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Doctoral Program: Curriculum and Requirements

Regulations regarding WISR’s EdD Program

Length of Study

The vast majority of WISR students are mature adults with significant work and family responsibilities, time demands and commitments. Most students will progress at a rate approximately equivalent to half-time enrollment.  WISR’s tuition is very affordable, even in comparison to other private institution’s rates for half-time enrollment. All WISR students pay the same tuition, and those students who are able to pursue their studies with an intensity and at a pace comparable to students who are seriously engaged full-time students will very likely be able to graduate in 40 to 50 percent of the estimated time for studies in WISR degree programs. For many students pursuing a Doctoral degree at WISR, the length of study at WISR may be expected to be about 6 years, unless they are able to study at the intensity of a seriously engaged full-time student. The maximum period to be enrolled in the doctoral program is 9 years,* and in any case, doctoral students enrolling after March 1, 2018 must complete their studies within 10 years, including any time off for leaves of absence. In all cases, faculty will strive to support students in their efforts to complete their degree in a timely manner, while also benefiting from their studies at WISR in ways that will help them build bridges to the next important life goals.

*These program length expectations do not include any time off for leaves of absence due to matters resulting from health issues, family responsibilities or periods of financial hardship.  Each leave of absence must be for a minimum of six months, during which time the student does not pay tuition, and during which time the student may not receive credit for any efforts related to their studies at WISR.  The student pays a $600 re-enrollment fee when resuming their studies.

Faculty review of student progress

An Executive Committee of at least three WISR faculty, will review each student’s progress semi-annually, in consultation with the faculty with whom the student has been most closely working.  The purpose of these reviews is to help students make timely progress toward their degree and their personal and professional career goals.  In conducting these reviews, faculty will be mindful that during the first year or so of study, students at WISR do not typically complete courses at the same rate as they do after that.   When faculty have concerns about a student’s progress, they will negotiate with that student a progress plan for the next six months.  The purpose of the plan will be to enable the student to make better progress, and to assess whether or not it is realistic for the student to succeed in completing the program in a timely fashion.  If, after the end of the six-month progress plan, WISR faculty do not believe that it is realistic that the student can complete the program within a reasonable time frame (specifically, 6 to a maximum of 9 years for the doctoral program), then the faculty committee reviewing student progress will recommend that the student be disenrolled.  (Note:  students enrolled prior to July 2014 will have a longer period of time to complete their studies, but they will still be subject to disenrollment if they do not show continual progress. Furthermore, doctoral students enrolling after March 1, 2018 must complete their studies within 10 years, including any time off for leaves of absence.) The student may appeal any decision to WISR’s Board of Trustees. If the student is disenrolled, they will be given an opportunity, after a period of at least six months, to re-apply for admission, if they can make the case that their circumstances and/or ability to complete the program have improved.  If re-admitted, they will be given one six-month period to demonstrate good progress, and they must continue to demonstrate good progress in each subsequent six-month period.

Structure and Content of EdD Curriculum

Basic Format

 Each of the required courses will have some assigned readings designed to give the student an overview of key ideas and issues in that area.  In addition, there will be some recommended readings, and the learner will be asked to write a brief essay or two to discuss their most important thoughts and insights from the readings.  This will constitute about 30% of the course.  The second, and larger, phase of the student’s studies in each course, will grow out of the student’s special interests, resulting in an individually designed project (research and/or action) that focuses both on a topic of strong interest to the student and on some topics addressed in the particular course.   The student will write a substantial paper growing out of the project, and will do a personalized self-assessment that describes and self-assesses the student’s learning in the course.  However, there are several, special courses, in which students and faculty will need to arrive at a personalized plan for readings and assignments–directed independent study, internships or practica, review and assessment of knowledge in one’s field of specialization, and “advancement to candidacy.

WISR Doctoral Student, Michael Ratner, presenting at the Annual Conference

WISR Doctoral Student, Michael Ratner, presenting at the Annual Conference


45 semester units of coursework, including “Advancement to Candidacy” [Assessment of Student Learning and Plans for the Dissertation and Beyond] (3 units), 27 semester units of required courses, and 15 semester units of electives, followed by 15 semester units for the dissertation [* Indicates required course]

*Orientation—Learning the WISR Way  (2 semester units)[pursued upon enrollment]

*Action-Research Methods for Scholarly, Professional and Societal Contributions (5 semester units)

*Advanced Theory and Practice of Education and Social Change: Theories, Issues and Practices  (5 semester units)

*One of the following three courses (5 semester units each): 

Advanced Studies in Higher Learning, or

Advanced Studies in Professional Education, or

Advanced Studies in Adult Learning: Popular and Community Education 

*One of the following three courses (5 semester units each):  

