About That Next Opportunity: Is the Grass Always Greener? Advice from the Trenches

Concurrent Session 6

Brief Abstract

Have you been considering your online learning career trajectory? Are you looking for a new opportunity? Would you like to do so? Have you been recruited recently? How are you building your network and shaping your personal brand? Do you feel stuck in neutral and want a framework for how to progress? If so, join our discussion, receive some tips, share your challenges, and network with others seeking a change in perspective, location, title, culture and/or experience. Panelists will:

  1. Examine emerging roles of digital learning leaders (e.g. Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Online Learning Officer, etc.);
  2. Share strategies to acquire competencies needed to lead new digital learning initiatives;
  3. Engage in open discussion about deciphering future opportunities, evaluating the benefits and challenges of the next opportunity, and maintaining objectivity throughout the process.


Dr. Luke Dowden joined the Alamo Colleges District as its Chief Online Learning Officer and Associate Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs in April 2018. Through Alamo Colleges Online, he will lead and support capacity building initiatives at all five Colleges so each may gain a greater market share of online learners in their respective service areas. Prior to joining Alamo Colleges Online, Dr. Dowden founded the Office of Distance Learning at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 2010 and served as its Director for 8 years. Under Dowden's leadership, the Office of Distance Learning earned the 2013 Online Learning Consortium Award for Excellence in Faculty Development for Online Teaching. Dowden was honored in 2014 as the inaugural recipient of the Online Learning Consortium Bruce N. Chaloux Award for Early Career Excellence in Online Education. Aside from creating and implementing the university's ULearn faculty professional development for online teaching program, significant achievements under Dowden's leadership include the creation of an electronic course design and certification process, facilitating the development and delivery of 13 new online degree programs, and creation of a suite of instructional technology tools for online course delivery. Prior to joining UL Lafayette, Dowden founded the Division of Accelerated Learning at Bossier Parish Community College. He led creation of 6 online, accelerated degree programs with wrap-around student support services. During this time, the Louisiana Board of Regents tabbed him to found the Center for Adult Learning in Louisiana. As Executive Director of CALL from 2008-2013, he worked primarily with 6 community colleges and regional universities to create and launch over 18 accelerated online degree programs, introduce prior learning assessment policies and strategies, and coordinate marketing the programs statewide to the over 500,000 adults with some college and no degree. He is a past Steering Committee and Executive Council Chair for the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET). WCET is the leader in the practice, policy, & advocacy of technology-enhanced learning in higher education. Dowden earned a bachelor's in History and a master's degrees in Adult Education from Northwestern State University before earning his Doctorate of Education in higher education administration in 2009 (Nova Southeastern University) He is a 2010 Graduate of the Penn State and Online Learning Consortium Institute for Emerging Leaders in Online Learning (IELOL). He also is a member of the graduate faculty in the College of Education at UL Lafayette.
Prior to joining the Online Learning Consortium, Dr. Buban was the Assistant Provost for Research & Innovation at Post University. In this role, Buban instituted university-wide initiatives with a forward thinking, student-centered focus. These initiatives included, but were not limited to, the university’s transition to digital course materials, the creation of an online academy for high school students, competency-based learning initiatives, professional developing credentialing, articulation agreements, enrollment management, oversight of all academic publications, as well as a variety of teaching and learning initiatives. Prior to joining Post University, Buban worked in Academic Affairs at SUNY Empire State College. She collaborated on a variety of online learning initiatives including the implementation of ePortfolios, open learning access and opportunities, and prior learning assessment. Dr. Buban continues to study and present on topics surrounding effective technology use for adult learners in online environments. She is a member of the SSEA Communications Committee, an organization for which she was named an Emerging Scholar in 2012. Given the opportunity, Buban continues to teach in the areas of adult and online learning.
Dr. Elizabeth (Liz) Ciabocchi currently serves as associate provost for academic affairs at Adelphi University. In this role, she oversees all curricular offerings, working closely with each of the University’s deans, faculty and administrative offices to implement, manage and revise the curriculum, including interdisciplinary offerings. She also serves as the primary Adelphi University liaison with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), the New York State Education Department and the U.S. Department of Education. With more than 25 years of experience in higher education, Liz most recently served as vice provost for digital learning and executive director of online learning and services at St. John’s University, where she led academic initiatives to develop digital learning strategies for programs offered in fully online and hybrid formats. Prior to her time at St. John’s, she served in various roles at Long Island University, such as associate vice president for online learning, and also in areas including instructional technology, academic planning and academic affairs. She previously worked at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine and the New York College of Health Professions. Author of two book chapters, Liz has published peer-reviewed journal articles and has presented her research on leadership and e-learning in higher education and other topics at dozens of conferences. Her teaching experience includes graduate-level courses in St. John’s University’s School of Education and undergraduate courses and graduate thesis supervision at the New York College of Health Professions. She has been extensively involved in committees and evaluation teams for Middle States reaccreditation and has held board and committee positions with the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), which named her a fellow in 2015. Liz earned her EdD in Higher and Postsecondary Education from Teachers College, Columbia University; a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from New York Chiropractic College; and a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from the University of Scranton. She holds certifications from the OLC in Online Teaching and Leadership in Online Learning.
Julie Uranis serves as the Vice President for Online and Strategic Initiatives at UPCEA. In this capacity she manages the Center for Online Leadership (COL) and leads the planning efforts for both the Summit for Online Leadership and the Online Leadership Roundtable. Prior to joining UPCEA she lead the distance learning and continuing and professional development teams at Western Kentucky University as the Director of Distance Learning and Innovation. Since 2012, Uranis has taught the Intro to Adult and Continuing Education course at Eastern Michigan University. She began her career at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) where she held both teaching and administrative positions. Uranis has a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, a Master of Science in Technology Studies, and a Graduate Certificate in Community College Leadership from EMU. She completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Additional Authors

Dr. Farah Bennani is the Associate Dean for Science and Math at the Colorado Community College Online. She holds a patent from her Doctoral research in Sciences in Microbiology, and an Analyst-Programmer Computer Sciences Degree. She served as the Allied Health Curriculum Expert at the North American Network of Science Labs Online (NANSLO) developing remote-web based science labs (RWSLB) and currently the Vice-President of the Colorado Distance Learning Association. She is the recipient of the Colorado System Office Immersive Learning and Game-based Learning grant for her microbiology project Outbreak. She teaches across the Biology curriculum face-to-face, hybrid, flipped and fully online courses using adaptive, project-based, game-based learning, augmented reality and apps.

Extended Abstract

An explosion of executive leadership roles in online learning, innovation, and digital learning has invited many in our community to reconsider their career trajectory. The shifting landscape and increased competition our institutions are facing have led to new opportunities to lead digital learning initiatives. Others are entering the field from non-traditional higher education career paths. While all this is going on, information overload abounds, with a new report, article, video, blog, podcast or some other amazing content published each minute, hour, day, or month. In the midst of all of this activity, how are you positioning yourself as a leader in the field? What do you want out of your next stop? What are the competencies needed? How do you acquire these competencies?

These are some of the questions a team of online learning leaders will candidly address in this panel session about growing as an online, innovation, research, and/or digital learning leader. Our team will share strategies for doing a self-assessment of your competencies and give inside tips on what each does to enhance and expand their own competencies and skills to anticipate future opportunities. We will spend time discussing networking and the power of your network in helping to decipher opportunities, evaluating the benefits and challenges of the next opportunity, and maintaining objectivity throughout the process.

If you are coming to this session and are recruiting talent at the middle manager or executive level, we have advice to share.