Problems of Practice: A Document Analysis of Education Doctorate Dissertations

  • John C. Gillham The University of Findlay
  • Nicole V. Williams The University of Findlay
  • Gwynne Rife The University of Findlay
  • Kara K. Parker The University of Findlay
Keywords: education doctorate, dissertations, problems of practice


The purpose of this study was to learn how education doctorate students create the problems of practice researched in their dissertations, and the potential impact of their research on their local contexts to enhance the generation of knowledge.  Three research questions guided this study: 1) How do education doctorate students derive their problems of practice?, 2) What is the nature of the problems of practice that the students have studied?, and 3) What are the reported impacts the study of problems of practice has on doctoral students’ local contexts?  To answer these questions, the researchers conducted a document analysis of 19 dissertations.  Student dissertations included a diverse set of problems of practice largely determined by their professional roles.  The findings indicate a need for further refinement of the concept of a problem of practice and how the education doctorate program and their candidates employ the concept of a problem of practice in their dissertations and how this impacts local contexts. Furthermore, the nature of their problems of practice researched through the dissertation contributed to the perceived impact on the local context of the author.

Author Biography

John C. Gillham, The University of Findlay
Assistant Professor, Chair of the Doctorate of Education Program


Anderson, D. G. (1983). Differentiation of the Ed.D. and Ph.D. in education. Journal of Teacher Education, 34(3), 55–58.

Andrews, R., & Grogan, M. (2005, Spring). Form should follow function: Removing the EdD dissertation from the Ph.D. straight jacket. UCEA Review, pp. 10-12.

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.

Argyris, C. (1982). Reasoning, learning, and action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Belzer, A., & Ryan, S. (2013). Defining the problem of practice dissertation: Where’s the practice, what’s the problem? Planning and Changing, 44(3), 195-207.

Bowen, G. A. (2009). Document analysis as a qualitative research method. Qualitative Research Journal, 9(2), 27-40.

Bowen, W.G., & Rudenstine, N.L. (1992). In pursuit of the PhD. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED). (2017). Beyond a definition: Designing and specifying dissertation in practice (DiP) models. Retrieved from

Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (n.d.a). About us. Retrieved from

Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (n.d.b). The framework. Retrieved from

City, E. A., Elmore, R. F., Fiarman, S. E., & Teitel, L. (2009). Instructional rounds in education: A network approach to improving learning and teaching. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Clifford, G. J., & Guthrie, J. W. (1988). Ed school: A brief for a professional education. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Dagenais, C., Lysenko, L., Abrami, P. C., Bernard, R. M., Ramde, J., & Janosz, M. (2012). Use of research-based information by school practitioners and determinants of use: a review of empirical research. Evidence & Policy: A Journal of Research, Debate and Practice, 8(3). Policy Press.

Deering, T. E. (1998). Eliminating the doctor of education degree: It’s the right thing to do. Educational Forum, 62(3), 243-248.

Furman, G. (2012). Social justice leadership as praxis: Developing capacities through preparation programs. Educational Administration Quarterly, 48(2), 191-229.

Gilbert, R., J. Balatti, P. Turner, & Whitehouse, H. (2004). The generic skills debate in research higher degrees. Higher Education Research and Development, 23(3), 376-388.

Golde, C. M. (2007). Signature pedagogies in doctoral education: Are they adaptable for the preparation of education researchers. Educational Researcher, 36(6), 344–351.

Golde, C. M., & Walker, G. E. (2006). Envisioning the future of doctoral education: Preparing stewards of the discipline. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Grogan, M., & Andrews, R. (2002, April). Defining preparation and professional development for the future. Educational Administration Quarterly, 38(2), 233-256.

Hochbein, C., & Perry, J. A. (2013). The role of research in the professional doctorate. Planning and Changing, 44(3), 181–194.

Hoffman, R. L., & Perry, J. A. (2016). The CPED framework: Tools for change. In J. S. Perry (Ed.) The EdD and the scholarly practitioner: The CPED path (pp. 13-25). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Kot, F.C., & Hendel, D. D. (2012). Emergence and growth of professional doctorates in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia: A comparative analysis. Studies in Higher Education, 37(3), 345-364.