Advanced Studies in Theories, Strategies and Issues in Social Change, or

Advanced Studies in Multiculturalism, or

Advanced Studies in Community Leadership 

*Review and Assessment of Knowledge in One’s Particular Field(s) of Specialization  (5 semester units)

*Advancement to Candidacy (taken after completion of at least 40 semester units):

Assessment of Student Learning and Plans for Thesis and Beyond Graduation (3 semester units)

  1. Assessment of Learning and of Development of Meta-Competencies During Pre-Dissertation Courses, and
  2. Building Bridges to the Future and Dissertation Proposal

Electives (Total 10 semester units, required) from any of the above courses not taken to fulfill requirements and/or from the  following:

Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies 5 semester units

Internship [over and above regular work duties] (1 – 6 semester units)

  *Dissertation (15 semester units)

Course Descriptions

EDD 601:  Learning the WISR Way:  Introduction to Transformative Learning for Professional and Community Leadership  (2 semester units). Required course, except for students who have been previously enrolled at WISR

This is an introductory course, required of WISR students in all degree programs, except for the MS in Psychology (leading to the MFT and/or LPCC license), which is designed to enable students to progress more effectively toward the successful completion of the degree program at WISR, so that students can get the most from their WISR education—in pursuing their learning passions and career interests, in developing the core meta-competencies valued at WISR, in fulfilling the learning objectives for their chosen WISR degree program, and in building bridges for themselves to the next significant things they wish to do in their lives.  For Doctoral students, there is also critical analysis of how WISR’s mission and learning methods apply to adult education in general.

EDD 611: Action-Research for Scholarly, Professional and Societal Contributions (5 semester units). Required Course

This course will enable, and involve, the student in developing the capability of independently designing and conducting a substantial action-research projects, either on her or his own or with a lead role in collaborating with others. The course involves further study, and critical analysis of a significant range of methods of action-research, including various methods of qualitative research and participatory research. This course will explore a variety of ways in which research can be combined with action—for example, in reflecting on the effectiveness of one’s professional practices and community improvement efforts, including how to do program evaluations and community needs assessments, as well as the use of research in formulating new programs and policies. The course will involve an in depth and critical analysis of  key ideas in the logic of research design, including the concepts of validity and reliability—drawing and critically examining parallels between the criteria for rigorous research in the natural sciences and action-research used in professional practice and leadership in areas related to human services, education, community improvement and social change. Advanced study of issues and assumptions pertaining to the philosophy and sociology of knowledge, including intensive examination of methods of data gathering and analysis from participant observation, interviewing, story telling.

EDD 641: Advanced Studies in Theories, Strategies and Issues of Social Change  (5 semester units). This course, or EDD 642 or EDD 643, is required.

This course involves a wide-ranging study of societal dynamics—how does social change happen? What forces contribute to social change, and in what different directions? The student will explore several different perspectives on social change and social theory/philosophy, as a foundation for then asking questions about the possible role of education in today’s and tomorrow’s society. The student will be able to choose from among a variety of specific topics, and then explore several in some depth. Among the options are: issues and ideas about economic justice; challenges in creating a more sustainable society to persevere the global environment; the impact of globalization; the promise and limitations of technological innovations; different approaches to addressing racism, diversity, marginalization of some groups vs. inclusiveness; trends and challenges pertaining to bullying, hate, and fear; the commoditization of emotions; among others. The student will be encouraged to develop his or her own perspective on social change—strategically and ethically, especially from the standpoint of the importance of education as a vehicle for constructive social change.

EDD 642: Advanced Studies in Multiculturalism (5 semester units). This course, or EDD 641 or EDD 643, is required.

This course involves a study of societal dynamics, professional practices, and formal educational and informal learning processes in the society—to inquire about the ways in which they promote or impede multiculturalism. The course engages students in asking questions, such as “what is multiculturalism” and what does this have to do with social justice and optimal human development. The course examines the role of the cultural context in what transpires in professional practices, social institutions, and also in everyday life—and how this impacts learning, social justice, and human development. It includes the study of the impact of such societal forces as colonialism, imperialism, racism, prejudice, sexism and population diversity. Also, the study of the role of education, and particularly liberating learning methods, in addressing such forces. Specifically, critical analysis of such ideologies as “tolerance” and the “meritocracy.” The course aims to promote a greater understanding of the dynamics of learning and unlearning racism, and the relevance of the psychological dynamics involved in “internalizing oppressor consciousness.” Finally, the course provides the opportunity to learn multicultural perspectives and experiences about current issues and historical events, and to inquire into the larger challenges, issues and possibilities in promoting multiculturalism.

