Description of innovative element
of traditional comprehensive exams, Dr. Robert B. Rutherford has taken
an innovative approach to working with his students to satisfy this
requirement. Rather than cramming for exams near the end of their
coursework, students can be found working on a variety of projects
throughout their programs. The result of their efforts ultimately
become part of their vitae as well as better prepare them to be
effective future faculty members. His approach requires students to
complete four major products prior to advancing to candidacy. The
products are as follows:
1. A Literature Review
2. A Single Authored Article
3. A Co-authored Article
4. A Grant Proposal
the exception of the single authored article, students work directly
alongside their advisor and their peers on completing these products.
Each of the articles written is submitted to leading refereed journals
for possible publication. The grant proposal is submitted to potential
funding sources within the field. Some students have completed grant
applications for student-initiated grants through the Office of Special
Education Programs and have received the funding necessary to complete
their dissertations! Through working with their cohorts to complete
these four products, students have learned how to write professionally
while in a supportive environment.
What educational purpose does this element serve?
on these products emulates activities much like those required of
assistant professors in academic settings. Students have the
opportunity to build their professional resumes while still in the
What data or evidence tells us that this works?
ten students have completed the PhD and fulfilled these requirements.
Their collective work has resulted in numerous publications and several
grants. All students have gone on to pursue careers in or directly
related to academia.
have collected the professional resumes of all current students and
program graduates. Fortunately, we have been able to maintain contact
with all program graduates as well.
Details of the elementWork
on the four products typically begins the second semester students are
in the program. The first semester students are acclimating to the new
environment learning to balance the demands of their coursework with
their work as graduate assistants. The timeline for completing the
products differs for each student in the program depending on his or
her needs and interests. Doctoral
students are ultimately responsible for initiating and conducting work
on their products. Drawing from their own interests and strengths in
the field, students work with their advisor and other committee members
to determine the direction of their research and to begin to carve out
a niche for themselves. Students have an opportunity to complete three
out of four of the products with others in their cohort. At least one
of the products most be the sole responsibility of the student. Since the four products replace the comprehensive exams, all students are required to complete the products. Traditional
written comprehensive exams result in a great deal of study and
preparation that typically do not lead to any permanent product. Since
students are increasingly expected to have published articles prior to
entering the job market, we knew our approach needed to change. The new
approach was instituted in 1998 at the inception of the United States
Department of Education Leadership Preparation Grant here at Arizona
Reflection from a faculty member
believe the products approach to comprehensive examination has had a
positive impact on the program. Students are more focused and invested
in the work that they do. In my opinion, students are more relaxed
about this approach than the comprehensive exam process. And frankly, I
believe it results in better student outcomes.
Robert B. Rutherford, Professor of Special Education
Reflection from a student
have watched other students participate in the traditional
comprehensive exam process. I have seen them experience a great deal of
anxiety and frustration. My experience has been much more positive and
fruitful. I have felt like, and have been treated as, an equal. I will
leave Arizona State University with three publications, an
instructional video, and experience in grant proposal writing. These
products, in addition to my participation in the Preparing Future
Faculty Program, leave me with a better understanding of the
expectations of an assistant professor.
Katie Barclay, Doctoral Candidate, Special Education Program