WASHINGTON, March 29, 2019 – UPCEA, the Washington, D.C.-based association for university leaders in professional, continuing, and online education, welcomed Dr. Rovy Branon as the association’s 2019-20 President-Elect during the 2019 UPCEA Annual Conference. Branon is vice provost for the University of Washington Continuum College.

As UPCEA President-Elect, Branon will lead the UPCEA Membership Committee as well as work with UPCEA member institutions on diversity and inclusion efforts on their campuses. “I am honored to serve and represent our UPCEA members in their important work,” said Branon. “As leaders in lifelong learning, we are resolved to create relevant academic programing that helps people grow professionally and personally. In a world of digital transformation and rapid change, we believe that everyone deserves education to thrive.”

As vice provost, Branon oversees all UW Professional & Continuing Education programs and staff. Previously, Branon was the associate dean for online learning and the executive director of the Academic Advanced Distributed Learning Co-Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Extension in Madison. Prior to his work in higher education, he led an instructional design team at Eli Lilly and Company in Indianapolis.

“Rovy is a leader and creative thinker dedicated to lifelong learning,” said UPCEA CEO Bob Hansen. “I look forward to working with him over the next year and during his presidency as we collaborate with all UPCEA member institutions in creating what today’s learners need.”

Branon previously served as a Director-At-Large on the UPCEA Board of Directors, chair of the UPCEA Diversity & Inclusion Committee, and chair of the 2019 UPCEA Annual Conference Advisory Committee.

Branon earned a Master of Education in Instructional Systems Technology from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and a Ph.D. in Instructional Systems Technology, as well as a minor in human-computer interaction, from Indiana University. He currently lives in Seattle with his wife, who teaches second grade, and 25-year old son. They are active in the community as members of the Seattle Art Museum and as ardent supporters of the Seattle Sounders FC.



UPCEA is the leading association for professional, continuing, and online education. For more than 100 years, UPCEA has served most of the leading public and private colleges and universities in North America. Founded in 1915, the association serves its members with innovative conferences and specialty seminars, research and benchmarking information, professional networking opportunities and timely publications. Based in Washington, D.C., UPCEA also builds greater awareness of the vital link between contemporary learners and public policy issues. Visit www.upcea.edu.

WASHINGTON, March 29, 2019 – UPCEA, the Washington, D.C.-based association for university leaders in professional, continuing, and online education, welcomed Dr. Nelson Baker as the association’s 2019-20 President during the 2019 UPCEA Annual Conference. Baker is the dean of Professional Education at the Georgia Institute of Technology and professor in the university’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

As UPCEA president, Baker will encourage members to engage across their campuses and steer their universities to shape the future of higher education by opening the doors to lifelong learners. ”The adult learner population in universities is growing rapidly, and I’m deeply grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to this new era of learning in our institutions,” said Baker. “I’m looking forward to working with UPCEA members as we guide our universities to navigate change and explore ways to bring transformational education to lifelong learners.”

As dean, Baker leads a multifaceted operation including the Global Learning Center, Georgia Tech-Savannah, the Language Institute, and Georgia Tech’s extensive professional education programs in STEM- and business-related subjects. He also oversees educational outreach programs and serves as the interface between Georgia Tech’s professional education activities and the industries, corporations, government agencies and professional societies that benefit from them. Under Baker’s leadership, Georgia Tech Professional Education has steadily expanded, now serving more than 36,000 learners worldwide and 2,600 organizations each year.

“Nelson is an innovator and leader in our association and our field,” said UPCEA CEO Bob Hansen. “I greatly respect his vision for the changes needed in our field, and I look forward to partnering with Nelson and his board as we support all UPCEA member institutions in their service of lifelong learners.”

Baker previously served on the UPCEA Board of Directors as Secretary/Treasurer.

Baker earned a B.C.E. in Civil Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Civil Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University.



UPCEA is the leading association for professional, continuing, and online education. For more than 100 years, UPCEA has served most of the leading public and private colleges and universities in North America. Founded in 1915, the association serves its members with innovative conferences and specialty seminars, research and benchmarking information, professional networking opportunities and timely publications. Based in Washington, D.C., UPCEA also builds greater awareness of the vital link between contemporary learners and public policy issues. Visit www.upcea.edu.

On March 21st, President Trump signed an executive order on “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability on Campus” that directs federal agencies which provide funding for university research to be sure that they are funding colleges that support free speech on their campuses. This was an “historic action to defend American students and American values that have been under seige,” Mr. Trump said. It is still not clear how exactly the enforcement of this executive order may play out. Many believe that the executive order does little which other existing law already requires.

