Guidelines for the Dissertation in Practice - Educational Leadership and Policy Program

Guidelines for the Dissertation in Practice

Doctor of Education (EdD) in Educational Leadership and Policy

(Regular EdD program and International Education Leadership & Policy field)

A dissertation in practice is a thesis that explores an aspect or problem of practice. It is explicitly geared towards supporting students to use evidence and research to explore and solve a real-world problem drawn from in their own professional life.  It requires both inquiry and reflection.
Through their dissertation EdD students construct and apply knowledge. They learn to gather and analyze evidence using a variety of methods and conceptual approaches, in order to provide an innovative solution or approach to a complex and persistent challenge in the practice of educational policy and leadership. 
 A “dissertation in practice” can take different forms. For example:

  • It can take the form of a structured case study of an education policy, program, or organization, typically drawing on a body of existing evidence or theory to explore a contemporary problem of practice.
  • It can be structured as an exploration of an aspect of educational leadership and/or policy (e.g., identities, leadership practices, organizational behaviour, etc.), using quantitative, and/or qualitative research methodologies.
  • It can be a systematic review of evidence, along with a reflection on the implications for the problem of practice.
  • It can be the development or design of a new educational program, intervention, or strategy. The design should be evidence-based, grounded in a review of prior literature and/or a pilot program.
  • It can be a discrete research project that seeks to answer a specific question by drawing on data that is generated by the student’s organization of employment or a related organization (for example, secondary analysis of data, evaluation studies, etc).
  • It can take the form of an evaluation of a program, project, intervention or educational organization, drawing on existing evidence and evaluation methodologies.
  • It can take the form of a structured study of a pilot intervention or policy.

The EdD dissertation is typically 125-150 pages in length. It must include both a synthesis of existing evidence (literature review); a grounding in theory; as well as a reflective conclusion on the problems of practice and leadership associated with the issue being explored. 
Students are mentored by faculty throughout the process of designing and writing the dissertation, starting with a structured sequence of courses in which students develop their literature review, research methodology, and research proposal.  Peer exchange and support across the cohort is encouraged throughout the writing process.  
For further information, students may wish to look at award-winning examples of the dissertation in practice highlighted by the Carnegie Foundation’s Project on the Education Doctorate