Episode # 34
The Morphing Landscape of Digital Learning with Julie Straub
April 13, 2023
About This Episode
Julie Straub is the Senior Executive Director of the Division of Professional Studies at Butler University in Indianapolis. In her 30 years in education, she’s had a unique perspective on e-learning, which she brings to her role at Butler now. In this episode, Kara, Caryn and Julie talk about the ever-changing digital landscape, the disruptions that have furthered e-learning and the ways expanding educational opportunities can break down barriers and further diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
Julie Straub has grounded her career in entrepreneurial education initiatives, launching new, innovative approaches to online, professional, corporate, and adult lifelong learning programs. Most recently, she is serving as the inaugural leader to launch the new Division of Professional Studies at Butler University, which will expand online, graduate, lifelong learning, and professional education focused on growth and extending access to the university. Previously, Julie served as the founding Director of the Miami University (Ohio) E-Campus to build a virtual enterprise to expand access and affordability to higher education. She led the creation of a full-service virtual campus that offers online programs, degrees, and digital credentials with exponential growth and success in the persistence of online and adult learners to increase high-quality access and equity in education and career opportunities through partnerships in the public and private sectors.
Julie is a licensed Ohio Master Teacher and Principal (K-12) and pursued her doctorate in Educational Leadership with a focus on Online Learning from Miami University (Ohio). She also earned graduate degrees from Xavier University in Educational Administration and Regus University in Business Management. As an active academic practitioner and scholar nationally in the field of online and continuing education, she regularly presents at conferences and consults on innovative and strategic practices in higher education., Julie recently served on the National Working Group for establishing a Quality and Equity framework for WCET, a leader in the practice, policy, & advocacy of digital learning in higher education. She is a passionate advocate for the digital transformation of higher education, leveraging modern pedagogies and digitally-enhanced learning models. She continues to be drawn to the future of learning and work, unbuilt areas where no footprints yet exist, to identify entrepreneurial pathways and operationalize ideas that advance social and educational mobility for the next generation of learners.
[00:00:40] Kara: Joining us today is Julie Straub, who is Senior Executive Director of the Division of Professional Studies at Butler University in Indianapolis. So,
[00:00:51] Julie: hey, Julie. Hey Kara. How are you? Good, how are you? I’m doing well, Anna jury day here in Indianapolis, but otherwise doing great. .
[00:01:01] Kara: It’s a good day to spend chatting . Yes. Very
[00:01:04] Julie: good. It’s a good day to have a good chat about education. Yes. So I’m just
[00:01:08] Kara: gonna ask you to start by telling us kind of your journey into education. How did you land where you are currently? .
[00:01:16] Julie: So I’ve been working in the field of education for around 30 years.
I’ve worked in a lot of different areas and learned a lot from them. But I would say, like, the pattern I would say is that I’ve worked a lot with digital transformation work and also looking a lot at who are the learners that aren’t being served by traditional education. How do we make the table of education bigger?
And so, and really how do we. technology to do that. So I started early in my career working with non-traditional learning formats. I was a summer camp residential director for a while for the Girl Scouts, like, yay, cookie time, . Yeah, so I learned a lot about learning and education, you know, in the outdoors and with communities and the needs of individual.
I also spent some time doing some trips to Mexico and doing some humanitarian work with groups. That is what I think really first awakened my sense of passion and responsibility and kind of that the life that we’re all born into isn’t equal. Mm-hmm. . And that education is a powerful lever, lever for people.
And how do, how does that happen? Right? Like, how do we Yeah. Kind of get into these groups of the haves and have nots and . So after that I went and studied at, in at university and became a high school teacher and taught business in computer science. And and so that was a very, that also was interesting cause I was working in a field where most this was like early and that many of the teachers working in that area, if they were women, they were former, like shorthand teachers.
So they weren’t really formally trained in educational technology. . And so they kind of were like, what are you doing here? Like, you’re new . You didn’t know shorthand. I’m like, no, you know, and, and then all the men that were there, a lot of them were coaches, right? And so we’re kind of like, you know, this isn’t a core subject.
This is a special. And, but I really saw how. the critical nature of like business and computer science, how it really brought all the subjects together and it was interdisciplinary and how we could really use that to create interest and passion for students that weren’t getting it or weren’t learning in traditional classrooms that were segmented by like learning topics.
