New Book:  “Staying Online” by Bob Ubell!

Dear Commons Community,

My colleague of many years, Bob Ubell, has a new book coming out entitled, Staying Online:  How to Navigate Digital Higher Education (Routledge).  Bob has a wealth of experience in leading and developing online programs having had major administrative positions at Stevens Institute of Technology and New York University.  His knowledge is evident in this book and shares many kernels of practical advice on how to move a college or university forward in their online program initiatives.

Topics covered in its thirteen chapters include issues related to outsourcing vs. insourcing, ethics, recruiting students, proctoring, and accreditation.  I thought his chapter on developing online programs abroad where he shares his experience in developing a program in China, was especially well-done .  Here is an excerpt: 

“My own experience in China is instructive. Unexpectedly, just over a decade ago at Stevens Institute of Technology, a noted Chinese-American professor approached me to help him launch several online master’s in technical fields in Beijing.

“But I know nothing about China,” I confessed. “Not sure I can be very useful.”

Dismissing my ignorance, the faculty member insisted that my knowledge of online learning would be the key to unlocking what he had in mind. Aware of the enormous investment it would take to lift Stevens’ academic infrastructure nearly seven thousand miles away in Beijing, he proposed an innovative, high-quality, cost-saving alternative.

A third of the courses in the program, he imagined, would be taught online by Stevens faculty; another third would be delivered in English in Beijing by Chinese faculty who had been educated in the U.S. and elsewhere outside of China. A final third would be given by Stevens faculty in brief, intensive courses in China. Like a satisfying cocktail, it was a finely blended solution. I was in.

But I initially worried how my boss would react. Would she go for it, especially since she had just that week been appointed vice president of my unit? I fretted for days over how to approach her—until I met over drinks with an old friend one evening.

“What should I say to her?” I asked him.

As if his entire career had been in preparation for my question, he responded with a brilliant suggestion, “Ask her to head your delegation to China.”

In the vice president’s office the next day, I expressed my misgivings about our proposed China adventure. “I’m not senior enough to negotiate with the Chinese,” I ventured. “But if you join me as head of our delegation…”

First silence; then a glow of satisfaction radiated from her smile. “I always wanted to go to China,” she beamed.

Our Chinese students did very well. Nearly all succeeded in capturing high-profile jobs at domestic and foreign high-tech companies. One young student, shy and hesitant in English when she was first admitted, delivered the valedictory address at graduation two years later in sophisticated, nearly flawless English. With her Stevens degree in hand, she landed a brilliant job—in Paris.

Of course, it didn’t all go so swimmingly. We had to contend with Party functionaries who intimidated our Chinese faculty with tedious, bureaucratic trivia. Luckily, our clever Chinese students knew how to do an end-run around government internet censorship by accessing sites commonly out of reach of the Chinese.”

The above is the kind of practical, on-ground insights you can expect from this book.

In sum, I recommend Staying Online… to higher education administrators who feel they need a bit more understanding of the universe of online learning.  Given what many of us have been going through during the past nineteen months with the pandemic, this book is timely.


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