Takeaways from UPCEA 2021 Annual Conference

by Kristina Wilson and Angela Xiong


This year, the Distance Learning team attended the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) 2021 Annual Conference virtually. For three days in April, this conference brought together leaders in the management, administration, and growth of professional, continuing, and online education programs to share best practices and discuss strategies. 

In this blog post, Dr. Angela Xiong and Krissy Wilson share their thoughts on two standout sessions.

“Supporting Faculty in the Pivot to Online Instruction: Research Insights and Successful Programming”

Review: Dr. Angela Xiong, Learning Designer

I chose this session because I was interested in learning about the faculty development initiatives from other institutions during the pandemic. Since I was a consultant and personally participated in the NU practicum, I deeply understood how important it was to develop partnerships to help faculty rapid transition from delivery of f2f courses to remote delivery during this time. Two teams of presenters, Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U) and University of Delaware (UD) discussed their several salient challenges as well as creative strategies to help faculty adapt their instruction quickly. 

According to the data collected from online survey and case study interviews, the findings from C21U indicated: 

  • Transition experience and method of delivery instruction varied considerably by colleges
  • The  most challenging aspects of transition were engaging students in discussion with online forums and assessing students’ learning
  • Department guidance or peer advice appear to be more helpful than general forms of guidance(e.g., webinar training)
  • Emergency transition was not easy in general, but anecdotal evidence of various creative strategies to enhance students’ connectivity and sense of community is encouraging   

Partnership and New Program Development

The University of Delaware’s Division of Professional & Continuing Studies (PCS) partnered with the Center for Teaching and Assessment of learning and Library, Museums & Press to develop and facilitate Teaching Online Together (TOP), a new program with a mix of self-paced asynchronous content and weekly synchronous sessions facilitated by the partners. The new training program included four modules: Module 1: Backward Design; Module 2: Authentic Assessment; Module 3: Scaffolding and Learning Activities; and Module 4: Equity & Access. 

“Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Online Graduate Management Curricular and Co-Curricular Programs”

Review: Krissy Wilson, Senior Learning Designer

I started out the UPCEA conference with a great first session: “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Online Graduate Management Curricular and Co-Curricular Programs” by Khamel Abdulai, Li-Fang Shih, and Michele Paludi of Excelsior College. I was drawn to this session because of the overlap in distance learning team goals (diversity, equity, and inclusion) and similar program types (graduate degree programs). With the goal of helping “students understand [the] ways perspectives influence how knowledge is constructed,” the presenters discussed the diversity, equity, and inclusion outcomes they developed at the program and course level.

They also shared these best practices for establishing and maintaining inclusive classrooms:

  • “Establish rules for how people should be treated
  • Challenge stereotypic views
  • Use readings with multicultural themes
  • Actively promote diversity and inclusion
  • Ensure all students have equal access to opportunities and participation
  • Ensure that readings do not discriminate against anyone”

(Abdulai, Shih, and Paludi, 2021)

Of these goals, I’d like to focus on the first one–”Establish rules for how people should be treated”–in my collaborations with faculty. Are expectations for respectful communication clear in your course (especially in different contexts, such as in asynchronous discussions in the course site or in synchronous sessions via Zoom)? And are these expectations co-constructed with students at the beginning of the term, in order to share course governance and ensure that all students’ needs are met?


At a recent team retreat, members of the Distance Learning team discussed sessions from the UPCEA 2021 Annual Conference with members of other academic teams within the college, including graduate, undergraduate, and professional development programs. All had attended sessions that were salient, interesting, and engaging! We are looking forward to participating again in the future.