The Online Learning Consortium’s CEO and Executive Director, Dr. Kathleen Ives, wrote this blog post in reflection of her leadership journey and its relation to the Institute for Emerging Leadership in Online Learning (IELOL) program.
In today’s fast-paced academic environment, challenges can occur at any time and, to be an effective leader, you need to be able to respond to those challenges with astuteness, strategic wherewithal, expertise, emotional intelligence, and yes, a certain amount of humor. Acknowledging the unique challenges of leadership, the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) and Penn State University launched the Institute for Emerging Leadership in Online Learning (IELOL) in 2009 and I participated in the first cohort.
2009 proved to be pivotal in my own ‘reinvention’. I had recently moved from the corporate world to the academic world, first as the Director of Online Learning at a Massachusetts community college and then as the Chief Operating Officer of OLC. Additionally, I served as adjunct faculty at several not-for-profit and for-profit institutions.
Being entrenched in these many facets of the field enabled me to witness first-hand how every aspect of higher education was being impacted by the infusion of asynchronous and/or synchronous learning modalities. Concurrently, I observed, as did members of our community, that many senior leaders in online education were nearing retirement which highlighted the need for leadership succession planning. While many programs existed for emerging leaders within the context of the traditional brick and mortar space, professional development opportunities for emerging leaders within the digital landscape were non-existent.
My ‘reinvention’ brought to light that I needed to focus on further honing my leadership skills. At the time, I was proficient as an operational leader as my 20 years of developing high technology products at CBS, AT&T, and Verizon served as a fertile training ground. I could take a long-term plan and translate the organization’s efforts into smaller-scale plans to operationalize movement toward a vision with ease. Strategic leadership, not so much. Training myself to get out of the weeds and defining where the organization needed to be in a decade or two did not come easily. As the field of online learning continued to evolve, I knew I had to strengthen my strategic leadership skills.
IELOL was introduced at the perfect time for me to focus on my leadership skills and provided many the same opportunity. The brainchild of then-board member Dr. Gary Miller of Penn State’s World Campus and Dr. Bruce Chaloux, then of the Southern Region Educational Board and subsequently my predecessor, IELOL filled the gap in leadership development programs as it began, and continues to be, a unique program targeted to serve emerging leaders who wanted to conceptualize and work towards their developmental goals for advancing both themselves and their institutions within the field of online learning. What better way for me to strengthen my leadership skills while immersing myself in a community that would collectively focus on the disruption affecting higher education? Changing governance bodies, developments in technological infrastructures, faculty support systems, accounting practices, new pedagogical and instructional design models, marketing, and student services were all areas of focus that my colleagues and I would focus on in the five-month blended environment with like-minded professionals from the field.
The three-week online immersion, one-week face-to-face experience at Penn State, subsequent three-week online follow-up, and graduation day at the Online Learning Consortium’s annual conference fueled not only my continued passion for all the many benefits online education brings, but truly heightened my awareness of pressures leaders are faced with as a result of the rapid change within the field and the increasing expectations to manage this change both departmentally and institutionally. Not only did IELOL foster self-confidence and wisdom and encourage introspection, but it provided an environment in which I was surrounded by other leaders clamoring for a seat at the table. Through dialog, engagement and experience sharing, we explored and made sense of the often conflicting ideas about online leadership which, often times, lead often to an institution’s ‘digital divide’. In doing so, we candidly realized that we were no longer on a solitary journey.
In 2009, I had no way of foreseeing what the future would hold for me, the organization, IELOL or our rapidly expanding field. Fast forward to September 2013, a brief four year later, when my predecessor, mentor, and friend, Dr. Bruce Chaloux, passed away suddenly and I was thrust into the position of leading OLC and the IELOL program he so inspired during his tenure as OLC board president and then CEO. During that challenging time, I drew great support from my IELOL colleagues, and I continue to pay it forward, as I know Bruce would have wanted, through the many facets of IELOL.
Since 2009, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in every IELOL cohort and continue to reap the benefits as both a participant and program facilitator. The IELOL global community continues to grow and stay connected through online communities and networking opportunities at the OLC annual conference. The power of participating in such a community is more than I could have imagined in 2009 and is attributed to Bruce and Gary’s sustaining vision that will impact emerging leaders in our field for years to come through the IELOL program.
About Dr. Kathleen Ives