Finding Yourself in the Trends: Using Reflective Discourse to Meaningfully Integrate Research in Your Online Learning Operation

Concurrent Session 9

Brief Abstract

How do effective leaders effectively integrate high-level research on online learning into decision making? This session explores how reflective discourse within a professional network can provide support and structure as leaders contextualize research for their own institutions and take a nuanced approach to data-driven decision-making.


Michael Reis brings a broad range of professional experiences as an educator, administrator, and project manager, both in higher education and community organizations. Mr. Reis currently serves as an Associate Director for Online@VCU and the ALT Lab, Virginia Commonwealth University's central administrative units for online programs and technology-enhanced learning. Mr. Reis' work as a higher education administrator has focused on building greater institutional capacity to support high-quality online learning. This includes recruiting a superb instructional design team, launching programming and quality assurance initiatives, and developing policies, processes, and analytics to support greater clarity and efficiency. Mr. Reis has also conducted large-scale institutional evaluations, managed technology implementation, and performed institutional research on student success, campus climate, and resource management. As an educator, he has designed and directed degree and community education programs, developed open-access resources for teaching and research, and taught graduate courses in education. He holds a master's degree in Ethics & Social Theory and a master's degree in Higher Education Administration, with additional graduate coursework in organizational development and distance learning pedagogies. He has presented at national conferences and international symposiums on curriculum, policy, and instructional strategies.
Erin is a Librarian at Orange Coast College in Southern California. Prior to this position she was the Senior Director of La Verne Online, the virtual campus of the University of La Verne. Erin was brought in to develop and implement a strategic vision for online education at the University. Prior to working in La Verne Online, Erin was an academic research and technology librarian for more than 15 years. She also teaches online and is an adjunct faculty in the EdD in Organizational Leadership program at the University of La Verne. She is a 2018 IELOL alumni and a founding member of the Collegiate Online Research Collaborative (CORAL). Her research interests are in faculty trust and readiness for change; resistance and readiness towards online education in higher education, and effective leadership and organizational structures of online education.
Dr. Bouchey is Associate Professor of Business and Management and Associate Dean, Academic Operations and Faculty Development of the College of Professional Studies and Advancement at National Louis University. She also holds the university-wide position of the Director of Online Academics. Prior to joining NLU in this capacity she served on the adjunct faculty body as well. Dr. Bouchey has enjoyed a long history in higher education leadership serving in roles at smaller institutions ranging from vice president, provost, and dean, to her most cherished role as faculty member. She has led enrollment, advising, student services, academics, career services, and accreditation activities in her long career in higher education. In the years leading up to her tenure in higher education, Dr. Bouchey worked for and led several high-tech start-up firms in Upstate New York. Dr. Bouchey believes that everyone deserves the opportunity to pursue post-secondary schooling and that National Louis University is one of the best places to do so. She is known for combining her deep understanding of pedagogy with caring, hands-on leadership of students, faculty and staff. Dr. Bouchey holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University at Albany, an M.B.A. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a Doctorate in Education from Northeastern University. She also serves on the Board of Directors Epilepsy Foundation of Indiana. Her research interests include for-profit education and student outcomes, innovative higher education models, and the intersection of technology and education. Dr. Bouchey’s research methodology expertise rests in qualitative studies, more specifically the uses of the case study method and phenomenology.
Dr. Monica Simonsen is the Director of Special Education Online Programs for the University of Kansas. In this capacity, Dr. Simonsen is responsible for recruiting and training instructors, coordinating course development and revision, and overseeing admissions and student advising. She is currently participating in the OLC"s Institute for Emerging Leaders in Online Learning. Dr. Simonsen previously served as the Program Associate for the Secondary Special Education and Transition Services online graduate program and a Senior Research Associate at TransCen, Inc., providing technical assistance and research expertise to a variety of state and national transition projects. Prior to joining TransCen, Inc., Dr. Simonsen worked as a secondary special educator and transition specialist in Maryland, coordinated a post-secondary program for 18-21 year olds with intellectual disabilities, and completed her doctorate at the University of Maryland. She has been an instructor for KU since 2010 and has taught courses at the University of Maryland and at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Dr. Simonsen has authored numerous peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, and practice briefs. Dr. Simonsen's primary research interests are on the role of family and teacher expectations on student outcomes, the impact of online learning on special education teacher preparation, culturally responsive online teaching, and organizational structures that support high quality online learning.

