The Role of Theory in EdD Programs and Dissertations in Practice

The Role of Theory in EdD Programs and Dissertations in Practice

Debby Zambo (Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED), USA) and Ron Zambo (Arizona State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0445-0.ch002
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Abstract

Labaree shed light on the problems particular to the preparation of educational researchers who are practitioners. This is especially salient to faculty working in newly deigned EdD programs affiliated with the Carnegie Project in the Education Doctorate (CPED) because they are working to develop scholarly practitioners with dissertations in practice. Key to this preparation is the need for EdD students to balance what they learn, or their new cultural orientation, from normative to analytical, personal to intellectual, particular to universal, and experiential to theoretical. This chapter focuses on Labaree's difference of the experiential to the theoretical. The chapter provides varied definitions of theory and what this means for practitioners working to find answers to problems of practice while seeking doctorates. The theories EdD students find most relevant are provided along with samples of theoretical frameworks from actual dissertations. Conclusions lead to a critical yet, hopeful view of theory and practice.
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Introduction

School administrators, teachers, and organizational leaders enroll in doctoral programs to become leaders and researchers. However, as Labaree (2003) notes, there are particular problems with this idea. Practitioners in doctoral programs face a culture clash because they are asked to change their perspective from normative to analytical, personal to intellectual, particular to universal, and experiential to theoretical. Practitioners in doctoral programs face the practice-to-theory divide.

Shulman, Golde, Bueschel, and Garabedian (2006) recognized this and proposed development of two separate doctoral degrees: a research doctorate (PhD) aimed at developing stewards of a discipline; and a practice doctorate (EdD) aimed at developing stewards of practice. The Council of Graduate Schools (2007) posed similar ideas in their Task Force Report on the Professional Doctorate when they declared, “A professional doctoral degree should represent preparation for the potential transformation of [a] field of professional practice, just as the PhD represents preparation for the potential transformation of the basic knowledge in a discipline” (p.6).

These ideas are being enacted in EdD programs affiliated with the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED). CPED is a Consortium comprised of 80+ Institutions working to make the professional practice doctorate distinct from the PhD while improving the efficacy and efficiency of the EdD. To guide this work, members developed a working definition of the EdD (the first since its inception in 1920) that states, “The professional doctorate in education prepares educators for the application of appropriate and specific practices, the generation of new knowledge, and for the stewardship of the profession” (CPED, 2010).

To enact this definition, members created a set of design-concepts and working principles for program development (both of these can be found at http://cpedinitiative.org/). CPED design concepts relevant to this chapter include: scholar practitioner, individuals who can integrate their practice (practical/experiential knowledge) with the theory and research/inquiry skills they learn in their doctoral programs. Dissertation in Practice, the culminating, scholarly work designed to impact a complex problem (CPED, 2010). Principles relevant to this chapter include: Principle 5 - The professional doctorate in education is grounded in and develops a professional knowledge base that integrates both practical and research knowledge that links theory with systemic and systematic inquiry and Principle 6 - The EdD emphasizes the generation, transformation, and use of professional knowledge and practice (CPED, 2010).

These distinctions are important to theory’s use because well-designed EdD programs respect the personal theories students’ bring to their programs and enrich and expand these working theories with theories from practice and research.

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The Use Of Theory

EdD students are told that using theory, or standing on the shoulders of giants, will allow them to test the feasibility of theory and contextualize and validate their dissertation work (Merton, 1993; Wolcott, 1994). However, choosing which theory to stand on, why, when, and for how long can be challenging. As leaders EdD students are accustomed to thinking on their feet and making quick decisions. To use theory, students must slow down their thinking and see the value of theory in their practice. Schön’s (1995) ideas apply here because he said,

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