CPED 2023 Keynote Workshop: Defining a problem of practice for the EdD


CPED Convening 2023 Keynote Workshop: “Defining a problem of practice for the EdD” 
Elizabeth A. Zumpe, University of Oklahoma 

 In the quest to define a professional doctorate in education, CPED encourages EdD programs to follow a common principle: using inquiry to address problems of practice. At the 2023 CPED Convening, I invited our professional learning community to wrestle with challenges at the core of this quest: What’s so hard about defining a problem of practice for the EdD?   

Firstly, problems of practice are real world problems. These are “ill-structured”: neither the problem nor the solution are clear. Before such problems can be solved, the problem first must be defined and framed. This is no simple task. It can be hard to distinguish one problem from the next, or what causes problems from the problems themselves. Not everyone may agree upon the problem, yet how a problem is defined may restrict how people try to solve it.    

Secondly, because they are real world problems, leaders’ mindsets—including biases and habits formed in their day-to-day work—can constrain how they define them. My research and practice with EdD students has revealed a few common pitfalls in how education leaders initially define problems of practice:   

1. Instead of problems, they name solutions. These are often desired practices that leaders believe others “need to” implement—often with fuzzy knowledge about the felt needs or current practices of the people in their organizations.  

2. Instead of a problem “of practice,” they name a broad concern for equity. These are often far-reaching problems that could take a generation to solve and require nearly unlimited agency or authority. A problem of practice should be actionable: it should name specific and observable behaviors or beliefs within one’s sphere of influence.  

 3. They adopt problems handed to them by external accountability metrics. This tends to define problems in terms of downstream outcomes—with little insight into which practices need changing. This also tends to reproduce deficit ideologies. 

Thus, defining a problem of practice is an iterative learning journey. This has important implications for the design of EdD programs. To consider these implications, I invite you to follow the case of one leader, Michelle, featured in Rick Mintrop’s book, Design-based School Improvement: A Practical Guide for Education Leaders. How does Michelle’s definition of a problem of practice change over time? What kinds of learning experiences support her journey? With CPED Executive Director, Dr. Jill Perry, we offer some teaching tools and reflective prompts to use in the development of your own programs: Keynote Workshop Workbook

Please feel free to contact me with questions or share your learning journeys.

About Elizabeth Zumpe

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