EDD 643: Advanced Studies in Community Leadership (5 semester units). This course, or EDD 641 or EDD 642 is required.

This course examines approaches to community leadership, looking at theories and strategies, as well as specific practices employed by a variety of community leaders. It includes a consideration of strategies of organizational leadership, change and development, as well as some grassroots activist approaches to  leadership, and also leadership from people acting as professionals in their fields of expertise.  Community leadership is considered for its implications in the pursuit of social justice, democracy, and multiculturalism, and in the context of different communities and different times in history, including an in depth examination of methods, practices and ideas about professional education.  The course addresses community leadership in terms of uses of strategies of learning and education, and the role of intellectual activism.  Students are expected to develop their own ideas about how to conceptualize and practice community leadership in the pursuit of their own purposes and in working with the communities with which they are concerned and involved.

EDD 651: Advanced Theory and Practice of Education and Social Change (5 semester units). Required course.

This course is in an in depth examination of theories and methods of education, in general, and adult education, in particular. Quite importantly, “education” is studied in the context of history, current social issues, and the prospects and challenges for social change. For the purposes of this course, education is considered broadly, and includes the study of institutional higher education, professional education, popular/grassroots education, and the role of mass media.  It also includes the study of American history, and themes of democracy, social injustices, and multiculturalism, and the relevance of education to these trends and concerns. More specifically, it involves the study of such important topics as globalization, climate change, societal conflicts, and specifically, racism and other forms of marginalizing and oppressing groups of people. This course draws on a critical examination of enlightenment philosophy, progressive era ideas such as those of John Dewey, the writings of Paulo Freire and bell hooks, as well as Giroux and Vygotsky, and the ideologies and philosophies in action of those who have promoted varied competing visions of the role of education in society and for social change. In this context, the course examines the role of education—as it has been, and as it might be, and students are encouraged to develop their own perspectives on the role of education in creating a better tomorrow.

EDD 661: Advanced Studies in Professional Education (5 semester units). This course, or EDD 662, or EDD 663, is required.

This course is in an in depth examination of methods, practices and ideas about professional education.  It includes sociological and historical analyses of what professions are about—their goals, qualities and roles in society. It includes the study of different approaches to professional education, in various fields, and the role of methods of adult learning in contributing to professional education.  Finally, this course provides a context in which the learner can explore and examine different career options for him/herself and for others, including a critical analysis of the roles and limitations of professions in contributing to the larger society and to constructive social change.

EDD 662: Advanced Studies in Higher Education (5 semester units). This course, or EDD 661, or EDD 663, is required.

This course focuses on the theory and practice of higher education, including the history of US higher education, as well as current trends and issues and prospects for the future. Special topics to be addressed include: the differing criteria people use in assessing the quality of higher education and universities; the impact of current societal trends on role of universities in today’s society; the connections between higher education and ideas about meritocracy. The development of knowledge, as well as the institutionalization and legitimization of knowledge through academic departments and professions; the role of higher education in a democratic society; and the role of higher education in perpetuating and challenging the status quo.

EDD 663: Advanced Studies in Adult Learning: Popular and Learner-Centered Education (5 semester units). This course, or EDD 661, or EDD 662, is required.

This course focuses on the theory and practice of learner-centered education, especially as applied to working with a varied range of adults. Learner-centered education is increasingly used in different cultures and societies, and outside of formal educational institutions, such as schools and colleges.  This course includes the study of the theories, and recommended practices, of such educators as John Dewey, Paulo Freire, bell hooks and Vygotsky, among others. Other topics include the dynamics of cognition and perception, collaborative learning, the role of story telling and the importance of the social context in learning. The focus on “popular education” emphasizes the broad applicability of learner-centered approaches to adults from all walks of life.

EDD 671: Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (5 semester units). Elective Course

Understanding the dynamics of dignity—and its violation through individual and systemic forms of humiliation—is crucial in today’s highly interconnected world. Growing awareness of these dynamics brings to the forefront the realization that past social, political, and economic practices, once accepted and considered helpful, may now be perceived as deeply humiliating.

This course will explore how today’s rapidly changing social, political, and environmental conditions require us to dramatically alter how we participate in relationships. It proposes that escalating social instability, political unrest, violent conflict, economic injustice, and climate change can be the impetus to design innovative, sustainable, and mutually dignifying solutions to these problems. In particular, this course will examine how cultivating systemic dignity—at home and around the globe—creates space for mutually beneficial arrangements of relationships to emerge, relationships that provide for the full participation, growth, and development of all people while we seek sustainable solutions to global crises.

EDD 685: Supervised Community or Professional Practicum/Internship  (1 – 6 semester units). Elective course. 

