Interview with Pam Kocher Brown, Ed.D. - Director of the Online EdD in Kinesiology at the University of North Carolina Greensboro

About Pam Kocher Brown, Ed.D.: Pam Kocher Brown is a Kinesiology Professor and the Director of the online Ed.D. in Kinesiology at the University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG). As Director, she oversees curriculum development, student advising and support, admissions, alumni relations, and other key aspects of the program. Her leadership has enabled the program to expand dramatically to serve a diverse cohort of students each year. In addition to managing the Ed.D. program, Dr. Brown also teaches numerous courses in the Kinesiology Department at UNCG, including courses in online pedagogy, program design, practicum, research topics in kinesiology, the advanced seminar in kinesiology, and the advanced professional seminar. She has received numerous awards for teaching excellence, including the 2018 University Teaching Excellence Anna Marie Gove Award and the School of Health and Human Sciences (HHS) Jerry and Joan Morrison Tolley Gail Hennis Graduate 2018 Teaching Award.

Dr. Brown earned her Bachelor of Science in Physical Education with a minor in Biology from the State University of New York College at Cortland, and her Master of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. She received her Doctor of Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In addition to her academic degrees in the fields of physical education and sports science, Dr. Brown also served as Aquatics Director at UNC Chapel Hill, and as a women’s soccer and tennis coach at Chowan University. She brings her extensive professional experience and research expertise to continually improving UNCG’s Ed.D. in Kinesiology program.

Interview Questions

[] May we have an overview of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s (UNC Greensboro) Online Ed.D. in Kinesiology? What are the key learning outcomes for this unique program, and how does it prepare students to assume leadership positions in kinesiology settings specifically?

[Dr. Pam Kocher Brown] The EdD in kinesiology is actually one of the programs that our Department has had for quite some time. We only transitioned it in 2014 to an online program mainly because we had a growing and incredibly diverse group of students who couldn’t actually get to the campus. Our program is designed for practicing professionals–people who are currently employed in the field who can bring that knowledge and experience with them to generate ideas in classes and work towards their dissertation.

That is one of the things that is important to us–to have this diverse group of people who are coming in with real world experience. Our hope is that by coming in with that experience, we can work with, our students to help them collaborate and connect with each other, explore research scholarship, and find ways to put it into action. Our curriculum is designed so that students can take the information and skills they are learning in classes and apply it immediately.

Then from a dissertation perspective, we want students to consider problems of practice they face in their workplace and in their professional discipline, with the aim of examining this problem in order to find ways to overcome it and improve their profession. So the mission of our program is to take the expertise of our students and their experience, and couple that with the research, scholarship, and course work so that they can pull that all together to have positive, real-world impact.

[] Could you elaborate further on the ways in which students benefit from the great diversity in this program?

[Dr. Pam Kocher Brown] Kinesiology, as the study of physical activity, is a big and broad field, and within that scope, we actually support students who are physical education teachers in primary and secondary public schools, coaches and physical education instructors in higher education, physical therapists, occupational therapists, athletic trainers and fitness professionals, strength and conditioning professionals, sport and exercise psychologists, coaches of professional group sports teams, and more. One of our students was a social worker who used physical activity in his practice and also was interested in its role in self-care. So, we have students who have physical activity and leadership as their main profession, as well as students for whom physical activity is part of their job and something that they are passionate about and want to expand upon.

I think the diversity of the program is beneficial because the courses are designed around having the students share some of the uniqueness about themselves with others, while also looking for similarities. Within the courses themselves, they’re looking at the bigger field of kinesiology and discussing how they all fit together. So, if I’m in physical therapy and you’re a strength and conditioning person, how do we actually fit together? So, if I’m in physical therapy, and you’re a strength and conditioning person, why should we care about how the other is thinking, and how can we actually complement or support each other? So besides looking at the field as a whole, we’re also looking at what contributions different people and professions bring to the program.

For their assignments, students are oftentimes collaborating and doing group work. And if they’re not doing group work, they also oftentimes conduct discussions or peer reviews. In many cases, students are encouraged to consider, “This is how one person looks at it. Why does that matter to me? What can I share back with them? How can what they are doing help me? How can what I do professionally benefit them?” We want our students to share with each other and work together so in the end they are all in a better place to succeed.

