First Course Reflection by Tracy Wilson
My passion for helping others is the driving force behind my desire to become an Educational Psychologist. Pursuing a doctoral degree is a high-stakes quest, filled with challenges, triumphs, sacrifices, and rewards. The first course of the program strives to prepare learners for the road ahead, addressing ethics in research and providing a fuller understanding of personal accountability as well as required individual change. Once a learner has a firm grasp on the ethical requirements of doctoral research, topics can be investigated through literature review. Exploring what is known and what is missing allow learners to move forward with a clear sense of purpose. Once the coursework is done, the final piece falls into place with the completion of residencies, the comprehensive exam, and the dissertation. Finally, the learner becomes the expert, contributing to a positive self-image. The opportunity for a fulfilling career becomes a reality, and the doctoral scholar can conduct more research, offering more groundbreaking insight into his or her field of study. Reflecting upon where I began in the first course provides an opportunity to evaluate the knowledge I have gained and how to apply it to other courses as well as my entire doctoral journey.
Each person makes the decision to pursue a doctorate for different reasons. Once the decision is made, what are the expectations? Capella University’s first course acts as not only a preparation tool, but also as a chance for self-discovery. The learner meets peers and faculty who provide support. Moreover, the learner is introduced to people who have also decided to take the next step in their academic career.
The first course has encouraged me to analyze the Educational Psychology program and reflect upon its value. The assessment has helped me set realistic career goals and examine the likelihood of finding gainful employment in my field of study. In addition, the first course has helped me make personal changes that will allow me to stay focused as I move through my doctoral studies.
As a result of the first course, I understand the ethical burden I carry as a researcher. When I reviewed various articles, I looked for possible problems with ethics. I also contemplated how those pitfalls can be avoided in my own research.
I have been able to look at topics of interest during the first course. With critical thinking skills, I have discovered gaps in current research. This exercise has provided insight into possible dissertation topics.
Lastly, I have considered how the skills I attain and use during my doctoral studies will contribute to greater self-worth. The residency will provide social and career connections, strengthening the solidarity among all of us as doctoral learners. The comprehensive exam and the dissertation will feature my writing skills, research abilities, and proficiency with critical thinking. All of these will be useful in conducting more research and making viable contributions to the field of Educational Psychology.
Value and My Degree
I looked at many schools, including Walden and Union. A colleague who was finishing her Doctorate in Education at Capella convinced me to add the university to my list. I began researching the programs offered by Capella, but I needed to make a decision about my career goal in order to choose a program.
I want to be a full-time educator at an institution of higher learning. I am an adjunct, and I am very thankful for that opportunity, but I know that I am capable of much more. Thus, in order to be a member of the full-time faculty at any university, I must have a Ph.D.
I completed a comparison of Capella’s Doctorate of Education, Developmental Psychology program, School Psychology program, and Education Psychology program. My department chair encouraged me to look at the Doctorate in Education because it would be the shortest route to obtaining a doctorate with the least amount of cost. He explained that it would lead me to administrative positions within the university.
Another colleague encouraged me to look at a Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology because of my graduate studies. Frankly, I have had enough of criminal behavior and trying to analyze law and the criminal mind. I am ready for something a little more positive and much less stressful.
The Developmental Psychology option attracted me because I enjoyed teaching Child and Adolescent Psychology as well as Lifespan for Health Sciences. Nevertheless, I did not feel that was the right route for me either. As much as I love teaching Developmental Psychology courses, I am not interested in becoming a practitioner in that field.
The School Psychology program looked very intensive. The application process seemed more involved, the cost of tuition was higher, and the time commitment did not appeal to me. Also, when I compared it with the job prospects in Educational Psychology, the answer became clear. Educational Psychology allowed for careers beyond K-12. Although the licensure was appealing, Educational Psychology was the best fit for me.
I used another tool to evaluate which program I wanted to pursue. I looked at the Social Science Department faculty directory at the university where I work and studied their degrees and areas of expertise. The department chair is the only member with a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology. Accordingly, I made my decision.
Personal Change and the Doctoral Journey
As creatures of habit, humans find change to be troubling. In fact, more times than I can count, I have resisted change. However, given the right mindset, change can inspire growth. As I move through the Educational Psychology program, it is up to me to recognize and pursue opportunities for expansion.
