In my opinion, one of the toughest jobs in higher education today is leading an online unit within a traditional, non-profit, brick-and-mortar institution. To do your job well, you need to be a diplomat, present a compelling vision of the future, and have the patience of Job. Not only do you need to execute a plan effectively, you need to define the plan at the same time, because the “right way” to do online education is yet to be defined. When successful, these people tend to change not just the online unit, but the broader university.
Frances Rowe is a great example. She is the Director of Instructional Design and Technology Support (IDT) at Quinnipiac University Online in Hamden, Connecticut. She’s also a doctoral student at Nova Southeastern University.
KCH: Colleges have positioned their online units within the broader institutional structure in a number of different ways – a mix of centralized and decentralized. These decisions can influence the unit’s capacity to drive change within the broader institution and to scale up effectively. What approach has Quinnipiac University taken to this fundamental issue?
The Online unit is positioned under Academic Affairs and headed up by Cynthia Gallatin, Associate Vice President of Online Programs. Each functional area in the Online unit consists of a team of specialists whose procedures are designed for “reaching out” to our audience and “minimizing response time”.
The primary functions of the Online unit are:
• Marketing and Admissions
• Instructional design and technology (IDT) support and
• Administrative coordination with other University offices such as Billing, Financial Aid, Information Systems, Learning Center, Library, and Registrar.
Online programs and courses at Quinnipiac reside within each of the seven schools. For online offerings, the University has nine graduate degree programs and eight others that have incorporated online courses into their programs, an undergraduate summer program with about 1,900 enrollments, three certificate programs and a winter intersession.
Online and traditional courses share the same University supported educational technologies such as the learning management, lecture capture and content management systems where appropriate. Having some common technologies helps us control costs and maximize the effectiveness of the training and support resources we provide. Additionally, students and faculty can flex from one course delivery mode to another “smart” classroom to “virtual” classroom without having to learn a completely different platform.
27% of full-time faculty members have taught online. 60% of online faculty are full-time and 40% are adjuncts.
KCH: Introducing new instructional strategies, particularly within a traditional institution, is one of the more challenging aspects of your line of work. How have you managed this important process?
Research and experience has taught me that adoption of new instructional strategies requires new forms of professional development with the goal of improving student learning and engagement at the heart of every endeavor. Furthermore, professional development needs to be faculty driven, collaborative, and founded in principles of adult learning theory. An effective professional development approach for introducing new instructional strategies might consist of an explanation of the theory behind the practice, demonstration, hands-on experiences, feedback and ongoing support for the new practice. A very simple and effective professional development activity is to get together on a regular basis to engage in reflective discussions about pedagogy and learning. Another effective practice is to use praise. For example, we use our blog Digital Pedagog to highlight faculty innovation and we’ve received recognition from outside organizations such as Quality Matters and the Sloan Consortium.
KCH: Where do you think educational technology is heading, and how will these changes impact online higher education?
The expanding collections of educational technology services will positively influence the kind of pedagogy and learning that will take place online (VoiceThread, Google Docs, TechSmith). Appropriately used, educational technology can draw out collaborative, inquisitive, and sense-making abilities of students. Instructional designers, librarians and technologists will collaborate with faculty and students to make this important shift to learning in technology mediated worlds.
Grading procedures such as peer and self-assessment will gain traction in the assessment mix as they are considered valuable life skills and because technology will make these types of reflective assessments more viable.
Flexible, free and/or low cost options for course content will be paramount to making a college education affordable. Content that is downloadable to a range of devices such as eReaders, laptops, or phones is already highly popular amongst students. Furthermore, content that does not expire, is adaptable, offers interactivity and has straightforward pagination for those who prefer paper will appeal to a broader audience. Librarians will play a major role in finding content. A stellar example of what to look for in freely available online content is Inside the Cell.
KCH: What’s the best part of your job? Worst?
While I enjoy helping people and making suggestions, the worst part of my profession is probably coping with a situation where the outcome is not what I wanted. The best part of my profession is the diversity; my job is never dull. I also like working in a team environment and being part of positive changes.