[] What inspired the development of this unique and interdisciplinary program? How is the field of kinesiology particularly well suited to the pedagogical and organizational leadership principles that are inherent to the Ed.D. degree?

[Dr. Pam Kocher Brown] The Kinesiology Department at UNC Greensboro has its foundations in physical education and teacher education. From a university standpoint, it was kind of natural that when they were developing doctoral programs, that the first one for our department was an educational doctorate, because a majority of the faculty were focused on the questions of, “How do people teach and how do people learn?” As such, our Ed.D. takes into account teaching and learning, leadership, and advocacy, and focuses on the question, “How do we do things in practice better?”

Our students are interested in learning how research and its applications can help them be better teachers and teaching leaders. That is what the majority of our students, regardless of their title or their actual professional discipline, are interested in: helping others to know more and to do things differently. There is an educational focus in almost all of their professional lives. We are not a school of education, but all the courses we have in the Ed.D. program have some foundational piece in education. If we are talking about physical activity and its impact on others, there’s almost always an element of teaching and learning that is important to that, along with leading others and advocating for physical activity, self-care, and well-being.

2014 is when we transitioned the program online, and that was because we had interest in the program. Because of the diversity in our student cohort in terms of where they lived and what their professions were, we found that they couldn’t all be getting to campus for a 4:00 or 5:00 pm class. We had thought about transitioning online before this point, but once we realized that students who couldn’t come to campus were still asking to be part of our program, it confirmed the need for the online program. We thought about ways that we could work together to offer this as an online program. And of course, people were skeptical, thinking, “If physical activity is your focus, how can you do this from a distance? Or if you are talking about doctoral level work, how could you do this from a distance?”

We worked hard with different units, and also followed the CPED model, or the Carnegie Project for the Education Doctorate, and used that somewhat for a model for our own development. Now, six years later we have a healthy program and students who are doing some great work and plenty of interest from people nationwide and beyond who want to join us.

[] Could you please elaborate on the online learning technologies that UNC Greensboro’s Online Ed.D. in Kinesiology uses to deliver course materials and facilitate interactions between students and faculty?

[Dr. Pam Kocher Brown] Our learning management system is Canvas. We also rely heavily on Google, so we use Google docs, Google forms, sometimes Google teams. We also use Zoom extensively for real-time meetings. To build our program’s online presence, we worked with UNCG Online–our distance learning organization on campus. Our courses are actually housed in what we call the “Learning Area,” which is actually created through WordPress so it will be compatible with any learning management system (so we won’t have to rebuild it all if our LMS changes).

A benefit of working through both WordPress and Canvas is that we can leverage the strengths of both platforms–Canvas works very well as a communication tool and as a way to assign grades and evaluate exams, while WordPress is great for sharing and laying out useful content. We try to be innovative in that sense and think about how can we stay active and relevant, and make sure that the courses aren’t stagnant.

Moving online was a good way to meet the students where they’re at, and so far it has worked very well. From a technology standpoint, we try to use things that are accessible to students, according to their feedback. So although there are things that they can only do on a computer, the majority of the course content is actually accessible by phone and tablet as well. Some of our faculty also use virtual whiteboards, and hold synchronous/live sessions that are optional (as our program is asynchronous to accommodate students from across the nation and world). And for their part, students engage with these technologies to complete coursework, meet, and create video and audio recordings.

[] UNC Greensboro’s Online Ed.D. in Kinesiology requires students to attend three campus intensives during their enrollment. May we have more details on these intensives and how they enhance student learning outcomes?

[Dr. Pam Kocher Brown] I’ll probably say one of the saddest things is we didn’t get to do our campus intensives this past year (2020). This is our first cohort of new students who didn’t actually come to campus. When we were building the program, we did a lot of research on ways to help our students to be successful both during their enrollment and afterwards–to be retained and also grow in their place of work, to have a sense of academic community while working to improve their sphere of influence. As a result, the majority of our classes have some element of community and connection. For some courses, community and connection are thematic components of the course content, while for others it is build more structurally into the actual coursework and the types of assignments and activities.

