Doctoral Dissertation Topics in Education: Do They Align with Critical Issues?

Roberta K. Weber, Ethan J. Allen
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 11  •  2016  •  pp. 403-417
American society faces complex educational issues which impact many facets of its national interests. Institutions of higher education are granting doctoral degrees to educational leaders, but it is not known to what extent their dissertation topics are aligned with both longstanding and critical issues in education. Using a theoretical framework synthesizing Paul and Elder’s critical thinking model and Kuhlthau’s information seeking process, this study examines a set of education doctoral dissertation topical selections and categorizes them by general themes in relationship to many of the recognized educational issues in the United States.

Investigators categorized dissertations from four departments within the College of Education of their home institution. The dataset, retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global, consisted of 231 documents published between 2005 and 2014. Through an inter-rater process examining dissertation titles, abstracts, and keywords, the dissertations were assigned critical issue themes culled from nine editions of a college text, and then categorized under a broader topical scheme situated within a well-used educational research website. Findings indicated that most dissertations concentrated in studies that researched problems and issues within schools. Further, some of the issues considered longstanding were not studied by dissertation authors within the sample. For example, privatization of schools and classroom discipline and justice were not selected for study. Findings also suggest new directions for those responsible for dissertation supervision and topic selection. The study adds to the literature on dissertation topic selection that addresses existing educational issues.
dissertation topics, EdD and PhD dissertations, critical issues in education, doctoral supervision, selection of dissertation topics
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