Revisiting the Doctor of Arts

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by Rich Douglas, Nov 30, 2021.

  1. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    The last 1960s and early 1970s was a time of upheaval in higher education. On campus, student protests against the Vietnam War were all the rage. At the same time, the creation of--and demand for--degree programs that could be completed by working people began to emerge. But off in the corner, so small you could hardly see it, another revolution was being attempted: the Doctor of Arts degree. The following is a bit of history and some thoughts on how this degree might be revived for the 21st century.

    The PhD is the Cadillac of academic doctoral degrees. It is designed to fulfill one of a university's two main purposes: to create scholars who can conduct research that advances scholarly academic disciplines.

    Split from that we've seen arise another set of doctorates, the "professional doctorate" was developed to focus more on advancing praxis (practice) as opposed to scholarship (theory), while still retaining the academic rigor of the PhD. Examples of this type degree include the EdD, DBA, and many more. And, for a brief flash, the Doctor of Arts (DA). (The lines between scholarly doctorates get blurred a bit, where some people are able to earn a PhD without doing strictly scholarship and some doctorates with professional titles are actually scholarly. But the distinctions largely hold.)

    (NB: "Professional doctorates" are not to be confused with "first professional doctorates," which are non-scholarly degrees that are post-bachelor's degrees designed to enter a profession. Examples include the MD, DDS, DO, DC, JD, OD, and many others.)

    As mentioned above, one of the two classical functions of a university is scholarship. The other is teaching. With the rise of the PhD--a whole other article someone else can write--the emphasis was on preparing graduates for research, not teaching. This did not go unnoticed, and by the 1960s there was a really strong feeling that people destined to focus on teaching their disciplines--especially at 4-year colleges and community colleges--needed to be prepared differently. Thus, the rise (conceptually) of the Doctor of Arts.

    The typical PhD program in the US uses the "taught" model. That is, the student undertakes advanced coursework in the chosen academic discipline, is examined on it, then conducts a substantial, original research project that makes a significant contribution to the scholarship of that discipline. (Then it's put on a shelf and forgotten, but that's for another day.) The contribution takes the form of a doctoral dissertation. (I won't get into the distinctions regarding research methods, inductive and deductive inquiry, etc.)

    But what about teaching? The thinking was that those who would focus on teaching were not well-prepared by the PhD process (for what should be obvious reasons). Yet, the feeling was, they still needed a terminal degree, one that focused on teaching the chosen discipline instead of researching it. The DA was meant to address that in three ways:
    • An emphasis on pedagogy (teaching)
    • More training in the chosen discipline
    • A doctoral dissertation focused on teaching that discipline
    But it wasn't that clean. Other alternatives were considered (and rejected). These included putting pedagogy into the regular PhD, or using the EdD (but the EdD is focused on education as a discipline, not on teaching a different discipline--more on that below). Still, with help from the Carnegie Foundation, the DA was designed and launched at a few dozen universities as an alternative to the PhD in a variety of different disciplines.

    And then it flopped.

    Oh, not immediately. It took more than a decade of trying. But it really was doomed from the beginning. Why? The mighty PhD! The DA was quickly seen as an inferior doctorate and graduates were not as competitive--again, even at teaching colleges and community colleges--as were holders of the PhD. (Holders of non-PhD doctorates sometimes still face this stigma.) So the DA faded from view and is now offered in only a few situations. But there has been a significant development in higher education that begs for a reformulation and reintroduction of the DA: online learning.

    Pedagogy is, in a nutshell, teaching. It's what we do with children, and we keep doing to them long after they become adults. (Death By PowerPoint, anyone?) Pedagogy is still useful for training skills. But adults do something far more important that sitting and being trained: they learn.

    Adult learning is a fascinating concept that goes far beyond pedagogy. In fact, Malcolm Knowles coined the term "andragogy" for just that reason. Pupils are taught. Adults learn. Anyone who's taught a university-level online course to working adults knows this. Gone are the lectures (and lecture halls and classrooms). Instead, instructors don't instruct; they facilitate. That is, the adults in the (virtual, asynchronous) room drive their own learning. The facilitator provides learning materials, manages discussion threads, provides feedback and guidance, and assesses learning. No longer the "sage on the stage," he/she is now the "guide on the side." So what about the DA?

    How cool would it be to take master's-trained practitioners and prepare them to be online facilitators of their disciplines? That's what a modern DA could do. DA candidates would dive deeper into their chosen disciplines--with an emphasis on facilitating others in learning it (andragogy). The degree experience would include coaching and mentoring on facilitating in the online arena. The DA would conclude not with an scholarly dissertation, but a learning project (properly sourced and supported with an exegesis) that demonstrated the candidate's ability to design, develop, and deliver instruction in the discipline to learners pursuing it. The result: a person well-qualified and credentialed to facilitate adult learning in any delivery methodology (online, classroom, etc.).

