EdD not ABD: Supporting Students in Rigorous Research in a 3-Year Program

Concurrent Session 1
Streamed Session Leadership

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Finish your EdD in 3 years? Including the Dissertation? Yes! Join us to learn more about how we have organized a rigorous research process in the scope and sequence of the program and the on-campus immersion experiences, all leading to an EdD, not ABD.

Additional Authors

Dr. Tony L. Talbert is a Professor of Social/Cultural Studies Education and Qualitative Research in the School of Education at Baylor University. Dr. Talbert refers to his field of research and teaching as Education As Democracy which integrates social/cultural, diversity, and democracy education into a focused discipline of qualitative and ethnographic inquiry examining school and community stakeholder empowerment through activist engagement in political, economic, and social issues. Dr. Talbert’s thirty-three (33) years as an educator has included teaching, research and service in public schools, universities, governmental and corporate institutions. Dr. Talbert began his career in education as a public school history and government teacher where he applied his previous training as a stage actor by engaging his students in the exploration of the human story by integrating the students’ own lived experiences with the historic drama and comedy that encompassed the lives of the characters and events being studied. As a high school history/government teacher Dr. Talbert earned a Master of Arts degree in American Studies at Baylor University. While a public school teacher he became a popular invited speaker at several national conferences where he showcased such creative teaching seminars as He Ain’t Crazy Mama He’s My History Teacher and Thinking Thoughts That Need to Be “Thunk”. After seven years as a high school teacher, Dr. Talbert was asked to serve as an Education Specialist with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) where he facilitated professional development opportunities for educators statewide and nationally. After two years with the TEA Dr. Talbert was recruited to serve as the Executive Director of the Sam Houston State University Center for Professional Development where he was provided the opportunity to collaborate with public school and university educators and students in the exploration and application of cutting-edge digital technology integration into curriculum and pedagogy. During this time Dr. Talbert earned his Doctor of Education Degree in Cultural/Social Studies and Qualitative Research at The University of Houston. Upon earning his Ed.D. Dr. Talbert combined his passion for creative teaching with his highly developed skills as a qualitative researcher and began his career in academia with a commitment to fully integrating the scholarship of discovery with the scholarship of teaching. During his twenty-five (25) year career as a university educator, Dr. Talbert has held or holds the position of Professor, Associate Dean, Department Chair, Graduate Program Director, and Assistant Department Chair at such institutions as Sam Houston State University, Mississippi State University, The University of Houston, and since 2002 Baylor University. During his career Dr. Talbert has published over forty-five peer-reviewed books, chapters, and articles, presented more than eighty-five peer-reviewed and invited research presentations, collaboratively obtained in excess of $2.8 million in funded research, served as the chair and methodologist for over one-hundred masters and doctoral theses and dissertations, served as associate editor and editorial review board member for several academic and professional publications, and has been elected to leadership roles for several professional organizations. In 2013 Dr. Talbert decided that it had been far too long since he had been fully immersed in the real world of teaching. Therefore, he submitted an application to Baylor University for a research sabbatical and returned after more than a twenty year absence to the high school classroom where he taught World history to one-hundred and sixty-six tenth grade students. His experiences have been captured in both academic journal and popular press articles and will be the subject of a book in the future. Most recently Dr. Talbert was named as the recipient of the 2014 McGraw-Hill Distinguished Scholar Award for his contributions to qualitative research in the field of education. Dr. Talbert is pleased to discuss and offer consulting services in qualitative research design and analysis; social/cultural studies education (e.g., democratic education, multicultural-diversity education, peace education), and, public education policy and practice. Dr. Talbert can be reached via email at Tony_Talbert@baylor.edu and/or http://soefaculty.baylor.edu/tony-talbert/.

Extended Abstract

This session will describe how we help our students complete their EdD in three years, including the development and presentation of a Problem of Practice Dissertation. Research findings suggest that the rates of attrition within EdD programs are somewhere between 50-70% (Ivankova & Stick, 2006; Rockinson-Szapkiw et al., 2014).  In many programs, students may successfully complete their coursework, but fail to complete the capstone project or dissertation resulting in their ABD (All But Dissertation) status.  EdD students face particular challenges in their quest to complete a doctoral degree. First, EdD students are often full time employed adults who must balance a number of demands on their time including work and family (Kerrigan & Hayes, 2016; Tuñón & Ramirez, 2010). Second, EdD students often experience a disconnect between doctoral curriculum and theory and their own professional practice making it difficult for them to identify a meaningful problem to study. Finally, EdD students may also struggle with the process of designing, executing, and writing their capstone projects. Therefore, it is important to consider how to support EdD students in their successful completion of the EdD dissertation. Researchers have suggested several potential support structures for EdD students including, peer mentoring(Lowery et al., 2018), cohort models and community building (Bista & Cox, 2014; McCarthy et al., 2005), library support (Tuñón & Ramirez, 2010), and focusing on practice based and authentic research (Kerrigan & Hayes, 2016; Rockinson-Szapkiw et al., 2014).

Based on research around best practices in student support, we designed and implemented a number of student support structures to help our EdD students walk the stage as an EdD and not end up ABD. This presentation will explore the support structures we use to help our students engage in rigorous practitioner based research called the Problem of Practice dissertation. 

