From Reactive to Strategic Leadership of Online, Blended, and Digital Spaces

Concurrent Session 3
Streamed Session Leadership K-12 OLC Session

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Brief Abstract

The post-inoculation phase of the pandemic has raised serious questions about right-sizing the mix of instructional modalities to meet student demand, faculty readiness, institutional capability, and regional needs while simultaneously preparing to offset future challenges to normal operations. Join us for a panel discussion with the authors of OLC’s new leadership playbook containing recommendations for institutional efficacy, strategy, and student success in the post-Pandemic digital, blended, and online learning world.






Alexander (Alex) Case is the OLC Associate Vice President of Strategic Partnership and Grants. In this capacity, he is responsible for growing OLC’s reach in the areas of grants, strategic partnerships, and consulting. Alex brings a diverse array of experience to this position from federal civil service, K-12, and higher education leadership roles. He is eager to affirm OLC’s thought leadership while managing multifaceted relationships with institutions, organizations, associations, foundations, and corporate partners. He is also committed to charting our community’s growth in the K-12 and international sectors. Prior to joining the OLC, Alex served as the Interim Director of Student Services (Dean of Students) and Associate Director of Instructional Design and Development for the Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) Online program. NOVA is a member of the 24-school Virginia Community College System (VCCS) and is among the largest community colleges in the nation. There, he oversaw creation and maintenance of an online portfolio of 400 online asynchronous courses spanning all academic pathways, offered in over 1,200 sections per semester, and serving 23,000 students per year. He was also involved in his state system’s work to extend program completion outcomes state-wide via the Online Virginia Network and oversaw his entire online program portfolio’s learning management system conversion. Alex began his education career in the K-12 sector where he was a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, and school-based administrator for a decade. His final role was as principal of socio-economically and racially diverse high school where he led 2,600 students and 350-person multigenerational staff on a three-building campus in Fairfax County, Virginia. He successfully led his school out of accreditation with warning status in one year, oversaw the development of a governor’s career and technical education academy, and deepened its Blue Ribbon Award-winning fine and performing arts center. Prior to teaching, Alex held positions in training, business management, and strategic planning for the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency. Alex completed his B.A. in history, political science, and secondary education from the University of Mary Washington (Fredericksburg, Virginia), instructional design coursework from George Mason University (Fairfax, Virginia), a M.Ed. in Education Leadership from the University of Virginia (Charlottesville, Virginia), and is presently completing a dissertation towards a Ph.D. in Education at George Mason University.
Dr. Nicole Weber is the Assistant Vice President (AVP) of Learning at the Online Learning Consortium (OLC). In this role she works closely with OLC staff and global partners to advance professional development opportunities, continuous improvement efforts, and research in support of quality digital, blended, and online learning. Before joining OLC, she served as the Director of Learning Technology at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater where she led online and blended faculty development efforts, technology training for the digital learning ecosystem, and emerging learning technology exploration and evaluation, collaborating across the institution to support student learning and success. Nicole received her PhD in Urban Education specializing in Social Foundations of Education with an emphasis on designing engaging learning environments in 2012.
Tanya Joosten, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist, the Director of Digital Learning Research and Development, and advisor to the Provost for innovation projects at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Dr. Joosten leads the National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancements (DETA). She is nationally recognized in her work in blended and online learning as an Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Fellow and works to guide strategic digital learning efforts on campus, across the UW System, and nationally as an advisor to the Provost, a member of the University of Wisconsin System Learning Technology Executive Council, and a member of several national boards and committees. Currently, Dr. Joosten leads a national research initiative supported by the U.S. Department of Education working to provide access to research models and methods, facilitating innovate processes of data collection, and encouraging the replication of research across institutions through the DETA Research Toolkit to identify key instructional and institutional factors that influence student success with particular attention to underrepresented students. Dr. Joosten has a background in the social sciences hailing from the field of communication. Her notable keynotes include eLearning Asia, ITC eLearning Conference, and SACS COC President’s event, and her ideas have been highlighted on plenary panels at the UW-Madison Annual Distance Teaching and Learning conference and the OLC International Conference for Online Learning. You can find her ideas and work cited in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Forbes, U.S. News World and Report, and more. Recent interviews with Dr. Joosten are available on ResearchInAction and TOPcast available on iTunes. Her book on social media is available from Wiley Publishing, she has authored numerous articles, chapters, and encyclopedia entries on human and social interactions and digital learning, and she often writes invited blog posts and magazine articles for organizations, such as EDUCAUSE, WCET, Inside Higher Ed, and Pearson. Dr. Joosten previously worked as the Director of the Learning Technology Center leading faculty development and engagement initiatives, pedagogical and technological innovation projects, core learning technology oversight, and blended and online program development.

Extended Abstract

The pandemic ushered in use of digital, blended, and online learning at scales never before imagined in higher education. Its waning has now left many institutions asking what’s next and how best to reconcile newly acquired digital competency from all corners of the faculty, wants for students for increased digital service and institutional support, questions from institutional leaders about the past year’s digital learning quality when instruction shifted remote in an emergency capacity, and a most puzzling enrollment management picture which pushes institutions to right-size instructional modalities across its schedule of classes. Do the leadership structures of institutions and organizations play a role in the success of online and blended programs? How do reporting structures and departmental organization make a difference in how programs function and are supported? 

A new leadership playbook from the National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advances (DETA), the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), and the Every Learner Everywhere (ELE) Network aims to tackle post-pandemic institutional leadership strategy and culture needed to optimize a healthy blend of instructional modalities including digital, blended, and online learning. This primer offers insights for academic leaders who aim to create resilient institutions, providing strategies to adopt big picture thinking, respond to external factors, leverage the strengths of their institution, maximize relationships, and take strategic action to develop responsive planning in a post-inoculation era.  

The time to go from reactive to strategic with regards to instructional modalities is now. The literature tells us that blended colleges and universities focus on students’ needs, while providing support and learning experiences across modalities: qualities the majority of students prefer, according to the Spring 2021 Digital Pulse Survey, in which 68 percent of students “agreed” or “strongly agreed” they supported the continued availability of post-pandemic blended or hybrid course options. While our universities and colleges are “surviving the buffeting of the world” and are “regaining their composure and proceeding on about their business” (Meadows, 2008, p. 75), they highlight the need for agility to strategically adapt to what is happening around us.  In creating institutions that are able to adapt to growing needs, the promise of the resilient college and university is restorative and transformative. It provides a moment to create an orchestral arrangement of opportunities and experiences through strategic activities centering the student of our time and in preparation for the evolutionary student of the future. 

Leading our institutions during uncertain times, we find ourselves responding to rapid change as new information arrives daily reminding us we can’t go back; we can only move forward.  Amidst changes in student demographics and projected enrollment declines with a backdrop of campus closures across the United States, we are aware of the urgency of the call to action to create resilient and nimble institutions for our post-inoculation future, adroit in all instructional modalities. To go from reactive to strategic, we must reflect on what we have learned during the pandemic about remote work and learning, nurture our capacity for big picture thinking, and capture the advantages of digital, blended, and online learning.  

This session will discuss  actionable strategies for how to apply them to the strategy, systems thinking, and intentional culture building that must follow. Our aim is to help you create and refine leadership systems that are scalable and adaptable to all future modality challenges our nation and its education system might face. Join the conversation!