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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 as much as 6 years, unless they are able to study at the intensity of a seriously engaged full-time student. Some students complete the doctoral program in about three to four years. Faculty review student progress semi-annually to facilitate each student’s efforts to complete their degree within this maximum amount of time. Students who are consistently engaged in their studies, but who are slowed down due to disabilities or other extenuating factors may petition WISR faculty for permission to take somewhat longer than 6 years to complete their studies.

In addition, 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

Evaluation of Student Progress and Graduation Review Boards in the Doctoral Program

For Doctoral students, there are two formal evaluation steps prior to the Final Graduation Review Board meeting, when the dissertation is reviewed, approved, and authenticated by the Review Board. First, three WISR faculty members review the doctoral student’s completed projects, after most of the pre-dissertation requirements have been met, to determine if they are prepared to undertake the rigorous study required for a doctoral dissertation. The student also engages in a thoroughgoing review, critical reflection, and written analysis of what they have learned thus far—on how the WISR learning process has helped them to learn in areas of the doctoral program degree objectives. They discuss their reflections and written analyses with three WISR faculty members—assessing their breadth and depth of knowledge in the area(s) of primary interest, and in the interdisciplinary field of higher education and social change, as well as their skills in action-oriented inquiry and knowledge-building, in preparation for undertaking the dissertation. Second, two current or former students, and (after December 2018), an outside expert in the area of the student’s dissertation topic, join with the three WISR faculty to constitute the Doctoral student’s Graduation Review Board. Each Doctoral student’s Graduation Review Board evaluates the student’s dissertation proposal to determine if the topic design and procedures meet the Institute’s academic standards for quality action-inquiry and promise in contributing to others and to the student’s future life plans. 

The proposal then serves as a general guide for the student’s thesis inquiry. However, it is subject to change, and the student is expected to discuss his or her thesis progress with each Review Board member throughout the work on the thesis. Review Board members comment on and critique at least one rough draft, but usually two drafts. The student’s major faculty adviser helps to facilitate and mediate disagreements if Review Board members make inconsistent suggestions for change.

Doctoral students must include on their Graduation Review Board, three WISR faculty members, all of whom must have earned accredited doctoral degrees, on their Graduation Review Board; however, one of the faculty may hold a WISR doctoral degree, as well as an outside expert in the area of their dissertation topic.  Faculty serving on a Graduation Review Board shall have been active in their field of scholarship or profession during the five year period preceding their participation on the Review Board. Doctoral students include two current or former students on their Review Board, and have the option of adding additional experts in their field, if they so choose.

The Doctoral student’s Graduation Review Board provides feedback and support throughout the process–from the dissertation proposal stage through the two or three drafts of the dissertation to the final approval of the dissertation.  The final Graduation Review Board meeting is scheduled once all members are ready to approve the dissertation, and the meeting is used:

  • to provide a celebration of the Doctoral student’s accomplishments,
  • to validate that the student is responsible for having done their dissertation work,
  • to substantively discuss the dissertation, including its methods and findings,
  • to provide the student with a sense of closure, as well as an opportunity
  • to look to the future and to examine the ways in which the dissertation experience and outcomes can be used to support the student’s future endeavors.

Doctoral students submit a self-evaluation of their experiences throughout the program, including an examination of their future plans and a critical examination of WISR’s strengths and limitations in contributing to their learning.



The EdD Curriculum

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] (2 units), 28 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  (3 semester units)[pursued upon enrollment, unless the student has previously been enrolled at WISR ]

*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)

*Advanced Studies in Multiculturalism (5 semester units)

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

*Comprehensive Assessment–of Student Learning and Plans for Thesis and Beyond Graduation (2 semester units)

  1. Assessment of Learning and of Achievement of Program Learning Objectives During Pre-Dissertation Courses, and
  2. Building Bridges to the Future and Dissertation Proposal

*Dissertation (15 semester units)

4 courses (5 semester units each), distributed as follows:

*At least 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 

*At least one of the following (5 semester units each):

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

Advanced Studies in Critical Environmental Sustainability, or

Advanced Inquiry into Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies.

Possible 5 semester unit Elective:

Advanced Independent Study

Course Descriptions

EDD 601:  Learning the WISR Way:  Introduction to Transformative Learning for Professional and Community Leadership  

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 e

This course will involve the student in developing the capability of independently designing and conducting substantial action-research projects, either on their own or with a lead role in collaborating with others. The course engages the student to do in-depth 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, doing program evaluations and community needs assessments, and using research in formulating new programs and policies. The course involves an in depth and critical analysis of key ideas in the logic of research design and scientific inquiry, including the concepts of validity and reliability—drawing on and critically examining parallels between the criteria for rigorous research in the natural sciences and for effective action-research used in professional practice and leadership in areas related to human services, education, community improvement and social change. The course addresses the value of participatory action-research, which actively involves as colleagues in the entire research process, people whose lives are, or could be, impacted by the research and its uses. The courses guides students in studying issues and assumptions pertaining to the philosophy and sociology of knowledge, as well as an intensive examination of methods of data gathering and analysis from participant observation, interviewing, and story telling. This should be one of the first three courses that the student studies during their degree program, because it provides a methodological foundation for studies throughout the degree program. Also, it is strongly recommend that that the student pursue this course concurrently with another course that requires a full-scale, action-research lab–so that the student can apply in greater depth some of the action-research methods that they are being introduced to in this course.

