Experiments with Doctoral Pedagogy

“It is also important, perhaps more so for education than for any other discipline, that new pedagogies and programs elements be treated as education experiments. They must be carefully assessed and the resulting knowledge shared with those in the field so that good ideas can travel and ineffective pedagogies can be avoided. (Golde, 2007, p. 350)”

One of the findings of the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate urged doctoral programs to make “a commitment to the ongoing process of improvement: deliberating about purpose, asking questions about effectiveness, gathering evidence to shape improvement over time, and taking action.”

What would it be like to take action, with frequent experiments like instituting or offering:

Let’s see what doctoral education looks like with…
  • Writing clubs
  • Quad blogging
  • No grades, just pass or fail..
  • ePortfolios
  • Formative assessment and Multiple sources of feedback: peers, profs ..
  • Collaborative dissertations
  • Multiple supervisors
  • Doctoral students publish a scholarly journal
  • Graduate students put on a student conference
  • Networked research
  • Eliminating the two stage format of course taking followed by the individual research project.
  • Adoption of signature pedagogies like journal clubs.
  • Co-construct criteria for quality or connoisseurship for everything from oral presentations to participation
  • Eliminate tack-ons like graduate professional skills to embed the skills into the program
  • Student-involved assessment of courses, of the program, of the alignment between the two…

What kind of experiment would you like to see?

Smash Type of (Doctoral) Research Question into Depth of Knowledge Scale: Doesn’t Matter

Recently, Pat Thompson wrote about classification of research questions. Research questions can classified broadly as gap-spotting questions or problematization questions (Alvesson and Sandberg, 2011). Gap spotting questions ( ie. confusion gaps, neglect gaps or application gaps) fill in the picture while problematization questions make leaps and connections to undiscovered areas.

Problematization questions, as described by Alvesson and Sandberg, are associated with more interesting research because they challenge, confront and even disrupt received knowledge.

Let’s consider type of research question against cognitive rigour. This assessment scale (Webb NL) to type the depth of knowledge (DOK) according to cognitive rigour encompasses 4 levels.


Recall & Reproduction — Recall a fact, term, principle, or concept; perform a routine procedure.


Basic Application of Skills/Concepts — Use information, conceptual knowledge; select appropriate procedures for a task; perform two or more steps with decision points along the way; solve routine problems; organize or display data; interpret or use simple graphs.


Strategic Thinking — Reason or develop a plan to approach a problem; employ some decision-making and justification; solve abstract, complex, or non-routine problems, complex. (DOK-3 problems often allow more than one possible answer.)


Extended Thinking — Perform investigations or apply concepts and skills to the real world that require time to research, problem solve, and process multiple conditions of the problem or task; perform non-routine manipulations across disciplines, content areas, or multiple sources


Smashing the gap-finding research questions together with the DOK framework, I wonder if you would agree with the following propositions:


  1. Gap-spotting research questions belong in DOK-2 or DOK-3.
  2. Problematization questions belong exclusively to DOK-4 or maybe beyond it…
  3. Doctoral dissertations are assessed as pass or fail, so that whether the research questions are gap-spotting (which are the greatest preponderance of research questions, by the way, in the 12 000 or so questions Alvesson and Sandberg classified) or problematization questions, matters not. Yet research on a problematization question requires greater cognitive rigour.


    Assessment committees for doctoral work do not factor the nature of the research question into consideration of the merits of the work.


    My proposed research aims to develop an application (an index) for stakeholders in doctoral education from the student’s point of view. So the problematization of the work expands on what do doctoral students want from a doctoral program and how well does the program align to expectations?


    As long as the work passes the muster test; whatever that is; that’s what matters.