UWM Chancellor Lovell Addresses Online Learning Revolution

The ongoing online revolution in higher education and UWM’s participation in it was a primary topic of Chancellor Michael Lovell’s spring semester plenary address “Getting It Right: Marrying our values with the learning revolution.” The speech was delivered to an audience of about 500 people in the Union Wisconsin Room on Jan. 24.

He also addressed several campus issues including student enrollment, leadership of the Graduate School and a topic of interest to nearly everyone: the 2013-2015 state budget. Chancellor Lovell’s opening comments drew a large round of applause when he said, “This is the first January in five years that we don’t have a base budget cut.” He added, “We are even hopeful that the state budget may include a modest pay plan for our  employees.”

The Chancellor called the global transformation of university teaching and learning being brought about by digital communication technology a phenomenon that is developing so rapidly that it can be called a learning revolution.

“A day does not go by without a national publication writing about how technology and massive open online courses (MOOCs) are transforming higher education,” he said. “There are articles about how students learn differently today than 10 years ago, and how social media and the iPhone might be the most important teaching tools in the future.”

He shared with the audience what he called an especially thorough video assessment of the state of MOOCs that was created by the New York Times, “Online Learning, en Masse.”

“We all need to understand that higher education will never be the same,” he said, later adding, “We have to embrace these changes or we run the risk of becoming irrelevant.”

The university is especially well-positioned to embrace these changes thanks to UWM’s Digital Future, a 2.5-year-old campus planning initiative led by Provost Johannes Britz and the Division of Academic Affairs. Chancellor Lovell offered facts in support of the success of the Digital Futures and university attention to online learning over the past decade:

  • In Fall 2003, 361 UWM students were enrolled exclusively in online courses. In Fall 2012, that number had increased to 1,705.
  • In Fall 2003, 710 UWM students were enrolled in at least one online course. In Fall 2012, that total had increased to 7,649.
  • UWM leads all University of Wisconsin campuses in the use of Desire 2 Learn (D2L), ePortfolios, and online and blended courses.
  • A notable example of how UWM’s online pedagogy is considered a national standard is U-Pace instruction created by Professor Diane Reddy. U-Pace and Professor Reddy were recognized with the 2012 Distance Education Innovation Award from the National University Telecommunications Network.

“In any revolution and time of change, things can go seriously wrong. People can lose sight of their values, can rush and not think, and can mistake the means for the end,” he said. “We can’t let that happen here. We need to get it right. That is, we need to make sure that technology remains the servant, not the master, of our mission, our vision, and our values.”

Chancellor Lovell reviewed several initiatives under development during the Fall 2012 semester to strengthen enrollment:

  • The Office of Enrollment Management has been completely restructured, leading to greater efficiency.
  • Under the leadership of the Center for International Education, the UWM international student population increased by 17 percent this year. To accelerate this momentum, the chancellor said he has charged Provost Britz with organizing a campus-wide effort to further increase the international student population with a goal of more than doubling the international population to 3,000 students over the next five years.
  • Looking beyond the state’s borders for more students, UWM will hire a Chicago-based recruiter and develop a plan to further enrollment from Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan with a plan that is similar to the UW-Platteville Tri-State Initiative.

The significant development for Graduate School leadership was the decision by the chancellor and provost to recommend to the Faculty Senate a new leadership structure. Instead of the approach used over the past several years – one person overseeing both the Graduate School and campus research operations – the responsibilities will instead be separated and two people will be hired.

(At the Faculty Senate meeting following the Plenary Address, the two-person plan was approved by a large majority.)

“Given our goals to significantly increase our graduate enrollments and our research expenditures, we believe (this) option is the best way to move our campus forward,” said Chancellor Lovell. “Considering that increasing federal research expenditures by only $750,000 would pay for the second position, (this) model is fiscally rational as well.”

A concluding segment of the chancellor’s address was a new UWM Spotlight on Excellence video that told the story of the first three winners in the Student Startup Challenge. He said, “The challenge is a primary example of how our faculty and staff are on the leading edge of the educational revolution.”

Watch and/or download the plenary.