James Wold, PhD, the interim dean of the School of Education at Capella University, jokingly refers to his job as “making the trains run on time.” But Wold, a former school superintendent who joined Capella in 2003, isn’t just an operations guy. He’s driven by a lifelong interest in education and devoted to developing better teachers and systems for learning. Here, he talks about his work at Capella, his efforts to expand the university’s educational offerings, and the future of teaching.
Wold oversees five chairs and 150 faculty members at Capella. “What engages our faculty is they’re really able to help people,” he says. They love connecting with students and figuring out what they can do to assist them as they grow and develop. “The most successful faculty are the ones that pick up the phone once in a while to check in with students,” Wold says. “And for students, especially adult students working online, that kind of connection is really important.”
Expanding the EdD
The PhD has long been the standard degree for attaining excellence in education. But that’s changing as schools like Capella expand their Doctor of Education programs to make them more robust. The EdD is particularly suited to individuals who want to apply their knowledge to teaching and educational practice, rather than research. “Deciding which degree is right for you often relates to what you want to do with your career,” Wold says. “The EdD is increasingly gaining acceptance. People who earn an EdD want to put their knowledge into practice and use it to create change in organizations.”
Building Around Professions
The five faculty chairs that report to Wold currently oversee several disciplines in the areas of higher ed, adult education, research, K-12 teaching, and educational leadership. But Wold says he and the faculty are looking for ways to better align its programs with careers and professions. Grouping professionals by the focus of their career, rather than specific discipline and degree level, could allow experts to focus more intensely on the things that work in their particular field. Wold explains: “What are the skills that one needs to be successful in a profession and what type of research or scholarship would best support that career goal? And how can we organize our content around professional career goals rather than by discipline? And importantly, how can we contribute research to advance the evolving skills sets of teaching with technology.”
The Intersection of Teaching and Technology
As students at every level interact with technology, there’s an increased opportunity for researchers in education to measure the impact of technology on the progress and development of students. In many K-12 classrooms, for instance, work is done via iPad or some other instructional technology. Effectively using the technology allows teachers to track and assess the progress of each student and modify instruction for that specific student.
Capella courses for teachers are designed to meet these technology trends in two ways. “It is very important for teachers to be able to identify and evaluate the tools and content made available through instructional technology,” says Wold. “We not only help them (teachers) find and use the tools, we also help them to understand what the data means and how best to use that information to help students.”
Capella students learn how to use tools like web-based quizzes that can measure when a student needs more attention, more challenges, or some intervention from a teacher or school counselor. “The ability to gather day to day information on the performance of individual students in a class and crunch that together to anticipate the best course of instruction for that student is very interesting,” Wold says. “It’s on the cutting edge of how we can use technology in the classroom to improve learning.”