The Online Paradox

A recent Education Advisory Board (EAB) report of trends in online learning documents the steady growth of “multi-modal” students, that is, students who enroll in a mix of face-to-face and online classes. I believe this trend has significant, even urgent, implications for Lesley and how we can fulfill our mission and thrive as an institution into the future. According to national data, overall enrollment at four-year institutions has increased only 2% between 2012 and 2016. During that same period, online enrollment has increased by 16%, while the number of students who have taken some online coursework has increased by 39%. Students increasing familiarity with online learning formats, and the additional flexibility that online options provide will likely continue to drive this trend.
Source: EAB: 3 Online Education Trends in 2018
But are students who take online courses as successful as those who take face-to-face schedules? The research here uncovers a fascinating paradox. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on recent research about this paradox, focusing on data from community colleges. The data shows that while students in online sections are more likely to fail a class than students in face-to-face sections, students who took some online courses were still significantly more likely to complete their associates degree than those who took no online classes. In fact, they were 25% more likely to complete than face-to-face only students. Another study from California found that community college students who enrolled in a mix of face-to-face and online classes are more likely to transfer to four year colleges than those who took only face-to-face courses. By taking a mix of face-to-face and online courses, students get the benefits of classroom instruction and personal connections to faculty and peers, while taking advantage of the flexibility that online options provide. These students are more likely to take more classes, to avoid delays when face-to-face schedules conflict with work and family obligations, and to make more timely progress to their degrees. When students are delayed by such conflicts, they are much more likely to drop out altogether. So if a mix of online and face-to-face is ideal for many students, what is the best ratio of online and face to face? A study of State University of New York system community college students found that the sweet spot appears to be two online classes to every three face-to-face classes. In my next post, I’ll propose some steps I think Lesley can take to respond to this trend as well as invite your suggestions.

Education Summit or Innovation Slam?


Eighty Lesley faculty and staff came together on January 25 for an Education Summit. I hosted the summit with Deans Steve Shapiro and Amy Rutstein-Riley in order to provide a forum for dialogue on how Lesley can continue to be a leader in innovative pedagogy and education advocacy. In her welcome address, President Emeritus Margaret McKenna highlighted the opportunities that Lesley faculty are uniquely qualified to address, including meeting the demand for SPED and ELL instruction, improving assessment for both populations, and leading on civics education. McKenna also spoke about the emerging opportunities for partnerships with school systems, charter schools, and independent schools.

I was honored to announce that Margaret McKenna has generously contributed $70,000 to an innovation fund for new interdisciplinary education initiatives, which is also supported by $30,000 from the endowment. This innovation fund will support competitive proposals from faculty teams who propose projects aimed at enhancing Lesley’s reputation as a leader for change in education and in revenue and enrollment growth.

Following a robust discussion about a vision for Lesley’s future, faculty pitched over 40 concepts for collaborative projects. Ideas ranged from leading on environmental education through experiential learning, to developing competency based licensing programs in education, to a new certificate to respond to new legislation regarding Dyslexia. The fun, fast-paced event highlighted the expertise and passion of our faculty, and the work that is already underway to re-imagine what it means to lead with the same conviction and purpose that Edith Lesley possessed in 1909 when she founded the institution. Teams will now develop concepts into brief proposals through a competitive process, which will result in the selection of several funded projects this spring.

Faculty Assembly Co-Chair Jonathan Jefferson coined the event an “innovation slam” and suggested we hold one every year. What do you think? What else should we be doing to make Lesley an incubator of bold ideas?

