Defining Innovative

What is innovative?

As a student in the Learning, Instruction, and Innovation PhD program, at Walden University, at some point you will struggle with what innovative really means. It appears to be a simple question as first, but applying it to educational research is more difficult than you think.  You will be asked to defend that your dissertation topic is innovative in addition to filling a necessary gap within the literature. The response I give students regarding what innovative means is that it is a research idea that studies:

  • Something new used in an old way
  • Something old used in a new way
  • Something new used in a new way

One of our very own Dr. D’s mentees expanded on this idea in her post Does Technology Really Make the Innovation Innovative?

There’s a journal titled Journal of Educational Research and Innovation (JERI). The site describes the journal’s focus this way, “JERI aims to provoke conversation about emerging ideas, stimulate innovation in practice, and encourage diversity of opinion. Perhaps,  taking a look at  articles accepted for this journal might be a good place to begin?

As you know, I love all things Google, and this company is known for being innovative. So maybe we should be looking at the Educational Innovation Research they deem worthy of being studied? And then maybe even look for a job as a Researcher there? Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?

Another source of inspiration might be The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) who has recently made a series of videos showing and encouraging students to be innovative. While the introduction video embedded below focuses on STEM innovation, (who can argue that technology that saves baby’s lives is innovative) there are some real gems built within the video that may inspire you on the research side of innovation. Can you pick them out and share them below in a reply?

While much of our dissertation journey is just that, a journey, you will at some point have to finalize your topic. You will need to be passionate about it and be ready to dedicate your life to a very focused aspect of education and innovation. Remembering this….


I hope this helps you begin your own journey in determining whether or not your study topic is innovative or not.

Your mentor ~Dr. Darci


Guidesheet for the Dissertation Lit Review

Throughout your coursework you have written a number of literature reviews. Some with as many as 15-20 sources; with each assignment preparing you for this…

The Dissertation Literature Review


While there are many resources available to help you wade through the biggest, most comprehensive, most stressful (oops, sorry), most wonderful analytic writing assignment of your career thus far; I suggest Dr. Paula Dawidowicz’s book, “Literature Reviews Made Easy: A Quick Guide to Success.” Based on this book, I developed a guide for you to use as you plan out your weekly/daily tasks to keep moving forward. Below is a link to the pdf.

Literature Review ToDo List: Dr. Darci’s Guidesheet

Literature Review To Do List

Note: The green rows within the guidesheet are places in the process that will take the most time. Take that into account when setting your deadlines.

Don’t Waste Valuable Time Researching what you Don’t Need

As one of Dr. D’s Mentees, I will have you write your Quarter Goals and Tasks according to this chart. I am of the opinion that structure is good, particularly when you find yourself under a pile of research papers (even if they’re digital pdf’s) and can’t see the light of day. Having brainstormed, conducted an abstract review, developed an outline, and organized your reading into matrixes (fancy word for tables) all before you begin writing is critical to keeping focused and not wasting time. Do I have your attention now?

Give it a go, and see if this decreases your anxiety!

Your humble dissertation mentor ~Dr. Darci

Photo on 6-9-14 at 2.55 PM #3

Prospectus – Purpose?

What’s in a prospectus? Title page, problem statement, significance, background, framework, research questions, nature of the study, possible types and sources of information, and references. [Be sure to familiarize yourself with the entire dissertation process by visiting Walden PhD Process Dissertation and Document’s page.]

While the length of the prospectus is not that impressive, the amount of work that goes into writing one is. By the time you are ready to write your first prospectus draft you should have extensively already read articles on (and around) your topic from the past three years as well as have a strong sense of the historical foundations on which you are building the study.

The purpose of the prospectus is that you must convince your committee chair that your study is:

  • unique (fills a gap because its never been studied before)
  • worthy (important enough to be studied)
  • important (someone will benefit from the results of your study; potential for social change)
  • innovative (new in some way)
  • doable (you’ve asked a good question and have a way to answer it)
  • connected (all parts are logically related and interwoven)

Ironically enough, the order in which each section should be appear in the final draft it is not the order you should write them!

If you know your study will be qualitative, I suggest you use the Maxwell book to help you organize your thinking regarding your study. He offers great brainstorming and concept maps that will help you pull together your ideas. In another post, I share steps of how to use Maxwell’s book for your pre-thinking.  These would be perfect for adding to your Quarter Goal and task sheet.

For even more background on the history and purpose of the Walden prospectus, read Dr. Stadtlanter’s post titled Prospectus Beginnings and Prospectus, How do I start?

~Dr. Darci

Disclaimer: This post is for Dr. Darci’s mentees, but should only be seen as a supplement to the Walden annotated outline found in the Dissertation Prospectus pdf file along with the Prospectus Rubric on the PhD Dissertation Program Webpage

Thinking Before the Prospectus

I’ve already introduced the parts that go into a Walden prospectus, and if you want to know more about the purpose and history of the prospectus read Dr. Stadtlander’s post Prospectus Beginnings

My guess is you are chomping at the bit to begin writing. If I may….I am going to ask you to slow down, and get a good idea of your topic before writing the prospectus in a single session. In order to get something down on paper, you must have read a lot around your topic, and have many conceptual foundations in place. To help with this, I’ve divided up the pre-prospectus stage into several steps of pre-thinking. These “steps” are all for qualitative studies and reference Maxwell’s book, “Qualitative Research Design: An Interactive Approach.”  How fast you move through these will depend on you, and how confident and focused you are with your topic.