Professional or community practicum/internship. This course gives students the opportunity to gain direct experience in their profession and/or by working in the community further developing their expert professional level skills. Students might work in a community agency, a professional organization, a school, a small business, a public agency or some other, appropriate setting. As part of their internship, the student will also study, critically reflect on, and write about their professional and/or community involvement experiences. As an option, students may also create their own project—for example, providing needed services, training, or assistance to others, under the supervision of a WISR faculty member, and also in some cases, under the supervision of another expert. The practicum or internship must demonstrate an advanced level of creativity, innovation, inquiry or expert practice expected of doctoral level study.  A minimum of 45 hours of supervised internship/practicum is required to qualify for each semester unit of credit.

EDD 690: Review and Assessment of Knowledge in One’s Field of Specialization (5 semester units). Required course.

This course builds on the student’s previous coursework, and specialized projects done as part of that coursework. The student engages in additional, in depth study of a topic that is central to their doctoral studies and future plans to use their expert knowledge as a professional and/or community leader. Students will review and evaluate the literature in their field of specialization, and/or survey and study existing practices. These in-depth studies should include, among other methods of learning, library and online research, as well as critically reflective analysis and writing about what they’ve previously learned. In many cases, students may conduct interviews and make observations in the community and in professional practice settings. The student evaluates, organizes and synthesizes the highlights of their knowledge in their area of specialization.

EDD 693: Assessment of Student Learning and Plans for Dissertation and Beyond. (3 semester units). Required Course.

This course is the transition between the student’s pre-dissertation coursework and the dissertation. This course builds on the student’s previous coursework, and specialized projects done as part of that coursework. The student engages in a critically reflective analysis of his or her previous doctoral studies at WISR, in light of his/her future plans to use their expert knowledge as a professional and/or community leader. The student writes a paper that evaluates, organizes and synthesizes the highlights of what they have learned during their doctoral studies. This paper is written, and discussed with faculty, in light of the student’s future plans and aspirations beyond the doctorate. In order to build a bridge toward their future goals, the student develops and proposes the plan for their dissertation, This proposal is discussed with their Graduation Review Board, and the student makes the needed changes to gain approval of their plan.

EDD 693: Doctoral Dissertation (15 semester units). Required Dissertation.

The Doctoral Dissertation is an original and creative investigation into a topic that is both meaningful to the student, and which also shows potential to contribute to others, either by improved practices and/or new knowledge. It is an extremely in depth study of a topic of strong interest to the student, and one that generally helps the student build bridges for him/herself to the next important things she or he wishes to do with her/his life—as a professional, and a leader. The student makes use of what he or she has learned at WISR about action-research methods to do a serious and substantial inquiry that involves a critical and thoughtful review of the literature, substantial original data collected by the student. The dissertation should result in the formulation of questions and/or insights that show promise for leading to more innovative and valuable professional or community practices, and for adding to knowledge. In other words, it is a very serious and extensive an inquiry that is based on action and/or that has action implications of some significance to the student and/or others. The dissertation should aim to make a worthwhile contribution to the professional field or to the some community or group of lay people.



WISR students, Jill Arrington and Oshaon Eigbike

WISR students, Jill Arrington and Osahon Eigbike

Assigning Academic Credit to Courses in WISR’s EdD Program

Credit is assigned based on the extent to which a student is expected to demonstrate a substantial level of learning and accomplishment, in a course, thesis or independent study project or practicum, in two broad realms—1) The quantity and quality of the student’s engagement in learning at WISR, and 2) the learning outcomes and competencies demonstrated by the student, based on faculty assessment of student learning–through mentoring discussions, small group seminars, papers and projects completed, and self-assessments written by the student pertaining to the evidence of their learning process and outcomes.

 WISR’s expectations for the quantity and quality of student engagement in learning at WISR approximate that of the traditional “Carnegie unit” which grants one semester unit for each 45 hours of participation in learning.

In addition to this substantial, high quality engagement in learning at WISR—similar to the well-known Oxford model of education—WISR faculty only award credit if the student’s work indicates learning and competency accomplishments comparable to what students would typically receive for that number of semester units (typically 5 semester units, at WISR) in an accredited program performing at a grade of “B” or higher. 

In assessing student work, WISR faculty use the above stated programmatic learning outcomes, as well as the outcomes for each particular course, to evaluate student progress as demonstrated by evidence from mentoring discussions, small group seminars, papers and projects completed, and self-assessments written by the student pertaining to the evidence of their learning process and outcomes.

More Information on:

Grading and Awarding Academic Credit

Required Seminar Participation and Annotated Bibliographies

Graduation Review Boards and Assessment of Student Progress