John Falchi to Lead Quality Matters at the System Office

Dear UNC Digital Learning Community,

I would like to thank Michelle Soler for her commitment and dedication to the Quality Matters (QM) initiative and community over the past several years. Michelle has helped to lay the important ground work for the System’s continued success in adopting QM. Thank you Michelle.

John Falchi, Director of Special Projects, will be taking on this important work going forward as it is moved under the Digital Learning Initiative at the System Office. I have asked John to work closely with the community and help us to increase QM’s sustainability, scale and affordability across our universities. While QM is important now, it will only increase as we grow our online presence in the future.

Please reach out to John if you any suggestions concerning Quality Matters or wish to play an active role in creating its continued success.

Thank you for all your contributions to the success of Quality Matters at your university.

I hope you are having a great summer!


James Garner Ptaszynski, Ph.D.
Vice President, Digital Learning
Division of Academic Affairs
910 Raleigh Road | Chapel Hill, NC 27514

Google’s IT Certificate Program: Implications for Higher Ed

I saw this article today about Google aggressively promoting its IT certificate program.  While this primarily impacts North Caroline Community Colleges (for now), I see this creeping into our space.  Why get a four year degree when you can get a certificate (for free) that leads to a $60K job?  This is especially true for rural, veterans, and older adult students.

Immediately I thought of Clay Christenson’s work on disruption and innovation.

Take a look at this 48 second clip by Christenson and tell me if you do not see strong parallels to what we are facing with Google and other entrants into higher education.

“Look across the sweep of business history, almost in every instance a company that at one point was widely regarded as unassailably successful a decade or two later you’d find them in the middle of the pack or often at the bottom of the heap. I observed that, what is it that causes successful companies to fail is rarely that somebody beats them by coming into the market with a better product. But rather it’s somebody that comes at the bottom of the market actually with a product that is not as good as the leaders are making but this one is just a lot simpler, a lot more affordable so that a much larger population of customers can now own it and use it.”

Will the tortoise win the race in online education? Lessons learned from going slow in online learning.

Often, articles about online education focus on the mega-universities and their quest for world domination….every increasing enrollments, stratospheric marketing budgets, and a list of programs of study a mile long.  It is refreshing to see the spotlight put on a university that has taken a more measured approach.  Is this also a path for the UNC System?

Impact of AI-enabled Fourth Industrial Revolution on Higher Education

Dr. Curtis Charles, Microsoft’s Data Scientist, delivered a vision for the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) enabled by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its implications for Higher Education during the 2019 DLI Symposium. On March 28, 2019, Times Higher Education, in collaboration with Microsoft, released survey results associated with university leaders’ and technology experts’ predictions on the impact of 4IR on higher education. Their findings are summarized in the chart below. Spoiler alert: The researchers found that “fears of robots lecturing to ever-smaller cohorts of  students do not compute”.

Many knowledge nuggets were offered in this article, but the one that struck me the most was: “Last year, for instance, Darpa, the US government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, pledged $2 billion to develop next-generation AI systems capable of “contextual reasoning”. In my opinion, the amount of this pledge demonstrates the promise of AI and acknowledges one of the key challenges/opportunities to advancing AI, contextual reasoning. Today, AI-enabled adaptive learning and writing evaluation and assessment systems, for example, play at the lower learning objectives/assessment level (Bloom’s Taxonomy) for mastery. In short, if DARPA is successful, the ability for AI-enabled learning systems to reason within context will create greater efficiency and effectiveness of these systems to guide deeper learning and assessment frameworks.

Thanks to our partners at Microsoft for sharing this report with the UNC digital learning community!



Reading to get inside the mind of our competition

          I grew up playing varsity sports and for motivation, it helped to have a specific competitor in mind in order to literally go that extra mile or to do that extra set of sit-ups. Similarly, early in my professional career, when I was a Director of Admissions and Financial aid, it was motivating to keep in mind a competitor university.
          Today, as we consider the UNC System, and its place in digital learning, I find it helpful to think about who are the digital learning leaders today and how can compete with them as we innovate in our own UNC way.  While compete vs cooperate is often anathema in higher education, the trends are clear, higher education is undergoing dramatic change and some universities will use digital learning to their advantage in attracting students, faculty, donors and even changing the way rankings are assessed.   We need to follow these changes and adapt as necessary…and not wait too long to do it.

          For those of you who have been in my office, I have three clocks on the wall.  One West Coast, one East Coast and one in the middle for Phoenix, the home of Arizona State University (ASU) and its President Michael Crow.  President Crow has his share of supporters and detractors but one thing is clear, he has transformed ASU from a relatively unknown “party school” to a powerhouse known for its innovation.
          There are many articles on the changes at ASU but this article, How Michael Crow took ASU from a party school to the nation’s ‘most innovative’ university provides some insight into President Crow and some of the things he is doing to build a strong foundation for ASU’s success over the next decade. It is a very long read but it is well worth it.  Just like Patton devised a successful strategy by reading Rommel’s book, so too can we by reading about other digital innovators.

