The Walden University Experience

I did promise one reader my reflections on the Walden experience, and I think this is something that others would find interesting, or even benefit from.

Based on conversations I’ve had with faculty… aside from requirements such as a masters degree and experience in the field, the primary gate-keeping device, at least in the school of education, is the applicants’ writing skills. So there is something of a self-selection mechanism at work here, and the University has an excellent orientation program in place to help prepare students for success. There is a readiness orientation to introduce students to the online course format, followed by two six week orientation courses prior to beginning any formal coursework. In addition each student is assigned a faculty mentor in their first year, but they are also free to change mentors if they discover another professor who is a better fit for their research.

The coursework keeps to a relatively breakneck pace, but I appreciated the structure while I had it. Like any school, the quality of the course experience depends a lot on the instructor. I was impressed and happy with all of my instructors but two… and the philosophical differences I had with these two were certainly of the kind you expect in higher education, and neither issue interfered with my final success in the class. As for taking classes online, I really apreciated, as I’ve shared here before I think, the asynchronous communication, which gave me the flexibility to work when it was convenient (or possible) for me, and which allowed time to reflect and compose answers to as many threaded discussions as I wanted to participate in.

Walden is a hybrid model of online and face to face formats. In my program, I am required to complete 32 residency units, which I am completing with this residency. This allows an opportunity for face to face interaction with the faculty and other students. I find the one on one faculty advising hours to be the most valuable part of the residency. (The student to faculty ratio is a happy 15:1 at the summer residency… and they are aiming for 9:1 overall!) There are also a variety of face to face meeting formats; colloquia where the whole school (such as the school of education) meets, intensive seminars (which are very like a traditional recurring face to face classes), and a variety of presentations and hands-on workshops. Individual schedules are very fluid, as there are many opportunities for choice in how to spend your time. The serendipitous informal meetings are also a very important part of the residency experience… particularly over beers. ;)

This is a very writing intensive program any way you cut it – which is a good thing by the time a student gets to the dissertation. The Knowledge Area Modules (KAMs) are essentially five research papers each: the learning agreement (~10 pages), the breadth (~30 pages), the depth (~25 pages), the annotated bibliography (of at least 15 scholarly articles), and the application (~10 pages, plus, well, an application). A student who is focusing on one KAM at a time can finish one in three months if they are really flying. Educational Technology students must complete three of these, but if all goes well, they can be focused on the same topic as the dissertation and so be used as a foundation for the final work.

The dissertation, of course, is not much different than elsewhere, as a dissertation is finally going to come down to the point where the student is working independently researching, conducting a study, and writing a paper (of about 200 pages). However, the oral defense is often conducted remotely by conference call or over the web.

As with the courses, the quality of experience associated with KAMs and the dissertation depends significantly on the faculty advisor (mentor), the KAM assessors, and the dissertation committee. Again, the student has a great deal of flexibility in deciding what faculty to work with.

The most rewarding and surprising benefit of attending this school is the exposure to people and perspectives from all over the world. This is true in the online courses and in the face to face residencies. California certainly has a diversity of it’s own, but it is nothing like being exposed to people from other places and other cultures all together. This I never had in my traditional undergraduate or masters courses. The stories these people carry with them are amazing… where they have come from… and what they are dealing with as they work through this program… I can’t even begin to capture in this post the sorrow, hope, triumph, and power of these lives.

There is much more I can say about the experience, and hope to one day, but this will have to suffice for now.

I’m not sure this is the kind of feedback you were looking for, Rog. Do you have any more specific questions? (I welcome any other comments as well, of course.)

Thanks for reading.