What Is a KAM?


Adapted from a document drafted by John E. Cantelon, then Walden University’s Chancellor, January 8, 1996.


KAM is the acronym for a basic component of the Walden doctoral curriculum. It stands for “Knowledge Area Module” and has long roots in Walden history. The term refers to the six graduate research papers that Ph.D. students complete before launching into the dissertation. The term KAM was created to describe certain characteristics of those research papers to differentiate them from typical, traditional research papers that they closely resemble in all other respects.


Knowledge Area refers to their broad, interdisciplinary nature, rather than being narrowly focused, while Module describes another key aspect, that they are interconnected internally and to one another, rather than discrete exercises. The first three KAMs are designed to provide a core curriculum common to all the academic divisions, while the last three are specialized in terms of the primary focus of each of these academic divisions: Administration/Management, Education, and Health and Human Services.


Another element that sets KAMs apart from traditional research papers is that they are not single submissions due and graded once for all on specified dates. KAMs are self paced and are designed with adult learning styles in mind. Frequently the first KAM takes longer than the others, until you get the hang of it.


KAMs also replace the Qualifying Examinations characteristic of traditional doctoral programs. Rather than testing students’ knowledge and memory of their disciplinary fields on one specific date, the KAM curriculum provides for an integrative process of interaction between students and their faculty assessors. The KAM begins with the drawing up of Learning Agreements negotiated between students and their faculty that specify how the topic is intended to be treated, what an appropriate bibliography might be, and what and how major topics will be covered.                        


KAMs provide for the possibility of a number of drafts or iterations until such a time as the terms of the Learning Agreement are deemed to have been met. The iterative process contributes to another major characteristic of a KAM, namely that it is a demonstration of competence in an academic field or knowledge area. Indeed, another term frequently used to describe a KAM is demonstration. Unlike traditional term papers, KAMs remain as a permanent part of each student’s file and constitute an unusual repository of academic achievement.


While crafting the dissertation should not be conceived as simply stitching one’s KAMs together, portions of KAMs, particularly from the Depth and Application components, may well be appropriate for inclusion. Throughout the KAM program the emphasis is on integrating contemporary theory with professional practice and understanding how that integration may contribute to improvement within the professions and society at large.


The core KAMs reflect faculty conceptions of the kinds of knowledge needed by advanced professionals to critique their everyday activities in the light of broader principles derived from social and behavioral science theory. Students are helped to improve their understanding of how human and emotional processes work (KAM 2), how organizations and groups function (KAM 3), and how society functions (KAM 1). Thus, early in the curriculum the core KAMs provide Walden students awareness of Walden’s twin themes of critical thinking and societal improvement through changed professional practice.


The first advanced KAM in each division focuses on theoretical issues in the profession, the second generally compares contemporary professional practice and strategies, while the third provides guidelines for a case study experience. With the exception of advanced KAM 7, the Case Study, which by its nature does not lend itself to such division, the three core KAMs and the three advanced KAMs consist of three separate components, Breadth, Depth, and Application. (Students in Administration/Management may select from three options for KAM 7, including a KAM that focuses on a specific research method.)


The Breadth section requires students to demonstrate their acquaintance with the key figures, major theories, and important classic and contemporary contributions to the knowledge base underlying the module topic area. Emphasis is placed on the ability to summarize clearly and in a student’s own words the principal contributions of key theorists and to compare, contrast, and evaluate them.


The Depth section provides the KAM writer with the opportunity to select a particular theory, individual, or movement in the Knowledge Area for more in-depth presentation, analysis, and evaluation. Each section of a KAM should contribute evidence of the student’s ability to engage in the higher order of analysis, synthesis, and criticism characteristic of graduate level work.


The Application section is simply what the word conveys, a demonstration of the relationship to actual practice of one or more of the theories dealt with in the Breadth and Depth segments. The relationship could be described in terms of an existing work product – a technique, assignment, and/or presentation that the student has planned or imagined. If material prepared previously is used, it should be preceded by an explanatory introduction that establishes the original intent and what might be changed if it were done again, concluding with an evaluation of the example of the translation of theory into practice.


It is important to remember that KAMs are not a collection of book reports. Bear in mind that the final KAM product is expected to reflect 14 quarter units of graduate level work. Each one should display a coherence between its three elements, moving from a broad brush treatment of the theory in the field, to a more detailed examination of one or more of those theoretical formulations of what in the Application section will represent a translation of some aspects of that theory into professional practice.


Despite its somewhat unusual terminology, KAMs are not as mysterious or threatening as they might at first sound. With its unique way of blending theory and practice, the KAM curriculum has proven a provocative yet reliable device to achieve Walden’s twin goals of applying critical thinking to professional improvement for the betterment of our society. The KAM curriculum provides a common conceptual framework and a standard of competence for all Walden students. At the same time it allows sufficient flexibility to ensure a high degree of individual and professional relevance. The KAM curriculum was designed to assist students to develop the foundational knowledge and skills they need to complete their dissertations and to facilitate their empowerment as professional and social change agents.


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