Some intersting quotes from the article:

“President Crow either will transform ASU into a first-class research university that just happens to be the single largest public university in the country, or he will fail. And should he fail, Arizona then may continue on its historic path — ceding its brightest students and its prospects for an advanced economy to other states.” a 2007 opinion piece in the The Arizona Republic warned. 

It’s a lot, no doubt. But for Crow, it’s just a start. He wants ASU to be the “greatest public university known to man.”

Since Crow got the ASU president gig 17 years ago, he charged at full speed, single-mindedly focused on his goal of creating a public university unlike any in the world. 

His massive reinvention of the university didn’t always go smoothly, especially in the beginning. 

The “innovations” he put in place at ASU, and his outspokenness in defending these ideas, have given him a nation name in higher education and beyond. They’re also a source of criticism about him. 

As ASU grew, one key driver of the university stalled: the amount of money the state spent on higher education. 

ASU’s student body doubled from 2002 to 2018, from about 55,000 students when Crow arrived to more than 110,000 last year. 

State funding during that time increased from $312 million to $320 million, or less than 3 percent, according to ASU. 

“What he’s done at ASU is probably the most remarkable, stunning story in the last number of decades in terms of transforming public education at the college level,” Schultz said. 

2019 DLI Symposium Committee Off to a Great Start!

Early bird registration open until February 1st 

We are pleased to announce the 2019 Digital Learning Initiative (DLI) Symposium committee members. This group has already made significant contributions and provided expert guidance on the creation of the symposium program, including agenda, keynote speakers, and plenary topics for UNC System institution presentations and case studies.   Additionally, committee members are working on the criteria for the first annual Digital Learning Innovation Awards to be presented by UNC System Office executives during the final session of the symposium.   

2019 DLI Symposium Committee Members

RACHEAL BROOKS, PH.D.                                          JEREMY DICKERSON, ED.D.

North Carolina Central University                              University of North Carolina Wilmington

ANTHONY CHOW, PH.D.                                            BARBARA B. HOWARD, ED.D.

University of North Carolina at Greensboro               Appalachian State University

ELI COLLINS-BROWN, PH.D.                                      KIMBERLY TRAN, PH.D.

Winston-Salem State University                                 Fayetteville State University

The committee’s activities are in support of the key DLI Symposium objectives:

  1. Continue the collaboration between the UNC System Office Digital Learning department and constituent institutions to shape and plan a System-wide Digital Learning Initiative aimed at giving North Carolina’s underserved greater access to higher education
  2. Share digital learning innovations and best practices deployed across the UNC System in the areas of pedagogy, student and faculty services, learning technology, and scalable financial and instructional delivery models
  3. Facilitate inter-institutional and System Office partnerships aimed at addressing digital learning issues and challenges shared across the UNC System
  4. Provide access to emerging learning technologies and adoption strategies
  5. Celebrate institution-specific digital learning leadership through the presentation of the first annual UNC System Office Digital Learning Innovation Awards

DLI Symposium Committee Member Bios 

Racheal brooks, ph.d.

Racheal brooks, ph.d.

North Carolina Central University

Dr. Racheal Brooks is the coordinator of the Office of e-Learning and a Spanish and graduate-level research methods instructor at North Carolina Central University. She is also co-chair for the University of North Carolina System Quality Matters Council. Dr. Brooks is a member of the NCCU Distance Education Advisory Council, NCCU Quality Matters (QM) coordinator, QM program reviewer, QM master reviewer, course review manager, face-to-face facilitator of the Applying the Quality Matters Rubric (APPQMR) workshop, face-to-face facilitator of the Improving Your Online Course (IYOC) workshop, iQM association member (Spanish), and member of the QM Instructional Designers Association. She has established a series of learning communities on NCCU’s campus that assist faculty in certifying their courses with the Quality Matters Program, which has resulted in several courses meeting QM Rubric Standards. 

Dr. Brooks’ research interests include online instruction, online curriculum development, accessibility, program assessment, instruction of Spanish at HBCUs, second language learner beliefs, and persons of color engaged in Spanish language studies. In 2017, she co-authored  “Course Design, Quality Matters Training, and Student Outcomes,” published in the American Journal of Distance Education. This article describes the impact of a faculty learning community and the application of quality course design standards, drawn from the QM Rubric, on student outcomes in an Introductory Biology course. Dr. Brooks earned a BA in Spanish from North Carolina Central University, an MA in Spanish Literature from Georgia State University, and a Ph.D. in Educational Research and Policy Analysis with a specialization in higher education administration from North Carolina State University.

