Scaling a Mountain: Who’s Job Is It and What Shoes Are They Wearing?

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

If the summit of the mountain is excellence in digital, blended and online learning, then we all want to scale the mountain to reach that summit. However, we cannot go it alone and we definitely cannot reach that summit if we bring along only one type of shoes.

In this presentation, we will discuss what we have done, what we’ve learned and who we’ve learned from through the many shoes we have worn. This will be part of a complete conversation where participants will also share their experiences. Our focus is take-aways to scaling the mountain of excellence in our own professional lives.


Dr. Angela M. Gibson serves as Lecturer in the Higher Education Administration Leadership doctoral certificate and masters of Adult Education program at Texas A&M University - Kingsville. Additionally, she serves as faculty for the Online Learning Consortium Institute for Professional Development teaching in the Online Teaching Certificate Program, designing and facilitating workshops, and serving as a mentor to professional educators. She has taught first-year, senior, and graduate students, designed and developed curriculum, and created initiatives for student engagement, strategic learning, and innovation. In addition to roles during her 25 plus years in higher education, academics, and student affairs at a diverse set of colleges and universities, she made the rank of Professor at American Public University System. Angela received a Masters of Arts in Human Performance Systems, with a Graduate Certificate in Instructional Design, from Marymount University and an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, with concentrations in Adult Education and Community College Education, from Texas A and M University - Kingsville. She has been published in various peer reviewed journals, is on journal editorial boards, presents at national and international conferences, and served on the Online Learning Conference Steering Committee and was the 2017 Chair of the Technology Test Kitchen. In 2019, Angela was a Campfire Keynote Speaker for the OLC Innovate Conference. Dr. Gibson is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador and volunteers as an informal STEM educator creating learning opportunities at schools and with community organizations as well as providing social media outreach for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). She is a recipient of the Online Learning Consortium 2014 Effective Practice Award.
Lori Kupczynski, Ed.D. has served over 20 years in higher education in the areas of English, Communication, Adult Education, Higher Education and Educational Leadership. She currently serves as a Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. Previously, she has served as Associate Professor and Program Director of the Educatonal Leadership doctoral program, doctoral level transcripted certificate program in Higher Education Administration and Leadership (HEAL) and the Adult Education Masters Program. She was the Recipient of the 2012 United States Distance Learning Association’s Outstanding Leadership by an Individual in the field of Distance Learning Award and the 2012 Distinguished Researcher Award from Texas A&M University-Kingsville. She also received the 2017 Outstanding Senior Faculty Award in the College of Education and Human Performance at TAMUK. Her research agenda focuses on developing a deeper understanding of interactions among adult learners in online learning environments through the development of grounded theory to explain the interactions within the Community of Inquiry Framework (CoI). A secondary track of research is on new and emerging technologies complementary to research with adult learners online. Lori has published over 75 peer reviewed articles in the field and has presented at numerous prestigious national and international conferences.

Extended Abstract


If the summit of the mountain is excellence in digital, blended and online learning, then we all want to scale the mountain to reach that summit. However, we cannot go it alone and we cannot reach that summit if we bring along only one type of shoes.

In this presentation, we will be discussing what we have done, what we’ve learned and who we’ve learned from through the many shoes we have worn as we explore the many roles involved in the success of learning. We will extend this conversation to all attendees as we collaborate together. Our focus is take-aways to scaling the mountain of excellence in our own professional lives. To be aware of what is needed to reach a summit of excellence, it is necessary to identify and discuss who is involved in the success of digital, blended, and online learning. With participants, the presenters will explore the shoes – roles – that journey on the path to the summit. In particular, the roles of the ID, Faculty, Support Staff, Administrator, and Student will be traveled. As part of the introduction, participants will be asked to participate in a live word cloud offering types of shoes – roles – needed to scale the mountain.

The Types of Shoes to Scale a Mountain

In this section, the presenters will briefly examine Shoes and Their Role which will include Types of Shoes, Their Job, and the Connection to Learning and Service. Presenters will talk about how they have walked in each of these shoes throughout their careersas they have scaled the mountain. They will also reach out to the attendees so that all are involved with the conversation about the roles and shifting between roles.