Doctoral work is so intense and people are doing this on top of their full-time job and their other life–so it is imperative to be connected to other people. Through the research, and the reality as we’ve been doing this, we’ve seen that bringing the students together in the first year helps them bond. The intention of the first intensive is to connect students and to prepare them to be successful with the technology we use for the program. This year was the only time we couldn’t host the orientation in-person, and next year, we’re figuring we’re probably going to have to offer some kind of hybrid orientation, but we fully plan to have it be in-person again once it is safe to do so.

For the orientation, we usually bring the students on-campus for three days. And when they were here for three days, we’d open up with a welcome that includes the program faculty, as well as the university provost, departmental and university deans, and all different units on-campus. They are invited to the orientation so that they can get a chance to welcome the students and show them that even though students are not here physically, that they are a part of this community, and that we are excited about them. Here are the faces that go with the names that you might read online. We aim to not only say, “You’re part of this EdD program,” but also, “You’re part of the UNCG family, and we want you to feel connected.”

We begin with a welcome ceremony where students get to meet each other, course faculty and staff, and university leadership. We also invite back some of our alum to talk a little bit about what they’ve gotten out of the program and how it helped them, as well as answer student questions. The first day has several events that help students get to know us and vice versa, and it culminates in a celebratory dinner.

During the second day of the orientation, we talk about the field itself, the challenges and problems of practice that are in the field of kinesiology from an educational standpoint. What are we looking at? What are some things to expect? What might be some of the ideas you guys are bringing with you that you would like to explore as dissertation ideas? We break students up into groups so that they have the chance to have more in-depth discussions.

This is also the day where students engage with the learning technologies that we use in the program–we have our IT team come in to help students and prepare them in advance for the year ahead and help them troubleshoot any potential tech issues they might encounter. This tech assistance is personalized to each student group as the IT team works with each group in turn. Additionally, we have a tech troubleshooting follow-up once they get home, because we know technology never works exactly the same when you are at a different location.

We host a session with our Dean of Students, because even for our online students we want them to know about our student community and culture. We want them to know about the values of things of the institution, and how they are a part of that. Here are the things that we are expecting from you, but at the same time, here is the support we’ll give you because, again, we don’t want you by being at a distance and feeling you’re ever left out or that we’re not as worried or interested in your success.

On the second half of the second day, we do a team-building activity. Our university has an outdoor recreation space. So we go do a number of team-building exercises at our outdoor recreation facility, and then follow that up with a picnic dinner. And for the picnic dinner, our alumni are invited to mingle with our current students. Though our alumni are from all over the country, we do have many local people who come, and have actually had some of our out-of-state alum use the UNCG orientation as a reason to come back to see each other.

On the third day, we revisit the technology, and students actually work with our librarian. UNCG has a great online library–we want to make sure that our students clearly understand how to access it and use it. A lot of our students are coming back to education for the first time in a long while. When they used the library when they were in school, they might have only been doing that with paper files, card catalogs, the Dewey Decimal system, things like that. UNCG’s librarians have been great about ensuring that the opportunities for our online students are the same as what they are for the in-person student, and the sessions students have on the third day of their orientation help to set them up to best access these rich resources from afar.

Finally, throughout these three days, we are giving students the opportunity to connect with our Financial Aid Office and the resources we have around financial aid so that students can get all of their questions answered while they are here on campus. At the end of the three days, the students have had several dinners and lunches together; they have had in-depth discussions with each other about issues, challenges, and opportunities in kinesiology education; and they have engaged with UNCG faculty, staff, and leadership in a way that makes them feel a part of the greater university community.

The overall goal is that they are prepared to be successful from the technology standpoint, and that they have connected with each other because so much of being successful in an online doctoral program is having people who support you, and a family of peers to work with. That was our goal when we designed the orientation, and we feel we’ve accomplished our goal. The orientation is held in June, and classes start in August. We find that each cohort bonds very well during this orientation, and that these bonds organically persist and strengthen throughout students’ remote classes.