    Who benefits? Everyone. Colleges get better-prepared teachers with much more experience in the practice of their professions. Students get to learn with facilitators skilled not only in what students are learning, but also how to make it happen. And the DA graduates themselves would benefit by advancing their professional practice, as either a side hustle or even a new, full-time chapter in their careers.

    Who pays? The usual suspects. Colleges might be interested in attracting that kind of talent with some quid pro quo--assistance in return for some commitment. And DA candidates would pay as they would in other situations where they receive advanced learning and development experiences to advance their careers.

    Who would conduct the DA? This is a tough one. It was tried at traditional universities and didn't do well. It would be hard (or impossible) for teaching colleges and community colleges to do it. But a free-standing, new school designed around this concept--and in partnership with those colleges--might be able to pull it off. Or, perhaps, an innovative university could create a such a program under its accreditation.

    Who would put all of this together with the colleges, create the program, negotiate the agreements, consult with the stakeholders, and conduct it all? I have no idea. But I have to go now; my mom wants me to go outside and play. Bye!
    RoscoeB, Asymptote, Neuhaus and 4 others like this.
  2. Jahaza

    Jahaza Member

    It kind of combines two different things though right? Fundamentally, the modern doctorate is a research degree. It's a teaching degree only sort of accidentally and because a Ph.D. prepared professor is assumed capable of teaching other people to become researchers.

    But still today, we allow people with Masters degrees to teach college courses. A DA seems like a solution looking for a problem. If you want people to be subject prepared and to learn how to teach adults "in any delivery methodology" it seems like that's just an MA and a M.Ed. Why not leave them modular? Not sure who gains from having them have to be carried out as an integrated program. Push back against the credential inflation arms race.
  3. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    The DA is a research degree, too, on par with the PhD (scholarship) and professional doctorates (praxis).
    The point of the DA is to build teaching skills to a point on par with the PhD's research skills. It's not about what degree one must have to be "allowed" to teach. It's about how we can prepare the most effective facilitators possible.

    The MA doesn't teach adult learning and facilitation skills. The MEd is focused primarily on education, not the academic disciplines DA programs cover.

    The original idea for the DA was to prepare doctoral-level college instructors, educated and trained to a level comparable with PhDs as researchers. I'm suggesting a resurgence not for "credential inflation." (Sorry, but that was first identified by David Hapgood in 1971, so it's a little late now.) Anyone who's had an instructor who was a subject-matter expert but a lousy teacher will know exactly what I'm talking about.
    Well, you can certainly disagree with whom I identified, but I did list three parties who would benefit (and why).
  4. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    I just wanted to add that this is a really good point, one that arose when the DA was being formulated. I hope I provided a sufficient counterpoint.
    Asymptote likes this.
  5. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    I always found it funny how the PhD was seemingly a sharp turn in the consistency of degrees.

    You can go to a community college and earn an Associate of Arts in Sociology. You can then transfer to a four year college and get a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. You can continue on to get a Master of Arts in Sociology. Then you go on to get a doctorate in Sociology and you earn a Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology. It gets even funnier when you are a philosopher and your LinkedIn unironically notes you have a Doctor of Philosophy in Philosophy.

    I think the D.A. idea is a good one and would potentially fill a lot of gaps. Of course I also think we need to jailbreak certain disciplines out of their liberal arts cells. Engineering would be chief among them. The B.Eng. making a comeback and the death of the B.S. Engineering would be a welcome change to many in the field.

    Personally, I think the whole system could use an overhaul.
    Asymptote likes this.
  6. nosborne48

    nosborne48 Well-Known Member

    Another hurdle is the vast overproduction of Ph.D.s in a great many fields. The competition for any academic appointment is fierce. Who would WILLINGLY earn a degree that Ph.D.s (such as infest hiring committees) might look down upon? So long as a Ph.D. is accepted to do a job a D.A. might aspire to but the reverse is not true, the D.A. will wither on the vine.
  7. nosborne48

    nosborne48 Well-Known Member

    I'd LIKE to see some sort of D.A. program for teaching law at the J.D. level. The U.S. legal academy is almost legendary in its scholarly AND pedagogic incompetence.
    Asymptote, sideman and Rich Douglas like this.
  8. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    "Philosophy" in the PhD sense means "lover of wisdom (from the Greek), not the humanities study of philosophy.
    Asymptote likes this.
  9. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    That's why I suggest remodeling its use into a degree for practitioners, not just college teachers. Yes, the PhD continued to push out the DA the last time because they were aiming at the same audience, then trying to split it into two (research and teaching).

