An Integrated Approach to EdD Coursework, Advising, and Research

An Integrated Approach to EdD Coursework, Advising, and Research 

By: Toby J Park-Gaghan, Ph.D. & Courtney E. Preston, Ph.D.
Florida State University

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The defining feature and key strength of Florida State University’s online EdD program in Educational Leadership and Administration is the integrated approach to coursework, advising, and research in practice culminating in the Dissertation in Practice (DiP).  Courses are designed around and sequenced in a manner that scaffolds toward the DiP.

Advising takes place at multiple levels and occurs through multiple touch points embedded in the overall process. The DiP is the result of a series of coordinated exercises/milestones that are shaped by coursework and advising. For instance, several courses require students to contact their major professor for feedback on a specific assignment related to their DiP research.

This model represents a significant and necessary departure from traditional graduate education programs, including our own original online EdD model. 

We launched our online EdD program in Summer 2015 and admitted a second cohort in Summer 2016.  We didn’t admit a cohort in Summer 2017.

Instead, we spent substantial time reflecting on how we could further enhance the program through a continuous improvement model. Toby directed the program at the time and worked to guide the faculty through numerous brainstorming and visioning sessions.

What we realized was that we hadn’t pushed the envelope far enough—our online EdD program was too similar to our existing PhD program and we needed to significantly change the way we think about coursework, advising, and research in a doctoral program for EdD students.

Our current model integrates these elements in a unique way that is better tailored to our online EdD students: Scholarly Practitioners who complete the degree in three years.  We rolled out the new model in Summer 2018, and we have seen significant improvements in the quality of student work and timely progression through milestones. We’ve also seen increases in both the efficiency and depth of student-advisor-instructor interactions. 

As Toby went on sabbatical, Courtney became the program director in Fall 2019 and, at the time of writing this blog, is preparing for a productive semester of preliminary exams and DiP prospectus defenses using the integrated model.  We’re excited about this!

In this blog, we describe our integrated model in the hopes that it may help others think through programmatic decisions around coursework, advising, and research.

We begin with a visual representation of the model, followed by more details surrounding how the integrated model supports student progression through the program. 

FSU infographic on progression of its EdD program curriculum

The process of the diagnostic exam begins in the Professional Learning for Educational Practitioners (PLEP) 1 course (Summer 1). Students complete a draft essay on their Problem of Practice (PoP) statement as the final/major assignment for the course.

Instructor feedback is provided, and students have the opportunity to revise the essay in advance of the diagnostic exam, a university milestone. Upon entry into the program, students are advised primarily by the EdD Director who teaches PLEP 1. During the PLEP 1 course (Summer 1), students are placed into advising groups, each staffed by a group of departmental faculty members (the “advising team”).

After completing the diagnostic exam process in early Fall 1, advising teams offer recommendations to the EdD Director on major professor and within-department DiP committee member assignments (the “DiP team”).

Early on in their studies, students select one of three approved study designs that will form the backbone of their DiP.  These are: an exploration study, an implementation study, or an outcomes study. 

Students learn about these study designs and receive guidance on selecting and drafting an appropriate DiP through both the diagnostic exam process as well as through Foundations of Practice Models (FOPM) (both occurring in the Fall 1 term). The diagnostic exam gives students the opportunity to workshop their ideas, including potential study designs, with their advising team, and the FOPM course instructor provides additional guidance on conceptualizing an appropriate study. Together these two experiences help students complete a draft of Chapter 1 of the DiP.

Much of Chapter 1 (PoP statement, purpose, research questions, and significance) is drafted and evaluated as part of the diagnostic exam process during the Fall 1 term. The study design overview is drafted as part of the FOPM course during Fall 1 semester and the remaining sections are drafted during Laboratory of Practice 1 during the Spring 1 semester. 

The final assignment for the Laboratory of Practice 1 course is a full draft of DiP Chapter 1. There is no separate program-based review of Chapter 1. The next milestone with a program-based review is the preliminary exam, which is comprised of both Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of the DiP.

Much of Chapter 2 is drafted during the Literature Review course taken during the Spring 1 semester. Early in the Spring 1 semester, students are required to check in with their major professor to receive approval of their research questions. 

Then, in the Literature Review course, students produce several drafts of Chapter 2 that are reviewed by the instructor and the major professor, as well as other students. Students revisit both Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 during the PLEP 2 course during Summer 2 as they prepare for the preliminary exam. 

During the PLEP 2 course in Summer 2, students complete a full draft of the preliminary exam.  After receiving instructor feedback, students have the option to revise this document during the Fall 2 semester before submitting a final version early in the Spring 2 semester.

The DiP team (the major professor and at least two additional department faculty members) then evaluate the preliminary exam, which consists of full drafts of Chapters 1 and 2, as well as a “methodological preview” that will eventually shape Chapter 3.

Much of Chapter 3 is drafted during the Laboratory of Practice 2 course taken during the Spring 2 semester and taught by the EdD Director.  In this course, students produce a research alignment table that will help organize the research questions and their associated sample, data, and analytic approach.

In addition, students draft a research timeline for their study, produce an executive summary of Chapters 1 and 2 of the DiP, draft their IRB proposals, and begin to draft the dissemination of findings plan that is a key component of Chapter 4. Major professors will provide feedback on the draft of Chapter 3, including the research alignment table, as a component of the Laboratory of Practice 2 course.

During the Laboratory of Practice 2 course in Spring 2, students work intensely on the required components of the prospectus defense. As part of the course, students submit full versions of the written components of the prospectus to their major professor during week 10.

Major professors will provide feedback and students have the opportunity to revise before the end of week 12. Generally speaking, prospectus defenses are scheduled during week 14; however, this timeline is governed by the major professor and the other members of the full DiP committee.

To write Chapter 4 and complete the DiP, students work primarily with their major professor to complete the full DiP, following the timeline established during the prospectus defense. 

One additional note

While the bulk of the information presented here is centered on the student-facing side of the program, we also designed the program with the faculty-facing side in mind.  For instance, in determining weekly deadlines for key assignments, attention was paid to how these assignments “stack up” when there are three cohorts of EdD students all in the program at the same time. 

What results is a very busy, though manageable, semester schedule for our faculty members advising students across multiple cohorts.  Spring semesters, in particular, benefit from a carefully timed set of assignments across cohorts that spaces out preliminary exams and prospectus defenses for students in their second year of study and DiP defenses for students in their third year of study.

For more information, please see our advising materials located in the CPED website's Resource Center or contact Dr. Courtney E. Preston, Online EdD Director, via [email protected].

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