And so that was really interesting to me. Continued to use technology work, moved into a career technical school, Oh wow. District and. Helped to launch what they called our satellite division at, and you may be familiar with Great Oaks there in Cincinnati. Mm-hmm. . Oh yeah. And so where we pushed and placed programs within high schools.
And so I helped place computer science programs in high schools and then also launched one of the first middle school programs. And so that was sort of a non-traditional, like, what the heck are you guys doing? And then that really outgrew our other four campuses. , you know, cuz we saw students demand an interest in the career.
Technical disciplines was growing, but they didn’t necessarily wanna leave their homeschooled for doing that. And so we were just starting to dip our toe into, I was doing some work with training faculty. We had adopted an LMS for the first time helped to supervise over a thousand teachers, be trained in an LMS over a summer, and then starting to look at could we start to offer some blended or hybrid program.
And then she started transitioning into higher ed. So I’ve worked as a faculty member teaching instructional media business, modern business practices business using technology type topics for the University of Cincinnati, for Indiana Wesleyan, and then also for Miami University of Ohio. And that’s actually where I ended up the last 13 years of my career, was hired to help create a virtual.
Which was called our eCampus there. And so myself and my partner there worked to build the eCampus from the ground up. It was gonna house all the online programs, really focus, focus on extending access to education and the Miami experience and house digital credentials. And so we really built that up to where it was serving more students.
And you know, especially in our regional campuses really. You know, generating more than half of the credit hours that we were starting to generate. So, oh wow. The last nine months of my career I was recruited by Butler University to come over and I’m really excited about the opportunity there.
So we actually are starting a new division, which is the division of professional Studies, and it will be the home for online learning, lifelong learning, digital credentials. But it also is a little different in that. It works collaboratively with the university, but it also is a separate arm of the university.
So we’re able to do some things that if they don’t fit neatly into the, the structures of higher ed, then we have the ability to do some innovation and digital transformation work. Nice. That may not fit into the current confines of that system. So I’ve been doing that for about the last nine months and I’m super excited about the opportunity and the team that I’m working with here, so.
Wow. Yeah. You’ve. Been
[00:06:12] Kara: across the board.
[00:06:14] Julie: Yep. While the way, yeah. Isaac. Well, and I have
[00:06:16] Kara: a question. Going back to your high school piece, what is
[00:06:19] Julie: shorthand? Oh, Kara . What they used to use with like administrative assistance to be able to take notes during that was a way, I guess prior to technology, that you could write more.
Like we would type now, like how we can type more than we can write by hand. It was basically a shorthand language that you could take notes. Okay. Well that’s
[00:06:43] Kara: where my brain went when you said shorthand was like, is she talking about notes note taking? Yes. But then I’m like, oh my gosh. People were actually tra like I didn’t know that.
I didn’t, people I feel like trained in short. Yeah,
[00:06:56] Caryn: that’s one of those things Yeah. That we, that wasn’t around, so I’m not surprised that you hadn’t heard of it. And I only know because my mom knows. Yes. And every once in a while I’ll stumble across a piece of paper and I’m like, I don’t even know what this is.
And I’m like, oh, she’s doing it again. So I think she took
[00:07:15] Julie: that in high school. Yes. Right. So they used to, especially females, right. That we had mm-hmm. Only certain career paths, like Right. Administrators at the assistants, teachers, nurses, those sort of things in order to make us High quality and competitive for those career fields.
They would teach women, right? Particular shorthand so that they would be prepared for the career paths that were available to them at that time. Hmm. So, okay. You can imagine why it’s become outdated, right? Yes. Yeah, for
[00:07:44] Caryn: sure. I feel like there’s still a place for.
[00:07:48] Julie: It is. Yeah. Well and I always feel like texting is like a modern day version of it.
Yeah. I could see that. Like of emojis and gifts and stuff. Like, I feel like that’s our modern day shorthand. So yeah. What I did is I started to work with teachers cuz I did get my principal’s licensure. And so I did have some supervision of teaching responsibilities before I left K-12. And so I did have teachers that, you know, were seasoned teachers and.
