3 Questions for Poonam Kumar, Associate Provost for Academic Affairs and Digital Learning at Lamar University

In Learning Innovation and the Future of Higher Education, Eddie Maloney and I argue that higher education needs more academics trained in learning science to ascend to academic leadership roles. Poonam Kumar, associate provost for academic affairs and digital learning at Lamar University, is a model for the sort of academic leadership path that we envision. Poonam did her doctorate in education and then went on to spend 18 years as a professor of education. Along the way, she directed a Center for Academic Innovation and Online Learning before moving to her leadership role at Lamar University in January 2021. Poonam graciously agreed to answer my questions about her career path.

Q: Tell us a bit about Lamar University, and your role as associate provost for academic affairs and digital learning.

A: Lamar University is a Carnegie doctoral research institution primarily serving southeast Texas and is part of the Texas State University system. The institution educates a diverse body of more than 17,000 students, and its mission is to increase access to quality educational opportunities for all students.

As a national leader in digital learning, Lamar University offers more than 75 online degree programs that enroll more than 9,000 online learners. Our online programs are taken by students from 210 counties in Texas and 49 states in the country. As the associate provost for academic affairs and digital learning, I provide leadership for all digital learning initiatives, manage the portfolio of online programs and support faculty excellence.

Q: How has your experience as a scholar of education and an expert in learning science influenced your leadership work at Lamar University?

A: My background in education and my research in digital pedagogy have been very helpful in my administrative roles. First, it has given me a deep understanding of how to intentionally and effectively integrate learning science principles and affordances of technology to enhance learning within a classroom and at the institutional level. I regularly draw on this knowledge in the selection, evaluation and implementation of learning technologies, development of online programs/digital learning initiatives and faculty development.

Second, it has given me the unique opportunity to apply what I have learned from my own research and current research in the field to implement evidence-based practices. Finally, as a scholar, I am always curious to examine the effectiveness of initiatives and strategies, and as an administrator, I can investigate questions from an institutional level perspective.

Q: It seems to be fairly uncommon for scholars of education and experts in learning science to ascend to institutional leadership roles. From your experience, what advice would you give to colleagues from your discipline (and related educational fields) who are thinking about pursuing academic leadership roles?

A: It is interesting that you ask this question, as I get this question from many people in the field at conferences all the time. Personally, for me, it is all about impact. I was drawn to the field of education because I wanted to help students and make a difference in their lives.

In my research, I wanted to know what works, what doesn’t and what is the best way to combine pedagogy and technology to support student learning. About 10 years ago, I made a conscious decision to transition to an administrative role because I wanted to have a larger impact. In the administrative role, I can use my expertise in education to create programs and experiences and make decisions that impact a larger number of students.


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