Communicate Your Ideas (Brain Dump)

Send me your ideas! I know they’re all jumbled in your head, but get them down so we can begin really pulling out what we can use. Use the “Doctoral litmus test” as you focus your ideas. And don’t forget that your research topic must be innovative.

Further Focus your ideas (Qualitative)

Take the feedback I’ve given you, and determine how what you want to study fits into a large scheme. Use Maxwell (2013) chapter 1 as a way to help organize our ideas. Consider making a web map (mind map/ concept map) or a chart to help you determine how your research ideas may fit into:


Framework (conceptual or theoretical)

Research questions

Methods: Keep very basic


Determine your Goals (Qualitative)

Using Maxwell Chapter 2: Further identify your goals. There are three types; Personal, practical, and intellectual. Either add these to you’re the graphic you already made, or simply do the Exercise 2.1: Researcher Identity Memo pg. 34.

Better Determine the Conceptual Framework for your Study (Qualitative)

Read Maxwell Chapter 3: Conceptual framework. “The function of the theory is to inform the rest of your design—to help you to assess and refine your goals, develop realistic and relevant research questions, select appropriate methods, and identify potential validity threats to your conclusions. It also helps to justify your research” (Maxwell 2013; pg. 40-41). Complete “Using Exercise 3.1: Creating a Concept Map for Your Study” pg. 62.

Further Tweak your Research Questions (Qualitative)

Read Maxwell Chapter 4:

Now that you’ve got a feel for how your research may fit into the larger picture, tweak your research questions to align with the problem you’ve identified. Use Maxwell (2013) chapter 4 while working on this.

Put together a document of just your research questions, and give me metacognition comments to go with them. Why you like certain ones, why you don’t. Which ones you feel are the most important, what phrasing you particularly like, which ones you want help clarifying etc..

Then go look at dissertations (or published articles) that use a similar methodology that you are currently moving towards. Don’t read the dissertation cover to cover, but look at research questions, and compare them to your own. See if this changes how you view your own questions. Then add to your research question document, providing additional versions of the research questions you’ve already written. Add the metacognition commentary on these as well, being sure to clarify which you like best out of everything you’ve written.

Once you’ve done this, you’ll move on to writing a first draft of the prospectus.

~Dr. Darci


Brain Dump – Dissertation thinking – unorganized

At times, and not always at the beginning, I’ll ask you to give me a “Brain Dump.” I do this because PhD students often don’t like to turn in anything unpolished to their mentor and giving it the name “brain dump” seems to provide the motivation to write something down. See, I can’t help you if I don’t know what you’re thinking. So a phone call, meeting, or brain dump on paper is necessary.

There are no requirements for the brain dump assignment. No structure, no citations, just your ideas. Organize it however you want. But if you have writers (or even thinkers) block, consider addressing one or more of these questions:

  • What do I really care about?
  • If I could study anything, what would it be?
  • Why should anybody else care about this topic?
  • Why does this matter in the grand scheme of things?
  • How can I narrow this topic to make it more doable?
  • Am I more comfortable with crunching and analyzing numbers (quantitative) or telling stories (qualitative)? Why?
  • Are there cultural, educational, or environmental stumbling blocks that are in my way of doing the study I really want to do? Can I overcome them? Or should I just move on?
  • What theories of learning, instruction, or innovation inspire me most? What studies might I make using these theories?
  • Is there a study that I’ve read recently, that made me think…”I wonder if I could do a study like this only I would…..”?

If you haven’t already, be sure to check Walden’s PhD Dissertation Page and look at all the documents under the prospectus category. Familiarize yourself with what will be expected of you in this phase.

Can’t wait to see what you “dump” on me! (Wait, that doesn’t sound right.)

~Dr. Darci

Welcome to No ABD for Me

Yeah! Congratulations, you’re almost done with your coursework and so now you’re beginning to get serious about your allusive dissertation topic.  The looming dissertation is the last, albeit rather large, hurdle you must move through before you earn that title of Doctor. And you’ve worked too hard to become an “All But Dissertation” (ABD) statistic.

No ABD for me…No ABD for me…No ABD for me…

Is this your mantra? Do those around you keep reminding you to push forward? While I’m sure you’re enjoying the journey, at some point the attitude is “I just want to finish!”

I’ve decided that in order to streamline my ability to mentor you through the dissertation mentoring process I will post my tips for getting through the dissertation journey here on this blog. My hope is help you answer the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer?

How do you eat an elephant/finish the dissertation? One Small piece at a time; from
In this blog we’ll break the elephant (dissertation) into smaller pieces so that it doesn’t seem so overwhelming.

Whether you’re a Walden University Dr. D Mentee or you found this resource by accident, let’s do this!

~Dr. Darci