OLC and WCET Ask: “What Keeps You Up at Night?” – Part 1

This is the first in a two-part series resulting from a partnership between the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) and WCET (the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies). These posts provide you timely insights from your peers and seek to obtain your feedback. Through a series of conference presentations, we literally asked, “What Keeps You Up at Night?”

This post focuses on the responses to that question collected from small groups of attendees at two sessions in fall 2016. Part 2 will share the results of a more targeted discussion with a small group of attendees at an OLC Innovate 2017 session.

  Enjoy the read!


Kathleen Ives (CEO of OLC), Karen Pedersen (Chief Knowledge Officer at OLC), OLC logoand Russ Poulin (Director, Policy and Analysis at WCET) wondered about ways in which our organizations could collaborate. We wanted to hear from you. Get your ideas.

To learn about the issues you face in your everyday work, we literally asked “What’s keeping you up at night?” At the fall 2016 convenings of OLC Accelerate and the OLC logoWCET Annual Meeting, we used a modified form of “brain writing” to gather ideas from attendees to two questions.

We understand that this is sample only of those attending the sessions. It is not meant to be representative of the entire OLC and WCET memberships. Even so, we found it useful to obtain feedback from attendees in a very engaging format. Below is a summary of some of the top responses from those sessions.

Question 1:  As a leader navigating the online/digital higher education space, what is the one topic that keeps you up at night?

  • Compliance. Does institutional leadership understand the compliance issues with federal and state regulations. Do they understand the associated risks? Is the entire campus leadership and faculty on board?
  • Accessibility. Are we able to meet the needs of the students requiring accessibility assistance? Are we meeting the regulatory requirements? Tired man holding a pillow next to a clockWhat are those requirements? Can we work collectively to exert pressure on publishers, hardware, and software providers to do a better job?
  • Growth and Sustainability. Will our enrollments continue to grow? Can we keep up with growth? How can we financially and structurally sustain the growth? What if we’re in an institution where overall enrollment is decreasing?
  • Faculty Buy-in. How do we get faculty to participate and give the time necessary for quality courses? How can we better work with faculty? How can we help faculty before the institutions decides it is better to move forward without those who participate?
  • Working Collaboratively across the Campus. How do we get buy-in from the leadership? How do we get collaboration between academic and support units to provide necessary student support? How do we increase the flow of communication across campus units?
  • Faculty Development. What faculty development makes a difference in student learning? How can we keep up with changing technologies and methods?
  • Ability to Innovate and Evolve Quickly. How can we best manage change? How do we keep up with technological evolutions and revolutions? How do perform change management, including the interpersonal aspects of change? How do we respond to the “too many options” problem?

word cloudWCET respondents mentioned compliance and accessibility issues more often than their OLC counterparts. OLC respondents tended to gravitate towards faculty development and buy-in issues.

Other interesting responses that did not receive as many mentions include:

  • Improving student outcomes,
  • Obtaining administrative buy-in,
  • Curtailing academic cheating and dishonesty,
  • Addressing the “regular and substantive” interaction expectations,
  • Paying attention to the student experience,
  • Maintaining quality courses, and
  • Assuring privacy and data security.

A note about the responses: Participants could have written anything they wished in response to the question. We tried not to lead them in any direction. The classifications below are our own, but it was clear that there were seven topics that outpace all the others. We would like you to review these topics and let us know if they resonate with you.

Question 2:  In 2025, what will keep you or your successor up at night?

We picked 2025, as it is in the future, but not the horribly distant future. It’s only a little over 6.5 years, 401 weeks, and 2,806 days away from the publication of this post. Looking back 6.5 years, we had not yet enjoyed the “Year of the MOOC” and Southern New Hampshire University enrolled fewer than 20,000 students. Things can change. Here’s what conference participants predicted for 2025:

  • The Future of Higher Ed. What does the future of higher education look like? What will “doing it right” entail? What will be the impact of the alternatives to higher education, including new providers? This topic was mentioned more often by WCET than OLC respondents. Some good quotes:
    • “What is the point/role of college? If you want to learn something, go online.”
    • “Will we be competing with non-academic providers, like Amazon?
    • “Do we even need higher education or can people download “knowledge” directly to their brain?”
  • Student Success. Do we need to redefine what a well-educated student looks like? What competencies will be relevant in 5 years? How do we educate people for jobs and a world that does not currently exist?
  • Technology. How will technology evolve? What will be needed to maintain the technologies? How will we manage innovations, especially if they are increasingly outsourced? How to keep up with technology innovations.
  • Funding Models. Given the pressures on higher education funding sources, especially in the public sector, how will higher education be funded? What new funding models are needed?
  • Scalability. Will online and digital learning continue to grow? How do we scaling faculty and support systems to handle the increased demand and changes that future innovations will bring?
  • New Curricular Models. What will be the impact of new credentials, shorter times to credit, shorter times to degree, ignoring the agrarian-based academic calendar, blended learning, and innovations we don’t even know about yet?

OLC participants and their WCET counterparts seemed to agree on many of these items except for “new curricular models.” That topic arose only in the WCET discussion.

Other interesting responses that did not receive as many mentions include:

  • Determining the skills necessary for faculty development,
  • Addressing social changes in an increasing online and disconnected student population,
  • Adopting a “customer service” attitude,
  • Sharing programs and resources across institutions,
  • And these three insightful observations on what will keep them up:
    • The Unknown.
    • The Parking.
    • How to get me to retire!

Now It’s Your Turn. What Keeps YOU up at Night?

We greatly appreciate and value the perspectives our conference attendees provided during these sessions. We understand that these were small groups, so we wish to expand the conversation. While OLC and WCET serve slightly different audiences, there is much overlap. Our goal with the sessions was to understand how our two organizations could bring our collective resources to the table to support institutions and address issues YOU are facing on your campus today.

Do these topics resonate with you? Please provide your comments via this form with insights or perspectives you would like to share.

We would love to hear your answer to the question: “What keeps you up at night?”


Kathleen Ives                                  
OLC Chief Executive Officer and
Executive Director

Karen Pedersen
OLC Chief Knowledge Officer

Russ Poulin
WCET Director of Policy and Analysis


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Man with pillow photo credit: Vic
Learn about WCET Creative Commons 4.0 License

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