The Instructional Designer

In 2017, Inside Higher Education published an article called “Still a Mystery” (O’Malley) stating that though this “field has been around for 75 years…many still wonder what instructional designers…do” (para. 1). The role has evolved, especially with the increase in digital, blended, and online learning. However, the role does vary from institution to instruction and even department to department. Also, there may be variations on the title such as “instructional technology or instructional strategies or educational product developer” (O’Malley, 2017). Because of the evolving role, the ID wears a few different shoes on his or her journey. If we look inside the heart of this particular shoe, what we see at its’ core is the design of instruction. A 2016 report categorized the responsibilities into four areas: design, manage, train, and support (Intentional Futures, 2016).

An ID’s connection to excellence in learning and service is apparent by review of these four categories. If we look at the need to build courses and training in ways to effectively transfer the learning, then those who have expertise in the design of instruction are required. Additionally, IDs can be of service through training faculty, and other staff, how to lace their shoes and not be the ones to always lace their shoes for them. Awareness on and basic tenants of accessibility, universal design, copyright, and other critical areas for compliance and learning can be shared by IDs to allow faculty (and others) to apply in their daily work. Also, IDs can be the ties that keep us together. IDs often work with various parts of an institution and can connect individuals, units, and teams for more effective collaboration.

The 2016 report – Instructional Designers in Higher Education: The Role, Responsibilities and Experiences of Instructional Designers, as well as the webinar sponsored by the OLC on the report, will be shared as resources.



The Faculty

The National Education Association describes college teaching as “a profession built on top of another profession – a meta-profession” (Theall & Arreola, 2017, para. 1). In the article the authors discuss how individuals are trained and/or educated in specific skills and knowledge as subject matter experts and then apply that learning in “found possible roles: teaching, scholarly or creative activities (including research), service to the institution and community, and administration” (para. 1). As with many roles in post-secondary institutions, there can be a delineation of which shoe box the shoe fits into – as in the scope of the role.

Faculty are hired as subject matter experts and are not necessarily hired based on their knowledge how to develop curriculum – let alone designing and delivering instruction in elearning environments. The faculty may not even have a foundation in classroom behavior and management. As such, they need to rely on the strengths of others. However, the Education Advisory Board in a 2017 report identified six roles faculty have in the critical support for and journey towards student success. And these are all the more crucial with digital, blended, and online learning success (Dhilla, 2017).

Support Staff

The multi-shoe! Shoes that serve in multiple roles – winter boot (nice warm liner), rain boot (waterproof), walking shoe (top part unzips) – then we have the multitude of roles which make up this category of support staff. These roles can include Librarians, Advisors, IT/Help Desk staff, Career Services, and more (Guilfoile & Krimpelbein, 2017). No matter the name of these roles – shoes – they play a vital role in support of students in their success, especially for those who are participating in some type of digital class or training. Students clamor for more support as noted in the EDUCAUSE report, The State of E-Learning in Higher Education: An Eye toward Growth and Increased Access (2013). Interestingly, the support staff area is where administrators have indicated the largest increase in staffing is needed – whether the resources have been identified to achieve this goal is yet to be seen. Digital, blended, or online students need access to effective services to support the learning from the classroom, and the intention of persistence for matriculation and preparing for jobs in the industry, the same – if not more robust – than students physically on site at an institution of higher education.


As that there are some roles not familiar with the work of others at a college or university, it may be up to those who wear the Administrator shoe to strategically create partnerships for scaling the mountain in the goal of reaching the summit of excellence in learning and service (Roby, Ashe, Singh, & Clark, 2013). Administrators have to see the bigger picture and determine which shoes may be best for the journey. However, part of this is needing awareness of the materials making up the shoe and what the shoe can do. This shoe needs to perform their role while observing and supporting other shoes in their work.


Though these shoes may need the most support of all shoes scaling the mountain, some shoes appear to be brand new and others seem to be well worn. The age of the shoe can determine how other shoes best offer support on the journey. Tailoring the climb to the summit based on if the student is new to post-secondary education, and especially new to digital, blended, and/or online learning, can make the difference in achievement in reaching the summit of success.

What Shoes Do You Wear? How many shoes have you worn? How have your experience changed from wearing multiple shoes?

Also, part of the presentation, we will ask participants to gather in groups, on-site and virtually, and discuss what shoes they have worn and currently wear. Some of the prompts for inquiry will include the type of shoe (role), was/is it their job (i.e. from their job description and/or job expectations); was/is the role informal or formal; and did/does the shoe fit them well? Participants will be asked to share back with their reflections through a live polling tool and subsequent conversations.