EDD 642: Advanced Studies in Multiculturalism 

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 646: Advanced Studies in Theories, Strategies and Issues of Social Change and Community Leadership  

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 commodifying 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. The course also includes an examination of 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–Theories, Issues, and Practices 

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 

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 

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 

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: Advanced Inquiry into Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies 

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. Students will be expected to inquiry into ways in which their own area(s) of specialization may contribute to human dignity and/or to the study of human dignity and humiliation.

EDD 681: Advanced Studies in Critical Environmental Literacy

This course will focus on current critical environmental issues (both local and global), and explore several of the themes essential for citizens today that can be integrated into community and professional leadership roles, as well as personal contexts.  Can we call ourselves an educated citizenry if we fail to address the challenges of environmental sustainability and planetary survival? Because the current model of “global economic growth” holds little regard for environmental sustainability and social justice, preparing people for the choices they face as citizens must be strongly linked to making the Earth a better place for all.   This course provides an understanding of the interdependence of people and ecosystems around the globe. We will look at how environmental issues negatively affect indigenous people and people of color disproportionately. In this course we will read and study documentary videos that present issues or dilemmas to inspire deep, and critical, reflection. These will include a variety of current and ongoing issues, not always covered by mainstream media. The course will ask students to reflect on and analyze the contributions to environmental sustainability that might be made by those concerned with higher education and social change, generally.  Further, more specifically, students will be expected to formulate some creative ideas, questions, and/or strategies by which endeavors in their own area(s) of specialization may creatively contribute to environmental sustainability.

EDD 689: Faculty Supervised and Guided Independent Study  

This elective course provides the student with the option to pursue independent study and/or an internship in professional or community leadership–in an area within the scope of this degree program, and of strong interest to the student. In particular, it is to provide the student with an opportunity to do further study in their area(s) of interest. The content and methods of the independent study must be of comparable rigor to other EdD program courses, and the student must: 1) obtain approval from a faculty member willing, and qualified, to supervise their proposed studies, and 2) obtain approval from WISR’s Chief Academic Officer.The criteria for approval and the options are as follows:

  1. A supervised internship, practicum and/or action-research lab, for 1 to 5 semester units of elective credit.
  2. A course designed to cover content, not fully addressed, in the existing courses–either a substantially different area of emphasis (but within the scope of the EdD in Higher Education and Social Change), or a course that builds on an existing course, and goes into much greater depth. Two options (for elective credit).
  3. Reading, critical reflection and analysis, and writing for 3 semester units, or
  4. Reading, critical reflection and analysis, and writing, as well as a substantial action-research lab culminating in a term paper, for 5 semester units

The independent study, however designed, must demonstrate an advanced level of creativity, innovation, inquiry or expert practice expected of doctoral level study.

EDD 690: Review and Assessment of Knowledge in One’s Field of Specialization 

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 and create 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: Comprehensive Assessment–of Student Learning and Plans for Dissertation and Beyond

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 their previous doctoral studies at WISR, in light of their 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. As part of this, the student is expected to present evidence of how they have addressed the learning objectives of this doctoral program. 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 699: Doctoral 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 to the next important things they wish to do with their life—as a professional, and a leader. The student makes use of what they have learned at WISR about action-research methods to do a serious and substantial inquiry that involves a critical and thoughtful review of the literature,  and 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 some community or group of lay people.

The following are the specific goals and outcomes for the doctoral dissertation:

The scope and depth of the Doctoral Dissertation will demonstrate the student’s expert knowledge of the topic studied, based on the student’s experiences, a literature review, and the collection and analysis of some original data.
The student will demonstrate their ability to use action-research methods in the conduct of an original, creative and extensive project that is important to them and to others in the field.
More specifically, the student will articulate and discuss:

  • what they have learned from their inquiry.
  • how they came to those insights and how they came to the questions they are now asking themselves, and the possible directions or plans for further learning, research, and/or action.
  • the strengths and limitations of their uses of action-research.
  • the insights gained from their research, not in abstract terms, but also coupled with a rich variety of examples that the student uses to understand and to illustrate the complexity, situational variability and nuances of their conceptual or thematic insights.
  • how what they have learned may create potentially valuable knowledge, and/or effective and valuable action and practice—and, identify the groups (professional and/or community) who are likely to be interested in learning about what they have found during the dissertation inquiry.
  • how their Doctoral Dissertation—the process and/or outcomes—will build a bridge(s) to the next significant things they plan to do in their life and/or professional work.

Since the dissertation is the culmination of doctoral studies, students will demonstrate their competencies in many of the Doctoral program’s overall learning outcomes–especially in the areas of: developing skills and knowledge as a self-directed learner, expertise in methods of participatory and action-research, ability to communicate clearly and meaningfully to one’s audience(s), ability to pursue successfully employment and/or leadership roles in the community, and expertise in the interdisciplinary field of higher education and social change as well as in one or more areas of specialization.

WISR students, Jill Arrington and Oshaon Eigbike

WISR students, Jill Arrington and Osahon Eigbike

More Information on:

Grading and Awarding Academic Credit and Academic Policies and Procedures

Expectations for Collaboration at WISR

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