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Curriculum & Course Schedule

EdD Curriculum and Research Cycles

In the EdD vision statement, the faculty write: “A major research focus of our program addresses both the causes of inequities — in services, in institutional policies and practices, and in cultural norms and expectations — and the effects that these inequities have on students, parents, and teachers. Through university-community partnerships and research in their own work settings, students address these issues directly while studying in their program.” In keeping with the vision, the faculty members have identified four research cycles that each doctoral student will complete during the program and have identified the courses needed to support this new approach. The first three research cycles introduce students to different forms of action research, designed to use research to bring about transformative change. The fourth cycle will be the student’s dissertation research. Each cycle will be woven across five different courses, creating a synthesizing experience while students study different subject matter.


Cycle 1: Collaborative Inquiry

Using the cohort as a laboratory, students will participate in a systematic process of investigating themselves or their practice. In small teams, the members first agree on a focus of inquiry and develop a set of questions or intentions to explore; jointly develop a set of procedures for observing and recording their experiences; execute and record data about their planned actions; and examine their experiences, assumptions, values, and beliefs in light of their new knowledge. At the completion of the fourth step, they may change their original question or engage in additional cycles of action and reflection.

Cycle 2: Community-Based Research

During this cycle, students will work with a school, agency, or non-profit organization to jointly develop a research project that will meet the needs of the organization while teaching the student important research skills. During this cycle, in conjunction with their coursework and depending on the nature of the research project, students will practice skills such as survey construction, interviewing skills, data analysis, and the like. They will also have the experience of being an “outside” researcher who must learn how to work respectfully and effectively with the “insider” organizational members.

Cycle 3: Participatory Action Research

In this final cycle before the dissertation research, students will engage in a participatory research project within their work settings where they are an “insider” working with other “insiders” on projects aimed at creating sustainable change through collaboration. During this cycle, students will not only use their research skills but also their leadership skills, helping to forge a collaborative team in settings where power and privilege are often the norm. It is likely that this third cycle will be directly connected to the student’s dissertation.

Cycle 4: Dissertation Research

During this cycle, students will enroll in coursework directly related to their dissertation and will also work jointly with the dissertation chair during the proposal-develop phase.

See the outline below for an overview of the four cycles are integrated into the curriculum:


EdD Courses

Research Cycles

Cycle 1: Collaborative Inquiry


Course Number

Course Title


SU1-Year 1


Leadership: Theory to Practice             




Organizational Theory and Systems


FA1-Year 1


Introduction to Research                  




Values and Ethics




Organizational Change and Innovation



Cycle 2: Community-Based Research


Course Number

Course Title


SP2–Year 1


Quantitative Research Design


SU1-Year 2


Data Analysis Lab


SU2-Year 2




FA1-Year 2


Qualitative Research


FA2-Year 2


Advanced Qualitative Research



Cycle 3: Participatory Action Research*


Course Number

Course Title


SP1-Year 2


Data Driven Decision Making


SP2-Year 2


Systems Thinking


SU1-Year 3


Leadership for Equity


SU2-Year 3


Leadership Perspectives on Public Policy


FA1- Year 3


Learning and Leading


FA2 – Year 3





*The order of these courses may change.

Cycle 4: Dissertation Research


Course Number

Course Title




Literature Review


SP2-Year 3


Dissertation Proposal                                                          




Dissertation Research and Writing *



*Total of 6 units are required; can take variable units in each trimester (SU, FA, SP).


FAQ: What kinds of dissertations do the students complete?

As recommended by educational authorities, Saint Mary’s EdD students are encouraged to conduct “applied” research, aimed at transforming the institutions in which they work. A major research focus is addressing both the causes of inequities — in services, in institutional policies and practices, and in cultural norms and expectations — and the effects that these inequities have on students and society at large. Click here to see selected titles of dissertations.

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