping each admission class. Simply put, diversity matters and we want the best and brightest students who have a belief that they can change the world in which they live. We accordingly provide these motivated students with personalized support throughout their work on their project to ensure that they get the most out of their final project and presentation experiences.

Secondly, the Ed.D. in Learning and Organizational Change program is committed to developing high impact scholars of practice. The first courses taken in the degree plan are focused on facilitating students’ development of their Problem of Practice (PoP) research focus. The result is that students not only learn the skills of research design as a first step in their doctoral education, but they also are exposed to the importance of developing a theoretical foundation that guides their best practices in their professional and academic endeavors. All students develop a Problem of Practice research proposal by the end of their first semester. This puts them on a trajectory to developing both academic and action research proposals and projects in the semesters ahead.

Third, our program is distinctive from other “leadership, learning, and organizational change” doctoral programs in the scope of our recruitment. While it is true this degree is earned and awarded through the Baylor University School of Education, the Ed.D in Learning and Organizational Change program recruits students from diverse professions and fields. Simply put, our program prepares scholars of practice in a diverse array of professions and fields to facilitate organizational change through curriculum design and delivery, best practice pedagogical models (e.g., education and training), and visionary strategic planning that brings about human flourishing and organizational change.

I cannot think of another doctoral program that has embraced the notion that best practice pedagogy, culturally/contextually driven curriculum, and diverse voices and visions of excellence in education can impact change in the minds and lives of individuals and groups locally and internationally. It might sound trite but I assure you that the leadership and faculty of Baylor University’s Ed.D. in Learning and Organizational Change believe that each student’s voice has the potential to impact, dare I say change, the trajectory of a generation. This has been one of the greatest enterprises I’ve been a part of in 30 years as a faculty member of a collaborative and innovative university.

Thank you, Dr. Cooper and Dr. Talbert, for your excellent insight into Baylor University’s Online Ed.D. Program in Learning and Organizational Change!