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Coeur d'Alene
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PPD students rafting

White Water Rafting

By Bryan Maughan, Director of Professional Practices Doctorate Program

On September 24, 2011, a group of 17 Professional Practices Doctorate students boarded rubber rafts and began their journey down what then appeared to be the calm Snake River. It was a beautiful autumn day unlike any others. The fiery reds, oranges and yellows of the changing leaves surrounded the majestic pines and rocky ridges. Hooded mergansers danced near the shore and the mood of the adventurous floaters was jovial and lighthearted. While in the calm waters, the floaters on the rafts felt safe, relaxed, and cast their eyes about surveying the beauty of nature. Not many things are as peaceful and refreshing as mountainous scenes such as these. On the other hand, there are few things as unpredictable and dangerous as the white-water rapids these peaceful nature lovers were soon to encounter.

In the Snake River there is a set of rapids the natives call the Big Kahuna. According to experienced guides it is a difficult set of rapids to consistently predict. The unpredictability creates fear and excitement. In the face of real and potential danger everyone’s eyes are drawn from the surrounding beauty to the reality of the turbulent waters, and their minds fill with questions. Will the raft fold together like a taco or flip? Have
water levels changed the size and existence of some of the rapids? Will the weather change? Will the chemistry of people in the raft and their level of experience increase the danger? What will be floating in the water in front and behind? Is the equipment strong enough? If someone falls overboard, how will
they be rescued?

Like the reality of concerns or problems in the territory of a professional practice, practical issues drove our learning. It was what Lester referred to as “knowledge-in-use” (Lester, 2004).

We took the Big Kahuna head on. It was an exhilarating ride. One person was thrown from her spot at the front of the raft toward the middle and while trying to gain some control dug her shoe into the leg of person across from her – ouch! Someone was hit with a paddle, and others were holding on for dear life. Despite
being tossed about, nobody was injured. In fact, and strangely enough, laughter erupted when it was all over. All in all, it turned into a meaningful bonding and learning experience. After our rafting experience, we had a chance to reflect on teambuilding, leadership, and other organizational and social issues.

We leveraged this experience by using a metaphor from Peter Vaill’s work, “Learning as a way of being: Strategies for survival in a world of permanent white water.” Together we entered an environment that created a powerful learning opportunity as we considered the implication of connecting theory to practice. It
also became an opportunity to develop a professional learning community – a community of practice. It was enlivening to be a part of a group of professionals with diverse backgrounds who hardly knew each other – and connect while experiencing something both beautiful and dangerous.

Today’s complex environments of change and problem solving require multiple perspectives, which include people who are in the context of the problems (in the raft). As a cohort, these doctoral students will spend the next three years doing extensive research together. They are full-time professionals enrolled as part-time students in our new Professional Practices Doctoral (PPD) program. However, their involvement in course work is intended to heighten their awareness of emergent issues and existing problems they would like to study and better understand. Research is done from within the frontier of where knowledge is being generated. This applied research program enables students to offer scholarly solutions that are innovative
and timely.

Our PPD program began in June of this year. The College of Education recently joined a movement to make education more powerful in addressing industry problems at local and eventual global levels. This program is housed in the Leadership and Counseling department, where one of the highest objectives is to strengthen and expand mutually beneficial partnerships with stakeholders in Idaho and beyond. This program will help
increase opportunities for faculty and students to connect with stakeholders in a way that makes learning meaningful.

The Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED) initiated the movement. According to Perry (2011), “The intent of this national project is to redesign the Ed.D. and to make it a more relevant degree for the advanced preparation of school practitioners and clinical faculty, academic leaders and professional staff for the nation’s schools and colleges and the learning organizations that support them” (2011, CPED).

The program is now in full swing in southeastern Idaho. The present cohort consists of professional educators and administrators from within higher education, as well as leaders from local school districts and a business owner. In the end, participants will produce three publish-ready articles that will be accessible to local and global audiences. This powerful and practical program will help inform other educational developments throughout the state.