How can we be sure we are identifying the most important risks in our changing field and are prepared to mitigate their potential impact?

I recently visited with a representative from the University of Illinois’s Enterprise Risk Management unit. The philosophy of the risk unit is that the people closest to a risk are best equipped to identify and propose plans to manage the risk. In my case, I put a focus on the online learning program.

In our field, we have a wide array of risks — technological infrastructure within and outside the university, including bandwidth, physical interruptions due to hurricane, tornado, earthquake or related natural disasters; policy and regulatory at the state and federal levels; accessibility shortcomings; global malware challenges; online, in-class verbal sexist, gender-preference, racist and analogous abuse; academic integrity issues; competitive risks in meeting game-changing new models of degree and certificate offerings; and maintaining our reputation as leaders in the field. These are the things we think about when we wake up in the middle of the night. These are the what-if challenges that are always in the back of our minds.

We have long been aware of the natural disasters that disrupt classes and campus life. In this area, online learning is on both sides of the threat. Much more resistant to many of the weather and earthquake challenges, online can mitigate the effects that close face-to-face classes. Just a few weeks ago, online learning came to the rescue in the bitterly cold polar vortex as faculty members moved classes online.

Enforcing the thin line between free expression and hateful, threatening speech is a daily challenge for instructors in many classes that address political, social and cultural issues. Fortunately, online learning is generally resistant to the deadly plague of campus shootings that our schools and universities suffer. But that may not always be the case; we must be vigilant to cases of hate that are expressed in our discussion boards. These could extend into physical confrontations in the worst of circumstances.

Federal policies are in flux. The 2017 federal audit finding against Western Governors University would have required the payback of more than $700 million in federal student aid. Now the feds say they will not have to repay. The long-standing policy of required “regular and substantive” interaction among students and faculty in online classes is under further review. Other significant changes in accreditation and U.S. Department of Education rules have been proposed. Will we soon have an environment where competitors may outsource most of their instruction? The instability in compliance rules makes it difficult to plan. Meanwhile, keeping up with the flood of media used by faculty members makes it difficult to maintain accessibility compliance across the curriculum.

Global malware threats and direct cyberattacks — both by nations and by nonaffiliated criminals — present an ever-present danger to our field. The announcement by Russia that they will stop the internet for a day while they reconfigure their connections to go through one central government point gives me pause. This will enable the net in that country to continue to operate even if the rest of the world goes down. I ponder those implications daily.

Academic integrity concerns continue to grow as AI technologies can now research and even write reports and articles. We are forced to ask, “Did a computer using AI write this?” Our best teaching and learning practices will have to adapt.

“At-scale” degrees continue to proliferate. Georgia Tech now claims the largest online M.S. in computer science program, with nearly 10,000 students. As the number of these programs expand, enrollments at “traditional” online programs are on a plateau. The competitive marketplace is more competitive than ever before.

It seems that we are too often plugging holes and making temporary fixes for these problems. What risks have we missed? What are the larger solutions to the ones we have identified? How can we protect our students from these threats to assure that their learning will move forward smoothly and uninterrupted? These are questions that we all should ask as we assess risks — even as we lie awake at 2:30 a.m.

This article was first posted March 20th in Inside Higher Ed’s Inside Digital Learning

The White House released their vision of what reforms should be made to the Higher Education Act (HEA) during the reauthorization of it in Congress.  It’s proposals within mirror the budget it also proposed just one week prior. Some of the major retooling includes: changing accreditation process to focus on outcomes; a significant cut for some student aid programs, while consolidating others; adapting the Federal Work Study program to focus more on career-oriented jobs and less on campus-based work; streamlining loan repayment processes; allowing Pell Grants for incarcerated students, as well as short-term programs; providing students and the public data to include program-level earnings and outcomes data. Conversations at the congressional level are currently ongoing and both the Senate and the House education committees have begun hearings on HEA reauthorization.  


Click here to read the full White House proposal.

As I deepen my liberal arts side by reading Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One, it caused me to flashback to my 70s and 80s childhood of videogaming and skateboarding. It also piqued my interest in exploring the impact of today’s esports world and trends in the gaming community. In professional, continuing, and online (PCO) education, one can easily overlook the major cultural changes happening on-campus and online among the general gaming community and with the formation of organized leagues. Esports is much more involved than firing up one’s Xbox or Playstation. It can involve millions of global viewers, sold out arenas, millions in prize money, recruitment and training of teams, and multiple Fortune 500 sponsors. Esports and NASCAR have many parallels (heavy sponsorship, support, prizes, etc.), but also many differences (fan base demographics, equipment). 

