Professional Doctorates …

I’ve been looking at professional doctorates and asking
•    What are they?
•    What are the pros and cons?

Some thoughts then …

The professional doctorate is characterised by the requirement for the holder to demonstrate an original contribution to knowledge, this is the same for all doctorates (Huisman & Naidoo, 2006). It is distinctive by: an emphasis on practice (Dyson, 2009); the prevalence of taught components (Dyson, 2009); and, a diverse, mature and professional experienced student body. Professional doctorates embrace the mode of learning concomitant with the knowledge economy, focusing on knowledge generated from application, known as Mode 2 knowledge (Stew, 2009). Wellington and Sikes (2006) suggest the characteristic impact is on the affective and cognitive attributes of the student.

Prof docs appear to be more prevalent in the US and Australia, though they originated from 1920s America. When looking at which professions engage most with the Prof doc Education and Engineering stand out, and increasingly nursing.

The pattern is difficult to unpack with certainty as each industry or context will have its own motivations for providing or buying into prof docs. However in some way the growth of the prof doc does reflect the trend for recognition of knowledge created outside of the universities and therefore the changing role of HE.

Also, Servage (2009) suggests that expansion of the prof doc may be in part an extension of, the process of massification, and therefore a result of upward inflationary pressure on qualifications. Prof docs may also have beenin part expanded with help from the growth of international online programmes, targeting the work-based learner. Technology has played its part.

Some advantages of the professional doctorate come from its obvious relevance to practice and its breadth of focus as well as the often social dimensions to learning in a cohort; traditional PhDs have been accused of being overly focused, detached from the needs of industry and lonely. The professional doctorate may act as a stimulus for professional growth or ‘professional renewal’ (see, Wellington and Sikes, 2006).
Notably, Usher (2002, cited in Huisman and Naidoo, 2006) recognises that the professional route matches the requirements of today’s knowledge workers. Though in developing or considering prof docs it may be reasonable to question whether the prof doc takes some industries beyond where they want to be: does it ‘academicise’ and distract?, or are development of critical thinking skills and anlaytical approaches always for the good? At the lower levels of HE 4-7, these same tensions exist.

Huisman and Naidoo (2006) highlight that intended advantages may not always be realised. For example they cite research by Nueman (2005) wherein links with industry professionals were in reality rather limited.

Of course, some controversy exists around the parity of standards when the professional doctorate is compared to the ‘gold standard’ PhD (Dyson, 2009), but that is to be expected in reality.

Finally for the student, whilst personal gains are potentially high the intensity of the learning experience can have high costs – as the students, mid-life professionals often have competing demands upon their time through children, parents, financial issues and, of course, demanding professional jobs (see, Wellington ad Sikes, 2006). Of course this is the case for most forms of work based learning.

One thing that my reading has not cleared up is what constitutes a ‘professional’ for a professional doctorate: is this the attributes of the individual and how they interface with their practice (i.e. they are the professional) or is it a standard, or set of criteria for the role or context that an individual is working in (i.e. the role is a professional one), or perhaps more likely a combination.

Dyson, S. (2009). Professional doctorates – to do or not to do: That is the question. International Conference on Professional Doctorates, University of Middlesex, UK Council for Graduate Education. Retrieved May 11, 2011 from

Huisman, J., & Naidoo, R. (2006). The professional doctorate: From Anglo-Saxon to European challenges. Higher Education Management and Policy, 18(2), 51–63. Retrieved May 12, 2011 from

Servage, L (2009) Alternative and professional doctoral programmes: what is driving the demand? Studies in Higher Education 34 (7), 765-779.

Stephenson, J., Malloch, M., Cairns, L. and Costley, C. (2004) Towards a third generation of professional doctorates managed by the learners themselves? Retrieved 12 May, 2011 from

Stew, G. (2009). What is a doctorate for? International Conference on Professional Doctorates, University of Middlesex, UK Council for Graduate Education. Retrieved May 12, 2011 from

Wellington, J. and Sikes, P. (2006) A doctorate in a tight compartment’: why do students choose a professional doctorate and what impact does it have on their personal and professional lives? Studies in Higher Education 31(6), 723-734.