You know, to, to your point, like I would find notes or something, or they would write me a note and I’d be like, I don’t know what this says. You know? . , right? Yeah. So I feel like it also speaks to how people joke around now and they say like, if we really wanna confuse or keep secrets from the future generation, we’ll write it in cursive.
Right? Oh, right. Oh my gosh. I do feel like we, like, throughout the different generations, we have these different ways that we communicate in a written or typed format that is like mm-hmm. distinctive to our generation. So, yeah.
[00:08:45] Kara: Interesting. Okay.
So I’m curious just over your,
Time and education.
Mm-hmm. , what sorts,
because we know the pandemic was a major disruption mm-hmm. , but what other disruptions would you say there have been an education that have caused innovation to come in the setting?
[00:09:11] Julie: In this setting? Yeah. Yeah. I think there’s a lot of ’em in that, you know, I think the pandemic provide.
a great magnifying glass into things that we already knew were true, like we already knew there were inequities in representation. The digital divide as far as who has access to technology or to you know, resources like high speed internet, even things that some of us may take for granted.
Mm-hmm. . And so I feel like there’s been a lot of work that’s been done in talking about like power and privilege and. and the, you know what I mean? And what that looks like for different communities. And so I feel like the pandemic really shined a light on what those inequities really look like and how they really impacted families.
And so we can see that in the outputs of it as far as who was most impacted by the pandemic. And we saw. There were more racially minoritized or racial minorities of women that left the workforce because they either weren’t able to continue in their jobs or they had to, they couldn’t continue their jobs and work remotely to be able to also play pseudo to teacher to their kids that were in remote schooling.
Mm-hmm. . And then as we’re coming out of the pandemic, We’re seeing, you know, even in the higher education environments, that the students that were most affected by the pandemic, that had the most learning loss, that have had the, the least amount of equitable opportunities during the pandemic. were the underrepresented and underserved communities, a lot of them under which were black and brown communities.
And so I feel like we see that. But if we rewind and look at it, like, I always try to, you know, part of my doctoral studies has really been studying like the history and philosophy of teaching and learning and how disruption. Impacts equity and learning. And so even if we kind of like rewind and look at things, you know, even going back to the beginning of where it all started is, you know, we look at like the US Constitution, right?
Like the majority of people, if you interview them, is education a, right? In the United States, everyone believes that is. . Right. But the mm-hmm. . The reality is, is that, you know, when we ratify the Constitution in 1789, it is not it, the word education doesn’t appear in the constitution. And so George Washington, who was, you know, our first president, he advocated for a vision that included educating our youth and for the success of the country on principles that involved education.
Like he advocated for the creation of a national university at that time and for the military academy. But we do not still have fundamentally a. Of education through our constitution. And so there’s a lot of research in looking at, you know, if you look at the un, there was a study done out of the 193 countries in the un, 83% of them have some.
level of protection or education as a right. And so the US is really lagging behind when I feel like we really pride ourselves on being leaders among Yeah, the world. We are really lagging behind in not prioritizing education as a human right, regardless of your gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, any of those type of things.
And so even rolling it back to that part, I mean, I think shines a light on the historical inequities of, you know, just how we were on the foundation on which we were founded. Right? But then you even roll it forward and looking at once We really started looking forward into making education a thing, right?
Mm-hmm. that we really separated everybody into two groups. There was the labor, the laborers, and the learns, right? Mm-hmm. and the Learns were really affluent families. Most of them were male. , white Anglos, Sexton families, right? That went through and had access to become part of the learned communities.
Outside of that, there maybe was apprenticeship or vocational pathways for people if they weren’t born into a position of privilege. But that really started the pathway that we all have known, right? As far as a lack of representation and a lack of equitable outcomes. And then, , you fast forward to the pandemic and it just exploded, right?
And so now it’s really this conversation and we are having all the na those also at the same time, having all of these national conversations around like the anti-racist theories and frameworks, looking at systematic racism. You have the killing of George Floyd and things that are happening that are making us all really evaluate our d e I initiatives in adopting d EI philosophies.
, which, you know, as a practitioner in this field, I feel like the area that’s really amis right now mm-hmm. is not connecting access and equity to education with our D E I initiatives because really like extending access to education, believing that modality of education doesn’t. Equate to excellent learning.
