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Components of the EdD Professional Doctorate Programme

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Tuesday, 21 Jun 2022, 17:38

This blog post aims to summarise aspects of the OU’s professional doctorate (EdD) programme, placing particular emphasis on the topic of education.

What has been presented here has been collated from a number of different resources. My primarily aim of preparing this post was to help me to get familiar with the new structure of the taught part of the programme. I’m also sharing it since it might be useful for either existing or prospective students, or for students who might also be studying for a disciplinary based PhD, since the EdD materials offer some helpful pointers

The programme that is roughly summarised here is different from previous years, since it contains a substantial and important taught component to help students prepare for their research that follows. Although the programme contains a number of really important residential schools, I’m highlighting the academic subjects that are explored.

Year 1

The programme guide introduces the first year as follows: “Year 1 … will focus on getting you started with your research, with a particular focus on contextual background of your research and the literature review. Year 1 includes an induction residential weekend, four modules of study with four accompanying online seminars, and the completion of two formative assignments and one summative assignment."

Module 1: Getting started

This first module is about setting the scene. Drawing on the module guide, this first module “will help you get started with your doctoral studies. The module covers what is involved in studying for a PD, time management, supervision, and the Researching Professional Development Framework.” It is intended to be studied within the first couple of weeks of starting the programme. The first section introduces the notion of the professional doctorate, and this is followed by a section about planning and managing your research project. A bit of advice (for students) that I’ve read was: “think about your doctoral studies as a project”.

Section 3 is entitled your development as a researching professional. It introduces the Researching Professional Development Framework (RPDF) (Vitae website), a tool designed to help your development during your doctoral studies.

This is followed by section about Professional Academic Communication in English (PACE), and introduces students to some useful some online resources, where students share their experiences of academic writing.

Supervision is an important element of an EdD programme, and also becoming familiar with the research process. The final section of this first module is entitled “Making the most of your supervision”. Students are directed to the Code of practice for supervisors and research students, and other resources such as the university’s research degrees handbook.

Module 2: Context for educational research

This second module will “guide you through exploring the specific context of your research, including the international, national, institutional and individual context within which your research is located. It also covers the importance of your professional identity, and the standards and principles for good quality research within your area” (EdD programme guide, p.9). 

This module is split into three sections. The first is further understanding the context for research. Students are asked to consider different perspectives of their research: macro-level, meso-level and micro-level. A further aim is to identify who the different stakeholders might be.

The next section, the professional as a researcher is all about “exploring the concepts of professional identity, agency, structure and reflexivity”. Reflection and reflexivity is explored as a key topic, which emphasises how important it is to relate our own position and identities to the research that is taking place.

The final section is entitled “standards for good practice in research”. This section is about ethics, the importance of ethical guidelines, power imbalances and how they might influence research, the student voice and co-research.

When a student has completed this section, it is roughly time to submit the first formative assessment. As well as introducing a research project, students are required to consider the context of the research, and the role of the researcher.

Module 3: Reviewing the literature

The literature review is one of the really important outcomes from doctoral research. This module, which is scheduled to begin in the new year “provides guidance to conducting and writing a literature review, including searching for literature, reviewing literature, referencing and reference management tools, and writing the literature review” (EdD programme guide, p.9). Key topics that are explored include what it means to searching for literature, review literature, reference literature, write a literature review, and to write critically. There is also a section that introduces the concept of a systematic literature review. Whilst carrying out reading within a subject, students may find a number of systematic literature review papers that offers a summary of a similar or related topic.

Module 4: Principles of research design

This final module of the first year introduces students to key terms and research concepts. It “aims to stimulate further thinking about your research design and covers topics such as ontology, epistemology and research paradigms, logics of enquiry and an introduction to quantitative and qualitative research” (EdD programme guide, p9).

Moving to year 2

During this first year, students will be required to carry out a number of assessments. During the time where there is no formal study scheduled, students will be expected to be carrying out reading and study.

Year 2

As well as having a taught section, students attend a residential weekend. In November 2021, this was hosted as an online event, where students were able to attend various sessions. Resources shared from this event, and earlier events are available online.

Module 5: Considering a research methodology

This first second year module “provides guidance about different research methodologies including experimental quantitative research, ethnography, grounded theory, case study research, action research, phenomenology and narrative inquiry”. There is a section for each of these methods, which also provides a set of resources, which can be useful to understand more about a particular method. If studying these materials, a suggestion is to only go digging for resources which you think are most appropriate for your particular project. A lot of resources are highlighted.