Additional Authors

Demonstrated history of working in higher education, as a trainer, consultant, instructional designer and admissions coordinator for an online graduate program. Possesses In-depth technical knowledge of LMS platforms with a specific focus on partnering with faculty to thoughtfully adopt educational technology into their pedagogy and course design. Capable admissions coordinator, handling all aspects of processing applications from submission to decision and communicating with prospective applicants at every stage in-between. Driven by and dedicated to the ongoing task of delivering high quality online teaching and learning. Work experience supported by a master’s degree in Learning Technology & Design from Purdue University.

Extended Abstract

As online learning has matured and become more pervasive, different reports and studies have sought to quantifying overall trends for online learning in higher education and provide insight into effective strategies for implementing and sustaining high-quality online learning. Examples of this research include the annual report tracking distance education conducted by the Babson Group, Pearson, and the Online Learning Consortium, as well as the Changing Landscape of Higher Education (CHLOE) report produced on behalf of Quality Matters and Eduventures, currently conducting its fourth survey. Information on distance learning is now included in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), managed and collected by the National Center for Education Statistics. These reports and data sources provide rich and extensive information that can be used to support strategic planning, develop metrics for benchmarking and internal evaluation, and inform meaningful conversations with institutional stakeholders.


How do effective leaders translate this research into practice? Online leaders must not only spend time evaluating the overall trends in the current landscape of online learning, but also contextualizing that within the constructs at their institutions and those of peers and competitors. How do considerations like mission, size, location, sector, research activity, teaching loads, faculty buy-in, student demographics, and countless others impact an evaluation of overarching trends in the landscape?


Just as importantly, how do leaders safeguard against echo chambers and institutional blinders when attempting to analyze and respond to data trends in the research? When findings are a shock or feel counter-intuitive, what is a way to explore those surprises with curiosity and receptivity, rather than defensiveness and suspicion? Without support and a strategy, this reflection and engagement can be overwhelming, a series of unproductive rabbit holes and digressions, and take more time than anyone reasonably has to commit.


Intentionally engaging in reflective discourse with a trusted group of colleagues from different contexts provides the strategy and support necessary to effectively evaluate and integrate data as a leader to support strong, informed decision-making. Reflective discourse is process of constructing and evaluating knowledge in collaboration with others. Reflective discourse, as coined by Mezirow (2000) for adulting learning theory, is “a specialized use of dialogue devoted to searching for a common understanding and assessment of the justification of an interpretation or belief. This involves assessing reasons advanced by weighing the supporting evidence and arguments and by examining alternative perspectives. Reflective discourse involves a critical assessment of assumptions” (p. 10-11). Successful reflective discourse relies on empathy, a willingness to interrogate norms and assumptions, and a commitment to consensus-building.


This session will be facilitated by an inter-institutional group of online learning leaders currently engaged in research investigating how different institutions have organized operational and functional areas that support online learning. The group is in the initial stages of developing a qualitative study to better understand the how institutional and organizational characteristics affect the culture, strategy, and success of online learning enterprises at different institutions. Reflective discourse is a strategy this group has used, both as researchers and practitioners.

Reflective discourse emerged as an important strategy to address the unwanted influence that anecdotal experience and institutional assumptions can have when crafting research questions and protocols. However, it quickly became clear to group members that the benefit of engaging in reflective discourse extended beyond the refinement of the group’s research activities and into the individual practice each undertakes as a leader in their respective institutions. Analyzing potential research questions specifically focusing on the successful administration of online learning from different institutional lenses provided members new insights into challenges unique to their context and those shared across institutions, creating a bridge between research and practice.


This session explores the value of engaging research through reflective discourse for higher education leaders seeking to bridge research and practice. Facilitators will provide an overview on the concept of reflective discourse and the group’s experience with the process. This will include  concrete examples of how the facilitators have operationalized their collective learnings as administrators and leaders. Attendees will then be invited to engage in similar reflective practice scenarios to analyze and share their own insights from their specific institutional context and practice and work together to identify shared challenges and important differences. Facilitators will provide guidance on how to effectively incorporate the principles of reflective discourse as attendees and provide curated practice scenarios from recent research studies.


In addition, the researchers are currently engaged in an active research study on the effective administration of online learning within institutions of higher education. In preparation for a qualitative phase, the research team is currently analyzing secondary data sources and intends to share preliminary findings with the audience as part of structuring the examples for reflective discourse. With the permission of the audience members, facilitators will document the commentary in the workshop as an additional source of insight for implementing future study phases.


Meziro, Jack et. al. (Hg.) (2000): Learning as Transformation. Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 3-33.