Some Challenges

In this section, a few challenges which have prevented a clear path to the successful scaling of the mountain by the presenters will be discussed.

Not My Job

We’ve heard the phrases of “stay in your lane” or, conversely, “we are too siloed”. Both indicate some concerns over role in the job. At institutions of higher education, if our goal is to reach the summit of excellence, learning excellence and service excellence, then we need to be comfortable wearing different shoes and bringing along those in shoes different then our own. As we have seen from the review of different shoes and the examination of the literature as well as effective practices, we realize that there need to be many types of shoes scaling the mountain, and doing so together, to achieve student success.

Wrong Shoe – Right?

The impractical shoe. This shoe – role – may be shiny and new and include in its description trendy catch phrases and those things which gain the attention of decision makers and marketers. However, all the bling in the world cannot hide a shoe without a good sole. In creation or reframing of roles – including organization or reorganization of teams – it is important for administrators and other decision makers to ensure there are clear objectives and expectations – as well as measurable outcomes – for shoes and their team of shoes.

Finding the right fit. Not every shoe fits every individual working to scale the mountain. Maybe shoes need to be switched to find the right fit for the focus on learning and service. Maybe the intention was for one type of shoe, but a different shoe was needed. There is no reason to discard the other shoe if it was a good shoe – find a new purpose.

Changing Your Socks - Innovation with purpose.

Speaking of bling and catchy phrases and fit – innovation. A shoe could have all the cool things, but does it do what you want it to do. Innovation is more than technology; actually, it does not have to have technology as part of its’ description. Just changing our socks does not necessarily bring true innovation, and sometimes those socks can get smelly, even the expensive ones. Innovation needs to make a difference and create easier pathways for us and the student to scale the mountain. Created as a joint exercise in 2018, The Academy for Innovative Higher Education Leadership, led my Arizona State University and Georgetown University, offered insights into and take-aways for a myriad of types of innovations which can be worn by those in many, many shoes (Ebner & Pickus, 2018).

What Shoes Do You Bring to Reach the Summit?

Participants will break into groups, on-site and virtually, and identify what other shoes, in addition to their own, do they need to scale the mountain of digital, blended, and online learning. Prompts for evaluation will include the type of shoe (role), why do they need this type of shoe for scaling the mountainside, and how they can share the load and not wear out their shoes along the way. To share ideas and effective practices to successfully scale the mountain, groups will be asked to offer all attendees an insightful reflection from their group.


Presenters will conclude the presentation by briefly summarizing the presentation, inviting participants to the scheduled Fire Side Chat, and taking questions and comments. At the end of the presentation, those willing to participate will be asked to take a picture of their shoes – or the collective shoes of their group – and post on Twitter with the tag #OLCShoes, #OLCInnovate and include the handles @OLCToday @OLCShoes, and how their shoes will help them scale the mountain.


Dhilla, S. J. (2017). The role of online faculty in supporting successful online learning enterprises: A literature review. Higher Education Politics & Economics, 3(1), 1-30. Retrieved from

Ebner, K., & Pickus, N. (2018, July 25). The right kind of innovation. Insider Higher Ed. Retrieved from

EDUCAUSE. (2013). The state of e-learning in higher education: An eye toward growth and increased access. Retrieved from

Education Advisory Board. (2017). The evolving role of faculty in student success. Retrieved

Guilfoile, P., & Krimpelbein, K. (2017). Helping university staff contribute to student success. The Evolllution. Retrieved from

Intentional Futures. (2016, April). Instructional design in higher education: A report on the role, workflow, and experience of instructional designers. Retrieved from

OLC Webinar. (2018). Instructional designers in higher education: The role, responsibilities and experiences of instructional designers. Webinars. Retrieved from

O’Malley, S. (2017, August 2). Still a mystery. Insider Higher Education. Retrieved from

Roby, T., Ashe, S., Singh, N., & Clark, C. (2013). Shaping the online experience: How administrators can influence student and instructor perceptions through policy and practice. Internet and Higher Education, 17, 29-37. Retrieved from

Theall, M., & Arreola, R. A. (2017). The multiple roles of the college professor. National Education Association. Retrieved