The Problem of Practice (PoP) dissertation is a comprehensive and ongoing written product that is completed throughout the EdD in Learning and Organizational Change online program. The PoP dissertation for this EdD program is organized and completed in three distinct stages, with designated benchmarks throughout the three-year program. Students work with faculty members to design and complete their Problem of Practice, formally presenting their ongoing progress throughout the program. The dissertation is submitted and presented to faculty during the final capstone course. Generally speaking, the focus of the EdD dissertation centers on a need to make improvements in a specific educational or professional context, which can lead to larger and lasting benefits beyond the personally significant dissertation defense (Archbald, 2008; Belzer & Ryan, 2013). This type of practitioner research takes place “at the intersection of  an  individual’s  work  as  a  practitioner  and  researcher,  wherein  a  practitioner  focuses  on  understanding  localized  problems  of  practice  through  in-depth inquiry” (Lochmiller & Lester, 2017, p. 3, 2017, p. 3).  The goal of the Problem of Practice is to produce industry leaders “who will transform professional practice” (Council of Graduate Schools, 2007, p. iv). As leaders in their field, our EdD students must be active learners who use research and theory to engage in analysis of and reform within their organizations. Ultimately, the purpose of the development of a problem of practice product is to enhance a student’s ability to conduct research on critical problems of educational practice that could impact future professional growth and lead informed change in their organization.

Although all courses are taken online, EdD Students participate in two on-campus Immersions during their program. Each Immersion is planned for two days (Friday/Saturday arrangement) to allow EdD students to experience the campus, interact with faculty and other campus leaders, and engage in collegial discussions to further develop their academic experience and PoP. Three (3) Faculty Advisors are assigned to small groups of students (12-15) within each cohort and follow them throughout their doctoral program. These faculty teach the Problem of Practice and Capstone courses. Faculty Advisors also plan periodic meetings during the entire program to support EdD student’s overall development of the PoP.

In addition to this support structure, our EdD program provides a fully staffed Writing Center, templates and planning documents, and a high level of ongoing support. The EdD Writing Center includes two full-time staff and two graduate student writing consultants. This team provides writing consultations for EdD students and supports the work of the Faculty Advisors as they facilitate feedback on the development of the PoP. In addition, the EdD Writing Center offers a variety of webinars and an optional writing course that supports students throughout their program. In conjunction with the PoP courses, the EdD Writing Center also provides templates and planning documents for the development of the PoP. This provides support for organizing the PoP document according to the required formatting requirements of the graduate school. The EdD Writing Center, alongside the Faculty Advisors for each cohort, provide ongoing support for EdD students throughout their program. Students begin their initial ideas for their PoP in the first trimester and continue to develop these ideas through their sequence of required courses, including the PoP courses, all strategically organized to support the developmental progression of the research plan leading to the finish product of a PoP dissertation.

Plan of interactivity

This session will involve a number of interactive elements whereby participants will work directly with program documents, watch videos of program practices, and hear from students and faculty involved in the program. Using a variety of technological tools, such as mentimeter, google docs, and padlet participants will have the opportunity to not only learn about our program, but also to consider how to apply these ideas to their own programs. Participants will: 

  1. Brainstorm issues doctoral students might face in their quest to complete a doctoral degree and ways to increase student success.

  2. Explore the EdD course sequence, including the embedded PoP courses.

  3. Explore our “4-chapter” with Executive Summary format dissertation and our process for the dissertation presentation. 

  4. Learn about students support structures such as the EdD Writing Center, peer working groups, and advisor groups. 

  5. Discuss helpful research and writing tools such as: literature maps, initial planning documents, library resources, and reference management software options.

  6. Watch videos that showcase our on-campus Immersion experiences and learn about the specifics of each of these experiences.

  7. See examples of student work, including poster presentations, planning documents, literature maps, and more. 

  8. Hear about lessons learned in our implementation of rigorous research standards. 

Attendees will learn about: 

  1. Structuring courses within the program to support capstone projects.

  2. The Importance of creating manageable and measurable chunks for the doctoral capstone project.

  3. Developing and implementing a cohort model with embedded peer working groups.

  4. The role that faculty advisors play in supporting student success.

  5. Designing and implementing on-campus immersion experiences.

  6. Ways to develop community in an online program. 

  7. Development of student writing through a program embedded writing center.


Archbald, D. (2008). Research versus problem solving for the education leadership doctoral thesis: Implications for form and function. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44(5), 704–739. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013161X07313288

Belzer, A., & Ryan, S. (2013). Defining the problem of practice dissertation: Where’s the practice, what’s the problem? Planning & Changing, 44.

Bista, K., & Cox, D. W. (2014). Cohort-based doctoral programs: What we have learned over the last 18 years. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 9, 1–20. https://doi.org/10.28945/1941

Ivankova, N. V., & Stick, S. L. (2006). Students’ persistence in a distributed doctoral program in educational leadership in higher education: A mixed methods study. Research in Higher Education, 48(1), 93. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11162-006-9025-4

Kerrigan, M. R., & Hayes, K. M. (2016). EdD students’ self-efficacy and interest in conducting research. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 11, 147–162.

Lochmiller, C. R., & Lester, J. N. (2017). Conceptualizing practitioner-scholarship for educational leadership research and practice. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 12(1), 3–25. https://doi.org/10.1177/1942775116668525

Lowery, K., Geesa, R., & McConnell, K. (2018). Designing a peer-mentoring program for education doctorate (edd) students. Higher Learning Research Communications, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.18870/hlrc.v8i1.408

McCarthy, J., Trenga, M. E., & Weiner, B. (2005). The cohort model with graduate student learners: Faculty-student perspectives. Adult Learning, 16(3–4), 22–25.

Rockinson-Szapkiw, A. J., Spaulding, L. S., & Bade, B. (2014). Completion of educational doctorates: How universities can foster persistence. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 9, 293–308. https://doi.org/10.28945/2072

Tuñón, J., & Ramirez, L. (2010). ABD or EdD? A model of library training for distance doctoral students. Journal of Library Administration, 50(7–8), 989–996. https://doi.org/10.1080/01930826.2010.489004