Provosts and Digital Pedagogy

Concurrent Session 1
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Brief Abstract

Although the Provosts/Chief Academic Officer (CAOs) have come of age, both personally and professionally, with the technologies that are now ubiquitous across higher education, many remain skeptical about the impact and benefits of the often significant campus investments in instructional technology intended to improve student learning and institutional outcomes.  

This panel session will focus on the experience of provosts who participated in the ACAO Digital Follows Project and the impact of that initiative and experience on their students, faculty, and their own perspectives on digital pedagogy.  Specifically, the discuss will focus on what really works, and what's really needed,  (b) the link between effective courseware and the the completion agenda, and (c) the ways digital course resource can contribute to enhanced student learning, improved retention, and increased graduation rates for ALL students.



/Users/lniesen/Documents/Short Biography Laura Niesen de Abruna.docx Laura Niesen de Abruna Laura de Abruna is the PI on the 2017-2018 “Provosts, Pedagogy, and Digital Learning” grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She is Past President and current board member of the Association of Chief Academic Officers (ACAO) and current board member of the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) CAO Task Force. She is also Provost, Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Professor of English at York College of Pennsylvania. Her major interests are in global initiatives, digital learning, service learning, institutional assessment, and the development of general education curricula. She is particularly interested in the role of innovative high impact practices in increasing the quality of undergraduate learning. Dr. Niesen de Abruna graduated from Smith College with a major in English and a minor in French, having spent a year at the University of Paris. She received the M.A. and the Ph.D. in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a M. S. Ed. in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania. She has published extensively on such topics as Mark Twain, T. S. Eliot, digital learning, Caribbean literature, the role of the public intellectual, and the role of the dean and provost in higher education. Her background in higher education administration is extensive, having served as the Dean of the School of Arts, Communication and Education at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania and as the Vice President for Academic Affairs at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island and Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. She has received numerous awards, including two Fulbright Fellowships in Belgium and Luxembourg, as well as ACLS, NEH and ACE fellowships. She served as an ACE Fellow as Special Assistant for Strategic Planning at SUNY-Oswego directly before leaving the faculty for various roles in administration. As a faculty member, she served at Ithaca College, where she had spent 15 years as an Assistant, Associate and Full Professor of English Literature.
J. Garvey Pyke, Ed.D., is the Director of the the Center for Teaching at UNC Charlotte. His work involves the provision and support of enterprise academic technologies, promoting scholarly teaching, and delivering engaging professional development programs and services for the university. Garvey is also an alumnus of OLC's IELOL program (2010) and has remained an active member of this professional community of practice and served as co-director of IELOL 2018 and as a faculty member of IELOL 2019 and IELOL 2020. He has served on various conference committees for OLC Accelerate since 2014 and was on the Steering Committee for OLC Innovate 2017 and 2018.

Additional Authors

Kenneth C. Green is the founding director of The Campus Computing Project (, the largest continuing study of the role of eLearning and information technology in American colleges and universities. Campus Computing is widely cited by both campus officials and corporate executives as the definitive source for data, information, and insight about eLearning and information technology issues affecting American higher education. Green also serves as director of the of ACAO Digital Fellows Project ( and is the co-producer and moderator for TO A DEGREE, the postsecondary success podcast of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ( An invited speaker at some two dozen academic conferences and professional meetings each year, Green is the author/co-author or editor of a some 20 books and published research reports and more than 100 articles and commentaries that have appeared in academic journals and professional publications. His Digital Tweed blog is published in INSIDE HGHER ED. Green’s corporate clients and project sponsors include some 30 firms in the IT and college publishing industries. In October 2002 Green received the first EDUCAUSE Award for Leadership in Public Policy and Practice. The award cites his work in creating The Campus Computing Project and recognizes his 'prominence in the arena of national and international technology agendas, and the linking of higher education to those agendas.' A graduate of New College in Sarasota, Florida, Green completed his master's degree at the Ohio State University and earned his Ph.D. in higher education and public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Extended Abstract

The Association of Chief Academic Officers (ACAO) received a grant of $1.2 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in early 2017 to allow Dr. Laura Niesen de Abruna (PI) and Dr. Casey Green (Project Director) to organize an extended project to support a group of competitively selected Chief Academic Officers (CAOs) from institutions across the country to provide them and their faculty members with experience in using digital courseware.  The intention of the Foundation was to create an understanding of the potential of digital courseware to increase student learning, and thereby retention and persistence to graduation, especially among students who are low income, first generation, and minority.  Their mission is to increase the opportunity for these students to obtain a higher education credential and to access better career opportunities. 