Not believing that race, gender, sexual orientation make you a high valued person. That would be like the direct beneficiary of excellent learning, right? If we remove those things That really looking at digital transformation work is a lived experience of our D E I initiatives. And so that I think lies a real opportunity to kind of bring the two together in a philosophical and a very applied, practical way.
[00:14:53] Kara: And for those who haven’t heard the term, d e i, can you tell us what
[00:14:57] Julie: it stands for? Yes. Okay. So diversity, equity, and inclusion. And then as we’ve been kind of moving forward, when we talk about D E I B, that’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Okay. ,
[00:15:08] Kara: thank you, . Because yeah, we talk about all the time how we have all these acronyms and we know what they mean, but you know, not
[00:15:17] Julie: is the absolute worst for acronyms and then throwing them around without clarifying, right?
[00:15:37] Kara: So on, I guess this entire topic of just like disruption and equity and inclusion, how. , I has technology become one of those things that can be an innovation or a pathway, I guess, to solving some of these issues or giving more access, like
[00:16:02] Julie: mm-hmm. , how, how does
[00:16:03] Kara: technology play a role in,
[00:16:05] Julie: yeah, so I mean, even looking in like through.
My career’s been interesting because I’ve worked with like early adopters, right? Mm-hmm. that are eager for innovation and, and technology and trade. transformation work. And then I’ve also worked on more of the lager end of that scale, right? Mm-hmm. , which are more of the the chicken littles, like, you know, you’re, you’re feeding us a falsehood that the sky is falling or that we must change.
And this was good enough in my day when we did it. And so this has to be the rigor on which we base our tradition and like the weeding out. And stuff like that as far as who deserves the spot, like the old school, kind of look to your left, look to your right. Six weeks from now, only five of people will remain, right?
Yeah. , like really prioritizing that. Everyone has to go through this weeding as though education is a right that only exists for certain individuals. And so I think things that we’ve seen that are true is that. not just in education, but in our world. Like the geographic sense of the world is shrinking, right?
Like mm-hmm. , we now more than ever are able to pick up, you know, or click a button and talk with people in different parts of the world and collaborate. Some of us never even share physical space anymore, right? We’re able to have teenagers that have deep and meaningful friendships and collaboration.
that play video games with other people and plan tactical missions, right? Mm-hmm. Together in video game virtual environments, but may at times not even very well speak the same language, and definitely don’t live in the same geographic location and may not come from the same socioeconomic background or racial or cultural background.
So I think. technology lays the foundation to level the playing field in a lot of ways. We look at, you know, I’ve worked in education as a practitioner, but also as the mom. I have two sons. And they each have some learning differences in different ways. And so it’s been interesting as I’ve moved along my journey.
You know, my one son has dyslexia, and so I’ve sat through many i e p meetings as an administrator and teacher to advocate for services to provide to kids, but entering that arena, and it really truly is sometimes an arena as a parent was a completely different experience. And so thinking through that process of you.
my son is able to perform just as well as any other kid, but needs things like some accommodations, a lot of them technology based with like speech to text and stuff like that, and the ability to use a laptop and, and instead of taking handwritten notes and things like that to accommodate his dyslexia.
And so if we provide him those accommodations, it levels the playing field for. , right? Yeah. Um, And in my work in building virtual campuses or enterprises we see that a large majority of students that require flexibility for education, usually have things that prevent them from being able to access education in a traditional way.
Not everyone is able to, as an 18 or 19 year old, have the privilege to be able to move away from their families and go live at a college and have it financed. In that manner, and it’s just not. And with the rising cost of higher education, like we have to, in order to remain relevant, come up with new models to support families and individuals in, in having alternative pathways.
So we see the growing number of online learners, many of which are female, many of which have a full-time job, many of which have children is a growing population. You know, they deserve the ability to have agency in their life, to have career mobility and not be dictated that they have to conform only to this one way, which would be debilitating to them.
Mm-hmm. for their children and their families and their finances. Right. To force them down that path. So, so technology is a disruptor and that it, you know, It tears down the walls of geographic centric , like a geographic centric place. It tears down the pathways of the classroom centric, right? And how we learn and we’re also seeing the rise of technology,
everybody jokes around about , YouTube University. Mm, mm-hmm. , right? Yeah. How kids and teens and individuals go straight to YouTube to learn things like. We’ve moved as we’ve transformed as a society. That information, the ability to become part of the learned community is no longer inaccessible.
