Illumination by Modern Campus

Kim Siegenthaler (The City University of New York) on Incorporating Online Learning into Higher Education

May 18, 2023 Modern Campus
Kim Siegenthaler (The City University of New York) on Incorporating Online Learning into Higher Education
Illumination by Modern Campus
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Illumination by Modern Campus
Kim Siegenthaler (The City University of New York) on Incorporating Online Learning into Higher Education
May 18, 2023
Modern Campus
On today’s episode of the Illumination by Modern Campus podcast, host Amrit Ahluwalia was joined by Kim Siegenthaler, to discuss the need to morph learning modalities in higher education in order to create a more accessible and modern experience. 

Show Notes Transcript
On today’s episode of the Illumination by Modern Campus podcast, host Amrit Ahluwalia was joined by Kim Siegenthaler, to discuss the need to morph learning modalities in higher education in order to create a more accessible and modern experience. 

Voiceover (00:06): Welcome to Illumination by Modern Campus, the leading podcast focused on transformation and change in the higher education space. On today’s episode, we speak with Kim Siegenthaler, who is Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Strategy and Operations at The City University of New York. Kim and podcast host Amrit Ahluwalia discuss the need to morph learning modalities in higher education in order to create a more accessible and modern experience. 

Amrit Ahluwalia (00:32): Kim, welcome to the Illumination podcast. Thanks so much for taking the time. Yeah,

Kim Siegenthaler (00:36): I appreciate the invitation. I'm glad to be here. 

Amrit Ahluwalia (00:38): Absolutely. Well, you're here at the EDUCAUSE conference in Washington, DC and you've been at in your new role at the City University of New York for, I want to say a year now?

Kim Siegenthaler (00:47): Eight months. 

Amrit Ahluwalia (00:47): How's it going for you?

Kim Siegenthaler (00:49): It is a wild, exciting ride. 

Amrit Ahluwalia (00:54): What are some of the differences that you're noticing in terms of sort of managing online learning at a system level as opposed to some of the work that you were doing previously, which was more institutional level?

Kim Siegenthaler (01:04): In some ways it's, it's very similar in other ways. It's radically different. I, I'd say probably one of the key differences is that at the system level one, you have to wor work so much more broadly. We have 25 campuses as part of the city University of New York. Yeah. And each one of those campuses is in a different place with respect to its online operations, it's readiness, it's portfolio programs, it's staffing, all of those things. And then trying to create a structure and a support mechanism that enables all of the campuses to benefit from resources to, to grow. And so there's not a, you know, there's not the single unified philosophy or approach. And it's very much an invitational Got it. Kind of approach in terms of offering some resources for those that want to take it. And I think one of the things, and, and I know this from being on the campus side, in a system, there's always a little bit of this tension between the campuses and the system office of Yeah. You know, you're, you're mandating things or you're, you're giving us directives or whatever. And so as we've come into this effort at CUNY to create this online education infrastructure, we've taken a very different approach in terms of a collaborative invitation that in some cases has kind of had them scratching their heads, <laugh>, but is also resulting in a lot of buy-in.

Amrit Ahluwalia (02:51): Right. So, I mean, it's, it's interesting as, as we start to frame out this, this pathway, cuz I'm, I'm curious about your take around, you know, as you look at universities, not just within the city system, but but across the country. Why is it so important to start finding ways to align online learning divisions into the more traditional main campus? Of course, this is something that you've been doing with the course of your career.

Kim Siegenthaler (03:13): Yeah. Well, it's education. That's the bottom line. It's, it's education, the modality. It really shouldn't matter. And I think what we've seen really accelerated through covid and what we're seeing continue is that real, just sort of morphing mm-hmm. <Affirmative> across all modalities. I mean on some of the debates that the campuses try to draw me into is more about asynchronous online versus synchronous online. It's not about online. Right. It's just about, well, what's the, what's the format within online? And I think what we're going to see happen over the next several years is that nearly all programs that can be delivered effectively in an online format or in a hybrid format, are going to be mm-hmm. <Affirmative> because that's student demand. And not only is it our more mature learners, our adult learners, but we're also seeing a little bit of that shift in our in-person students. Our tr our more traditional students. It's not necessarily that they want everything online mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, but they want the flexibility and they want the options. Well, that means you kind of have to develop everything, and then they're gonna pick and choose what they take in an online format and what they take in a face-to-face format. So to create this barrier that says online education sits over here. Right. And traditional education sits over here. I mean, that's just artificial and it, it's not gonna serve institutions well, I don't think moving forward.

