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Using experience sampling methodology to understand how educational leadership students solve problems on the fly

Jen Katz-Buonincontro (Educational Leadership, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)
Joel M. Hektner (Family Science and Human Development, North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota, USA)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 29 April 2014




The purpose of this paper is to report on a pilot study of the emotional states associated with educational leadership students’ attempts at problem solving “on the fly” in their schools and organizations.


Experience sampling methodology (ESM) was used to study 375 “problem-perceiving moments” in leadership students using iPod touches, followed by individual cognitive interviews (CIs).


Students reported higher levels of intrinsic motivation and cognitive engagement when solving new vs old problems. Students experienced both more positive and more negative emotions when attempting to problem solve than when reporting that they were not solving problems, yet lower levels of self-efficacy coupled with insufficient time to reflect on their leadership goals while at work. Consistent with previous research, students reported engaging in metacognitive and reflective activities more frequently while with supervisors and colleagues. In the CIs, students’ narrative descriptions generally supported the quantitative analysis. For example, students described “putting out fires,” and discussed multi-tasking as a deterrent to problem solving. They also talked about balancing the emotional “highs and lows” throughout their day as well as the role of social affirmation in the problem solving process.

Research limitations/implications

While the limitations of this small pilot study include a small sample using self-report data, the implications for educational leadership faculty are to explicitly integrate psychological research into leadership courses to expand students’ knowledge of creative problem solving and focus on building their self-efficacy.


Even though students might not perceive they are good at problem solving, faculty can help them learn how to regulate their emotions and create teamwork conditions for constructively vetting problems. In turn, this kind of instruction and research can enhance leadership students’ persistence as problem solvers, which may help prevent leadership burnout and turnover.



The authors would like to thank the Office of Faculty Development and Equity at Drexel University for the Career Development Award grant that supported this research project.


Katz-Buonincontro, J. and M. Hektner, J. (2014), "Using experience sampling methodology to understand how educational leadership students solve problems on the fly", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 52 No. 3, pp. 379-403.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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