After the Pivot: Strategic Evolution of Online Education in the Research Institution

Concurrent Session 2
Streamed Session Leadership

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Join representatives from online learning units from the Big Ten Academic Alliance member institutions and hear about recommended criteria for success to guide higher education in a post-pandemic landscape. This interactive session will provide opportunities for you to informally assess the state of your own organization and to explore ideas for growth.


Bob serves as the Senior Analyst for Online Learning in the Center for Educational Innovation. In this capacity, he provides planning, analysis, and strategy for fully and primarily online curricular initiatives. Bob currently chairs the U of M Online Steering Committee, oversees the University’s Coursera MOOC partnership, serves on the Minnesota Learning Commons Steering Committee, and represents the University on state and national inter-institutional eLearning partnerships. Before his work with the CEI, Bob served as Extension Professor and Assistant IT Director with the University of Minnesota Extension. Bob received his BA in Communications from the University of California, San Diego and MA and PhD in Communications (minor in educational technology) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Dr. Reba-Anna Lee received her doctorate in Educational Technology in August 2006 from Alliant International University. She completed her Masters and Bachelors at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Prior to joining Northwestern, she was the Associate Director of Academic Technology and eLearning at Marist College in New York. Her background includes K-12 experience, as well as over ten years of higher education administrative and teaching experience. Dr. Lee has experience working with faculty in implementing new technologies into the classroom, whether it is face to face, blended, or completely online.

Additional Authors

Mary Niemiec is the Associate Vice President for Digital Education and Director of the University of Nebraska Online. In her role at the University of Nebraska, she coordinates the system-wide collaborative initiative that pulls together the 150 plus online programs offered by the four campuses of the NU system. She has worked in the areas of higher education continuing, online, and blended learning for more than twenty years. In addition to her University responsibilities, she represents and serves the University within the state of Nebraska and nationally by serving in leadership roles in various professional organizations. She currently serves as President for the Board of Directors of the Online Learning Consortium. She also serves as a member of the Nebraska Information Technology Commission’s Education Council and a member of the Policy Committee for UPCEA. She was named an OLC Fellow in 2011.

Extended Abstract

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this session, participants will:

  • Informally evaluate your organization’s success in each of three areas: student services, high quality learning and delivering value to learners


During Fall 2020, representatives from the online learning units at each of the Big Ten Academic Alliance member institutions began to question what the educational landscape would look like post-pandemic at their respective universities. These institutions have had a multi-year history of cooperation and collaboration. There was a general agreement that the way in which academic programs were delivered would not return to a pre-covid environment. A subgroup was then assembled to review what was happening at member institutions before and during the pandemic as well as outside sources in order to project major long-term trends that would impact educational programs. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying rapid shift to remote and online learning has significantly accelerated many preexisting long-term challenges impacting the teaching mission of our Big Ten institutions, including:

  • Large increases in residential students demanding the flexibility offered by online courses.

  • A major shift of degrees (especially professional masters degrees) from on-campus to online.

  • A significant decrease in the future undergraduate pipeline and accompanying revenue (“the demographic cliff of 2025”).

  • Rapidly emerging student and workforce needs driving the demand for a wider variety of flexible educational opportunities throughout the lifetimes of learners (the “60 year curriculum”).

  • The rise of non-profit “mega-universities” such as ASU Online, University of Maryland Global Campus, and Western Governors offering online programs to 30,000; 60,000; or even 120,000 students that is erasing the geographic monopoly of the university.

Based on these findings and other input, the subgroup identified three major areas of interest on which to focus including: 1) Addressing the increasing demand for online learning and shift in demographics by emphasizing a new inclusive, equitable, and student centered lifelong learning service model; 2) Emphasizing and provide the infrastructure to support high quality, technology-enhanced learning driven by innovative pedagogy as a key differentiator in programs; and 3) Clearly articulating and delivering value to learners from their educational investment with an emphasis on more flexible, integrated offerings that align with in-demand workforce skills.

To address these areas, subgroup members each took a major section for the first iteration. Following the initial round, all subgroup members reviewed, added additional content, and further edited the sections. The full Big 10 group then submitted their comments.  Multiple iterations were structured to provide for the maximum input from all institutions. The outcome of this process was a discussion paper, complete with specific questions to pose, and recommendations on how it could be used by academic leadership at each member institution to encourage dialog and formulation of action items, while taking into consideration the unique characteristics of each institution.

In this session, representatives from four of the Big Ten institutions will present the key findings addressing each of the key questions posed by the discussion paper in a highly interactive manner. For each component, online tools will be used to engage attendees to informally evaluate their organization’s success in each of three areas.

Agenda & Activities

  • Presenter Introductions (4 min)

  • Gather information regarding session participants (2 min)

  • Overview of Discussion Paper (7 min) 

    • Introduce the BTAA Online Leaders

    • Why this discussion felt important

    • How we envision the discussion paper will be used 

  • Introduction of 1) Student focused Services Model 

    • Interactive Poll - First impression of your institution’s success in this area (2 min)

    • Exposition - Our Criteria for Success (5 min)

    • Further Reflection - Rank your “highs/lows” according to these criteria (2 min)

  • Introduction of 2) High Quality, Technology Enhanced Learning

    • Interactive Poll - First impression of your institution’s success in this area (2 min)

    • Exposition - Our Criteria for Success (5 min)

    • Further Reflection - Word Cloud: Which criteria should your organization focus on first? (2 min)

  • Introduction of 3) Articulating and Delivering Value to Learners

    • Interactive Poll - First impression of your institution’s success in this area (2 min)

    • Exposition - Our Criteria for Success (5 min)

    • Further Reflection - Identify one group of stakeholders in this category you will reach out to. (2 min)

  • Closing - What might next steps look like for you? Who will you involve in this conversation? Who are the formal and informal influencers? Which governance groups and action committees should you connect with?  (5 min)