Amrit Ahluwalia (04:59): That's fair. You know, it's interesting you bring that up. You know, you kind of think back on, on a lot of these ideas, but like, online learning is learning and the, the principles, the fundamentals of good online learning are just the principles and fundamentals of good teaching practice. It's, you know, how do you facilitate interaction between peers and one another? How do you facilitate strong interactions between peers and their, and their educator and, and interaction the other way? And when you think about some of the, the remote learning that was happening or between sort of 2020 and 2021, it really, none of those features came into play. How challenging has it been to help more traditional age and younger learners understand what good online teaching and learning actually looks like and feels like and takes,

Kim Siegenthaler (05:46): Well, you said learners, but I'm going to respond to faculty. Because I don't, I don't think the challenge is so much with the learners Right. As it is with the faculty. I mean, learners, and, and again, we go back to the, the traditional in person, right? Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, you were, you went to college, you remember Yep. You had everything in the continuum of the world's worst class Yep. To the most incredible class. It's the same modality. Yep.

(06:22): It didn't matter that it was in person, what mattered was how it was designed and how it was delivered. Yep. The same thing is true for online. And so a student doesn't necessarily come into an online environment with an expectation that it's going to function in a certain way. I mean, they, they know what they want, they always know what they want. Right. but sometimes it's good and sometimes it's bad. The goal is to help faculty understand what a good learning environment, a good learning experience looks like, feels like for the student. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. When the faculty members understand that and the faculty provide that, then the student gets it. Right. It doesn't matter if they know coming in what it should be. If they get it, we've done a job. Right.

Amrit Ahluwalia (07:18): That's, yeah. Fair enough. So when you think about the, I guess the, the alignment between, or what, in your, in your experience finding alignment between online learning departments and, and main campus, you already pointed to sort of student responsiveness, strong teaching practice. Are there any other points of alignment that generally help to facilitate that transition between being sort of a peripheral satellite and being something that's sort of central and, and culturally relevant to, to the institution itself?

Kim Siegenthaler (07:48):v Well, at, at the city University of New York, we have an access mission. And so in that environment, when I talk with, with anybody, whether it's the, the union, the faculty, senate faculty, provost, whoever it is, where there are questions about online, you know, the, the response that we keep coming back to is it's access. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, it's making sure that we provide as many on-ramps as many points of access to the, the city of New York and beyond as we possibly can. So part of that means online, then of course the question comes up, well, not everybody learns well in the online environment, therefore you should, you should create some, some gates. Right. To which my response is these are adults. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, they will choose what they want regardless of what you think they need. So it's not about creating gates, it's about creating support.

(08:55): Yep. It's about, one, providing quality of instruction, and two, it's about providing the adequate student support that enable students to, to succeed in that environment. And so, you know, sometimes people don't want to hear that because then that puts the onus back on them Yeah. To, to do the hard work. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. But I think that's, that's the key. One of the other things that is a, is a recurring conversation. When we talk about online and we talk about, for example, CUNY online, which is the, the infrastructure. You know, there's a perception that when you're creating this online college, you're creating this, you know, you're, you're gonna control things. And so I come into these conversations and people will say, well, so what about these CUNY online programs? Well, you know, how are you gonna hire faculty? What are you gonna, and I say, I'm not right. You are. Yeah. You're the faculty, they're your programs, they're your faculty, they're your students. They're, you know, and, and they look at me and they go, oh, you know, yeah. Oh, I said, and I'll say, those are academic decisions. Yeah. CUNY online is an administrative structure. It is a marketing brand. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, it's not an academic unit. Yeah. I'm not making academic decisions. And so that diffuses many times the, the, the tension from the academic side, from the faculty or a department chair or, or whoever that might be.

Amrit Ahluwalia (10:28): So it's more about sort of, I mean, business excellence might not be the right terminology, but it, it's about bringing that structure and that foundation to the operation of a strong online program, but still creating space capacity capability for faculty to do the thing they do best, which is finding the best way to, to teach and, and to facilitate a learning experience for learners.

Kim Siegenthaler (10:51): Yeah, absolutely. And you know, there's years of evidence that demonstrates that, where you provide faculty development mm-hmm. <Affirmative> for online teaching and learning, it bleeds over into their face to face. Yep. And so it's, you know, all ships rise. Mm-Hmm. However you go about enabling your faculty to be better teachers. Yep.