    As I said in the missive, it would be particularly good for adjuncts.
    Asymptote likes this.
  10. nosborne48

    nosborne48 Well-Known Member

    But who goes through a doctoral program in order to be an adjunct? Besides, even there, the new D.A. will be fighting with unsuccessful (tenure wise) Ph.D.s for such adjunct crumbs as are available.
  11. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    These threads are FILLED with people who talk about getting a PhD so they can teach as an adjunct.

    But the key would be to get the target audience, the community and 4-year colleges, involved. (But that's not all, as I describe below.)

    The concept is consistent with having a qualifications framework where, if done on a national level, involves ALL the stakeholders, including the government. And not just colleges. In my world, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a consultant (internal and external) or a training provider (ditto) with a doctorate. This approach would prepare them to deliver their expertise in ways that adults respond to--and customers will pay for. But....

    I'm not going to argue the financial aspect of this because that is way beyond the scope of this thread--and it would take a lot more than a few posts. (I simply have no way of knowing the financials or the market--this is a discussion thread; I'm not writing a grant proposal.)

    I wrote what I wrote because I wanted to generate discussion in an area--preparing doctoral-qualified professionals who can teach what they know (and could know at a doctoral-level of expertise)--that is severely underserved in both the 4-year/community college arena and in private practice.

    Here's an example. I have a colleague who is switching fields. She started in Economics, and that's what her PhD is in. But she migrated into leadership development and coaching. Now, she's wanting to move her work into a specific environment--ironically, environmental management. She wants to coach and train people in that field to advance their careers. So, she decided to pursue a master's in that field. But how much more effective could she be with a DA in it, where she was really grounded in the science of guiding adult learning AND environmental management, where she emerged from the program with a credential, subject-matter expertise, and the ability to deliver/facilitate it to others, AND having done a doctoral project in it that prepared her for this new leg of the journey? She's brilliant, so she'll get there anyway, but this is a non-academic example of building a degree plan specifically targeting that goal.

    Frankly, the Union Institute should have offered a DA for a bunch of their people better served by it than the PhD when it still offered a learner-centered doctorate.

    Anyway, the reactions have been interesting.
    Asymptote and SteveFoerster like this.
  12. nosborne48

    nosborne48 Well-Known Member

    There is a highly successful "alternate" Masters category in the sciences and engineering these days called the "Professional Science Masters" or PSM. Maybe a better approach would be to create alternate paths to the Ph.D. including a "Professional Science (or whatever) Ph.D." in other words, use the same degree title. My objection to the D.A. is that it brands the holder with a sort of "scarlet letter" of inferiority where no such branding is objectively justified.
    Rich Douglas likes this.
  13. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    I believe this--the DA-is-a-poor-man's-PhD--was the central reason it died.

    Earning a DA probably--and likely should--cut you out of jobs and tracks requiring the PhD. (But that doesn't always happen with other "alternative" titles like the EdD and DBA.) The biggest problem was that schools who should have been encouraging many DA programs because they needed their graduates instead preferred PhD holders, even though that degree was inferior for the mission of teaching colleges and community colleges. From the research I've read, the DA graduates themselves were satisfied with the outcomes, until they ran into that wall.

    An analogy: Businesses often cater to their customers' desires and expectations. But they can also change them. They can even create a demand that doesn't currently exist.
    I don't know if this would be a distinction without a difference; it's unknown territory. But who says a PhD MUST be scholarly? Why can't it be professional? (Frankly, a lot of them are once the dissertation is written. I often wonder how many original and significant contributions to scholarship are actually made. I know mine didn't. I've read a lot of PhD dissertations and thought that.)

    The DA has a great deal of research and practical results behind it--both good and disappointing. That's why I dredged up that model for my hypothetical. The original purpose was to make a distinct break to serve a very underserved customer with a better-trained and -fitting graduate. Perhaps too big a break. But this is just idle speculation, right? I mean, no one would actually try to pull it off, right? Naw....
    Asymptote likes this.
  14. nosborne48

    nosborne48 Well-Known Member

    Or...reduce the number of funded PhD programs and graduates to the number reasonably necessary to fill actual research needs and offer funded DA programs as reasonably needed for filling teaching positions?

    Right...sounds like a Soviet Five Year Plan and would probably work about as well. o_O
  15. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    Here's my concern with this; degree inflation.

    I am an HR Director with two Masters degrees and two bachelors degrees. I'd rather not get forced into an early retirement because companies get it in their head that to be an HR Director you really should jump on the trend of being a Doctor of Human Resource Management (or related field).

    If I were getting wishes it would be that we would stop making the doctorate the entry level credential to scholarly research. The UK has a long and healthy tradition of academics publishing with no doctorate. Hell, the UK also has a strong tradition of people not trained in one field becoming respected members of another field because their amateur research reaches the point of being worthy of publication and thus they are now philosophers and historians despite not having degrees in philosophy or history.