Anthony chow, ph.d.

Anthony chow, ph.d.

University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Anthony is University of North Carolina Greensboro’s (UNCG) incoming chair of the Faculty Senate and is an associate professor in the Department of Library and Information Studies housed within the School of Education. He is completing his 13th year on the faculty and holds a master’s degree in educational psychology and a Ph.D. in instructional systems from Florida State University. His research and teaching expertise includes instructional technology, online learning, HCI and user-centered design, the design and usability of information systems, analytics and informatics, and organizational management. Dr. Chow also has served as coordinator of online learning at Florida State’s College of Information and UNCG’s School of Education. He also is CEO of his own consulting firm, Strategic Performance Systems, and is married to his high school sweetheart and they have three children.

Eli collins-brown, ph.d.

Eli collins-brown, ph.d.

Winston Salem State University

Dr. Eli Collins-Brown has been working in higher education for 20+ years as a curriculum developer, instructional designer, technologist, instructor and leader. Her focus has been on web-based, blended and online education but over the years has branched into the improvement of teaching and learning environments in all modalities and educational/faculty development. Eli’s work centers on creating effective and meaningful learning environments, with or without technology. Through her research and practice, Eli has found that technology-supported instruction can create significant learning experiences in different modalities that enhance engagement, discussion, access to content and connectedness to students. She earned her doctorate in Curriculum & Instruction from Illinois State University, a Master’s in Educational Research and Collaboration from TCU, and a Bachelor’s in Business Management from Northwood University.  She is the founding director of the Center for Innovative and Transformative Instruction at Winston-Salem State University.

jeremy dickerson, ed.d.

jeremy dickerson, ed.d.

University of North Carolina at Wilmington

Jeremy is the associate vice chancellor responsible for Distance Education & E-Learning and an associate professor of instructional technology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW).

Prior to his current position, over the past twenty years Jeremy has served as an assistant professor, associate professor, professor, program coordinator and director of technology. In addition to teaching at UNCW, Jeremy has also worked at East Carolina University (Greenville, NC) and Coastal Carolina University (Myrtle Beach, SC). Outside of higher education, his work experiences include over ten years of consulting in business and industry in the areas of technology, training and management, as well as prior military service. His doctorate is in technology education and training/development from NC State University. 

Barbara B. Howard, Ed.d.

Barbara B. Howard, Ed.d.

Appalachian State University

Barbara B. Howard, Ed.D., has been a faculty member in the Department of Leadership and Educational Studies at Appalachian State University since 2008. Since coming to Appalachian, she has engaged in online learning, including developing courses, promoting online pedagogy across the university, and spearheading new online graduate programs. Her current work involves development of a new graduate certificate in international leadership in collaboration with colleagues at Novgorod State University, Russia. Online courses in this program will be co-taught with Russian professors and attended by both American and Russian students. Dr. Howard currently serves as chair of the Appalachian Faculty Senate and is a member of the Executive Committee of the North Carolina Faculty Assembly. She is the current president of the North Carolina Professors of Educational Leadership (NC PEL) and past chair of the Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation. She has published widely in the area of online teaching and presented at several national and international conferences.


Kimberly Tran, Ph.d.

Kimberly Tran, Ph.d.

Fayetteville State University

Kimberly (Kim) Tran is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Fayetteville State University. She is also a licensed psychologist with a private practice. She received an AA in Business from Ohlone Community College, a BS in Business Administration from Cal Poly University, a MA in Counseling from Santa Clara University, and a Ph.D. in Psychology from The University of Texas. Prior to becoming a professor and psychologist, she was a global marketing and public relations manager for Hewlett Packard.

Dr. Tran teaches undergraduate traditional and online courses as well as hybrid online graduate courses.  She is enthusiastic about integrating technology into her teaching, especially when it facilitates higher learning among a wide diversity of students.  Dr. Tran has been awarded both the Department of Psychology and the College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teacher of the Year awards.  She is currently a Fayetteville State University Provost Fellow.

She researches, presents, and teaches on suicide, PTSD, depression, and substance abuse with a specific emphasis on how cultural factors influence the symptoms, treatment, and recovery from these psychological challenges. Dr. Tran has presented her work at state, national, and conferences, and numerous organizations have invited her to speak, including the American Psychological Association, The Canadian Institute for Military and Veterans Health Research, The North Carolina Psychological Association, and the Virginia Academy of Clinical Psychologists.

Dr. Tran’s clinical practice areas include trauma, depression, PTSD, military sexual trauma, service member/veteran/family psychology, multicultural and affirmative counseling competencies, substance abuse counseling, and marital/relationship counseling. Additionally, she works with individuals coping with chronic pain, amputations, and traumatic brain injuries. Currently, her private practice patients are comprised entirely of service members, veterans and their families.