New Office of Innovation, Digital and Global Strategy will expand scope and scale of university growth efforts
The heart of Doane University has always been on campus in Crete, along the winding paths and under the canopies of trees planted at the turn of the 20th century. The campus has been the four-year home for hundreds of thousands of students. But in recent years, residential students have not been the only eager minds looking to Doane for degrees, certificates and other educational opportunities to advance their futures and careers.
In fact, more than 293,000 online students in 175 countries, such as China, Russia and Poland, and all 50 states have taken online classes and programs on the university’s digital learning platforms. That’s more people than the current population of Lincoln, Nebraska even before including the number of students who have received an in-person education at Doane’s campuses in Crete, Lincoln and Omaha.
It’s true that this exceptional growth in Doane’s digital learning ecosystem, which encompasses online programming, is critical to the university’s financial health and outlook for the future. It’s also true that this is a large group of students hungry for knowledge who can be positively impacted by a Doane education. To recognize and support this growing student population, Doane has created the Office of Innovation, Digital and Global Strategy (IDGS).
This new office is a formalization of practices, processes and people who were already working together, but in separate departments. The IDGS will grow on the work previously done as part of the Office of Educational Services and School of Integrative Learning (SIL), now renamed the School of Innovative Learning as it operates under the IDGS office.
“In creating the IDGS, what we’re really doing is better describing the work undertaken by a group of people already at Doane whose jobs have expanded in scope and scale as a reflection of significant new growth opportunities.These changes also help to align us all under one umbrella to complete the goals and missions set by the university,” said Andrea Butler, who will lead the new office as Vice President for Innovation, Digital and Global Strategies.
Butler was previously associate vice president of academic affairs, online operations, and SIL dean, and has been a key contributor to Doane’s digital learning platforms and growth since joining Doane in 2016 as the director of online education. She will continue to maintain her position in the university’s Cabinet and report directly to the president.
In her new role, Butler will be responsible for expanding Doane’s digital learning ecosystem, working closely with faculty and administration in cross-functional teams to coordinate the vision, strategies, accreditation and implementation of market-responsive and equity-based academic programs and practices. She is also charged with cultivating innovation across the Doane’s digital and on-campus communities to ultimately grow local and global engagement, or, in her words, “to bring the world to Doane and Doane to the world.”
"By expanding our digital learning offerings, we’re giving students more control over the timing, place, path, platform and pace of their education,” Butler said. “Higher education institutes can’t afford to be unaware that the traditional four-year-degree-to-career path isn’t as accessible to all students, and that our competition isn’t just with brick and mortar universities anymore but any institution with an online education program."
The formation of the IDGS comes from greater demand for more accessible and inclusive online learning opportunities, but also resulted as part of the Budget Prioritization Recommendations created in 2020. The IDGS restructure is one of many proactive innovations produced during the year-long collaborative process among Doane’s administration, faculty and staff that are now being put into action to support the university’s long-term visions and goals.
“The actions we are now taking to restructure and create this new office are in response to recommendations for innovation presented in the Budget Prioritization Report, approved by the Board of Trustees in November of last year,” said Dr. Jacque Carter, university president.
Of course, recruiting and supporting students who want an on-campus, in-person university experience and degree will continue to be a priority for Doane. This won’t change, but can be augmented by the implementation of more online learning opportunities.
“In-person classes, the camaraderie between faculty and students, the experience of playing in a school band or running a touchdown on your home field, these are all the things many of us remember and love about our own college experiences,” Carter said. “These won’t be going away, but we now have students who are receiving a Doane education without ever setting foot on campus and we want to devote the time and tools to making their experiences just as rewarding.”
Total credit hours received through online courses have also risen from 4,665 hours in the 2016-2017 school year to 22,849 hours in the 2019-2020 school year. These numbers also do not include the distance learning and hybrid courses offered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which halted in-person courses across most of the world and required a rapid pivot to online education formats. It has been a difficult transition for both students and faculty new to education through a webcam during an incredibly difficult period in history.
It isn’t only during these unprecedented times that students who have a desire to continue their degrees and advance their skills can face barriers to receiving an education at a traditional campus setting. Many students may even prefer the flexibility of an online education. As presented in a post from the Harvard Extension School, online learning allows accommodation for different learning styles, work and family schedules, as well as collaboration and networking with others across the world.
“The students I’ve taught in my online courses have come from a variety of backgrounds, with a range of academic and industry experience. What ultimately matters is that they’re eager for the opportunity to continue their education in a way that fits into their lifestyle,” said Dr. April Minster, who has been promoted to dean of the School of Innovative Learning as part of the creation of the IDGS office.
Minster has been with Doane since 2017, starting as the director of nursing/health sciences as an associate professor of practice in nursing. She has coordinated the continuing development of ground and online RN to BSN and health sciences programs, in addition to teaching many of the courses in this department herself.
In her new role, Minster will oversee curriculum development and academic planning for SIL and manage faculty and staff in the department, which encompasses the Open Learning Academy, DoaneX and the Master of Science in Instructional Design, in addition to the Cannabis Studies, Strength and Conditioning, RN to BSN, Health Sciences and Exercise Science programs. Each of these programs has grown in enrollment and participation over several years, and shows that students around the world are finding value in Doane’s existing online courses.
“With the higher education landscape changing rapidly, Doane must do more than simply follow the example of other universities,” Carter said. “We need to strengthen and expand our local and global leadership role in digital education to ensure we not only meet the needs and expectations of today’s and tomorrow’s students, but exceed them.”