Amrit Ahluwalia (11:18): Win instruction really. You know, it's, it's kind of, it's interesting, you know, it keeps coming back to that first thing. Good online learning is just good learning. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And it, I think it's, it's very rare for faculty to really get the opportunity to, to, to learn the practice of teaching. It's not prioritized. It's not typically incentivized. So it is kind of fascinating whenever you see folks have the opportunity to participate in online learning professional development, that, that that's, you know, it's just good teaching practice and it makes its way into every element of, of how they interact with their learners.

Kim Siegenthaler (11:51): Yeah. And, and this is the, the fun part of that, right? Is that you, you take someone who's been teaching in the classroom for a while and you offer them, you know professional development opportunities around improving their, their teaching, nah, I'm not interested. I don't need that. I've been doing this mm-hmm. <Affirmative> mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, I know how to do it. But then you offer it in the online space and they haven't been teaching in the online space and they want it. Right. You know, and so it gives you, in some ways, an entry to help them build their teaching expertise that is going to impact the students in their in-person classes, in their hybrid classes, in their online classes. But you came at it sort of through this point portal of where they acknowledge that they don't have all of the answers or they, they want those answers. And so it's just kind of a, a, a nice backdoor sometimes.

Amrit Ahluwalia (12:55): Yeah. Kim, let me, so let's, let's look at the other side then. We've talked about points of alignment. What are some, if any, points of intentional separation between an online, online department, online college, and, and a main campus? Are there any aspects of, of those two, two entities that should be kept separate?

Kim Siegenthaler (13:16): So, you know, this is just purely my opinion. Sure.

Amrit Ahluwalia (13:18): Of course.

Kim Siegenthaler (13:19): Like I say, it's, it's, it's education. Yeah. And, and I, and perhaps that depends a little bit on your institution. If your traditional campus is really one demographic, and then you're, you're reaching out to another with your online. But at institutions I've been at, it's the same demographic. Right.

(13:47): And so it makes no sense to me to, again, create these divisions just based on modality. Right. And I've long believed that what is good for the online student is good for the on-campus students. So if you're creating support services and you're doing those virtually because that's what your online students need. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, your on-campus students need that same convenience. Yeah. They need that same access. They don't want to have to come to campus at a particular time to speak to an advisor. They wanna be able to do that virtually. Yep. Just like your online students need to, they don't wanna have to carry a piece of paper from one office to another to get a signature. Yep. They want that to be automated. And so wherever you can advance something in support of your online students, you've served your entire student population. And I've actually found that conversation to be very helpful at institutions that might have been resistant to changing practices. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, you know, and they would say, well, you wanna change the rules for online. And, and when I would could come back and frame that is it benefits all of our students. Yeah. That resistance would melt away. Yeah. And they would say, oh, that's right. Yeah, that's right. And, and begin to, to move in that direction.

Amrit Ahluwalia (15:16): It's a, it's exciting to kind of see those, those shifts. I think one thing I'm curious about with a question of sort of alignment separation is the idea of sort of innovation as a practice or a foundation, right? Because we talk about innovation happening on the periphery we talk about the value of innovation as being, you know, something that happens in a skunk work, something that happens outside of the watchful eye of the provost. No offense to any provost who may currently be listening. So when it comes to a broader alignment of, of the online college into the main campus, the online college theoretically arrived at the point it did in terms of student service, in terms of learning practice because it had the capacity to do this stuff without too much oversight. How do divisions maintain that innovative focus and that innovative bent as they become more centrally oriented to the institution itself? Is it possible to maintain sort of that same in innovative flare

Kim Siegenthaler (16:14): In some respects that assumes that online always started over here.

Amrit Ahluwalia (16:19): That's fair. Yep.

Kim Siegenthaler (16:20): Which is not necessarily the case. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, you know, and in some instances it, it did, it started as, and in, in some cases, you know, a, a standalone campus mm-hmm. <Affirmative> or with its own admission practices, its own, you know, all of that. And then when you talk about integrating that into the traditional campus, yeah. They're gonna be some bumps and nudges because in, in those cases, you probably are serving different populations. You've developed certain policies and practices because of the populations you're trying to serve because of your maybe some distinctions in your mission. But at institutions that I've been at, it's never been, I might have been on the periphery Sure. But it wasn't, it wasn't a college. Right. Okay.