    This may be heresy on these boards but I don't think the problem is that lack of a serviceable degree. I think the problem is that scholasticism is taking a backseat to putting letters after your name. You want a Masters degree with no thesis? NO PROBLEM. There are tons of options for you including a number where you aren't actually "Mastering" anything at all. Take courses in whatever you want and here's your degree. Thesis? That's for nerds. Now we're seeing the same with professional doctorates. No need for a dissertation for some of them. You have a capstone or a service project or field experience etc.

    It is possible to get through many masters programs without ever taking Research Methods or any advanced level writing course or having written a paper over 4-5 pages in length. That's a pretty big problem as I see it if our goal is to have well rounded industry professionals.

    Let's consider, for a moment, the research you conducted. There is nothing stopping any of us from doing a similar study. You didn't need a doctorate to do it. In fact, you did it as a step in earning your doctorate. The problem is that most Masters level practitioners are not doing any research. I'm not just talking about faculty here. There's a disconnect between the scholarly work being undertaken by HR faculty and actual HR practitioners. In theory, the scholarly work informs the next generation of practitioners and society moves forward. Is that actually happening? Ehh, debatable.

    Degrees are getting watered down. So is academia in general. Publication standards are wildly inconsistent. I don't know another doctorate would fix the problem. There are infrastructure issues that mean adding a second floor might not be the best path forward even if it gives us the guest room we've always wanted.
    nosborne48 likes this.
  16. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    Well, guess what? It's not just inflation. When you do a doctorate, you're not only on top of your field in terms of knowledge and practice, you're also creating something new. Now, the product of that creation may not make make much of a ripple--how many doctoral dissertations sit on shelves, never to be read again by anyone, including their authors? But it is the process of going through the experience that helps one become a better practitioner and contributor to the field.

    It's a much bigger concept than merely competing for one job or another. It's about who you can become and what you can do with it.
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  17. nosborne48

    nosborne48 Well-Known Member

    I "liked" the last two comments but I will defend the non-thesis Masters as a professional credential. I didn't write a thesis for my LL.M. Few tax programs allow, let alone require, a thesis. I did, however, do a great deal of tax research and writing during the coursework that pretty closely resembles what I would be doing as a tax practitioner. I rather think that those scribblings did more to give me a usable tax background than writing a thesis would (although I did identify a couple of interesting topics on which I might have written if it were allowed.) The Masters degree is a common professional qualification either as a second professional degree or standing on its own. I don't think a thesis requirement would be a good use of the professional student's time and effort.
    Asymptote likes this.
  18. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    So do I. I don't think a thesis requirement is all that useful given its limited scope. A summative project at the end would help. A lot of MBAs end with a capstone, for example.

    The beauty of the DA is that it doesn't have to result in a traditional doctoral dissertation. It can be a significant project accompanied by an exegesis describing the underlying research and reasons for it. Comparable work, more relevant outcome.
    I am a talent developer and former Chief Talent Officer with two doctorates, an MBA and two bachelor's degrees. As yours do, my degree experiences inform me. They especially do so in this topic.
  19. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    One possibility might be the development of a significant body of open educational resources in one's discipline.
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  20. Asymptote

    Asymptote Active Member

    I’m loving this discussion. I, too, would love to see the D.A. return.

    What schools might be the likely candidates for this? St. John’s University in NY had D.A. programs in English and in History, but recently reclassified them as Ph.D. programs. If we look at the placement of their graduates, is there any difference since this reclassification? Why was that change even made in the first place? To be honest, the SJU red doctoral gown with the white stripes looked better than the dark blue stripes. Just saying.

    We hear talk about saturating the market. But isn’t that partly because we’ve lumped all the various fields into a Ph.D.? Would it be so saturated if we actually had better defined D.A. and Ed.D. and Ph.D. programs in the first place? After all, aren’t there some programs where a student can do all the same work and then at the last minute pick whether they want an Ed.D. or a Ph.D.? How, for example, is Columbia’s Ed.D. Different from Fordham’s Ph.D. in Education?

    And why not differentiate the Th.D. From the Ph.D. where possible? At least the Roman Catholic pontifical degree system strives to be true to this with the S.T.D.

    I lament that the D.Litt. never really caught on here in the States. That, too, would be a nice degree to make more available.

    So is the market saturated? Maybe. But that’s because we’ve lumped fly fishing in with quantum mechanics, Shakespeare in with South Park, all under the same designation: Ph.D.

    Maybe if we differentiated the credential better, we’d know what we were dealing with, and what we were getting.

    I can only imagine that price points for all involved would be set accordingly.
    Rich Douglas likes this.

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