Over the past decade, online education offerings at brick-and-mortar colleges have gone from being uncommon to being a key part of nearly every school’s plans for future development. As a result, many schools have found that they need administrators who are focused solely on guiding, growing, and running online education programs, allowing schools to give greater focus and attention to their digital offerings. Here we highlight just a few of the administrators who are paving the way in e-administration, pushing a variety of schools in the U.S. into bigger and better online education programs.
Deborah Gearhart, Ohio University:
One of the most high-profile online education administration positions in recent months has been that of Vice Provost of E-Learning at Ohio University. After months of competition for the job, Deborah Gearhart, a former director of eTroy at Troy University, was hired. Gearhart has said of the position, “When the provost hired me, one of the things she wanted me to do is just take a strategic look at where e-learning is at Ohio U, where it needs to go, how we’re going to get there, and how we’re going to support the colleges and the delivery of their programs.” Gearhart hopes to expand online offerings to help open up Ohio’s educational opportunities to a wider range of students, especially graduate students who may only be attending college part time while they hold down jobs and care for families.
John Mitchell, Stanford University:
Even prestigious colleges like Stanford are taking a serious look at ways they can expand online education offerings. The school recently created the Office of the Vice-Provost in Online Learning, a position that was filled by John Mitchell, a computer science professor at the school, in the summer of 2012. The school is making a concentrated effort to expand online learning opportunities in nearly every department, with more than 40 different faculty members working with Mitchell to innovate new ways to bring programs online and to experiment with online education. This new position isn’t all about growing the number of online courses, however, but also improving the quality of online education offered at Stanford. Commenting on his goals, Mitchell said, “While technology provides many new possibilities, the fundamental question is how to improve teaching and learning with these tools.”
Jim Spain, University of Missouri:
The University of Missouri announced just this fall that it would invest $2.5 million to enhance online degree offerings. Guiding those improvements to the online education system is the school’s interim provost for e-learning Jim Spain. By 2014, Spain plans to add 10 to 15 undergraduate and graduate online degree programs, adding to the five undergrad programs and 60 grad and certification programs the school already offers. Spain has said that the school is focusing on online ed as a way to open up degree programs to students who can’t travel to the campus and to offer a greater variety for students who are on campus. While the school hopes to make serious enhancements to online education availability and variety, Spain cautions that they have to do it right, stating, “We will only do this if we are sure we can maintain our academic outcomes. We are not going to sacrifice student learning and the quality of instruction. We’re taking advantage of technology to improve student learning outcomes and to make this more accessible.”
Edward Rock, University of Pennsylvania:
The University of Pennsylvania is another prestigious university that’s making a serious investment in online education. Leading the development of online programs at the school is its director of open course initiatives Edward Rock. Rock was appointed to the position in September of 2012 and through this new position will oversee the implementation of Penn’s partnership with Coursera. While his focus will largely be on open courses, Rock, while working with other campus administrators, will use the frameworks developed for open online ed to improve curricular and instructional programs for students on campus as well. Penn president Amy Gutmann has said that the position is critical not only for the university but for the global expansion of access to higher education, noting that the new commitment to open online courses would be both challenging and a wonderful opportunity for the university to become a leader in online ed.
Monica Orozco, Florida Atlantic University:
Since March 2011, Dr. Monica Orozco has been the Assistant Provost for eLearning at FAU. Through the school’s Center for eLearning, Orozco develops, monitors, and oversees e-learning programs throughout the school’s 10 colleges. The eventual goal of the center is to bring e-learning opportunities to all academic disciplines and programs offered by FAU. To reach that goal, Orozco has worked with faculty over the past year and a half to develop new and more effective ways to teach students online, as well as working side-by-side with the school’s provost to formulate the school’s long-term strategic vision for academic success and technological advancement.
Katherine Cobb, Brevard Community College:
The four-year universities aren’t the only kinds of schools where e-learning administration has become a priority. Florida’s Brevard Community College hired Katherine Cobb as the school’s first e-learning provost in the fall of 2010. As e-learning provost, Cobb runs the eBrevard campus, the online division of the community college. The school realized the importance of online education a few years back when a campus survey revealed that the average Brevard student was a 29-year-old single mother working at least part-time. While today’s students are skewing a bit younger due to economic uncertainty and high tuition costs, the survey prompted the establishment of a long-term position to bolster online offerings to better cater to the needs of many non-traditional students. Under Cobb’s leadership, the school hopes to grow its online offerings and to eventually make it possible for students to fulfill all the requirements for their degrees through online resources.
Billie Wahlstrom, University of Minnesota:
The University of Minnesota is one state school where administrators take the development of online courses and the utilization of new technologies very seriously. Part of that approach has been the appointment of a vice provost for distributed education and instructional technology, a position currently held by Billie Wahlstrom. Wahlstrom is responsible for implementing new instructional technologies on campus that will enhance learning, teaching, and student outreach. Her current pet projects are the development of an online learning platform, building a digital campus for the school, and growing the content delivered through iTunesU. With the help of her associate Sue Engelmann, Wahlstrom has also been rolling out an e-textbook pilot project and sharing the school’s innovations through conferences and summits.
Joel Hartman, University of Central Florida:
Joel Hartman is the Vice Provost for IT and Resources at UCF in Orlando. While his job isn’t focused exclusively on online education, he has played as central role in developing the infrastructure required to support the school’s online offerings. Hartman has said that his goal is to make it so that online education isn’t viewed differently than in-class education, stating, “We’ve come a long way toward reaching our original goal of getting the ‘e’ out of e-learning.” The school has been placing greater emphasis on online learning for a number of different reasons, among them a growth in non-traditional students and an inability to keep up with demand for on-campus courses. Hartman hopes to grow online learning but acknowledges that hybrid courses, which are part online and part on-campus, have been some of the most successful for the school.
Karen King, East Tennessee State University:
Vice Provost of eLearning Karen King runs the Office of eLearning at ETSU. While the office does help to develop online education initiatives, its primary focus is on helping faculty and staff who want to develop courses online or in a hybrid format, rather than addressing student needs directly. This makes what King does a bit different than similar positions at other schools, as the Office of eLearning is almost entirely a resource for faculty support and development. While the bulk of her work is focused on faculty, King also works towards promoting e-learning within the campus and community. She’s one of the founders of the Digital Media Sandbox Consortium, which helps to promote the use of technology in learning to the wider Tennessee state community, and she’s on a number of ETSU committees that are working to determine the strategy the school will take with online courses and informational technology over the coming decade.
Leo Rafael Reif, MIT:
Reif isn’t an e-administrator in the same sense that others on this list are, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t taking on many of the same tasks. While online learning isn’t in his title, he is a striking example of a college administrator who has gone above and beyond to show a commitment to online learning initiatives. During his time as provost, Reif led a five-year project to develop an innovative project in online learning, which resulted in the release of MITx, an online learning initiative that brought fresh online learning tools to both MIT students and people around the world. He was also behind the expansion of that project into edX, a collaboration between MIT and Harvard that offers similar open education offerings. At a school like MIT where most administrators are experts in engineering and computer programming, creating specific e-learning administration positions may just not be necessary, but that hasn’t seemed to have slowed this school administrator’s drive to be leaders in online education.