When Online Leaders Learn Online: Challenges, Surprises, and Other #StudentVoice Insights

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session

Watch This Session

Brief Abstract

When online leaders become online students, they get insights and ideas that may translate to online learning administration, practice, and policy.  These “leader-students” sometimes get a gut punch of reality about the online student experience or find the online student experience is far better than they could have imagined.  Join us for a glimpse of what these online leaders have learned as they present a unique student voice.


Clark Shah-Nelson serves as Assistant Dean of Instructional Design and Technology for the University of Maryland School of Social Work and is a doctoral student in Evidence-Based Management/Business Administration. Clark is an eLearning instructional design development professional with 25 years experience in educational technology innovations: teaching, designing leading award-winning online and distance learning teams for learning management platform implementation, training, end user support, professional development and engagement. He has presented at numerous online learning and ed tech conferences, was co-founder of the Blend-Online Educause constituent group, co-founding master chef of the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Technology Test Kitchen, and has recently volunteered as Conference Co-Chair for OLC Innovate and Engagement Co-Chair for OLC Accelerate Clark has authored chapters on synchronous tools for teaching and learning support and co-authored a chapter on professional development installations. As a consultant, Clark has worked on several international projects in the realm of blended and online learning.
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 has an Ed.D. in Student Affairs Administration from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Tina has completed an Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Online 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, the success of women of color in online learning spaces, women in higher education leadership and governance, digital equity, and community college approaches to teaching and learning. Tina's hashtags? #Mom #Partner #CommunityCollegeProud #OnWisconsin #A11yAdvocate #OnlineTeaching #Includer #Kindness #Connector #OnlineLearning #TechNerd #Resilience #StrongGirlsStrongWomen #Hockey #Fishing #AnythingSummer #JamMaker #Perseverance #SayYesToNewAdventures #ComeAsYouAre #StartWhereYouAre #ImpostorPhenomemon #Access
Asst. Director for instructional design in support of the University of Arizona's fully online campus. Oversees the general education academy and UA Online's instructional design team. Currently pursuing an Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation. Areas of research interest include instructor presence and its impact of a sense of community and student success in online learning.
Janet Smith serves as an Instructional Designer leading quality assurance initiatives at the University of Arizona with the Office of Digital Learning. She manages a multitiered and collaborative quality assurance process to ensure that courses developed for UA Online are designed for student success and engagement. Janet works with partners across campus to integrate best practices around course design, copyright, UDL, and accessibility into the instructional design process and leads the Quality Matters program for the university. She received her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from the University of Arizona, her master's degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education from Northern Arizona University, and a graduate certificate in Educational Technology from Northern Arizona University. In her free time, Janet enjoys spending time with her family and friends, cooking, and practicing and teaching yoga.

Extended Abstract

What does it feel and look like when online leaders get a first hand look at the online student experience by becoming students themselves in online doctoral programs?  For some, this experience is validating and engaging, modeled after the best practices in online teaching and learning and online program design. For others, the experience is frustrating and lonely, limited by inferior course design, issues of support or infrastructure, subpar engagement opportunities, broken pedagogy, or an absent instructor.  

While online leaders and online faculty may not be required to have online teaching and learning experience, immersing in the online student experience can be transformational for online leaders.  Albert Einstein once said, “The only source of knowledge is experience” and the great Paulo Coelho noted, “People never learn anything by being told, they have to find out for themselves.” Even the poet John Keats saw the value of experience, noting Nothing ever becomes real 'til it is experienced.”  This experience, as online students, is actively contributing to the effectiveness of these online leaders in ways they never realized, particularly as they consider course design, faculty engagement, and student support structures as critical to the online student experience.

Join this conversation with three online learning leaders, who collectively have 40 years experience as designers, instructors and/or administrators in online learning, and who are enrolled in online doctoral programs. They will discuss their online student experiences and how they translate to online learning administration, practice, and policy.  The session will be moderated by an instructional designer who has specific expertise in applying Quality Matters and Universal Design principles who is also experienced with participating in fully online graduate programs and will help to facilitate the conversation.


At the conclusion of this session, participants will:

  • Identify potential pain points in the online student experience that should be addressed at any institution

  • Define key issues and roadblocks to online learning and course/program design from a systems thinking perspective

  • Identify actionable ideas for improving online programs and courses from a high level administrative + student perspective

  • Empathize with the student experience

  • Strategize ways to improve the online student experience

  • Consider ways to connect with online students to learn more about their online experiences and infuse their feedback into responsive program design

  • Identify top opportunities and concerns from the online student experience

  • Identify key support structures and “must do’s” for the online student

  • Hear how cohort student experiences have unique challenges and surprises

The presenters will engage the participants in these ways:

  • The use of Slido for interaction and submitting questions/comments

  • Short think, pair, share activities to connect on the topic

  • Unique hashtag to interact and share experiences and questions before, during, and after the discussion.