Professional development on professional development

I usefully spent today at Liverpool John Moores University in a workshop run by Janet Strivens and Rob Ward from the Centre for Recording Achievement, around PDP and eportfolios.

Key points from the session:

PDP is a culture that can be embedded and not an output

The use of constructive alignment can be stifling and at odds with the irregularity and risk taking nature of PD

There is a degree of confusion in practice about PD as output and PD as process.

PD incorporates meta learning, decision making and critical self review. It is an intense activity and should not be reduced only to blocks but should be valued and embedded.

PD helps learners assume responsibility for learning; the knock on effect is that staff are freed to teach and enable and not to micromanage. (there is then a potential efficiency).

PD and e-portfolios are complementary (enhanced reflection, asynchronisity) but can also be the source of tension when the technology is the design driver.

Good PD is intensive to demands upfront design.

Whilst staff and students may resist and in some cases resent PD, once normalised in to systems staff and students can see huge value in developing mutual understanding of learning styles, skills in managing uncertain knowledge and information, skills for the changing world and personal realisations.

Confusion between employment skills and employability skills may be evident in some systems.

PD in a competitive HE Market is hugely important for adding value to an individual; the evidence base is growing to help articulate this case (see CRA).

The language of PD can be interpreted to focus on practice, practise, application, planning and reviewing. It need nit be abstract.

Students showcasing their attributes through portfolios and cvs etc. is only a tiny part of the PD journey, the real value for the student is in the journey of self understanding that ultimately informs such outputs.

Questions remain around what to assess: quality of evidence, ‘academic-ness’ of reflection or individual progress.

Excellent examples of embedded PD are brave and bold!

For more information

The institutional development of ‘online’

I have been reading a paper by Orr, Williams and Pennington (2009) and it struck a chord with a recent project that I have been peripherally involved in. The paper analyses staff perceptions around the motivating factors for online engagement and the development online teaching. I wasn’t surprised by the paper but thought some points were worth noting given the fit with current work, summary of key points from the paper below with interspersed comment.

Compensation is well received by staff for development work but is not the primary motivator for work. Those who were going to engage would engage anyway, with or without compensation.
LA. Agree, Compensation isn’t the primary motivator but it is welcome and may help staff prioritise this work over other less essential activities as compensation recognises the value of the work undertaken. It can, I think, facilitate the completion of work as it adds a degree of obligation.

The complexity of web tools emerging means that a facilitating technical team is important for staff engagement; it’s a lot to ask staff to be discipline and technical experts, however some academics will want to fulfil both roles to keep control
LA. No doubt this is true, having seen a facilitating team in action recently such staff enable the translation of ideas and are able to facilitate outputs, such a team needs good pedagogic and technical skills. Fortunately and unfortunately I am probably in the controlling academic side as I wish to keep my hand-in with the technology, that said, a strong technical development team provide a mini- community of practice to raise standards.

Institutional leadership was uber-important for staff buy-in and for staff to feel that their work was valuable
LA: Inevitably so. At an event I attended recently where a management team had openly supported online development the staff seemed to present outputs very proudly and with a belief that their work was totally valuable.

It’s critical for departments to align with institutional goals. Where departments only tolerate staff engaging in online the motivating effect of institutional goals will not be fulfilled.

The primary motivator for staff engagement in online work is concern for student experience and in response to student need.
LA: Agree, but as the early adopters spread and champion, the other factors provide the conditions to make online happen.

Barriers are only barriers when staff begin their journey, thus motivation is always the key.

Orr, R.,Williams, M.R. and Pennington, K. 2009. Institutional efforts to support faculty in teaching. In Innovations in Higher Education. 34. 257-268.