For our other two visits–the second visit centers on students’ dissertation proposals. Students come to campus and present their dissertation proposals, and these presentations are spread out over several days so that students get maximum time to receive feedback and meet with their faculty mentors. In the middle of the day, we have this extended luncheon, which gives students the chance to reconnect with each other. After their proposal presentation, students meet with their committee to discuss whether their proposal is ready to go or whether there are elements that need to change so that they can get final approval to start their dissertation process.

This is also the time for our students to meet with consultants who are relevant to their dissertation topic. We have a lot of different experts on campus, sometimes within the department, sometimes outside of the department. Students might consult with someone who does some survey design work using qualtrics or they might consult with someone in the statistics department, regarding how to how to use SPSS for analyses. We also have experts on the IRB process who meet with students whose dissertations involve working with human subjects. We try to bring everything that’s going to be necessary for students to succeed in the dissertation on-campus where students can actually have some one-on-one consultation time.

So in short, the second residency is about the proposal–sharing it with one’s committee and getting feedback, learning what one’s peers are working on, and getting support from various experts and consultants who are on campus. It is intense from an academic standpoint, but there is also that celebratory piece, that community piece. Then, half the students go out and we do the same thing a second time with the second half of the cohort; we do this so that we can ensure every student gets the attention and in-person mentorship that they need.

We recently changed the third and last residency–originally it was for the students to come to campus to defend their dissertation. But as an online program, we realized that the third residency could and should be more community-oriented than students simply coming in and presenting their dissertations. As a result, we switched to having students do their dissertation defenses from a distance online, which worked out great. And then from there, we have them come on campus to hold their own poster presentations and engage in multiple panels, so that they can mingle, give and get feedback, and talk in-depth with faculty mentors. Students also host their own a five-minute Q&As. So while the dissertation defense is a formal and structured event, we found it quite conducive to a synchronous online format, and we wanted to save the broader discussions and the mingling aspect of sharing one’s dissertation post-defense for the campus residency.

This also gives students the chance to have organic conversations with other professionals and scholars about their dissertation research. We invite, not only students, but also interdepartmental faculty and community members to attend the panels and poster presentations, so that students get experience sharing their research in a less structured and more real-world context. The focus of the third residency has become more about students sharing out their information and discussing and understanding how it could be useful to others.

For example, if one of our student’s dissertation is about public school education, let’s invite the people from the public schools in our community so that they can benefit from it and share it with their colleagues. That’s how you share out the information. Our students’ research has the potential to impact so many communities at the regional, state, national, and international levels, and so we encourage organic sharing and discussion of our students’ research as much as possible during this last residency, as it is those in-person conversations and connections that can be the most impactful.

As faculty and creators of this Ed.D. program, we were trying to think about how we could impact our community and give back, so the intention for the last residency was to showcase our students’ research and its relevance in a shared space for the community to see and benefit from, in a setting that feels very much like a professional conference. From a student perspective, it’s a chance for them to share their work in a format that speaks to people that don’t even necessarily have the same background as they do, and who might not be likely to attend a dissertation defense.

[] The support that students receive during their work on their dissertation sounds amazing. May we have some more details on the types of research questions students explore in their dissertations, and the social and pedagogical impact of these research questions?

[Dr. Pam Kocher Brown] Many of our students are invested in socially just education and educational leadership. One of our students had a dissertation that centered on the diversity–or the lack thereof–among athletic trainers and mentors. She had noticed a distinct lack of minorities–most prominently African Americans–in teaching and trainer positions at institutions of higher education, and that drove her to explore the challenges African American students face with going into that field, which is a heavily Caucasian-dominated field. She wanted to understand what could be done differently to perhaps encourage more students of color to join the athletic training field, and perhaps once they were there, to mentor others to enter and stay in the field.

One of our other students was a dance director at another university, and her dissertation looked specifically at the building of effective partnerships. For example, in a partnership between a university and a community entity, how do you make sure that such a partnership is mutually beneficial? Her end product was an organized set of recommendations for academic institutions and their potential partners regarding how to navigate the terms of the partnership to maximize benefit on both sides. She was particularly interested in what bridges gaps between institutions to yield an effective partnership, which is an incredibly relevant and powerful question across all disciplines and contexts. Her ultimate goal was that she wanted to create a program at her own institution, so she did some heavy interview work and qualitative analysis to determine what would work best.

