A chance announcement became the teaching opportunity I was seeking
I discovered University of Phoenix by chance in 2003. A LISTSERV I subscribed to featured a post about the University’s School of Advanced Studies. The author mentioned the School was expanding and needed instructors with a Ph.D. in Social Sciences to teach online doctoral-level courses.
The announcement piqued my interest because I missed teaching. In the 1980s, I taught undergraduate and graduate courses at several brick-and-mortar institutions, and in the 1990s, I supervised many doctoral-level research assistants while working at a state university. In 1995, I went out on my own as a research psychologist. Over time, I grew to miss interacting with learners, but I did not have the capacity to integrate teaching in a traditional classroom with my work schedule. So when I saw the post, I saw the chance to teach again in a way that was highly flexible.
It turned out to be the opportunity I was seeking.
Learning how to teach effectively
I completed faculty training at University of Phoenix in fall 2003. It was an intensive training that took considerable time and energy. This surprised me because the other institutions at which I taught provided no such training. I, along with the handful of other instructor-hopefuls in my class, learned how to teach and provide feedback in an online environment and understand the expectations of what it would be like to teach for University of Phoenix.
In early 2004, I joined the faculty at the School of Advanced Studies. Since then, I’ve taught online courses, online dissertation classes and face-to-face residency classes. I’ve also led proposal and dissertation-related workshops for faculty and learners.
Being an instructor at University of Phoenix is entirely different from my prior experiences at other universities. It’s more interactive in many ways and it’s much more flexible in terms of how I’m able to manage my time. I like the combination of teaching online courses and having face-to-face contact with learners during their residencies. I find that teaching in the online environment makes it easier for me to integrate other resources into my teaching. For example, if a learner posts a comment on a particular subject, I have time to search for an article or other reference that I think would be appropriate to incorporate into my response.
Understanding our similarities and differences with conventional universities
The University of Phoenix doctoral program shares similarities with doctoral programs at other universities. We require a similar scholarly doctoral dissertation—including a three-person dissertation committee, where one serves as the mentor or chair. We have an approved proposal requirement and an Institutional Review Board assessment. Learners must also pass an oral defense of their dissertation research.
But while there are similarities, there are some key differences between the School of Advanced Studies and other universities’ doctoral programs. For one, our programs are offered in the online format, and are combined with the in-person residency requirement that further promotes learners’ leadership and critical-thinking skills and the development of the dissertation.
Second, most doctoral programs accept a limited number of individuals for a small number of slots. In the School of Advanced Studies, we welcome those with a certain GPA and a master’s degree to enroll in the doctoral program. Making it through the program is challenging because of its rigor. Doctoral candidates must demonstrate their ability to perform doctoral-level work in order to continue the program and complete the dissertation. Any learner who gets through the program has to pass several quality measures.
Pursuing a doctoral degree at University of Phoenix
I’ve seen a wide range of individuals who pursue doctoral degrees here at University of Phoenix. Our students are people in high-level positions in health care administration, business, management, nursing, education or related fields. Some want the credential to remain competitive in their position or field, or to help advance or cap their careers. Others are driven by a desire to learn as much as they can and apply that knowledge. Some pursue their doctoral degree because they believe the knowledge and skills they obtain will help them to make a difference in the world.
I’ve found that these learners come to University of Phoenix because the structure of our doctoral programs works for them. They appreciate the flexibility of asynchronous courses and the accessibility of the online learning format. They are drawn to the specific focus of the program and the alignment of their chosen program with their career goals.
Setting high standards for scholarship
As an instructor, I expect a lot in terms of methodological rigor and depth of analysis, interpretation and reporting. I find it very rewarding to work with our doctoral learners to help them frame their research, plan an appropriate methodological approach, and guide them through the data collection, analysis and reporting phases.
I have found that our learners strive to reach a level of scholarship some of them were not always sure they could attain, and they experience a lot of growth in the process. The level of scholarship they achieve becomes apparent when considering the topics of some of the dissertations on which I’ve had the pleasure of advising learners:
- Experiences and Motivations of Former Heroin Users in Long-Term Abstinence without Pharmacotherapy
- Barriers to Advancement faced by Women in Information Technology
- Learning Organization Dimensions and Performance in the Nonprofit Sector
- Nursing Students’ Perceptions of Team-Based Learning as an Instructional Approach
- Joint-Service Integration in the Department of Defense Voluntary Education System
Dissertations such as these are examples of the kind of research our doctoral candidates produce—research that can promote better understanding and can make an impact in their respective areas. Our graduates are going out and teaching what they’ve learned through our doctoral program and making presentations and publishing articles. They are applying their knowledge and skills in their fields, whether in research or practice. They are also mentoring others in their fields.
Our School of Advanced Studies has high standards of rigor and multiple layers of assessment and support to ensure that our learners come out of our programs with the knowledge and expertise appropriate to their doctoral degree to serve as effective scholars, practitioners and leaders in their field.
This article originally appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, UOPX Campus Viewpoints section. To review our current faculty articles, visit: https://chronicle.com/campusViewpoint/University-of-Phoenix/29/.