Like with the rise of the internet and YouTube, I can have access to like experts in the field and learn from them. And so we have that ability to continue to Really disrupt that and shift our accommodations and cultures so that what wasn’t sustainable before the pandemic definitely can be addressed and discussed and we can hopefully make improvements using technology and that knowledge moving forward.
[00:21:22] Kara: yeah, bravo for. are gains in that sense of opening up the opportunities to an education. Yeah. Whether it’s from an expert or from somebody that really just enjoys a topic or whatever. My husband is constantly watching YouTube videos to learn all sorts of things or hear reviews on. .
[00:21:48] Julie: Mm-hmm.
right. Gear or you know. Yeah. So, and I know Soda does so much great work at helping to really equip teachers. You know, when I was still a high school teacher, like I came over and got my goo Google certification from soda. Right? And so worked there with, you know, some of your team and then also to bring training into our into our teachers when I was an administrator, like.
It was in the early days, like prior to Zoom of how we were like doing the teleconference type thing to like bring Yeah. Professional development in. So I mean you know, I know that your services and staff for the, you know, the state of Ohio is critical in helping to continue to advance and press teachers to really advance in their skills, but impact their students in those ways.
[00:22:32] Kara: Advice would you offer to, you know how you were talking about the teachers that take, you know, they’re like the, what did you call ’em? Like they’re the grins, like the ones that are all about it, ready to go. Oh, they’re early adopters. Yeah. Early adopters. Mm-hmm. . What advice would you give to the person who’s maybe a little more hesitant to not really try, I guess?
to, I guess, flip the script on how the traditional classroom
[00:23:05] Julie: looks. Great. So I would say that for somebody that’s like nervous about it or just not. Sure on how to approach it. That there are already some organizations that are doing really great work and that have some research based, research based frameworks that you can lean into that have really great examples and even can prescriptively kind of guide you in that process.
And so I would say one of ’em it would be quality matters, right? Mm-hmm. , so quality matters has. Scorecards. They also have case studies and they have like webinars and all that kind of great stuff that really talks about the quality of virtual learning experiences. And so I would say that that would be one great way.
There’s a K-12 model and there’s a higher ed model, so they do have differentiated approaches. Every learner everywhere really has been providing, like there’s an equity framework there, but there’s a variety of different things where they’re looking at disruption using technology. They’re also looking at equity and learning outcomes and providing. To they differentiate by, there’s administrator guidance, there’s faculty or instructor guidance and examples of how to really start to embed some of that within your instruction and how you approach classroom.
And so those are two organizations you can look to. I actually just authored a blog post for W C E T which is a policy and advocacy group for online and digital learning in the United States. And so they have a blog that’s called W C E T Frontiers. And so I had the pleasure of authoring a blog with Brenda Boyd who is one of the leaders at Quality Matters, and so it’s called the Quality Equity Bond advancing Online Learning today.
And so one the first part of it I wrote, and so we really go into talking about just the changing nature and landscape of education and online learning and the disruption with the pandemic. The second part of it was that Brenda took the lead on curating tools and resources. And so there is, you know, so if someone’s wanting to jump in and kind of look at it, there is a curated list of tools and resources that we put together that you could access through that blog post.
And be able to start using in the classroom today some of the most basic was just even developing some common definitions and terminology to be able to use. Because, you know, we do find even right now in online education is the challenge. Like with us going through the pandemic, there was emergency remote instruction.
And so some leaders and faculty will refer to, oh, well we did online learning in the pandemic, and we’ll say, no, that was emergency remote instruction. That is not research based, high quality online learning. And so there’s even been some work that we have to do at defining and really Providing metrics and definitions around what is online learning.
Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. , even with students. Right. And like the students, either some had a really great experience during the pandemic and saw that as transformational. They were able to learn and engage in a way. Like, you know, they didn’t have access, like they didn’t have bullies or if they’re really introverted or they really maybe are very gifted and are able to work through material in a, in a quick manner, right?