We also have students who are examining things like athlete transition from college to post-college. How do we make sure there are elements of support? Through her research, our student developed a support system founded in mindfulness-based programming. Another one of our students worked with the counseling center to provide some physical activity-based intervention to help support people who were seeking counseling services. We have had students look at socialization–how people who move into the professional field of kinesiology education socialize in this space.

Some of our students have examined how technology, kinesiology, and leadership intersect in smart athletics technology. Questions such as, “How do we adjust how hard athletes work in their training on a given day, based on what they’ve already done during the course of the week?” Measuring this quantitatively can help yield greater insights than casual observations. In our student’s case, he was working with soccer players and their training goals, and he was working at an institution that didn’t necessarily have the means to support his research, and so he was able to conduct his research through UNCG to try and find a way to best assist athletes’ goals and performance through technology and data-informed training. In the end, our student’s hope was that athletic trainers and physical trainers for some of these smaller colleges and universities would actually have a reliable yet inexpensive tool or a method for supporting student athletes in their athletic endeavors as well as in their overall emotional and physical well-being.

Some of our other students have developed culturally responsive education training programs, while others have looked at classrooms and wanted to find a way to integrate movement or the use of kinesthetic classrooms into the daily learning without it being distracting or disruptive–additions such as pedal desks, balance balls, wiggle tables, and standing desks all have their place in discouraging a sedentary lifestyle and enhancing cognition. The methodologies our students employ vary a great deal, with some using primarily quantitative methods and others using qualitative or mixed methods. But the common goal that all of our students have is the desire to use research to create a different and a better way of solving problems, improving systems, and ultimately make a positive difference in their professional sphere and beyond. Broadly, some of the things that our students examine include developing effective athletics programs and testing them, or examining the athletic training standards for their professional organization.

Our social work student actually completed his dissertation on burnout. He saw that, as social workers, his colleagues tend to care about other people, and oftentimes they sacrifice their own selves to take care of their clients. So he looked at burnout and physical activity as a means to potentially prevent that. His dissertation and research findings took him very far post-graduation. He became one of the prominent people in his field, and is frequently invited to various conferences, professional meetings, etc. to spearhead the movement for social workers to pause and think about taking care of themselves proactively so that they do not face burnout. He made significant inroads in his field, and he is a great example of how his professional mission in social work blended nicely with the goals and mission of kinesiology. For him, his dissertation’s research was life-changing, and many of our students have found their research to have a significant and meaningful impact on their professional lives and their ability to impact others through physical education and athletics.

[] What role does faculty mentorship play in UNC Greensboro’s Online Ed.D. in Kinesiology? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems while they are enrolled?

[Dr. Pam Kocher Brown] Students are assigned an advisor when they first enter the program, but we usually say it’s more of an advisory team. Even from an admissions standpoint, multiple faculty members review the application and have to agree, and this core group of five to six faculty members therefore know each of our students from their applications and are primed to support them when the academic year begins. In addition to their primary academic advisor who is assigned to them from the beginning, students also assemble their dissertation committee, whose members serve as mentors throughout the second half of the program.

We are also really flexible when it comes to giving students the mentorship they need, even if it means making changes to their committee. Sometimes students’ dissertation topic or research idea may shift some, but our students will always have support in our program and we make sure to help them find additional advisors should they need them if their topic does shift.

As far as when and how that mentoring happens, we try to build that into the actual coursework from the very beginning. From the first classes that students take, the course content has them think about issues in the field, and how to make the professional discipline better. Right from the beginning, they are getting connected with faculty and working on assignments that help them build towards their ultimate dissertation research question.

The first class that students take in the fall focuses on kinesiology more broadly, and the issues that persist in the field. During their second semester, they take a statistics class, as well as a class where they complete activities that give them more experience reviewing and understanding the literature, such as an assignment where they write a research grant proposal. When students move into their second year, they take their research methodology course, wherein they are asked to think more specifically about what kinds of research questions interest them, and the research methodologies that could support examining those questions. Should we think about it from a qualitative perspective, a quantitative perspective, or a mixed methods perspective?

