The Dissertation as Assessment and More

The Dissertation as Assessment and More

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2656-9.ch007
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This chapter concludes the discussion of typical coursework structure of doctoral programs in education. The dissertation is the culminating experience of both the Ph.D. and the Ed.D. in education. It is presented here because it falls within the coursework structure of doctoral programs. The last credit hours of the doctoral program are dissertation hours. Chapter 7 highlights the many ways the dissertation can be viewed. It is the final learning opportunity, the largest assessment, a form of apprenticeship, a professional discourse opportunity, and a rite of passage. The chapter finishes with a brief description of some alternative forms that some innovative programs offer.
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Program Dissertation Requirements

The credit hours required for the dissertation vary from minimums of 6 to 12. What is common among programs is a requirement that the dissertation must include enrollment in the dissertation course across a minimum of two full semesters, the equivalent of one school year. As a general rule, doctoral candidates may continue work on the dissertation beyond the full school year as long as progress is being made. The maximum length of time varies by program, but most require completion within five to seven years. Failure to complete will leave the candidate with no doctoral degree.

Here is a representative example of the dissertation process. Most of this section was taken from 2019 student handbook for the University of Missouri Mathematics Education program. A few edits and exclusions were made for the sake of brevity as well as an effort to make it more universally representative.

Dissertation Process. The dissertation provides the student an opportunity to demonstrate and hone his/her skills as a researcher. The general guidelines for completing the dissertation are outlined below.

  • 1.

    With assistance from the Dissertation Advisor, the candidate identifies a research question and methodology. They also work together to identify a Dissertation Committee.

  • 2.

    The candidate develops a written proposal that is reviewed by the Dissertation Advisor. The written proposal is a thorough plan for the dissertation study that consists of a rationale for the study, a review of the literature, methods, and copies of any proposed instruments that will be used to gather data for the study. The proposal typically includes the first three chapters of the dissertation, and is typically 40-80 pages in length, excluding the bibliography. When the advisor judges the proposal to be ready for review, it is submitted to the Dissertation Committee.

  • 3.

    Each member of the Dissertation Committee reviews the proposal independently, then meets with the student to provide feedback. Committee members should have the proposal at least two weeks prior to the scheduled meeting. During the proposal meeting, the committee members can make any or all of the following recommendations: a) proceed with the study as proposed, b) consider additional activities as recommended by the committee, or c) make explicit revisions in the written proposal, request the written proposal be resubmitted, and reconvene the committee again to discuss the proposal. This can be repeated until the proposal is fully approved.

  • 4.

    If the proposal involves human subjects (e. g. students or teachers), after the proposal has been approved, but before the study takes place, the candidate must apply for and be granted approval by the Institutional Review Board.

  • 5.

    After completion of the study, drafts of the dissertation are reviewed by the Dissertation Advisor. When the Dissertation Advisor deems the dissertation to be near final form, he/she generally asks another well-qualified person to serve as a “second reader.” The Dissertation Advisor works with the candidate to respond to questions and suggestions made by the second reader. When these changes have been made, the dissertation is submitted to all Dissertation Committee members for review. An oral defense is scheduled for no less than 2 weeks after submitting the dissertation to the committee.

  • 6.

    Following the oral defense, one of the following decisions will be made by the Dissertation Committee: a) the dissertation is approved with minor edits/revisions, b) the dissertation is tentatively approved with the requirement the student make substantive revisions - upon completion of the revisions, written copies of the dissertation are again distributed to committee members, or c) the dissertation is not approved and plans for successful completion are developed.


Dissertation As An Assessment

From a program and institutional perspective, the dissertation is an opportunity to assess both the candidate and the program. Both the faculty and the student hold responsibility in maintaining rigor in both writing and methodology. The content must be meaningful and add to the knowledge base of the profession. One dissertation cannot represent an entire program. It is the collective trends over time that inform the assessment of the program.

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