Doctoral students are often asked to take a preliminary written exam as part of their degree, and they are often unclear of what those questions look like. They visit with their adviser, ask friends, and ask past students to get an idea of what those pesky preliminary exam questions may be. I like to give examples to my students of the type of questions that I like to ask, and I thought that others might find these useful, so I am posting a few below.

"Writing", 22 November 2008

Writing, 22 November 2008 (photo by ed_needs_a_bicycle)

The questions:

1. Summarize two major debates in the field, and clearly articulate your own position on each debate. Cite relevant research to support your stance.

2. Moos and Honkomp (2011), in their paper entitled Adventure Learning: Motivating Students in a Minnesota Middle school, state: “Though adventure learning offers exciting possibilities to engage students and facilitate deep, meaningful learning, it is not without substantial challenges and issues to consider.” What kinds of instructional, learning, and organizational challenges do you think adventure learning poses?

3. “Technology integration” is a persistent theme in the educational technology literature. Recently, scholars have sought to refine the notion of “technology integration” and have discussed transformative uses of technology. What is transformative education and transformative technology integration? What does culturally- and contextually-relevant technology integration look like?

4. In a survey of 459 university students and 159 university faculty members, Malesky and Peters (in press) found that “over one-third of the students and a quarter of the faculty participants reported that it is inappropriate for faculty members to have accounts on [Social Networking Sites].” Why might students consider faculty members’ use of social networking sites inappropriate? Use both empirical and theoretical literature to support your arguments.

5. Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) argue that for novice learners minimally guided instruction (i.e. a situation in which learners discover or construct essential information for themselves) is inefficient and ineffective. These authors argue that direct instruction (i.e. “providing information that fully explains the concepts and procedures that students are required to learn”) is the
most effective and efficient approach to learning. How would Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark respond to the idea of “tinkering?” What position would you take in this debate in your dissertation?  In your answer, make sure to cite related research to support your arguments.


Something to note prior to using these as a study guide though: Preliminary written exams  differ from university to university. When I took mine at the University of Minnesota, if I recall well, I had eight hours to respond in detail to two questions. There was a take-home portion to that exam as well. At the Learning Technologies program at UT-Austin, we give students four hours to answer four out of the five questions we provide. At both instances access to resources (e.g., the Internet) is limited*.


* We can debate the authenticity and relevancy of limiting access to resources, but that may be an issue better suited for a different post. On the one hand, these individuals will have access to resources when they are doing their work in the future, so why limit them? On the other hand, they will encounter situations in which they have to respond without consulting an outside resource – e.g., during a job talk.