Interview with Kevin P. Brady, Ph.D. - Director of the Graduate Programs in Educational Leadership at the University of Arkansas

About Kevin P. Brady, Ph.D.: Kevin P. Brady is a Professor and the Director of the Graduate Programs in Educational Leadership at the University of Arkansas. As Director, he oversees all aspects of the three graduate programs in Educational Leadership at the University of Arkansas’ College of Education and Health Professions, including the Online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership. Dr. Brady manages curriculum development, student recruitment and admissions, and faculty hiring and support. Additionally, he teaches courses in educational law, special education law, and school finance in both the master’s and doctoral programs in the College of Education and Health Professions.

Interview Questions

[] May we have an overview of the University of Arkansas’ Online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership? What are the key learning outcomes for this program, and how does it prepare students to assume leadership positions across a diversity of contexts, from public and private schools to federal and state government agencies?

[Dr. Brady] The University of Arkansas’ program prepares students for a diversity of academic and organizational leadership positions. It places an emphasis on school leadership, change management and relationship management, school finance and budgeting, and data gathering and analysis for school evaluation and improvement. This program follows a cohort model, so students take the same classes together from the beginning to the completion of their coursework. Students take an Educational Policy course as well as a Qualitative Research Workshop. They can then take courses focusing on qualitative and/or quantitative research methodologies. Students can also choose from electives in areas such as School Organization and Administration, Leadership Ethics, Analytical Decision-Making, Schools and Society, School Facilities Planning and Management, and Instructional Leadership, Planning, and Supervision, just to name a few courses.

During this time period, we as faculty members also match students up with advisors so that they can start work on their dissertation. In general, by the end of students’ first full year in the program, we’d like them to be in the process of selecting a dissertation chair, and to assemble their dissertation committee. We want students to determine their committee fairly early in their second year because, depending on how their dissertation proposal evolves, they might want to take different courses in qualitative or quantitative research methods.

One thing that distinguishes our online Ed.D. program from the vast majority of others is that it is fully synchronous, which we believe really helps to emulate the in-person class experience. To achieve this, we hold all of our courses in the evening , since our students typically work during the day. Overall, students take approximately four years to complete the program. The vast majority of our students already work full-time.

[] Could you please elaborate on the online learning technologies that the University of Arkansas’ Online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership uses to deliver course materials and facilitate interactions between students and faculty?

[Dr. Brady] Personally, I am very interested in the research surrounding online learning and cultivating an active online professional learning community, particularly in programs like our doctorate program in Educational Leadership. As such, integrating interactive learning technologies that are seamless, easily accessible, and foster connections amongst students and faculty in the Online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership is something I am quite invested in.

We use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra as the primary online platform for our courses, which enables students to attend synchronous courses and discuss with peers and faculty in real-time. In addition to this, my colleagues and I will use technologies such as Voice Thread and Zoom to facilitate weekly discussions and virtual office hour sessions. I use Voice Thread frequently as it allows students to create short videos and audio threads for their responses to my weekly questions, and it also has robust capabilities for office hours discussions. In addition to our regular online interactions, we also require students to come to campus every semester while they are enrolled in the program.

[] The University of Arkansas’ Online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership requires students to attend an on-campus intensive each semester throughout their enrollment. What educational and networking activities do students engage in during these intensives, and how do they enhance their learning outcomes?

[Dr. Brady] These campus intensives span a weekend, so students come in on Friday and leave either Saturday or Sunday. We have students from around the country in our Ed.D. program, so this is an opportunity for them to connect in person, which we feel enhances the depth of discussion and the networking relationships that form in this program. Students meet with their faculty mentors and discuss their research progress, and students meet each other over meals and events that build upon the groundwork of community that we have cultivated in the synchronous environment.

We at the University of Arkansas also believe that connection to one’s university is important, and so that is another reason why we prioritize these campus intensives so much. While this is an added expense of the program in terms of time and travel costs, it makes the community and students’ learning outcomes that much richer. Studies have shown how periodic in-person meetings enhance online education outcomes, and that is what we are all about: creating an interactive and close-knit community online.

[] The University of Arkansas’ Online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership requires the completion of a Dissertation. What does the Dissertation involve, what processes do students take to complete it, and what kinds of faculty/peer support do they receive during their work?

[Dr. Brady] Students in our program follow a traditional five-chapter dissertation format. As mentioned previously, we work with each student to ensure that they get their advisors as soon as possible once they have completed their core courses.

Topics that students explore in their program span a wide range of educational and organizational issues. For example, I just finished working with a student who successfully defended her dissertation about a rural school system in Arkansas, and she was looking at this issue of disproportionality and discipline in rural areas and how that manifests itself along racial and ethnic lines.

Another student of mine is an assistant superintendent, and she conducted research on bus ridership to school and how it was impacted by socioeconomics at the high schools in her district. She presented her findings to her local school board in order to advocate for adjusting the bus schedules. She hypothesized and confirmed that students who were taking the bus didn’t have access to a car, and therefore had to wake up much earlier than did students with cars. And this required change in their sleep schedule had ramifications for their ability to concentrate and perform in school. In other words, we really want to have students investigate a research problem that directly impacts their school system or the setting in which they currently work. We want our students to not only satisfy the requirements for the doctoral degree, but also once they’ve finished their project to be able to speak to their school systems in order to modify or improve a particular barrier to learning that directly impacts their schools.