Improving Shared Governance

“Crises are energizing — there’s nothing like a hurricane to bring everyone together — but the current climate of uncertainty and upheaval in higher education, with public approval declining, financial stresses increasing, and social issues playing out on campuses, poses its own set of existential challenges. How can colleges generate the sense of purpose, urgency, and unity that follows on the heels of a Katrina, even without Katrina?” – Scott Cowen
Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education last year, Scott Cowen, President Emeritus of Tulane University, described the extraordinary circumstances his university experienced in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2004. While their situation was extreme, and urgent, prompting the five month closure of the university and a near total restructuring of many aspects of the institution, Cowen argues that the lessons gleaned from the way the administration and faculty representatives worked through those decisions can provide important insights into how other universities can improve shared governance. Cowen describes “a leaner, expedited shared governance” that emerged at Tulane during this period, which allowed the university to manage through this unprecedented crisis. For Cowen, building a common understanding of “shared governance,” and a common sense of urgency and purpose, are essential in building an effective working relationship between administrators and faculty and thriving in a quickly changing and competitive higher education landscape. As we continue important discussions at Lesley about the structure and purpose of shared governance, I offer some of his recommendations, along with some of my own, for our consideration.
  1. Cowen recommends a university senate, with elected representation, as the best model to effectively engage faculty in shared decision making. Senate meetings should be open to faculty, staff and administrators (who attend in an ex-officio role), with a report out to the Board of Trustees. While I respect that the decision to retain an assembly model or change to a senate belongs to the faculty, my own view is that Lesley’s size and complexity make an assembly model less practical and effective, and that a senate would improve shared governance here. Minutes and motions of senate proceedings should be available to all members of the university community, as should any administration responses to such motions. This transparency helps build trust in the processes of shared governance and creates a shared record of deliberations and actions.
  2. Cowen suggests an executive or steering committee of the senate, invested with the authority to represent the faculty when truly urgent decisions are required. This allows for faculty consultation in such circumstances when time is of the essence. I suggest that this committee should hold regular monthly meetings without administrators, except on request of the committee, in order to plan senate agendas, set priorities and hear committee updates, and that this committee meet with administrators as needed. Senate agendas with any proposed motions to be discussed and voted on, should be circulated in advance of senate meetings.
  3. Engage in discussion to clarify roles and responsibilities. Faculty, for example, have primary responsibility over the curriculum and their own teaching, academic standards, and degree requirements. On many other matters, they can and should have an advisory role, but legal and fiscal authority and accountability rests with the board, and to those whom the board delegates some responsibilities, such as the President. It is important to be open and transparent about these interdependent, but distinct, roles.
“The commitment to shared governance is too often a mile wide and an inch deep. Board members, faculty leaders, and presidents extol the value of shared governance, but it frequently means something different to each of them. When that is the case, at the first bump in the road, participants can become frustrated, sometimes walking away from a commitment to do the hard work of good governance. Worse yet, when that happens, there may be mutual recriminations that can cripple the institution for years.” – Steven Bahls, Association of Governing Boards
The Association of Governing Boards offers similar advice to institutional boards about the need for open communication and clarity on what shared governance is and is not. The AGB also advises that governance processes should be periodically reviewed and updated. There are many other good resources and discussions on the subject of shared governance. I’ve referred here to a few that I’ve found helpful recently. I truly appreciate the work that our faculty and faculty leaders have been engaged in over the last year to review our governance processes and I look forward to hearing what recommendations come forward as a result of that work. I would also love to hear your ideas and suggestions for how we can improve our shared governance at Lesley and what I can do to support the effort.

Welcome to my blog

A robot-proof model of higher education is not concerned solely with topping up students’ minds with high-octane facts. Rather, it refits their mental engines, calibrating them with a creative mindset and the mental elasticity to invent, discover, or otherwise produce something society deems valuable. — Joseph Aoun Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. — William Butler Yeats

Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope to use this space as a way to communicate with faculty and staff about our shared work and the activities and initiatives underway in Academic Affairs. As we continue to manage through the many changes facing higher education, and work toward a shared vision for the Lesley of the future, I am especially mindful of the importance of dialogue and open, ongoing communication. To that end, I hope this blog augments the other ways in which we communicate through emails and meetings. My hope is that this will serve as a space to share my views on issues, challenges and opportunities we face, to respond to your questions, and to hear your perspectives through your comments and feedback, as well as through guest blogs.

The tremendous changes impacting higher education can seem a bit overwhelming to track, and so I intend for this blog to also help curate some of the information on trends and national conversations, so that we can reflect on what those trends may mean for Lesley and our mission. I also hope to keep you informed of the work we are doing and how you can be involved.

Thank you again for visiting. Please consider subscribing to the blog so that you can be notified of new posts, and feel free to share your suggestions for topics you’d like me to address in the comments below.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email to subscribe to notifications from this site