Advice for Aspiring Ed Tech Doctoral Students

From time to time I get email from people considering a doctoral degree in Educational Technology. Tonight I think I wrote a fairly good (and brief) response, so I thought I’d share an excerpt from it here (the sender had asked for advice on what to research and who to research with, and this was the bulk of my response):

I’d suggest the following…

Research something you are passionate about. As you begin that process you’ll discover the current researchers and practitioners in the field… connect with them. Don’t be a passive consumer of research – whatever program you choose, make sure you take charge of connecting yourself with the community doing the important work in the field you’re passionate about. Also, go into it knowing that this process will change what you’re interested in researching. At the start this is good, because you don’t know what you don’t know, but eventually you’ll need to commit and make your own contribution by completing your own study.

That being said, I can also recommend Walden University’s Educational Technology program (with the caveat that any program is only as good as you make it – and only as good as the people you connect with… be sure to connect with the faculty early and often to discover who you want to work with – and who you want to ignore or stay away from). I found Walden’s program very flexible (in terms of letting me determine the direction of my own research), very resource rich (with faculty and students from around the globe), very inspiring (with a focus on positive social change), and, of course, rigorous and challenging. I also appreciated their hybrid model, with coursework online (which is as it should be for an educational technology degree), face-to-face residencies (which are key for connecting with faculty), and (of course) independent research – just as you’d do anywhere. Here’s a link to the program description:

I hope this helps.

And I hope it might help some of you (or your colleagues) as well. Please comment if you have any feedback or any additional advice. :)

11 Responses to “Advice for Aspiring Ed Tech Doctoral Students”

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  2. Wendy Gorton Says:

    Great advice, Mark, especially for someone sniffing down the doctoral trail! I loved my master’s program at Pepperdine in EdTech because it was hybrid like Walden’s– we met for a week and made some incredible bonds and connections that made all of our online discussions and projects so rich and our final meet and exhibition amazing. It was one of the first college experiences where professors eschewed traditional lecture models and let us do all the discovering and collaborating and talking, and it framed the way I eventually taught my kids.

    Did you find your topic getting honed down pretty quickly after a year or so?

    Thanks for sharing!


  3. Mark Wagner, Ph.D. Says:

    Thanks for the contribution, Wendy. I hear a lot of good things about the Pepperdine programs.

    In any case, it took quite a while to hone in on my topic actually. I spent most of the first year exploring “constructivist learning environments” (and organizational change) and in the second year I thought “video games and learning” would be a great new frontier. Of course, much had already been written – and I did two years of research as I slowly focused on my topic of “MMORPGs in K-12 Education” and then later my actual delphi study about potential applications and issues. Even then it took another year… it was five total for me, but well worth it all along the way – and the degree was opening doors from the day I started. :)

  4. mrsdurff Says:

    As another Walden doctoral student specializing in educational technology, I can only agree!

  5. MMG Says:

    The trouble with doctorates in any technological field is that the field is always changing. In the time that it takes to get a doctorate, the world will become very different. However, what ismost important at all is grasping principles. If you grasp principles of science, technology, and how it works and progresses, you will be better cut out for a career in the field then some hot shot younger generational wiz kid.

  6. Steve Lee Says:

    I am wrapping up a Master’s in Ed Tech at CSUN. The education business is so chaotic right now. Layoffs, furlough days and serious budget cuts make me wonder if the time and money spent for a doctorate has any value beyond just being the best educated person at family functions. My B.S. is in the IT field, and that business is in no better shape than the education business. These are tough times.

  7. Jon Margerum-Leys Says:

    Be very careful about which doctoral program you choose, especially if you want to be a faculty member yourself. No disrespect to the Walden program, which has many fine features, but it won’t help you to get a faculty position at most universities.

  8. Mark Wagner, Ph.D. Says:

    @jon Perhaps those universities might not be the best match for a forward looking educational technologist anyway. ;)

    Of course, I can’t speak to Eastern Michigan University. Hopefully they were open minded enough to hire you based on something other than just the institution that conferred your degree. :)

  9. Jon Margerum-Leys Says:

    That’s just it. The universities that (in my opinion) would be the best match for a forward looking educational technologist would be among those not willing to accept a degree from Walden. A doctorate, in order to pass muster at the highest quality institutions, needs to include a component of understanding the social and professional aspects of working in an academic setting. Universities that would be a less good match for a forward looking educational technologist might be more willing to accept a degree from Walden.

    Eastern Michigan hires people with all sorts of degrees and does look at much more than where the degree was conferred. That said, the current market attracts _lots_ of applicants for each position. There has to be a way to quickly make the first cut. Often, which institution conferred the degree becomes part of that first cut.


  10. Mark Wagner, Ph.D. Says:

    The challenge almost makes me want to apply for a university job. ;)

    In any case, I understand your point. Still, I don’t think the “traditional” universities will be the cradle of big changes in education… at least that’s (obviously) not where I’ve decided to apply my efforts.

  11. rateske Says:

    It’s not a doctoral program but Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, MI has a masters program in ed. tech. Not only are they hybrid, but they have now begun complete online courses. I find this to be even better than hybrid since I’m an international teacher in Europe and know of other educators that must keep certificates up to date. I’ve also heard that GVSU will hire with a completed masters degree. I don’t know all the information regarding hiring since I’ve never applied, but when I inquired about teaching online classes for education I was told I only needed to have my masters (not a doctorate).