(17:18): It was just, Hey, we are not really sure we understand this. It might have been managed centrally. But it supported all of the work, and it was always, you have an on ground program in accounting mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, let's talk about creating an online option for your on ground program. Not, oh, well we've got this online program over here, and we've got this parallel on ground program. It's the same program. Right. It's taught by the same faculty. And so then if it's the same program, it's taught by the same faculty, it has the same admission policies, standards, same financial aid, same, same everything. And so then you don't have that conflict or duplication mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, it's just fully integrated. And so that's where, okay. Yeah. It may feel like it's other than Right. And in some cases it kind of functions as other than, other than, but what I'm seeing more and more is it, it just becomes the regular work of the institution in the same way that your face-to-face interesting programs have.

Amrit Ahluwalia (18:30): That makes a ton of sense. So as more and more leaders start to figure out how to tackle this question of alignment, what are some best practices or some experiences you can share that might soften the ground or maybe make life a little easier for folks that are looking at, you know, what can be a pretty monumental task?

Kim Siegenthaler (18:47): So I'd, I'd describe myself as intensely collaborative. And so anytime I go into these kinds of conversations where we're talking about some sort of change Hmm. I look for those points of alignment where there are shared goals where we can, and I, and I hate to think of this as like a win loss, because it shouldn't be a battle, it shouldn't be a competition. Sure. But always putting the student at the forefront mm-hmm. <Affirmative> what's in the best interest of the student, and then, and then what's in the best interest of the institution. Right. And so when we, when we can agree on those things, then a lot of the other stuff becomes far less important. And when you invite the stakeholders into the conversation to help solve the problem, help create the solution, help map out what the future looks like mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, everybody's happier. Right. You know, not, not everybody gets exactly what they want, but you, I mean, that academic side is critical to helping us think through the infrastructure to support it. Right. You know, I can envision this great administrative infrastructure, but if it doesn't work for the academics, it's,

Amrit Ahluwalia (20:18): It just intensely collaborative. Yeah.

Kim Siegenthaler (20:20): It just, it has to be that conversation and then you go into the room and people receive you. Well, and, and I remember at a former institution, not naming any names, but for about the first year, maybe 18 months mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, we had this working group and we were focused on really sort of creating the, the policies and practices around online. And initially there were people in this group that were so suspicious of what I was trying to do, and they would put in all of these roadblocks and all these safety checks and everything to monitor what we were doing, because they were concerned. About 18 months in, one of the people who had thrown up all of these roadblocks said, you know, I really feel like we've, we've developed a good trust relationship. And from that point on, you know, we would, something would surface an issue and the response was, oh yeah, you guys can do that. Huh? There were no more concerns that we were trying to blow up the institution with all this online stuff. It became, oh yeah, this is, this is what we do. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, this is how we do it. It's not different, it's just more

Amrit Ahluwalia (21:40): That's hard not to love that. Well, Kim, I mean, that pretty much does it on my end. Now, the way we like to end our interviews is by asking people if someone was traveling to your hometown where should they go to dinner? Now you've recently relocated, but potentially are, are you ac have you actually physically moved?

Kim Siegenthaler (21:57): Well, so understand, my hometown is in Corsicana, Texas, <laugh> and small town of 20,000 people. I haven't lived there in more than 25 years, and I've lived since then border to bordering coast to coast. So I can't tell you where to go to dinner there, because I don't know <laugh>

(22:26): So, which, which state or which city would you like me to pick? Well,

Amrit Ahluwalia (22:29): Why don't we go, well, so I guess most recent long term would be Georgia. but most recent is New York.

Kim Siegenthaler (22:36): Right. so yeah, I'm better in, in Georgia in terms of, of restaurants. There's a Thai restaurant in Tucker, which is a Atlanta suburb called, I think it's and I can never remember cuz it's too complicated, but it's like Thai cuisine and bar or, or or something amazing like that. Yeah. Yeah. And it is, the food is absolutely amazing. Every time I go back to Atlanta, I say, we're, we're going to to eat here.

Amrit Ahluwalia (23:10): Well, I mean, that's promising. Hey, Kim, I so appreciate your time and I, I hope you enjoy the rest of your conference. Thanks so much for taking the time out. 

Kim Siegenthaler (23:16): Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

Voiceover (23:20): This podcast is made possible by a partnership between Modern Campus and The EvoLLLution. The Modern Campus engagement platform, powered solutions for non-traditional student management, web content management, catalog and curriculum management, student engagement and development, conversational text messaging, career pathways, and campus maps and virtual tours. The result innovative institutions can create learner to earner life cycle that engages modern learners for life, while providing modern administrators with the tools needed to streamline workflows and drive high efficiency. To learn more and to find out how to modernize your campus, visit That's