Movers and Shakers: Matthew Rascoff

Duke snags the digital learning leader from its Research Triangle neighbor, the University of North Carolina system.

January 30, 2017
Matthew Rascoff

This new feature, Movers and Shakers, explores the job changes of leaders in the world of academic technology -- in Rascoff's case, exploring what drew him to Duke and what he accomplished (and didn't get to) in the job he is leaving behind.

New Position: Associate vice provost for digital education and innovation, Duke University

Last Position: Vice president, Office of Technology-Based Learning and Innovation, University of North Carolina system.

The opportunity at Duke: People "don't think small" at the North Carolina private university, Rascoff says, and Duke's culture and wealth combine to put its significant ambitions within reach. Duke was an early experimenter with its 2004 initiative to give iPods to all incoming freshmen, which continued to evolve, and it has more recently played a prominent role in the massive open online course phenomenon (its incoming president, Vincent Price, headed Coursera's advisory board while provost at the University of Pennsylvania). 

Among the things that most attracted Rascoff to Duke is the chance to help the university's faculty "consciously design" a new blended "delivery method" for the curriculum for the university's planned undergraduate liberal arts degree at its campus in Kunshan, China. "It's exciting to be in a green field, not working with a legacy process and curriculum and physical infrastructure," he said. "This is a university that blends tradition and innovation, and it's amazingly innovative and future-focused for such a great research university."

The challenge at Duke: "This is a well-functioning machine, and in a machine that's working well and running fast, the question is how you go into it while it's on and make small improvements along the way," Rascoff said. "Or maybe you develop new machines on the side?" He also acknowledged that by moving from the 16-campus, 225,000-student UNC system to Duke, he would in some ways be trading "scale for depth."

Biggest accomplishments at UNC: Rascoff is perhaps proudest of how much enrollments and faculty buy-in in online education grew during his three years there; more than 10 percent of the system's 225,000 are studying fully online according to the latest available data, and a quarter of the faculty taught an online course last year. "It wasn't destiny (three years ago) that a student is now more likely to get a tenured or tenure-track faculty member in an online course than in a face-to-face course," he said.

Rascoff's office at UNC also developed a systemwide faculty and course development incubator and its own proctoring system that served all the system's campuses. "We tried to work from a theory of focusing on things that belong in a system office, things that get better with scale and network effects, and leaving everything else at the institution level."

Work left undone: The major initiative that is just getting started as Rascoff leaves UNC is a legislature-funded effort designed to complete the education (online as well as in-person) of students who stopped out of UNC campuses with a lot of credits but no degree. "We're responsible for students, whether they've graduated from us or not," he said.

The big picture: Both UNC and Duke are examples, Rascoff says, of why it's essential for traditional institutions to be leaders in creating digial programs and then infusing the innovations into their mainstream curriculums. "In less than a generation, it's not going to be 'online learning' and 'face-to-face learning;' it's going to be just 'learning,' and technology will be like air, part of everything."


Inside Higher Ed's Inside Digital Learning

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