Most everyone that I know in higher education also knows Dr. Whitney Kilgore. You say “Whitney”, and everyone knows who you are talking about.
Whitney is a deeply respected and highly valued colleague in the world of online education, instructional design, and learning innovation.
Dr. Kilgore graciously agreed to answer my questions about online learning during COVID, non-traditional academic careers, and what comes next in higher education.
Q1: Let’s talk about your career path. What is iDesign, how did you end up co-founding a company in the learning design and online education space?
My career path has certainly been an adventure! I started out as a teacher with a passion for infusing technology into learning experiences. So, it seemed like a natural transition to later train educators in the art of teaching with technology and then move into learner experience (LX) design. I’ve had the pleasure of assisting universities to develop online and blended programs across the US, Latin America, the UK, China, the Philippines, the Middle East, Spain, and Australia.
iDesign is a partner to colleges and universities that need support in designing the highest quality online programs in the market. Our leadership has deep expertise in the online program management sector and in the instructional design space. About 8 years ago iDesign was the first company to offer unbundled fee-for-service OPM solutions. We felt certain that while some schools needed the traditional revenue-share business model approach that OPMs offered, that other institutions would need choices to extend their existing capacity in thoughtful ways. We also focused on instructional design as a niche area because by taking a faculty-centric approach to our service offering we help our partners develop a student-centric program design that is of exceptional quality.
After years in the LMS support/training/migration, instructional design, and online education space I met Paxton Riter, iDesign’s CEO. He had a vision for a “more thoughtful, consultative and transparent OPM” that enabled the university to see iDesign as a true partner of the institution as opposed to simply another vendor relationship. I had a vision for high-quality instructional design as faculty support that was more hands-on than other service providers. When Paxton and Ned Stone were starting iDesign it was an easy decision to join them. Our hypothesis was that with white-glove, hands-on support for faculty during the process of transforming face-to-face courses into online or blended learning experiences, that we would see better student engagement and better student outcomes, which has been confirmed by incredible research such as the CHLOE report.
Q2: What does a Chief Academic Officer do all day long? What advice do you have for others who are thinking about a non-traditional sort of academic career?
No two days are the same, Josh, but when I think about all the things that I’ve had the opportunity to do over the years, they fall into a few distinct categories.
From a people perspective, we have been extremely fortunate to have opportunities to work with some of the most AMAZING people in higher education. We are in a human-centered business and our people are what makes us so great! We hire the very best, support them in what they do and iDesign is committed and focused on creating a sustainable culture of excellence and support within our organization.
We build programs within our partners’ ed tech ecosystems that can make staffing complex. As a result, we must have people on our team that are experts on every LMS, LTI tool, authoring tool, video streaming platform, you name it… and we have our own tools as well. So, I spend a great deal of time working with teams on the strategy behind decisions relative to technology.
I also have the pleasure of spending time speaking with presidents, provosts, and program directors about the design and development needs of their programs. In those settings, I enjoy sharing in an open, honest, and direct manner how to best solve challenges they face. Finally, I spend some of my time staying relevant in the academic community and frequently research, write, present, and publish with a number of amazing colleagues.
My non-traditional career has taught me that I can be more of an agent of change in my role outside of a traditional higher education setting. Our partners come to us to help drive change, and they can count on us to be supportive, transparent, and truthful about how we can best help each other achieve our mutual goals. So, my advice is to find what makes you want to come to work each day where you can bring your passion to the job and have a meaningful impact, and the rest will sort itself out.
Q3: One advantage of your job is that you get to work with lots of colleges and universities. What are you seeing as the biggest changes that COVID has brought, and will bring, to higher education?
Online education has advanced 12 years in the past 12 months. As of spring break 2020, every university had some form of an online presence. The rapid transition to synchronous learning at the onset of COVID rightfully led to conversations concerning quality. Those schools that are embracing the opportunity to innovate are seeing pedagogical innovation on the part of the faculty, systems-level changes, and processes adapting to serve the needs of the new-traditional student.
Future-focused, strategic leaders are looking for support for their internal teams due to capacity constraints. They are also exploring partnerships where they can improve quality, innovate, and increase revenue.
In terms of what I see on the horizon, competition for students is going to get fierce. Expectations are changing on the part of students and faculty that some portion of learning can happen remotely, just as businesses are reconsidering their need to have large office spaces and brick and mortar footprints. There is going to be downward pressure on the price of a degree, a focus on shorter courses, growth of certifications, and an unbundling or stacking of learning pathways moving forward.
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