I am like many other women trying to break through the ranks toward leadership in psychology. One of the major elements for achieving such a goal is sacrificing time with family (Gregor & O’Brien, 2015). My friends and family are already complaining that I cannot and do not spend as much time with them as I did before I began my doctoral studies. I know that their complaints are well-meaning. However, according to Green (2015), carving out time to devote to reading and writing is one of the primary methods for success in the Ph.D. program. Therefore, during the summer months I am using an eight to ten-hour day timeframe to complete the required coursework. In other words, I concentrate on school work from Monday to Thursday. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday belong to my loved ones. When I begin teaching in the Fall, I will use the strategies presented by Green (2015) to make modifications.
Another change I am making for my doctoral studies involves self-sufficiency. I am undoubtedly independent, but the level of commitment in a doctoral program is unlike anything I have experienced. As Green (2015) points out, one of the most important skills for online learning is self-motivation and self-discipline. Given this information, I decided to utilize a hand-held planner; one I can write in so I can mark which assignments are done and which assignments I need to work on. The planner is a security blanket, and it seems to be working very well.
I am an eclectic spiritualist, so my belief system is enhanced by my experiences. Indeed, my views are rather broad, and as a result, I am very open-minded. When I constructed the syllabi for my undergraduate classes, my spiritualism guided me. I zealously provide learners with a path to success, which speaks to the compassion and empathy I have learned from my spiritual practices. While this is admirable, PSY 8002 has taught me that it is not sound.
Ruscio (2006) explores the importance of critical thinking and evidence to investigate research findings and sources. Ruscio’s (2006) work can also be applied to curriculum design. Results, as opposed to beliefs, must show that curriculum models work, which is why I am so drawn to blended learning. Ruscio (2006) makes it very clear that spiritual beliefs and personal experiences have no place in psychological science. My spiritual viewpoints will continue to be an integral part of my personal life, but they will not bleed into my research and other aspects of my doctoral studies.
Ethics in Research
As a scholar-practitioner ethical research is a key component for my work. I am bound by a code that guides my ideas and practices. After analyzing the Code of Conduct set forth by the American Psychological Association (2017) as well as Capella University’s (2016) research standards, conflict of interest in research statement (Capella University, 2011b), and human research protections (Capella University, 2011a), there are three major aspects that stood out to me. The first is the need for a mentor and the benefits of mentorship.
My first major research project will be my dissertation. Luckily, I will have a mentor to guide me. With his or her help, I can gain knowledge, support, and use best-practice methodology. I can construct a research plan that will be well within the standards set forth by the university. By using the direction provided by my mentor, I can avoid ethical pitfalls.
Informed consent is another major component of ethical research. I know that my research will require human subjects, so it is imperative that I am transparent about every feature of my research design. I will inform the participants in writing and verbally about potential risks, the basic procedures of the experiment, and the benefits. I will work diligently to ensure that all subjects are capable of fully understanding the process. I will explain that confidentiality will be respected. I want the participants to feel comfortable about the research study. The informed consent will help me reach that goal and provide protection for me and the research subjects.
Conflict of interest concerns me, especially with the topic I intend to study. Voluntary participation is one way to avoid this pitfall. Nevertheless, as stated above, my study of blended learning will involve student participants. The university I work for is extremely small, so the probability is high that some of my research participants will be my students. Working with volunteers at another institution of higher learning will help me avoid multiple relationships. The validity and objectivity of my research is at stake if I do not adhere to the aforementioned plan.
Literature Review Findings
Reviewing research about blended learning brought me to several conclusions, the first being that there are an abundance of models and designs. Nonetheless, all of them define blended learning as activities performed outside of class for the purposes of complimenting face-to-face instruction. Once a design is agreed upon, implementation varies based on the university administration.
Secondly, all of the research indicates that blended learning has a positive effect on student success. The use of blended learning creates a student-centered environment. Furthermore, a student’s current skill set can be reinforced, and new skills can be attained.
Thirdly, technology is the foundational pieces of every blended learning model. The use of online activities facilitates peer engagement. Moreover, the meaningful feedback given by the instructor promotes positive interactions between the students and the educator. Conversely, some individuals find working with technology very difficult. Therefore, training should be provided to both teachers and students.
The fourth conclusion I drew from my literature review is that students thrive in blended learning courses that provide collaborative activities. The activities range from partner-projects, to small group discussions, and even to online blogging assignments. The collaboration puts the student in charge of his or her learning and enhances motivation.