According to eMarketer, esports will soon break $200 million in digital advertising revenue. The integration of digital ads within esports events reaches an already fractured content viewing audience of Millennials and Generation Z’ers where traditional television advertising cannot. Goldman-Sachs says the entire esports industry (including event fees, sponsorships, advertising, betting, tournament tickets, merchandise and prize pools) will grow to $2.96 billion in total revenues by 2022. Deloitte also predicts 600 million fans worldwide by 2020. With an industry this new and with such huge revenues, opportunities for higher education are starting to evolve. Marketers and social media professionals will need additional training. Event planners will need to understand their target market better. Equipment manufacturers and software developers will cycle in new products and services to players, viewers, and the gaming community. Colleges and universities are hiring esports managers and coordinators to strengthen the culture for students actively involved in gaming and who deem it essential to attending an institution. For PCO units, there are evolving programming opportunities to develop degrees that will have difficulty keeping pace, thus the potential for alternative credentials, minors or certificates to this budding and mammoth industry.

Read my just-released whitepaper, The Rise of a New Entertainment Category: Esports, here.

It was encouraging to read an UPCEA blog post from August 2018 in which Mindmax CEO Lee Maxey critiqued our data and knowledge environment.  Mr. Maxey’s description of how we’re drowning in data was on point; the sheer mass of analytics, metrics and all things measuring is indeed a problem.  With Big Data, comes Data Science, which many view as the panacea for dealing with the volumes of information around us, and perhaps even organizational sense-making writ large.  Data Science is a bit of a nouveau business fad, and as with most tools borne from business, it is difficult to know how viable and enduring the ideas really are.  Online higher education is not immune from the possible ill-effects of Big Data and a potentially faddish affair with Data Science; the growth of learning analytics inside Learning Management Systems and elsewhere could create unfortunate side effects, or is at least worthy of continued careful scrutiny.

While data and its analysis can clearly be helpful, relying too much on Big Data and Data Science is not.  There is a difference between leaders interested in good analysis, versus leaders who require esoteric data analysis in order to make a decision.  If leaders struggle to make decisions based on experience, intuition, or counsel from others, they may become indecisive, or worse, may pressure analysts to manipulate their data to justify “hard” decisions to boards, trustees or other stakeholders.  Indeed, citing one’s data, however shaped and designed, can be a way of distancing oneself from the accountability and effects of their decisions.  Moreover, since exotic data analysis typically requires mathematical expertise and a deep familiarity with statistics, those with these technical skills tend to gather more power and control in their organizations, displacing more experienced line leaders.  Stilted indecisive leadership, and managerial or overly process-centric control are rarely good things. 

Perhaps the most glaring example of how analytics can be misused is Robert McNamara’s (mis)management of the Vietnam War.  Known as one of the “Whiz Kids” of Big Data’s inception at Harvard in the late 1930s, its application during WWII helped coordinate the bombing effects of US Army Air Force and British Royal Navy actions on Germany.  This effort was part of a larger “scientification” of management dating at least as far back as Taylor’s 1911, Principles of Scientific Management if not back to Durkheim’s 1895, Rules of Sociological Method or even Comte’s positivism.

McNamara later applied his techniques at Ford, where he was notorious for being an aloof and difficult leader, while still “turning around” the organization into greater profitability.  Later still, his notion of mathematical precision applied to human behavior become standard while Secretary of Defense under JFK and LBJ in the early to mid-1960s.  The US military still uses his Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution (PPBE) Process.  Note the daunting complexity, something that has long since required its own process (versus people) expertise, and has created an entire industry of technocratic sense-makers.  Even with the intended precision, the Department of Defense wastes billions of US Dollars per year.  McNamara said in 1962, three years before most historians place the beginning of the conflict, and a solid 13 years before the tragic end of the war, that, “Every quantitative measurement we have shows we’re winning this war.”

While the stakes for higher education and its relationship with Big Data and Data Science might be less than that of the Department of Defense, the negative implications of short-sighted data use are clear. 


Brian Wierman is the Chief Strategy Officer for Freedom Learning Group (FLG), a growing provider of courseware, content development, accessibility and assessment writing.  FLG’s mission is to provide career opportunities in education to underemployed Military Spouses and Veterans.  Find FLG at freedomlearninggroup.com



Online courses are changing — sometimes less open, sometimes less massive — but they’re still relevant.

In the summer of 2011 we produced eduMOOC — a constructivist massive open online course about online learning with the help of a small group of talented and expert professionals at the University of Illinois Springfield as well as colleagues around the country who were then, and continue to be, among the leaders in our field of online learning. By the time it concluded in August, eduMOOC had reached 2,700 learners in 70 countries — making it among the largest such classes produced up to that time.

