Problems, Theories, and Literature: Making a Contribution to the Field

The next course I am taking in Boston University’s Online Doctoral of Musical Arts in Music Education program is Problems, Theories, and Literature: Making a Contribution to the Field. Unlike the other 4-credit courses that make up this degree program, PTL is a 15-week course instead of 7. The course is taught by Dr. Karin Hendricks (newly appointed chair of music education), Dr. Tawnya Smith, and Dr. Ron Kos (professor of the Psychology & Sociology course). To summarize the scope of the course, we are building the habits of scholars to prepare for our dissertations. I’ll highlight some excerpts from the syllabus.

You may find this course different than any in which you've previously enrolled, in that we focus on process over product. The end-goal is not an assignment; the end-goal is not your dissertation.The end-goal is your life of inquiry and scholarship.

The course is 15 weeks long, rather than the usual 7, so that you have time and space to read, think, and write, and we want you to rehearse scheduling your time for reading, thinking, and writing—scholarly practices that will continue far beyond the scope of this course.

Live Classrooms

There are no video lectures and no required discussion posts in this course. Instead there are required live classroom discussions:

  • Week 1: Scholarly Reading, Research Problems

  • Week 2: Epistemologies, Theoretical Perspectives, and Frameworks

  • Week 3: Narrowing Down a Topic

  • Week 5: Constructing a Research Problem; Writing an Argument

  • Week 11: Composing a Rationale

  • Week 14: Literature Review


All students are expected to work out the research problem, rationale, and concepts from readings through blogging. You will have a blog assignment due on Fridays of weeks 1-7, and 10-15. You are also required to comment on the blogs of at least 4 colleagues on the following Sunday (See each week's assignment for specific requirements).

Note: There is no "right answer" and no word count requirement for the blogs; simply put, the blog is a space for you to think. The more you use this space to write out your ideas and to solicit feedback from others, the more prepared you will be for each related assignment.

By using blogging instead of submitting many papers, we hope to show that:

  • Scholarship is never done. There are points at which one submits a written product (such as a dissertation proposal, a dissertation, a journal article, or a book chapter), but scholars are always engaged in questioning and in revising their thinking.

  • Reading, and working out the ideas one encounters through reading, is essential to writing.

  • We learn by making mistakes, and blogging is an opportunity to learn from mistakes without penalty.

  • Compelling writing (in any genre) is a product ofmany revisions.

Independent Reading

One of the main strands of the course is student-selected reading. Although you have been accustomed to finding and reading articles for other courses, we encourage you to think about the "big ideas" during this course and select several book-length works. It's okay if you don't finish the books you select during the course.Remember, you are preparing for a life of inquiry and scholarship, so schedule some time every day for reading, thinking, and writing, and consider this course an opportunity to explore topics and expand your thinking.

I am both excited and intimidated by the sheer amount of work for this course. It seems as though the vast majority of the work we do will be in preparation for our dissertations: amassing a body of literature, studying theoretical frameworks, constructing a research problem, formulating research questions, and composing a rationale. Our final “products” include weekly reflections in the form of blogs, an annotated bibliography of literature we’ve chosen to read, a problem statement, a rationale, and a literature review argument outline.

As with my previous courses, I will continue to use this blog as a reflection point and a means of posting the different learning and products from week to week. I look forward to sharing this journey with you!


Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.