The ACAO Senior Leadership Group chose 32 CAOs from applicants who came from community colleges, four-year public institutions, four year private institutions, for-profit institutions, and research one universities.  The colleges and universities were distributed across the country, with strong presence in the Southeast, Southwest, and the Midwest.  Each institution’s CAO was provided the opportunity to attend conferences where information on digital courseware was provided.  They were then offered resources and information to allow them to create at least one pilot course in at least one section of a larger course, and to work with their faculty champions to select a courseware product.  They were then asked to launch the pilot and to assess, via the decrease in DFWI rates, if there were any progress in helping students retain in these courses.  The emphasis was on “Gateway” courses at the introductory level, as these are known to be the places where students stumble and are rarely able to recover. 

Our session includes a brief overview of the results of the digital fellows’ project presented by the PI on the grant, Dr. Niesen de Abruna.  She will discuss the 5 top things we learned about the digital pedagogy project.  The top five issues cited by nearly all of the fellows in their evaluations were the importance of faculty buy-in, faculty engagement, collaboration, cooperation, training, recognition, and rewards.  Clearly, the dominant issues centered around faculty training, with the CAO being in the most influential position to connect the faculty to digital courseware.  The second issue of most consequence was the importance of analytics, evaluation, and outcomes, followed issues of leadership, courseware, and scaling.

Following Dr. Niesen de Abruna’s report, Dr. Margaret Annunziata, Vice President, Academic Programs and Services at Davidson County Community College in North Carolina, will speak about her institution’s pilot that focused on the use of courseware in “Introduction to Anatomy and Physiology.”  Her comments will include the insight that any approach to digital learning should begin with a focus on student learning outcomes.  Her team found that it is essential for them to identify what they are trying to achieve through this course.  The faculty began by identifying specific challenges experienced by students in the course and then attempted to address these experiences.  She has reported that her institution has found that there has been improvement in its learning environment because of the focus on and commitment to assisting students in mastering concepts necessary to completion of the course.

The third speaker will be Dr. Garvey Pyke, Director, Center for Teaching and Learning, University of North Carolina at Charlotte. At UNC Charlotte, the CAO, Dr. Joan Lorden, and Dr. Garvey Pyke chose to use Realizeit courseware to improve student learning outcomes in one of the most challenging of all gateway courses--computer science.The goal was to compare the efficacy of adaptive courseware with traditional teaching methods in a large, multi-section course affecting approximately 500 students.  Among the results of their project was the sense that the adoption of digital learning includes meeting faculty members where they are and helping them to get more from the tools they are already using.  Faculty members must adapt their existing classroom pedagogy for change to occur.  A challenge to scaling adaptive courseware is the pricing model used by publishers and vendors that relies on a price per student model.  The best choice moving forward might be for institutions to create their own materials, especially for courses where no vendor product currently exists.

The final presentation will be offered by Dr. Lori Werth, Provost, University of Pikeville in Pikeville, Kentucky.  Their project was the introduction of Grammarly to help students with their writing skills.  The team found that it was critical to offer professional development opportunities to faculty members to get them to see how Grammarly could support writing efforts.  The use of this product extended from undergraduate students to students in the Medical and Optometry Schools.  Their pilot project has tackled a campus-wide problem and is being evaluated using DFWI data to see if there has been an effect on passing rates.  Dr. Werth found that one of the greatest benefits of this work was the opportunity to interact with 32 of her fellow CAOs at a variety of types of institutions across the country.  

It has been a great learning experience for all of us.  As Dr. Annunziata states: “In an environment in which there is often clear division among institutions by type, the Digital Fellows came together and bonded over our shared commitment to support our faculty and the students we serve.”