Student learning outcomes and blended learning have not been studied adequately. I hope to explore and provide evidence that student learning outcomes can improve when a transfer of learning component is built into the curriculum of an introductory psychology blended learning course. If learners feel that the course will benefit them in their career and their home-life, they will be more likely to show above-average learning outcomes. The increases in learning outcomes can cause a domino effect, improving the chances of student retention and raising graduation rates. This phenomenon can improve a university’s reputation, thereby bringing in more revenue.
Doctoral Skills and Positive Self-Image
Many skills that I obtain during my doctoral studies will impact my self-image, thus affecting my self-esteem. Participating in residency provides the opportunity to make new social connections, which benefits self-image. According to Gazzangia, Heatherton, and Halpern (2016), group membership is essential for self-esteem. In fact, social identity theory indicates that ingroups consist of people who identify as members of the same group (Gazzangia, Heatherton, & Halpern, 2016). As doctoral learners, we fit that description well. Furthermore, Green (2015) clarified that residency “truly develops a sense of community among learners, staff, and faculty” (p. 127). The camaraderie directly impacts the sense of self.
Clearing the hurdle of the comprehensive exam provides yet another boost to self-image. Green (2016) explained that the exam serves as an assessment of “readiness for the dissertation and it represents a growth opportunity for learners through extensive writing, review of literature, and scholarly writing” (p. 141). Because the exam is built upon my ability to write, research, and think critically, passing the test will spotlight those abilities. Successful completion of the test will place me one step closer to graduation. The self-confidence gained from passing the exam will contribute to my self-image, especially since I am already anxious about taking it.
Dissertation is the ultimate ego booster. The culmination of the coursework, residencies, and comprehensive exam opens the door for the final step toward graduation. A triumphant dissertation will take me from the role of “learner” to a doctoral scholar. As Green (2016) noted, perfectionism and the need to contribute to the educational community can prevent a student from moving into and through the dissertation phase. It is hard for me to understand why people do not go through with dissertation, even after reading Green’s (2016) explanations.
The benefits lie just on the other side of the dissertation. It is an accomplishment that will essentially put a gold medal around my neck. As Green (2016) so aptly explains, earning a doctoral degree provides empowerment and a sense of accomplishment. I have always wanted to obtain a doctorate, and doing that will boost my self-image more than I can possibly imagine. However, the work does not stop there. It is only a gateway to conduct more research and make more contributions to the educational community.
The Educational Psychology program will open the door for me to apply and be considered for full-time faculty positions at land-based and online institutions of higher learning. With the help of Unit 9, I found some career resources that can project the likelihood of finding gainful employment after I receive my Ph.D.
The outlook for post-secondary psychology teachers is promising due to the expected increases in college enrollment. An increase in enrollment is expected. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (2015), there will be a growth of 13%, meaning that the growth is faster than average. The median salary is $75,430 (U.S. Department of Labor, 2015). Unfortunately, most of the jobs will be for part-time faculty (U.S. Department of Labor, 2015).
I formulated a Plan B based on the information for post-secondary psychology teachers. Post-secondary administration is my alternative. Administrators can become a faculty researchers, which means that as an Educational Psychologist, I can conduct educational policy research. I can also organize training and development. Most of the jobs will be available at universities, but I could also find work through the Ohio Department of Education. The median salary for an administrator is $90,760, and the growth is expected to be 9% (U.S. Department of Labor, 2015). Although the salary is significantly higher, I prefer teaching. Still, both options allow me to pay my student loans and contribute to my household.
As the first course comes to a close, I will take all of the knowledge I have gained throughout my doctoral voyage. I will apply the valuable lessons I have learned to every step of the doctoral process. The course has helped me clarify my vision. I have learned the value of the Educational Psychology program at Capella, and I have started setting sensible career ambitions. I have come to understand the importance of the ethical burden I carry as a scholar-practitioner, and the weight of being the expert in the room. The first course has reinforced the idea that change promotes growth and that independence and determination lie at the heart of obtaining a Ph.D. Dreaming is just the first step toward earning a doctor, but preparation comes from the first course.
American Psychological Association. (2017). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx
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Green, J. (2015). Graduate savvy: Navigating the world of online higher education (3rd ed.). Warrenton, VA: Glocal Press.
Gregory, M., & O’Brien, K. (2015). The changing face of psychology: Leadership aspirations of female doctoral students. The Counseling Psychologists, 43(8), 1090-1113. doi: 10.1177/0011000015608949
Ruscio, J. (2006). Critical thinking in psychology: Separating sense from nonsense (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2015). Occupational outlook handbook. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm