Online Doctorate of Education Dissertations and Doctoral Capstone Projects

The Doctorate of Education (EdD) dissertation is one of the most important elements of the EdD program. It is a five-chapter document that details a student’s intensive investigation into a specific issue in education. The dissertation seeks to contribute new insight into this issue through an examination of existing research on the topic, an original study utilizing qualitative and/or quantitative research methods, and an analysis of the results of this study. Though rigorous and time-intensive, the dissertation constitutes the culmination of students’ doctorate-level knowledge and skills. The dissertation is also students’ opportunity to apply their graduate education to a research project that can have a positive impact on an area of education, whether it is education accessibility, education financing, or curriculum development and improvement.

A small number of EdD programs allow students to work on a less traditional research project in place of a dissertation. Typically called a doctoral capstone, this project requires similarly rigorous research, but focuses more on the application of research to an implementable education solution that can take multiple forms. Examples of doctoral capstone projects may include but are not limited to proposed curriculum plans, education technology solutions for the classroom, community education initiatives, or a proposed teacher training plan. Below are more detailed descriptions of EdD dissertations and doctoral capstone projects.

Overview of EdD Dissertations

The steps to completing a dissertation are methodical and rooted in longstanding traditions of academic research and faculty mentorship. Students begin their dissertation by formulating their specific research question, reviewing past studies in the field(s) relevant to their question(s), and examining the theoretical frameworks underpinning their understanding of their issue of interest. Students then design and conduct a study that aims to answer their question. Prior to commencing their study, students select individuals to be a part of their dissertation committee. The dissertation committee is comprised of faculty members and other subject matter experts who can speak to the student’s research and provide useful feedback on their dissertation. Members of the committee serve as invaluable resources for students throughout their research. The committee reviews students’ research proposal, and also attends and evaluates students’ final dissertation defense.

The Chapters of an of EdD Dissertation

As mentioned above, the EdD dissertation is traditionally comprised of five chapters: Introduction, Literature Review, Research Methodology, Results and Analysis, and Discussion and Conclusions. The Introduction provides an overview of the student’s research query and objectives, and the broader applications of the student’s research to real-world situations. It also summarizes the existing literature on the student’s topic of research, and explains the general results of his or her research study.

The Literature Review chapter provides an in-depth description of the past studies conducted in the student’s field of interest, and the theoretical frameworks and principles that underlie the student’s understanding of the education issue at hand. The Research Methodology chapter explains the student’s methods for collecting the quantitative and/or qualitative data necessary to answer his or her research query, while the Results and Analysis chapter focuses on explaining the results of the study and their implications. The Discussion and Conclusions section places the results of the student’s study in the context of existing research developments, and discusses the relevance of their findings to different education settings.

EdD Doctoral Capstone Projects

Similar to EdD programs, doctoral capstone projects require a great deal of intensive research and writing. However, capstone projects differ from dissertations in that they do not follow the five-chapter format, and can take multiple forms–for example, a new curriculum for students, a teacher or staff training plan, a new piece of software that addresses a learning need, or an in-depth research paper on solutions to a particular education issue. Capstone projects tend to focus more on developing an implementable solution to an existing problem in education. In contrast, dissertations tend to focus on innovative research that furthers education leaders’ understanding of a particular problem in education.

Both the dissertation and the doctoral capstone result in the completion of important and impactful work, but the emphasis of each is different. Below is a discussion of the structure of doctoral capstone projects, and important considerations for students who are interested in programs that offer the doctoral capstone as an option in place of a dissertation.

The Structure of Doctoral Capstone Projects

The structure of doctoral capstone projects vary depending on what students wish to create for their project. For example, a sample curriculum plan may involve a lot of writing and lesson plans, while a piece of learning management software would require considerable coding and/or design work. Some students may even elect to create a proposal for changes in the organizational structure, employee training, or management practices of a corporate setting. In general, the components of a doctoral capstone project include a paper that explains students’ research and its purpose, existing research in their area of study, students’ project plan, and explanations of their work’s application to real-world situations. Students must clearly show how their project is grounded in theoretical frameworks and established principles in their field of study.

The process for completing a doctoral capstone project is similar to that of completing a dissertation, in that students must seek the mentorship and guidance of one or more faculty advisors, meet certain research and writing milestones, and ultimately present their capstone deliverable to a committee of evaluators. However, specific guidelines regarding the capstone project and accompanying paper may differ among schools that offer this option. As the capstone project is a recent and innovative development in EdD programs, this option is currently only offered by a relatively small number of programs.