In 2018, Dr. Carolyn Keller joined UW-Platteville as the director of Academic Assessment. As a result of some recent university restructuring, Keller has additionally become the interim assistant provost. It’s a position that oversees many areas, including the Center for Distance Learning, now re-named the Office of Professional Program Support. The ongoing pandemic has brought distance education into the spotlight for many in the higher education field, and Keller was kind enough to share her thoughts on distance education’s importance and her role in navigating these turbulent times in the discussion below
Before joining UW-Platteville in 2018, what were some previous positions you held in higher education? How has your previous experience shaped you as a leader, and how has it helped you prepare for the responsibilities at Platteville?
Prior to coming to UW-Platteville, I was an associate professor and program coordinator in the department of sociology, criminology and anthropology at Keene State College in southwest New Hampshire. As a faculty member, I was very active in campus-wide assessment efforts, in global engagement programming, and in developing new programs. The emphasis on assessment, formal and informal, has really clarified my own value of continuous improvement. Our instructors are always asked to refine their courses and reflect on what is and isn’t working – this practice is something I think I bring to leadership as well. Especially when it comes to distance education, I think all faculty and staff in this area need to be comfortable with change. It doesn’t always have to be about new programs but about how we can improve the programs and support we already offer to appeal to new and different audiences. This, combined with a deep commitment to shared governance, leads me to empower my teams to engage in critical analysis of their work and ask how they can improve their support of student learning.
You first joined the UW-Platteville community as the director of Academic Assessment, but have since taken on further responsibilities as the new interim assistant provost. In addition to overseeing the Office of Professional Program Support, your portfolio now includes the Teaching and Technology Center, general education, dual enrollment, and the textbook center – on top of still overseeing the area of Academic Assessment. How do you go about managing these different areas?
One thing I love about UW-Platteville is the shared commitment our faculty and staff have to student success. In some ways, even though I oversee many units, the approach is the same: How can I empower faculty and staff to provide quality programming and support that helps our students succeed? How I end up addressing that question really depends on the day and which units I’m interacting with. In TTC, it’s about supporting instructors who support students. In general education and assessment, it’s about improving the curriculum in a collaborative and data-informed manner that improves student learning. In OPPS and the textbook center, it’s about supporting students as they navigate the academic and co-curricular spaces (virtual or physical).
As the interim assistant provost of OPPS and the TTC, what is your opinion on distance education and on the relationship between technology and education?
Today, I’m a huge proponent of distance education and using technology to support student learning. I can also say that I haven’t always felt that way. What the pandemic has clarified for me is that technology is a powerful tool that can bring educational opportunity to anyone.
Furthermore, it’s very clear to me that all instructors can and should utilize technology to support and enhance student learning. What online and blended learning offers is flexibility that our traditional campus offerings don’t always have. Our distance students regularly report that their learning is high quality, that they enjoy being an engaged member of the Pioneer family, and that their education benefits them in terms of job opportunities. What’s important to remember is that these students have chosen the distance modality because of other competing demands they face. They have work, family and sometimes military obligations and the traditional classroom doesn’t meet their needs.
I think distance education can create flexibility as students try to balance life and work, but it isn’t the only modality we should offer going forward. A question I ask is “How can UW-Platteville continue to stand out in an increasingly competitive field?” I think the answer has to do with creating more opportunities for students across the state, the nation and the globe to tap into our high-impact, engaging learning opportunities and to foster communities of learning support so our students succeed. Making sure we integrate hands-on learning experiences that help students apply their knowledge is key to distance education success.
What are some of your goals and/or priorities over this next year?
This year, I think the main goal is flexibility. Change has to be something we are all comfortable with. If we are going to adapt and succeed amidst pandemics, changing markets, and global and technological innovation, we have to be comfortable with change. This means that we need to be willing to try new things. As changes happen, as a unit, we need to be clearly communicating internally and with our students. We have a LOT of amazing, high quality programming and I don’t want that to get lost in the shuffle. At the same time, I want to think about creating more opportunities for adult learners to learn with us. Because of this, I’m working with the deans to increase our course array of distance offerings, not just our program array.
What is one thing people should know about you as a professional? As a person?
A colleague just told me the other day she loves my candor! I’m not so sure she loved it but it’s there. It’s always there. I am more to the point and honest and straightforward than is sometimes palatable, let alone loveable, but I think honest communication is really important in successful organizations. I guess personally, my husband and kids would reflect similarly – maybe I’m too honest and too straightforward sometimes. I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon!