The Confidence Crisis: Impostor Syndrome and Online Leaders

Concurrent Session 7

Brief Abstract

Jodie Foster, Albert Einstein, and Maya Angelou, along with 70% of people hold feelings of self-doubt or being “found out”, sometimes believing that their circumstance is really just luck.  Coined “impostor syndrome”, this mind trap also exists for many online learning experts and leaders.

Join us for an honest, vulnerable, and heartfelt panel discussion about impostor syndrome and how online leaders can recognize it, manage it, and rewrite their own “impostor” dialogue.  

Sponsored By


Tina Rettler-Pagel is a Faculty member and Chief Online Learning Officer at Madison College, in Madison, Wisconsin. Tina holds a B.S in Education with an emphasis on Emotional Disabilities from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an M.S. in Administrative Leadership from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is currently working on a Student Affairs Administration Doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Tina has completed an Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Teaching Certificate, as well as participated in OLC’s Institute for Engaged Leadership in Online Learning (IELOL) in 2017. Her research interests include retention and persistence in the online classroom, women in higher education leadership and governance, digital equity, and community college approaches to teaching and learning. When consulting with faculty, and in her own practice, Tina shares three important lessons: start small, engage at all costs, and never underestimate the power of kindness and inclusion in the classroom. Tina's hashtags? #Mom #Partner #CommunityCollegeProud #OnWisconsin #OnceABadgerAlwaysABadger #A11yAdvocate #OnlineTeaching #DoctoralStudent #Includer #Kindness #Connector #OnlineLearning #TechNerd #Resilience #StrongGirlsStrongWomen #Hockey #Fishing #AnythingSummer #JamMaker #Perseverance #SayYesToNewAdventures #ComeAsYouAre #CrossFit #FarmRaised #StartWhereYouAre #OldSchoolCookingAndBaking #ImpostorPhenomemon #Access #DoctoralCandidate
Angela Gunder serves as Director of Instructional Design and Curriculum Development for the Office of Digital Learning at The University of Arizona. Angela came into instructional design rather circuitously, helming large-scale site designs as webmaster for The City College of New York, the honors college at ASU, and Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA).  Her over fifteen year career as a designer for higher education informs her instructional design practice, where she leverages her expertise in usability, visual communication, programming, and standards-based online learning. Angela holds a B.S. in Computer Science and Fine Art from Fordham University, and a M.Ed. in Education Technology from Arizona State University.  Prior to her position at UA, she was a member of NOVA’s instructional design team, supporting over 23,000 students in 550 unique courses.   Angela is an Associate Editor for the Teacher Education Board of MERLOT, and a Quality Matters certified peer reviewer and online facilitator.  Her research interests include technology for second language acquisition, open educational resources, and emerging technology to promote digital literacy. A voracious culinary nerd, Angela spends her free time composing, cooking and photographing original recipes for her food blog.
Kathleen S. Ives, D.M. has worked in online technology for over 30 years and is currently the Online Learning Consortium's Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director where she oversees the organization's strategic direction. Additionally, she serves on the EdSurge Advisory Group, the Executive Strategic Council for IMS Global Learning Consortium and on the Leadership Advisory Board for the Center for Learning Innovations & Customized Knowledge Solutions (CLICKS). Formerly, Dr. Ives oversaw all forms of alternative instruction at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, MA (distance learning, accelerated programming). She serves as adjunct faculty for graduate and undergraduate business programs at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston. Dr. Ives began her career at CBS and helped to develop the service that evolved into Prodigy. She then spent fourteen years designing and implementing consumer online information services, first at AT&T and then at Verizon where she spearheaded the development of the nation's first online Yellow Pages product, now called Dr. Ives has degrees in communication, communication management, and organizational leadership from the University of California at Davis, the University of Southern California, Annenberg School of Communication, and the University of Phoenix-Online, respectively. When not steeped in digital and online learning, she serves as a volunteer at both Greater New England Dog Rescue performing site visits for ‘forever homes’ and Great Lakes Caring Home Health and Hospice assisting in patient transition care.
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.
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.
An Instructor and Instructional Designer in the School of Health Studies at the University of Memphis, Dr. Niki Bray currently teaches online and on-ground courses in Physical Education Teacher Education (PETE) department as well as courses that serve the School of Health Studies (i.e. Intro to Kinesiology and Intro to Exercise Physiology). In addition to teaching, Niki serves as the School of Health Studies' Instructional Designer where she provides pedagogical, technology-enhanced, and technical support to faculty within her school. Awards: Bruce Chaloux Scholarship for Early Career Excellence, Online Learning Consortium (OLC), 2018 School of Health Studies Most Valuable Professor (MVP) Award, University of Memphis, 2018 Service: October 2015 - October 2016 - WCET Adaptive Learning Fellow August 2015 - Present - Teaching and Learning Advisory Committee, University of Memphis 2018 FY - Chair, Teaching and Learning Advisory Committee, University of Memphis August 2017 - Present - School of Health Studies Department Aide, University of Memphis August 2017 - Present - Co-Chair IMS Global Adaptive Learning Communities August 2018 - Present - CWiC Executive Committee December 2016 - Present - Gate's Foundation Collaborative Opportunity Grant, Adaptive Learning Expert, University of Memphis 2016-2018 - Digital Learning Innovation (DLI) Award Reviewer, Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Education: Instruction and Curriculum Leadership, Instructional Design & Technology, Doctorate, 2017 Leadership and Policy Studies, School Administration & Supervision, Masters of Science, 2008 Education, Physical Education, Bachelors in Science, 1997 Research Interests: Adaptive Learning, Technology-Enhanced Learning, Active Learning, Digital Learning, Learning Sciences, Student Success, Faculty Development