A student can have a particular area or topic of interest, but there can be a lot of different ways to approach what interests you, and the questions you ask really drive what you do. One of students’ first classes is a literature review, and while they come in with an idea of what they want to study, in this class we want them thinking about how the research they read about can help guide them in shaping their research project further. We encourage students to find and read scholarly articles that can help them think about their topic or research question from different angles.

The classes are also students’ opportunity to connect with each other about their research–in some cases students have shared interests but each of them takes a different angle. So again, there are regular opportunities to engage with the faculty and also engage with other students. And by the time they actually have that committee and that second year, they are set up with checkpoints where they engage with their committee members and their chairperson. They also take classes that are designed to help them build on their methodology.

The class that really helps students refine their proposal is actually the grant writing class. While it teaches them the skillset of grant writing, they are focusing their assignments on refining their dissertation topic and research objectives. The way that our Ed.D. is distinct from our Ph.D. program is its practical, practitioner-based element, where students’ culminating experience needs to be written and presented in a way that is accessible to professionals, and is content that they are going to sit down and listen to, then apply.

Though much of students’ work on their dissertation in their final year is independent and focuses on discussions with their committee, we do have discussions and checkpoints where the cohort comes together and reports on what they are doing. Everyone may not be at the same point, but they are all at least checking in multiple times to ensure everyone is staying on track, because everybody always needs some kind of accountability and mutual support. We also want to ensure that the bonds that classmates have made continue to be supported, so we encourage discussions and peer-to-peer feedback. So throughout that last year, students are connected with their mentors, staying connected with each other, and maintaining an element of community.

[] For students interested in UNC Greensboro’s Online Ed.D. in Kinesiology, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Pam Kocher Brown] The primary question I ask people when they are interested in our program is, “What are your goals and how do you see the program helping you to achieve them?” A thoughtful response to that question is key to being competitive in your application. Being thoughtful and deliberate about where you hope to be, and explaining how our program is the right one to get you there are both very important. Our program really centers on conducting research, translating, sharing it, and putting it into practice–so you need to speak to how you plan to do those things in our program and how our program specifically will help you meet your specific research and professional goals.

We take GREs, but the scores are not the make or break element. We’re looking for students who are independent learners, who have experience in the field, and can articulate what it is that they would like to change in their profession. The personal statement is of paramount importance, and letters of recommendation are also weighed quite heavily. Good letters of recommendation should speak to students’ writing and research skills, professional competencies, and their ability to work independently and be successful online. What will the applicant bring from a professional standpoint to the program, and are the interests of the student something we can definitely support?

Admission to this program is competitive. There typically are 60 applications or more a year, and we take about 20 students in a cohort. So, sometimes we have a lot of good applications, and we just don’t have enough space for everybody. Therefore, the students who can speak to how their goals align with the program, and how it looks like it’s a win-win for both sides, are the ones who will stand out.

[] What makes UNC Greensboro’s Online Ed.D. in Kinesiology unique and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students? How does this program prepare students for advanced careers in kinesiology education and program development?

[Dr. Pam Kocher Brown] I believe it’s the people that really make our program stand out. Once you come into our Ed.D. program, you never really leave. You stay connected from both a personal and a professional standpoint. When you earn your doctoral degree, you’re working hard together with your peers and faculty. And once you finish, you can call us up, e-mail us, we can share ideas. We’ll collaborate with students on research after they graduate. We remind people about jobs. We’re thinking about them all the time. We’re excited to see their families. Some of our students have kids while in the program, and it’s great to see them grow as we remain connected and check in with our alums over the years.

I think that sense of community is a big piece. We have the students’ interests at heart. Each student’s goals are individualized, and we listen to each student’s needs, interests, and investments, and are flexible. We have a faculty team that is open and welcoming and really interested in kinesiology as a broad field that can touch so many other disciplines. We have this mindset of, “How can we work together to make things better for all?”

Thank you, Dr. Brown, for your excellent insight into the University of North Carolina Greensboro’s online Ed.D. in Kinesiology!