Technology

Brandman's first fully online Ed.D. cohort bonds across geography and time zones

Online cohort

The Online Zetas cohort includes Khalid Khaled, Karl Glasman, Joshua Rosenthal, Shaunte Bingham, Andrea Munro, Zed Ayeni and Rebecca Farley (pictured from left) and Jennifer Dinielli. Their cohort mentor is Walter Buster, Ed.D. 

Four time zones, multiple countries, eight “high-flying” students and one cohort mentor. The students who signed up for the first fully online cohort may not have known what they were getting into, but they’re making it work thanks to technology, the cohort format and a willingness to embrace it all.

While other groups of six to 10 students in the Doctorate of Education in Organizational Leadership program meet once a month in Irvine or Roseville or one of the many other campuses hosting cohorts, this cohort meets online, except for the three-times-a-year weekend immersions.

Dinielli and Farley
Jennifer Dinielli and Rebecca Farley review their work while at the January Ed.D. immersion in Irvine.

“This group of people is so motivated and interesting,” said Rebecca Farley, who had the option of joining an in-person cohort in the Central Valley from her Bakersfield location. “I love the constant communication through Facebook, messaging and email.”

For Josh Rosenthal, it’s the only way he could continue his education. His work as the supervisor of cultural development for the Colorado Rockies organization takes him all over South and Central America, the Caribbean and, this week, to spring training in Arizona.

That’s pretty typical, said Walter Buster, the mentor for the online cohort. “These are eight high flyers.”

Make that eight high flyers interested in building their leadership skills in education, marketing and more. It’s also eight people who, as Rosenthal put it, are getting more than they might have first thought.

The Brandman program is allowing all of them to attain a lifelong dream of earning a doctorate. In the process, they’re building friendships that span the globe.

Online Zeta LogoWhile three of the group – plus their cohort mentor – call a location in California their home base, others are in Rhode Island, Georgia, Colorado and Kazakhstan. All have embraced the group’s mission: Using cultural knowledge to lead and approach challenges and using technology to connect across geographic, socio-economic, cultural and time zone divides.

Walter Buster
Online cohort members credit Walter Buster with helping them bond quickly as well as overcome early hurdles in the program.

Buster, whose career in education includes serving as a superintendent of schools for 19 years at three districts in California, said the online cohort is in many ways just like any other in the Brandman Ed.D. program.

“Both are built on building relationships. You have to understand that these are adult learners with full-time jobs, with families. You have to respect their differences in both cohorts,” he said, adding that because the coursework itself is online, all groups, even if they meet face-to-face, are relying on technology.

Watching the group communicate on a Saturday morning, it’s quickly apparent that they care about each other and about the projects they’re undertaking as graduate students. At the moment, they’re deeply immersed in completing the plans for the Transformational Change Project. Although the projects range from getting a school faculty in Kazakhstan to teach in English to transforming a marijuana distribution system in Colorado (it’s legal there) to changing the structure and culture for a Veterans Administration program in Georgia, each cohort member sees the benefit of what the others are doing.

Online Campus food drive
A snapshot of a Saturday morning virtual cohort meeting.

Whatever fears they had about being the first online cohort quickly faded when they bonded at the first immersion in September 2017. Starting with the boot camp for first-year doctoral students and extending through the Labor Day weekend, the multiday immersion includes inspiring speakers, practical sessions about what to expect and time to bond.

“The first immersion was really critical. Fortunately, we had great chemistry,” said Rosenthal at the second immersion in January.

Cohort member Karl Glasman compared the experience to military life. “We talk of brotherhood in the military and I feel that here as well. These are my brothers and sisters and I feel closer to them than the people I work with. It’s amazing.”

On Saturday, Glasman, whose week included a flood and the flu, was offered both sympathy and encouragement by his cohort. Glasman is the executive director of a charter school system in Lodi, California, and said he was told he needed to go back to school as part of his promotion and get a doctorate, despite multiple master’s degrees. “I don’t know why I agreed other than always being up for a challenge and I love to learn. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”

As part of his Transformational Change Project, he plans to take what’s he’s learning as a member of a virtual cohort to help his organization become more forward thinking about technology and ultimately pass along technology skills to the schools’ students.

Khaled, Rosenthal
Khalid Khaled (left) flew in from Kazakhstan for the immersion while Josh Rosenthal spends much o the year in the Dominican Republic working with minor league prospects for the Colorado Rockies.

Leading the technology charge for the cohort is Andrea Munro, director of Instructional Design at Brandman. She was attracted to the program because she had seen the benefits earned by colleagues, particularly in their abilities to lead. The Ed.D. program promotes self-awareness and gaining an understanding of what works for each student as they work on becoming leaders, a theme echoed by others in the cohort.

In the process, the group has made social media and technology work for them. “They’ve jumped through hoops and tried new things,” said Munro. “If you look at what they (her cohort) have going on in their lives, it’s remarkable that they’re completely present when we’re together.”

They’re also pushing for new ways to connect, switching from Adobe Connect to using Web X, which allows them to both share their computer screens for presentations and see and hear each other. They told Buster to embrace Facebook.

January immersion
Zed Ayeni (Colorado), Andrea Munro (Rhode Island) and Karl Glasman (Lodi, California) get ready for a day at immersion.

“I always said I wasn’t going to use Facebook. They told me, you have to – that’s the way we communicate,” said Buster. While their time spent communicating on Facebook doesn’t currently count as part of their required cohort time, Buster said it’s something the university needs to reconsider. “This is as legitimate as being on Adobe Connect for three hours.”

Especially when it’s 8 a.m. in California and 11 a.m. in Rhode Island and 9 p.m. in Kazakhstan.

“These are competitive people. They like to win,” said Buster. “And they’re communicating all the time.”

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