That they were able to engage learning in a much different format than they had before. And then we had some individuals that had a really poor learning experience, right? Mm-hmm. during the pandemic. And so their perspectives on what online learning is and how palatable it is to them. varied based on those experiences.
So we have a lot of work to do still even in defining. And that was a lot of the work as we’ve looked at that when we did the blog post you know, is that there was a perception that online learning that quality and equity are separate things. Mm-hmm. right. Yeah, and what we were really trying to talk about is that when we’re talking about the evolution of new models of education and new modalities of education, that quality and equity should be the two pieces that are bonded together.
That those are the non-negotiables. It doesn’t matter what modality. It doesn’t matter what method, right. Quality and equity should be the tenants on which all learning is based. And so that’s sort of a new area that’s being socialized, right? Because there’s been sort of the, well you could learn online, but there’s this perception that’s been, and, and you know, from my, I I understand that I work in online learning and so I obviously have somewhat of a bias perspective, but the idea that online learning is a less than mm-hmm.
learning model or it’s less rigorous or less difficult, or for a less than student Right. Are not methods or philosophies that I subscribe to. Mm-hmm. . , but I do feel like that narrative is socialized and discussed, and so it makes me question as someone that works in the field to say, who is socializing that narrative and why are they socializing that narrative?
[00:28:13] Kara: And some people are open to reframing the idea or have partaken in online learning and seeing that it, it doesn’t have the negative connotation that.
[00:28:25] Julie: right. Yeah. There are ways that it can be done and it can be done well. Mm-hmm. and there are even research based case studies in which out online learning has outperformed traditional learning. You know, and so I do think we have to start to flip the script a little bit in our conversations and not, like, I find some of the debate and, and things about online learning is about like debating online versus.
Face-to-face, right? Mm-hmm. . And so I’m like, that’s kind of like a tired debate. We’ve been having that debate, like we really have to elevate the conversation and start to talk about like what is the quality of learning and how do you measure it regardless of modality? What is the equity framework that learning is based on, regardless of modality, those are the things that we have to start to measure. And also, How are we making the table of education more accessible? Mm-hmm. . So those are things that you know, we’re asking online learning to be able to represent and speak to that, but we’re not necessarily asking traditional models of education to provide the metrics under which they’re reporting on that.
So I do think overall we have to start to shift the conversation to say we need to co-design solutions together. and as an outcome of the solutions, whether it’s online, face-to-face, hybrid or whatever, new model, we haven’t even you know, discovered yet. , these are the metrics on which we need to co-design the solution. So,
[00:29:54] Kara: yeah,
[00:29:55] Julie: I did read a book in the last year is by Jacqueline Nova, Nova Grants. Mm-hmm. It’s called the Manifesto for a Moral Revolution. And so , she is, she founded Acumen which basically is a, it’s like a wealth management firm, but they do a lot of education work in different countries of how to bring change models and agency basically to individuals to give them opportunity.
And so she talks a lot about. She’s drawn to the areas where no footprints exist, right? Ah, so that always very much speaks to me as I read her stuff, is that you know, I, I’m really drawn to this work and I’m passionate about it. Not necessarily to be able to replicate what others have done or to build the biggest online learning program, but to really look at what are the real problems that we’re facing today?
How do we remain relevant? and where are there not footprints yet that exist that we can kind of go down a path and explore to see, you know, how can we really move the needle and bring change to people? And so that’s really where I am motivated and driven to explore those. I’m always looking for what’s the ne next best thing to read and trying to. Continue to consume information cuz I feel like this field is a little bit of learned experience and a little bit of learning how to read the tea leaves, right? Yeah. So there’s, yeah, right. So like the only way you can continue to like stay on the innovation side to be able to read the tea leaves is to continue to consume a lot of information and learn from others’ perspectives and.
Just read and stay abreast of what’s happening in the world and what’s happening in the research and what’s happening with technology and you know, what’s happening even in our world. Right? Yeah. Like the quiet quitting and the skill-based hiring mm-hmm. and all that kind of stuff that’s coming Yeah. To impact higher ed.
So are all things down the path. So, but yeah.
[00:31:50] Kara: This has been a great conversation, thank you so much for talking to us today.
[00:31:55] Julie: Thank you both. It was great to chat