Kumar, S., & Dawson, K. (2012). Exploring the impact of a professional practice education doctorate in educational environments, Studies in Continuing Education, 35(2), 165-178. DOI: 10.1080/0158037X.2012.736380

Levine, A. (2005). Educating school leaders. New York: Columbia University Teachers College.

Ma, V. W., Dana, N. F., & Adams, A., & Kennedy B. (2017). Understanding the problems of practice: An analysis of professional practice Ed.D. dissertations. Paper presented at the 2017 AERA Annual Meeting. San Antonio, TX.

Malen, B., & Prestine, N. (2005, Spring). The case for revitalizing the dissertation. UCEA Review, pp. 7-9.

Maxwell, T. W. K. (2009). Producing the professional doctorate: The portfolio as a legitimate alternative to the dissertation. Innovations in Education & Teaching International, 46(2), 135–145.

Mowbray, S., & C. Halse. 2010. The purpose of the PhD: Theorizing the skills acquired by students. Higher Education Research and Development, 29(6), 653-664.

Murphy, J., & Vriesenga, M. (2005). Developing professionally anchored dissertations. School Leadership Review, 1(1), 33-57.

National Science Foundation (2018). National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics: Survey of Earned Doctorates. Retrieved from

Nelson, J. K., & Coorough, C. (1994). Content analysis of the PhD versus EdD dissertation. The Journal of Experimental Education, 62(2), 158-168.

Onwuegbuzie, A. J., & Dickinson, W. (2006). Mixed methods research and action research: A framework for the development of preservice and inservice teachers. Retrieved from

Osguthorpe, R. T., & Wong, M. J. (1993). The Ph.D. versus the Ed.D: Time for a decision. Innovative Higher Education, 18(1), 47-63.

Perry, J. A. (2012). What history reveals about the education doctorate. In Latta, M. M., & Wunder, S. (Eds.) Placing practitioner knowledge at the center of teacher education: Rethinking the policy and practice of the education doctorate. Somerset, MA: Information Age Publishing.

Shulman, L. S., Golde, C. M., Bueschel, A. C., & Garabedian, K. J. (2006). Reclaiming education’s doctorates: A critique and a proposal. Educational Researcher, 35(3), 25-32.

Storey, V. A., Caskey, M. M., Hesbol, K. A., Marshall, J. E., Maughan, B., & Dolan, A. W. (2015). Examining EdD dissertations in practice: The Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate. International HETL Review, 5(2), Retrieved from

Tennant, M. (2004). Doctoring the knowledge worker. Studies in Continuing Education, 26(3), 431-441.

Toma, J. D. (2002, November). Legitimacy, differentiation, and the promise of the EdD in higher education. Paper presented at annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, Sacramento, CA.

Townsend, B. (2002, November 21-24). Rethinking the EdD or what’s in a name? Paper prepared for the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, Sacramento, CA.

Walker, D. W. & Haley-Mize, S. (2012). Content analysis of PhD and EdD dissertations in special education. Teacher Education and Special Education, 35(3), 202-211. DOI: 10.1177/0888406411431168

Wergin, J. F. (2011). Rebooting the Ed.D.. Harvard Educational Review, 81(1), 119–139.

Willis, J., Inman, D., & Valenti, R. (2010). Completing a professional practice dissertation: A guide for doctoral students and faculty. Charlotte, NC: Information Age.

Zambo, D. (2011). Action research as signature pedagogy in an education doctorate program: The reality and hope. Innovative Higher Education, 36(4), 261–271.

Zambo, R., Zambo, D., Buss, R. R., Perry, J. A., Williams, T. R. (2014). Seven years after the call: Students’ and graduates’ perceptions of the re-envisioned Ed.D.. Innovative Higher Education, 39(1), 123-137.

How to Cite
Gillham, J. C., Williams, N. V., Rife, G., & Parker, K. K. (2019). Problems of Practice: A Document Analysis of Education Doctorate Dissertations. Impacting Education: Journal on Transforming Professional Practice, 4(1).
Research Articles