Some of the most successful early MOOCs were produced by a couple of Canadians, Stephen Downes and George Siemens. They were groundbreaking. Many early MOOCs were largely low budget (compared to today), noncredit, interactive, volunteer efforts. Moving outside the institutional structure, they reached beyond the campus, beyond the country and into many languages and cultures. Just one month after eduMOOC, Sebastian Thrun of Stanford and Google launched a massive-scale MOOC on artificial intelligence surpassing 150,000 students. And the X-MOOC era had begun. The year 2012 was declared “the year of the MOOC.”

Over time these freestanding classes were collected and hosted by the likes of Coursera, Udacity, edX, FutureLearn and XuetangX. They offered certificates and degrees.

And soon, some commentators declared MOOCs “dead” or “failures.” The newer generation of MOOCs were massive and online and courses, but they were not open in the purest sense. Some had prerequisites and others had fees.

Certainly, MOOCs have changed. They have matured in scale and sophistication. While many are now not truly “open,” as in free, without prerequisites, they are more massive than before and are far less expensive than the cost of on-campus offerings. There are now more than 5,000 recognized MOOCs generally available. Some are self-paced and can be started and completed on your schedule. Class-Central keeps a roster of available MOOCs.

Just a few weeks ago, I took a short MOOC offered jointly by McMaster University and the University of California, San Diego, through Coursera: Learning How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools to Help You Master Tough Subjects. Some two million people have taken the course. It was refreshingly engaging and useful to sharpen my learning and retention skills. As with many such courses, it was free to take and only required $49 for a certificate of completion. I got the certificate and put it in my LinkedIn profile.

In the past couple of years, certificates and entire master’s degrees have become available through MOOCs. There are now 45 online at-scale master’s degrees, with many more on the way.

As highlighted in a previous posting, Georgia Tech is among the leaders in the delivery of affordable at-scale degrees, including the master of science in computer science program — the largest online MS in CS in the world. The University of Illinois offers four master’s degrees through Coursera. The University of Pennsylvania is offering an at-scale baccalaureate to begin this fall. There certainly will be many more. What began as largely volunteer, noncredit efforts have now matured into full-blown master’s and baccalaureate degrees that are changing the landscape of higher education. The trend promises to capture a sizable portion of all online degree-seeking students in the coming few years.

MOOCs will continue to evolve. The groundbreaking work of Ashok Goel at Georgia Tech in developing a virtual teaching assistant is a key milestone in enabling these large-scale classes to engage students and to potentially personalize learning. In the meantime, the essential online, at-scale characteristics will make them affordable and attractive to students around the world.

The MOOC did not die. Rather, it grew up into a mature, fully-functional degree platform that is serving millions of learners globally on a daily basis. At-scale learning is too large to ignore. It is changing the learning environment worldwide. In less than a decade, this phenomenon has moved from the fringes of education to the fastest-growing format for certificates and degrees, having just passed the 100-million-learner mark last year.

Are you delivering at-scale learning? Have you noticed the impact of large-enrollment programs on enrollments in your “traditional” online degree programs? How are you adapting your offerings to make them competitive? These are questions that we should all be asking in the changing environment of online learning.

This article was first posted March 6th in Inside Higher Ed’s Inside Digital Learning

On Monday March 11th, the Trump administration released their budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year. Included in the proposal is a $7.1 billion cut to the Department of Education, approximately equal to 10% of its total current operational budget. These proposals follow similar attempts in past budgets the administration has put forward. The cuts include reduction in funding for teacher preparation, National Institutes of Health, removal of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, and other research programs. The proposal also would allow for Pell Grants to be used on short-term credential programs. Since Congress has the ultimate budgetary authority, and with a divided House and Senate majority, movement on this budget will likely not make much headway. 

Higher education is on the cusp of major changes. Enrollments are on the decline—both online and on campus—and the trend is expected to accelerate. Graduates are laboring under substantial college loan debts totaling more than $1.5 trillion. Employers are demanding that applicants possess soft and hard skills that many college graduates do not hold. At the same time new and emerging technologies are changing the way credentials are shared and work is done.

It is in this context that continuing, professional and online programs have been imported from the periphery to the center of traditional universities. Students and employers alike have made clear that their top priority is relevance to the rapidly changing workplace. Artificial intelligence, blockchain, augmented/virtual reality and other technologies are driving the changes. Professional and Continuing Education (PCE) has long been the leader in providing relevant courses, certificates and degrees that connect students with the needs of employers.

Read the full article.