Finalist urges TCC to build on gains in online learning

Meet the finalists

Note: The TCC Connection is reporting on open forums featuring the four finalists for Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer. The forums were held April 27-30. This story will be regularly updated on the TCC Connection website.

Saying the coronavirus pandemic has changed higher education forever, a candidate for Tulsa Community College’s (TCC) top academic post urged further expansion of online learning and student services.

During a Zoom forum with the TCC community April 29, Dr. Deanna Romano highlighted her experience as a leader in online distance learning during her previous positions in Ohio and West Virginia.

“What is tomorrow going to look like in higher education? We have to be asking those questions. We have to take time to reflect and say what worked and what didn’t work? And how are we going to move forward from this pandemic that we’re experiencing? … Because we know our students’ behaviors have changed. And once behaviors have changed, there’s no going back,” Romano said.

Romano held herself out as a leader in learning technology, pointing to many firsts she accomplished in her career including teaching the first online course at Ashland University in Ohio, designing the first master’s degree program in online learning and serving as an interim provost in online and adult studies. Her resume as faculty and administrator reflects broad experience related to professional development, curriculum design, certification and scholarship in education technology.

Dr. Deanna Romano (top right) listens to a question posed by Kirk Brewer (top left), associate professor of Liberal Arts and Communication, and moderator of a forum April 29 for finalists to be TCC’s senior vice president and chief academic officer. Also seen is sign language interpreter Leah Owens (bottom center). Photo by Kevin Shank

As did other finalists at similar forums, Romano commended TCC on its efforts to ramp up online programming as the pandemic took hold.

“I understand the red tape that’s involved in higher education and things move at a snail’s pace,” she said. “But what we were able to do in such a short period of time to make sure that our students were going to still be successful, to me, is phenomenal. Breathe, reflect and pat yourself on the back.”

Romano said beyond efforts to get classes and student services online, the next job will be to gather analytics and data to measure success and outcomes for students in the online environment.

She conceded that technology is still developing, but she envisions things like early alert systems for low-performing students and electronic curriculum that could give students individualized help in weaker subject areas.

“So instead of being cumbersome, and having faculty have to identify what students should be on an early alert, we will use the technology to be more efficient and we will also be able to allow the tools to be built in  … using data analytics, it can all be embedded within the learning process. It doesn’t have to be separate.”

Nothing will replace in-person learning, but colleges will need to respond to new demands for distance learning, according to Romano.

“During the last six weeks behaviors have definitely changed and we’re not going to go backwards. Do I believe that everything’s going to be online? Absolutely not. Do I think that that’s the only way to educate individuals? No. But it is a way to be able to support especially those non- traditional students … to be able to access education and be successful,” Romano said.

She encouraged the college to designate committees focused on online delivery and outcomes in order to narrow equity gaps.

The pandemic experience should spur rethinking in areas beyond academics, like student support services and advising, Romano said.

She said some services at TCC require students to call and make a future appointment to come to campus, which she suggested can be inconvenient.

“What does that look like now that students are saying, ‘Hey, why would I have to come to campus? How do I get those resources at 10 o’clock or two or seven o’clock, when I’m in the mood to learn, when I need to be able to move forward on my agenda and I need to be able to fit it in my life.’ How do we solve those problems? And that’s what’s going to come from this pandemic and how institutions are going to look different in the future, in the very near future.”

Romano most recently worked from 2017-2019 as vice president for academic affairs at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Cleveland State University, and a doctorate in instructional technology and distance learning from Nova Southeastern University (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.).

Meet the other finalists:

Dr. Greg Stone

Dr. Sharon Warren Cook

Dr. Angela Sivadon

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