Additional Authors

Scott has been the Director of Online Education and Assistant Professor of Education at Hardin-Simmons University, Abilene, Texas since 2014. Prior to coming to HSU, he was the Director of Mobile Learning Research at Abilene Christian University for six years and has supervised over thirty mobile learning research projects. Scott teaches the Mobile Learning Mastery series and other workshops for the Online Learning Consortium. At HSU he directs the online research fellow’s program and guides faculty-led research projects each year in the evidence-based implementation of technology. He teaches intro to research and digital curriculum integration in the Master of Education program and chairs several dissertations each year in the Doctorate of Leadership program. His research interests include the integration of spiritual formation in technology mediated learning experiences. Scott has received numerous awards for his research and online teaching including the Hybrid Course of the Year award (2016) in a peer reviewed competition of faith-based universities in the U.S. In 2014, he and two other colleagues received the OLC Effective Practice Award for their work/ research using text-messaging in online and face-to-face classes to increase learning outcomes and engagement. Scott did his undergraduate work in rehabilitation education at the Pennsylvania State University, graduate work in Religious Education at Abilene Christian University and received Doctorate in Educational Ministry at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, 2006. He completed most of the coursework in the information systems Ph.D. program at Nova Southeastern University. One of his most formative educational experiences has been his participation in the Penn State and Online Learning Institute for Emerging Leaders in Online Learning (IELOL) in 2011.

Extended Abstract

Philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote: “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”

This doubt that Russell speaks of can sometimes be positive, offering an opportunity to learn, grow, and develop.  But sometimes this doubt can be destructive, suggesting to our innermost selves that we aren’t good enough, smart enough, or able to accomplish what’s in front of us. 

This type of “self doubt” is sometimes referred to as the Impostor Syndrome.  Coined for the first time 1978 by psychologists Clance and Imes, some research estimates find that almost 70% of successful people have experienced impostor syndrome. Some of the most well known of these these are actress Jodie Foster, scientist Albert Einstein, writer John Steinbeck, poet Maya Angelou, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and actress Meryl Streep.

Just what is impostor syndrome?  It might be best captured by a writer from Inc. Magazine, who wrote, “When in the throes of an Imposter Syndrome struggle, you may feel that you're the only person in your circle (or in the whole world) who suffers from this level of self-doubt. In those moments, you're certain that every label you've assigned to yourself, including inadequate, incompetent, undeserving, unqualified, fake, and unequivocal failure is absolutely accurate. The pain associated with the Imposter Syndrome is very real, but the self-assessment that put you there is not.

In this honest, personal, informative, and enlightening moderated panel discussion, a group of online leaders will share their personal (and likely vulnerable) experiences with Impostor Syndrome, as well as strategies they use to recognize, manage, and rewrite their own impostor” dialogue.

This session is geared towards any individuals (faculty, designers, administrators, researchers, exhibitors) looking to connect with the personal “doubt” stories of online leaders, as well as learn more about strategies for resilience and confidence.  

The panel will share insights, strategies, and experiences about Impostor Syndrome, with possible discussions around the following prompts:

  • What are common situations where online leaders might face impostor syndrome experiences?

  • What strategies have worked for recognizing and managing “impostor feelings”?

  • What are some examples of instances where connecting to a group of colleagues has helped diminish impostor syndrome experiences? How has this been beneficial to your professional network, career, and future opportunities?

  • Conferences like OLC can sometimes unintentionally encourage and support impostor syndrome feelings, especially for new attendees or those new to careers related to online learning.  How do we overcome that perception and those possible experiences?

Participants in this session will...

  1. Leave the session with actionable suggestions, ideas, and strategies for rewriting their own “impostor” dialogue

  2. Self-assess their own impostor level, using the Clance “Impostor Syndrome” self-assessment (

  3. Identify at least one person they will actively build a network with to further support and mentor one another within the structure and format that best supports their professional and academic goals.