Module 6: Approaches to data collection

In some senses, this module follows on from the previous module about methodology, but it succinctly summarises the different approaches that could be adopted. From the programme guide, this module “will help you start thinking about the practical aspects of your research project by introducing common data collect methods and sources of data. Topics covered includes interviews, focus groups, observations, questionnaires, visual and creative methods, secondary data and documents and artefacts. As with the previous module, each section provides a very detailed references section that enables students to get a more detailed introduction and insight into different approaches.

Module 7: Professional conduct and research ethics

When it comes to EdD and PhD research, ethics is one of my favourite subjects. This module is said to “encourage your ethical thinking and assist you in developing a robust application for ethical approval for your planned research. Topics covered will include professional conduct, close to practice research, making an OU ethics application, …. and research data management.” Two sections are notable: there is a section about ethics and educational research, and ethics about health and social care research; students should choose whichever strand is most appropriate. One section that I must emphasise is the section that relates to academic and research conduct. There is also encouragement to carry out what is called a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA), if personal data is kept and retained.

Module 8: Qualitative data analysis and presenting results

Qualitative data is rich non-numeric data that can be interpreted to provide meanings and explanations. This module will introduce “methods of qualitative analysis, including thematic analysis, discourse analysis, document analysis and multimodal analysis.” If a student is interested in carrying out interviews with participants to gather interests and perspectives, this section offers a really helpful guidance about how to begin to make sense of data that is collected. Such data, of course, must be made sense of in light of the reading that has been carried out, and also the perspective of the researcher. During data analysis, a student might use a tool such as NVivo to organise qualitative data.

Module 9: Quantitative data analysis

Quantitative data is all about numerical data. This final module introduces “various methods of quantitative analysing including testing for differences between means, correlation analysis, linear regression and logistic regression.” Specifically, “this module will require you to use SPSS, and you will need to download this onto your computer before starting the module”. If a student is going to be carrying our survey research, or is to be carrying out experiments to test hypothesis, this section is going to be really important. It is also important to recognise that methods can be mixed. For example, an interview study could reveal themes that could be studied in greater depth through a survey. Conversely, a survey may reveal an unexpected situation that can only be further understood by asking questions.

Moving to year 3

Year 2 marks the end of the formal study part of the EdD. Students will be invited to make a poster presentation to outline their research plans, and move to the second stage.

Years 3 and 4

The EdD program guide summarises years 2 and 3 as follows: “during stage 2 you will follow a more independent and individual programme of work with the continuing support of your supervisors. During year 3 there will be formative assessments at spaced intervals in order to help you progress and to provide formal opportunities for feedback.” (p.11).

A number of useful resources are provided on the EdD websites (there is a site for year 3, and another site for year 4). Highlights include a document that attempts to answer the question “How many qualitative interviews is enough?”, which has been prepared by Baler and Edwards, and a couple of video resources that have the title “stories from the field”. 


Many of the themes and topics mentioned within the taught aspect of the EdD programme reminded me of themes and topics that were explored within the OU’s MA in Education programme, which offers a “lead in” to this programme. Although MA students may find some of the material familiar, I hold the view that the taught section is really useful in terms of setting the groundwork for the detailed data gathering and analysis that takes place later during the later years of study and research.

I came to the EdD programme from the discipline of computing, where I completed my own doctoral studies in the late 90’s. One thing I’m struck by is the thoroughness of the EdD programme. It is only by having gone through the OU MA in Education, and having done my own doctoral research do I really appreciate the detailed discussions about epistemology, ontology and methodology. 

It is also really interesting that the softer side of computing applies many of the methods and approaches that Education does; the commonality lies with the adoption of methods from the social sciences. A lot of computing and education research is all about people, what they do, and what they learn.

At the same time as being a supervisor for a current EdD student, I’m also a supervisor for a disciplinary PhD student. The approaches are quite different, in the sense that although there is more supervision for the PhD candidate, there is less structure, in the sense that there isn’t the taught component. One of the things that I am going to do is direct my PhD student to look at some of the materials that are exposed through the EdD modules. The cross over between the two is, of course, people.


The Open University (2020) Doctorate in Education (EdD) Programme Guide.


All these sections have been summarised from different resources from the EdD programme. Acknowledgements are specifically extended to Dr Carol Azumah Dennis, EdD Programme Leader and Dr Philippa Waterhouse, DHSC Programme Leader.

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