Developing Future Leaders in Maryland Distance Education
Published by: Lindsey Rae Downs | 8/16/2018
As a new generation of distance education leaders emerges, it is incumbent on all of us to help these future leaders develop their leadership skills. The MarylandOnline consortium has taken great steps to ensure the success of future leaders through its new Leadership Institute. Thank you to Doug Gray and Jessica Young for sharing their early successes with all of us.
Join us in Portland, OR for this October’s WCET Annual Meeting as representatives from consortia and systems share how they are working together across institutions to do more in partnership than they can on their own.
— Russ Poulin, WCET
Since its inception in 1999, MarylandOnline (MOL) has worked to further the availability of high quality distance education (DE) across the state of Maryland and beyond. Community colleges in Maryland are not members of the University System and therefore have limited means to share information and resources across institutions. MOL is the consortium that connects the 16 community colleges and four universities in Maryland. The 20 member institutions range from tiny Garrett College in western Maryland, with a total headcount of approximately 700, to University of Maryland University College (UMUC), a worldwide university with a headcount of more than 89,000.
From its earliest days, MOL focused on shared initiatives to support innovation in Maryland. These projects included the Quality Matters initiative, which was created through the award of a three-year Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) grant to MOL. QM was developed to provide standards for online course design and a process for applying the standards through peer review of online courses. In 2014 MOL ceased direct operational authority over Quality Matters to allow the corporation greater autonomy and the enhanced capacity to expand its operations both nationally and internationally. QM became a separate corporation with MOL as its legal parent. Today QM has more than 1,000 subscribing institutions in the U.S. and abroad.
MarylandOnline also created the Certificate for Online Adjunct Teaching (COAT) program, which served a number of individual faculty and institutional subscribers for several years. COAT was later licensed to QM as a resource for the launch of QM’s Teaching Online Certificate.
Quality and innovation are at the core of MOL’s mission, and as such, MOL is a primary provider of professional development related to distance education for Maryland institutions. MOL often partners with organizations, including the Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation at the University System of Maryland and the Maryland Distance Learning Association, to co-sponsor events to support faculty and distance education.
The Quality Matters separation allowed MOL to devote more time to exploring other activities in support of online learning in Maryland. At the same time, MOL Board representatives, who function as a state affinity group for online education, began to recognize the changing demographics of DE leadership in Maryland. At MOL institutions, the people responsible for creating and sustaining online programs were beginning to retire. Like the leadership in higher education across the country, MOL needed to do its part to build the next generation of online leaders and provide the opportunity for younger leaders to step up and support Maryland’s online learning initiatives. Doug Gray, former Vice President for Technology and Academic Support at Chesapeake College and long-serving MOL Board representative and officer, proposed an institute to be hosted by MOL that would:
Upon approval by the Board, the MarylandOnline Leadership Institute (MOLLI) was born in late 2016, and the first Institutes were held in July 2017 and June 2018. With a focus on professional development for early-career distance education professionals, MOLLI enhances the competencies of higher education administrators who support distance and technology-mediated learning. The Institute is intended to benefit directors, librarians, instructional designers, instructional technologists, IT managers, and other staff, as well as faculty with managerial roles. Participants are nominated by senior officers at their institutions, and their participation is subsidized by MOL.
The four-day Institute, a face-to-face, small-group event, is designed to be immersive, intensive, and interactive. Participants are housed together in an 18th century inn in the center of beautiful Annapolis, Maryland’s capital.
The Institute begins with grouping participants (23 in 2017, 25 in 2018) in teams—2018’s were nautically themed (a nod to Annapolis)—to work on a team challenge under the guidance of the co-facilitators. The team challenge exercise provides an opportunity for participants to explore their leadership strengths and discover how these strengths work (or don’t work) in a team environment. Team dynamics and team leadership are emphases of MOLLI.
In addition to the plethora of resources provided by the institute facilitators (Doug Gray and Melina Baer in 2017; Doug Gray, Larry Ragan, and Jessica Young in 2018), participants heard presentations from leaders in higher and distance education, including:
Following the intensive four days of interaction, MOLLI graduates work on a year-long, mentored project based on themes that emerged from discussions and presentations. The 2017 MOLLI graduates had the opportunity to present the results of their projects on the first evening of MOLLI 2018. Projects from both cohorts included “Increasing Collaboration in Open Educational Resources,” “Professional Development for Administrators Who Evaluate Online Faculty,” “Evaluation Tools,” “Optimizing the MOL Seat Bank,” “Creating a Repository for Professional Development Opportunities,” and “Accessibility.”
Participants leave the Institute with valuable takeaways that include a leadership development plan and a network of colleagues from across the state. This leadership institute is different from others in that the target audience is professionals in distance education specifically from the state of Maryland. As a contrast, at a national leadership institute I (Jessica Young speaking here) attended in 2016, my cohort departed with promises to stay in touch and keep the network going. However, after a few months, our Slack group discussion forum was empty and conference calls went unattended. A vibrant network of willing DE volunteers seems to set MOLLI apart. Even MOLLI’s organizers and facilitators have been surprised by the strength of the post-Institute relationships and alumni ownership. As MOL administrator Julie Porosky Hamlin observed, “MOLLI is really a cult!” Most of the participants keep in frequent contact. Some have presented at regional conferences together, and nearly all have offered to help with future MOLLI cohorts. The first spontaneous MOLLI “reunion,” which was not organized by MOL, took place in early August, and other informal social events among MOLLI alums are expected throughout the coming year.
In just two years, MOLLI has strengthened the network of distance educators in the state of Maryland and has prepared 48 individuals from 18 institutions to assume leadership roles in distance education. As we look ahead to MOLLI 2019, we are eager to tap into the skills of the MOLLI alumni and use their experience to shape future Institutes.
Director, MarylandOnline Leadership Institute
Assistant Director, Center for Distributed Learning, Frederick Community College, Facilitator, MarylandOnline Leadership Institute