A national study of leadership for online learning in US higher education

Concurrent Session 6
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Brief Abstract

As institutions have evolved with online learning, Presidents and Provosts have established a leadership position to guide their efforts in this area. But what do we know about the leaders who are managing this academic transformation? This systematic study, a first of its kind, will shed light on that leadership. 


Eric E. Fredericksen is the associate vice president of online learning at the University of Rochester and professor in educational leadership at the Warner School of Education. A national leader in online education, Fredericksen provides leadership for the exploration of online learning initiatives across the University. Previously, he was the associate vice provost at the University, where he provided leadership and services that supported the academic and research missions of the University. Prior to the University of Rochester, Fredericksen served as the director of academic technology and media services at Cornell University. As a senior manager in Cornell Information Technologies, he helped craft Cornell's presence and direction in the use of contemporary technologies to support research, outreach, and teaching & learning both in and out of the classroom. Before Cornell, Fredericksen was the assistant provost for advanced learning technology in the Office of the Provost in the State University of New York System Administration, where he provided leadership and direction for all of SUNY's system-wide programs focused on the innovative use of technology to support teaching and learning. This included the nationally-recognized SUNY Learning Network - winner of the EDUCAUSE Award for Systemic Progress in Teaching and Learning and Sloan-C Awards for Excellence in Faculty Development and Excellence in Institution-wide Online Programming. It also included the SUNY Teaching Learning and Technology Program and Project MERLOT, which were designed to complement the classroom with technology-supported instruction. Fredericksen was also a co-principal investigator and administrative officer for three multi-year, multi-million dollar grants on Asynchronous Learning Networks (ALN) from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. He was responsible for the fiscal management, strategic planning, policy development, faculty development, marketing & promotion, a technical support center for faculty and students, and operations and technology infrastructure. He managed a distributed statewide staff of IT, administrative, instructional design, and faculty support professionals. Under his leadership, the program grew from two campuses offering eight courses to 119 enrollments to 53 campuses offering 2,500 courses to more than 40,000 enrollments in just seven years. He has also designed, developed, and taught online courses for the Department of Educational Theory and Practice in the Graduate School of Education at the University at Albany for the past 12 years. Fredericksen is active in national efforts, including EDUCAUSE, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, and the Online Learning Consortium (formerly Sloan-C). He was chair of the Sloan-C International Conference on Online Learning and previously served as chair of the Sloan-C Awards Program for Excellence in Online Teaching and Learning. He also served on the advisory board for Enterprise Learning at NYU. In 2012, Fredericksen was elected to the board of directors for the Sloan Consortium and served as the President of the Board of OLC in 2018 and 2019. He was honored as a Sloan-C Fellow in 2013.

Extended Abstract

To say that online learning is important for colleges and universities would be quite an understatement. Yet, for such a vital endeavor, there has been a deficiency of research and analysis about the executives that are on point. Contributing to this vacuum is the lack of a comprehensive list of these leaders, combined with the fact that this is a new senior role at many colleges and universities. This study began with addressing this issue with the systematic identification of these leaders.  Over the summer of 2016, this study investigated 1,000+ institutions, reached out to 816 individuals and yielded 255 responses (31% response rate).


We hypothesized that the context of their institution was relevant so we collected data about Carnegie classification, public/private, scope of their online learning initiatives, strategic goals for online learning, when their leadership position was created, whether their online learning effort was a catalyst for organizational changes, the role of external service providers, and their institutional priorities.


We then gathered data about the professional experience of individuals including years in this position, faculty appointment, and did they have any traditional face to face teaching experience, online teaching experience, management experience, instructional design experience, educational research experience, and/or any IT experience.


Finally, we captured demographic data about the individuals as well as other information about their reporting relationships, years of experience in higher education, academic credentials, and any personal experience as an online student.  With regard to their professional development we asked about the associations they belong to, what events they attend, and their preferences and efforts to stay current in the field.