[] What role does faculty mentorship play in the University of Arkansas’ Online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems while they are enrolled?

[Dr. Brady] We were very careful to structure our Online Ed.D. program in such a way as to provide multiple support structures, orientations, and milestones for students as they progress through the curriculum and their own research project. Students are admitted in April and have their first class, their Problems of Practice Introductory Seminar, that following July. Throughout this seminar, all of the faculty in the program come to introduce themselves and their research, and students and the instructor also discuss what it means to develop a problem of practice. So even as early as that we are working to have them think about their problems of practice.

And because we purposely keep our cohorts small (we often admit only 12 to 13 students in a given year), students get a great deal of one-on-one support and mentorship. The small cohorts, when combined with the synchronous instruction and discussions, ensures that students form an academic family–they see the same faces every week at the same time, and experience the program’s challenges and rewards together.

With each class a student takes, he or she meets with the professor live every week in a class format, and on top of that they can schedule virtual office hours. This is not a program where instructors throw passive content up onto Blackboard. Each class session is dynamic in our program, and there is always a dialogue, because that is where learning happens. We do not want our students to progress through the program without ever really seeing or talking directly with a faculty member. That is just not who we are as a program.

[] For students interested in the University of Arkansas’ Online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Brady] We believe that the student community is as important as one’s instructors when fostering an optimal doctorate of education experience. As such, several of the major requirements for admission to our program are a valid teaching certificate, an education specialist (EdS) degree, and the equivalent of teaching licensure from one’s state of residence. This, combined with the small number of students that we accept for every cohort, means that our student body is very focused and already highly qualified in the realm of academic leadership and administration. The vast majority of our students are seeking building or district-level leadership positions in their academic setting.

I have at times gotten inquiries from really high quality people who are interested in earning their doctorate, but they do not have the education specialist degree or a valid teaching license. To those individuals I recommend some really great programs we have at the University of Arkansas, programs that are better suited to higher education, adult learning, or organizational change. We are not a program that is suited to those who want to go on to become a college professor. We are intensely focused on developing future building and district-level leaders who adopt a scholar practitioner model. In other words, they know how to lead change in school districts, and how to view and analyze research to inform their professional practice.

Strong applications show candidates’ clarity of purpose. So I highly recommend students draft and redraft their personal statement to make it as clear and focused and detailed as possible as to why you want to attend our program, and why you would be a good fit. We also require three letters of recommendation, and these letters need to be individualized and not generic. We want to find out something unique about you–your ability as an educator, or as a building-level leader, for example. I strongly recommend you find recommenders who can speak specifically to your strengths. We are not as impressed by a letter of reference that is general and just checks off the boxes.

And finally, proofread your application, and be organized about the applications process. Typos and other writing errors are distracting and take away from your central purpose. A well-written and carefully crafted application speaks volumes about a candidate’s motivation and desire to enroll in our program.

[] What makes the University of Arkansas’ Online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership unique and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students? How does this program prepare students for advanced careers in organizational and educational leadership?

[Dr. Brady] I think one of the distinguishing characteristics of the program here at the University of Arkansas is that not only is it an online program, but also it really wants to cultivate an intimate sense of community. All of the students that are accepted into the program are admitted by committee. We have an admissions committee of Educational Leadership faculty, and we review all applications carefully to determine how we can create a really solid learning community for each 12 to 13-person cohort. We have a multiple step process that also includes an interview, and so we are very deliberate about making sure that we are choosing students who could benefit greatly from our faculty’s expertise and our coursework. This work at the admissions stage then makes it all the easier for us as professors to forge those productive connections and ensure that we are supporting students as much as possible when they progress through the program.

As Director, I can say that I am immensely proud of this program. The fact that the University of Arkansas is a public land grant institution I believe plays a very big role in this. Because of our public land grant status, we are not required to enroll an excessively large amount of students, and so we are able to keep our student doctoral enrollments low and our teaching and student-instructor interactions high-quality and rewarding. We’re not forced to keep our numbers high like other institutions that may have a more business-centric model. We fortunately have the luxury to say, “We would rather have a small, boutique doctoral program than a diploma mill.” And our prices are affordable even as we keep the program small.

There is very little (through it is growing) amount of research on what good mentorship looks like in an online environment, and what good online instruction entails. And one of the things that we are trying to do as a faculty team is really lead the way in Educational Leadership, in the areas of effective mentoring and what that looks like from the student’s perspective as well as the instructor’s perspective. I see our program as being innovative, and also on an upward trajectory, and a lot of that comes from our faculty members’ interest in what it means to guide and support the next generation of leaders. Since coming to the University of Arkansas in 2015, I’ve been very happy to see where this program has been going.

The University of Arkansas Online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership is not for everyone, but if you match our admissions criteria and have goals that our courses and our faculty expertise can help you achieve, then we are a fantastic and also affordable option.

Thank you, Dr. Brady, for your excellent insight into the University of Arkansas’ Online Ed.D. program in Educational Leadership!