Honoring the authors of three outstanding dissertations completed as part of the requirements for the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degree, the College of Education and the College of Social Sciences & Interdisciplinary Studies will host the Third Annual Outstanding Dissertation Showcase Panel from 4-6 p.m. Tuesday, May 3, in the Forest Suite of the University Union. The event showcases the critical research being done by doctoral candidates and graduates, and is open to the public. RSVP here.
The 2016 awardees are: Nathan Conkle, Ed.D.; Christopher Morris, Ed.D.; and Melissa Jayne Repa, Ed.D.
Dissertations were chosen based on the quality of the research design, the written analysis and summary, and the potential of the dissertation results to transform schools or colleges.
Nathan Conkle: A new basic skills English pedagogy
In his award-winning 2015 dissertation, “I-Search activism: an ethnographic case study of I-Search instruction in a basic skills English course,” Sierra College instructor Nathan Conkle, Ed.D., faced the problem of how to help more basic skills students pass a writing course so they would be prepared for transfer-level courses. He found simplified instruction to be a “false generosity,” however, in that it just perpetuates the student’s struggle with academic literacy.
To challenge the presumption that students must first learn lower-level skills before they can be prepared for college-level writing, Conkle introduced the “I-Search” assignment that encourages students to write about an issue they are personally experiencing and feel passionate about. Conkle found that the I-Search curriculum produced an increase in pass rates for the basic skills course; the students in the study were more confident in their ability to write research and be successful in transfer-level courses.
“I conclude this study feeling hopeful,” Conkle concludes his dissertation, which calls for a paradigm shift in how schools educate basic skills students. “While some faculty still remain entrenched in the safety of a traditional or ‘remedial’ pedagogy, I feel my study provided even stronger results than I had anticipated. I hope that this study could provide other departments and practitioners an opportunity to reconsider their beliefs and values and only then choose an alternative curriculum. Even if it is not an I-Search curriculum, I hope it is one that increases student success rates.”
Christopher Alan Morris: Parental enrollment choices
Christopher Alan Morris, Ed.D., is principal of Discovery High School in the Natomas Unified School District. He defended his dissertation, “An assessment of the factors that drive parental choice regarding open enrollment and intradistrict transfers,” in 2013.
As more parents choose to enroll their children in schools outside of the urban core or high poverty areas, the result for students who remain at their home schools has been fewer educational opportunities. Instead of focusing his research on the attracting schools, Morris studied the factors that led parents to choose one public school over another. Programs available at the school, the school’s score on the state school ranking system, and the ethnic composition of the student body were found to be factors that drove parents to choose the open enrollment option. Morris studied the extent to which school policies influence parents’ decisions, ultimately making policy recommendations that could help schools retain their student base: increasing desirable high school programs, improving parents’ knowledge of their options, adding transportation options, and tapping into the educational aspirations of the poor.
“If not done carefully, school choice programs can work to destabilize the very system that is the basis for our democracy,” Morris concludes. “Widespread, unrestricted open enrollment may also drain the financial resources of the most needy communities and lead to further racial, ethnic, and economic stratification. The ultimate challenge for school districts will be implementing a policy that minimizes the harm to some while improving the outcomes for all.”
Melissa Jayne Repa: Accessible technology policies
Melissa Jayne Repa, Ed.D., is co-director of the Services to Students with Disabilities Department at Sacramento State and oversees the High Tech Center and TRIO Student Support Services Program. Her 2015 dissertation, “Leadership to support e-quality for all: A study of a systemwide accessible technology policy implementation,” explored the status of the CSU Accessible Technology Initiative, launched in 2006. Her work was supported by a Wayne K. Miyamoto Public Policy Dissertation Fellowship.
California’s workforce needs a diverse population of college-educated employees, including those with disabilities. However, as Repa found during her literature review, too few students with disabilities are completing postsecondary degrees in a timely manner. Despite a systemwide policy in place to ensure higher education information resources are accessible, students are still experiencing challenges in obtaining content in accessible formats. Repa’s mixed methods research explored the experiences of leaders implementing accessible technology policies and tested significant relationships and barriers and factors that hinder or facilitate success of the policies.
“The CSU has done a noteworthy job of working toward technology accessibility and building a culture of access and inclusion,” Repa writes in her dissertation, but she notes that a lack of resources, faculty buy-in, accountability, motivation and training, among other issues, impede implementation of an effective technology policy. “Some of the emotion and passion involved in fighting for social justice and equity really came through from the voices of the participants,” Repa concludes. “It is for these students and employees with disabilities that the staff, faculty, students and administrators must work in partnership to make organizational changes needed to innovate and strive towards greater e-quality as use of technology and online learning continue to expand in the CSU system.”