OLC Leadership Network Symposium

I’m trying something a little bit different with this post with respect to the writing process… I’ve found myself writing less on the blog but still putting more longer format writing on other platforms such as Instagram and LinkedIn. I’m perhaps a carnival barker always in search of an audience.

So this is being written in reverse. I’m going to try to build off of what started as a quick post on LinkedIn in hopes of jumpstarting this jalopy.

Source: giphy

Anyways, I feel like I’ve made a career blogging summarizing various conferences I’ve attended. I’ve always enjoyed the conversations with other like minded folks in similar positions and have grown so much through participating in them. Personally, I naturally bend towards smaller one-on-ones than large groups and, as such, my favorite parts of conferences are the hallways, dinners, fireside chats, etc

After a couple years of not traveling, and thus losing touch with many friends and colleagues in my professional network, I’ve built back a strong desire to understand again what is happening at other schools. But as my career has evolved, I’ve found the broader conversations of online and EdTech conferences less appealing and have been in search of a more target and focused conversation. I’ve chatted with a couple of people about my dream for smaller, shorter, more retreat-like events.

So I was incredibly happy when Angela Gunder from OLC reached out about an opportunity at OLC Accelerate this year. She asked if I was willing to join for a one-day leadership-focused event that was taking place prior to OLC Accelerate, and I jumped at the opportunity.

I was asked to moderate a panel titled “Creating Alignment Between Institutional and Digital Strategy: Insights from Digital Leaders.” Abstract below:

Across the globe, institutional leaders continue to grapple with how to instantiate and advance strategy for online, blended, and digital learning that is embedded into institutional strategy (and not merely a bolt-on or afterthought). In this panel session, a series of digital learning leaders will speak to effective practices and emerging trends for creating cohesive and impactful digital strategy that is supportive of the overall mission and vision of the institution.

The panel included provosts and chancellors; almost exclusively senior administration.

I felt well positioned to lead this discussion as I’m often a middle cog who is being asked to craft and execute on behalf of a digital strategy. Most of my days are learning about my institutions goals, identifying the roadmap to those goals, communicating the team’s needs to meet goals, or motivating a team to achieve those goals. The institutions needs are incredibly important to me. As I said at the conference, I think of myself as a manager but I don’t think of myself as managing a team. Rather I am serving my team and managing the administration.

More broadly, ODL has been the benefactor of an institutional strategy as of late. I joked at the conference that ODL started as “academic innovation” which is code word for “temporary funding.”┬áMany factors (leadership changes, enrollment trends, demographic cliffs, global pandemics) have led to digital learning being taken more seriously. I’m thankful for the leadership at OU who recognized this when they crafted the “Lead On” strategic plan. As President Harroz often says: online is the only part of the strategic plan which is both a strategy and a tactic.

It’s apparent now that a clear digital strategy is a must at every institution; a notion that was only accelerated by the global pandemic. In many ways, remote learning showed the possibility of an online. In others ways, it showed the lack of thought that had been broadly put in to online at an institutional level.

There was a great lesson in the session about the tension of thinking globally and acting locally. Each perspective highlighted how various institutions approach these questions differently relative to their institutional context and history of digital learning.

OU’s institutional strategy highlights that our work is recognized as critical to the institutional mission. There have always been pockets of innovation everywhere including at OU. They laid the foundation and their continued work is more important now than ever. There is a real seriousness towards investing in quality and inclusive online learning and that lift is going to require everyone: past, present, and future.

But that’s all I have on the conference. I was in and out; much to my delight. I really enjoyed the group and the format and hope to participate in other small to mid sized conversations in the future. There were some excellent conversations about workforce development, fostering leadership in digital learning, and the future of the discipline. Many thanks to OLC for the vision and execution of the event. Much needed and much appreciated!