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The Wisconsin-Spencer Doctoral Research Program: An Evaluation

by Mary Leonard & Elizabeth Fennema - 2008

Background/Context: At a time when educational research is recognized as capable of improving teaching and learning, it is under attack for falling short of this promise. Part of the solution lies in improving the preparation of educational researchers. Toward this goal, the UW-Madison School of Education (SOE) participated with the Spencer Foundation in developing a model program now called the Wisconsin-Spencer Doctoral Research Program. The program endeavored to educate selected students in interdisciplinary research and, as a result, indirectly affect the structure of doctoral education in participating departments.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The Spencer Foundation announced that its funding would end in 2007, requiring the SOE to make decisions about continuing the DRP and about doctoral education more generally. Therefore, the dean requested an extensive evaluation of the program’s impact. The resulting study analyzed faculty members’ and student fellows’ assessments of the DRP’s contribution to graduate education.

Setting: Research was conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Population/Participants/Subjects: The study included three populations: SOE faculty members on campus in 2001–2002 (n = 85), fellows admitted to DRP in 1997–2001 (n = 46), and fellows who had received their PhDs (n = 9). Thirty-four percent of faculty, 85% of fellows, and 100% of graduates participated.

Intervention/Program/Practice: The DRP’s guiding principles were interdisciplinarity (literacy in/respect for diverse inquiry approaches), methodological rigor, theoretical orientation, concern with practice, and research experience. The program was implemented through key components: 4 years’ funding for five fellows, professional expense funds, fall and spring proseminars, advanced research seminar, systematic training in methods/theory, mentor committee, annual progress reporting, participation in research, presentation of research, and community.

Research Design: We evaluated the DRP’s effectiveness in a case study approach that included both qualitative and quantitative data.

Data Collection and Analysis: Data collection included surveys (with Likert, multiple-choice, and open-ended items) of faculty and fellows, and semistructured interviews of faculty with key roles in the program and fellows who had graduated.

Findings/Results: The DRP was at least partially effective in achieving its goals. Students and faculty shared positive views of funding and the interdisciplinary focus, and there was some evidence of changes in departmental programs. Challenges included the top-down implementation approach taken in a faculty-governed institution and attempting to change departments with a student-focused program.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This study raises questions about the DRP’s development and implementation, but it concludes that the DRP provided a good educational experience for many fellows, changed some faculty members’ beliefs, and acted as a catalyst and an opportunity to seriously consider graduate education for the 21st century.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 110 Number 7, 2008, p. 1379-1396
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14882, Date Accessed: 4/10/2021 7:15:20 AM

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About the Author
  • Mary Leonard
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    E-mail Author
    MARY LEONARD is presently a postdoctoral researcher in Education at UW-Madison. Her research interests are teaching and learning in inquiry- and design-based science environments. She recently published an article, “Examining Tensions in a ‘Design For Science’ Activity System: Science Versus Engineering Goals and Knowledge” in the Journal of Research in Teacher Education (published by Umeå University in Sweden).
  • Elizabeth Fennema
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    ELIZABETH FENNEMA is professor emerita of the UW-Madison School of Education, Department of Curriculum and Instruction. Her research interests are math education and gender and teaching and learning of mathematics. She was coauthor (with Thomas Carpenter) of the 1998 Educational Researcher article, “New Perspectives on Gender Differences in Mathematics.”
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