Education Leadership Students’ Reflections on a Conference Course
The purpose of this case study is to describe the experiences of educational leadership doctoral students when taking a conference course for the fulfillment of their program’s experiential learning requirements. The research explains how the course added to students’ understanding of educational research and development as research scholars.
Research on doctoral student learning experiences in the contexts of professional conferences is limited. The present research examines a unique group context and the perceptions of doctoral student learning and development through the lens of adult learning theory.
This basic qualitative case study includes doctoral student perspectives on their learning and development as a result of participation in a professional educational leadership conference as course experience. Researchers conducted a review of literature, engaged with participants in a focus group style debriefing, and completed a document analysis of participants’ written reflections following a multi-day conference.
The present research contributes to the field of educational leadership research by providing first-hand accounts of participation in a conference as course experience to promote student learning and development as research scholars.
Findings suggest that participant learning experiences varied when analyzed through the lens of adult learning theory and are categorized into three types of learning that include non-learning, non-reflective learning, and reflective learning. In addition, participants’ development as research scholars is reported to be influenced by the conference and course design elements that promoted relative autonomy, embedded reflection, and interpersonal support.
The present research has implications for both doctoral program design and professional conference planning. Experiential learning activities that extend beyond classrooms present students with opportunities for learning and socialization into a field of study.
The paper informs and challenges researchers to focus on the experiences of conference attendees and highlights a need for a more nuanced evaluation of conference courses.
Professional conferences present opportunities for doctoral students to develop as research scholars that ask questions to address societal problems. The following research suggests that conference learning experiences may be enhanced through an experiential course design and principles of relative autonomy, incorporation of reflection, and embedded interaction.
In the future, research of doctoral student learning at conferences may consider applying other methodologies (e.g., narrative research, quantitative) and consider the inclusion of student outcome variables like doctoral student motivation, interests, and social and emotional learning.