Campus News

#WomenOfUK: Q&A With Associate Provost Kathi Kern

headshot of Kathi Kern
Kathi Kern is UK’s associate provost for teaching, learning, and academic innovation.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 12, 2019) — The University of Kentucky community is celebrating Women’s History Month. Throughout March, UKNow will feature the women — past and present —  on whose shoulders we stand and whose hard work has made our achievements possible. With a combination of fierce resolve and deep compassion, UK women have left indelible marks on our university. Join us as we highlight these #WomenOfUK.

Leveraging the talents of our world-class faculty, UK is expanding its online programs to meet the needs of new student populations and Kentucky’s workforce. It’s part of the Our Path Forward initiative, a financial plan that seeks to to generate the resources necessary to expand UK’s mission of teaching, research, health care and service.

Associate Provost for Teaching, Learning, and Academic Innovation Kathi Kern is leading UK’s efforts to expand and enhance online programming — a process that Provost David Blackwell describes as an extension of UK’s land-grant mission in the 21st century.

“Online programs also expand our institutional footprint," Blackwell said. "While UK is already present in all 120 Kentucky counties through Cooperative Extension, an expanded online presence will allow more Kentuckians, irrespective of where they live, an opportunity to earn a UK degree.”

Kern’s efforts focus on creating new pathways for Kentucky citizens to access the resources of the university, providing avenues for deeper collaboration between the university and industry partners and aligning educational pathways with workforce needs of the future.

UKNow caught up with her to learn more about these vital efforts:

UKNow: You became UK’s associate provost for teaching, learning, and academic innovation in July. What does that role entail?

Kern: For a while, I have been engaged with faculty and the talented folks at the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching and PresentationU to improve teaching and learning in the face-to-face environment at UK. My goal in directing CELT was to build a nimble, innovative, teaching and learning unit that supported the colleges and earned the respect of the faculty. Now I have the opportunity to think about how we can expand our teaching mission online. How can we reach students with new technologies and virtual environments as we enhance our online offerings? How can we bring UK to students who can’t come to campus?  

UKNow: What is your vision for online/distance education at the University of Kentucky?

Kern: My vision for UK online is to maximize the creative, collaborative potential of technology to connect our world-class faculty to students here in the Commonwealth and beyond. In some cases, for-profit universities have given online education a bad name. Students paid their tuition but became a number, dropped out or earned degrees that were not respected in the workforce. We are building UK Online with faculty leadership — designed and taught by UK faculty — and translating the innovative research, teaching and learning that is our hallmark into a new venue. To start off, we are prioritizing master's degrees, graduate certificates and opportunities for students to complete undergraduate degrees they have started at UK. So our hope is to reach adult students for whom the flexibility of an online degree will be appealing. We want to increase access to UK to folks who cannot always join us in person, but for whom additional education will make a difference in their lives.

UKNow: How can an expanded presence in online and distance learning enhance UK’s role as the Commonwealth’s land-grant, flagship institution?

Kern: This project resonates deeply with our land-grant mission. As a history professor, I love that. I love thinking of how we re-imagine our historic land-grant mission, which calls on us not to build isolated ivory towers, but to build a university that brings its resources to the people of the Commonwealth. As we collectively envision the future of the University of Kentucky, we have an opportunity to re-invigorate our presence in the state and beyond by expanding our online offerings. Faculty are designing new programs that build on our research prowess and also address workforce needs. It's the 1862 land-grant ideal retooled for the 21st century.

UKNow: What are some of the key national trends in online education that you think could inform UK’s model and/or delivery of these programs?

Kern: One important trend is to work in partnership with the community. What are the needs of our workforce and our local economies? How can we use the resources of the university to help students after they graduate to reach their career goals? Quality online education and a UK credential can really help students with a variety of life challenges to continue to advance in their professional lives.

Another trend is to make use of advancements in technologies to make online education more immediate and intimate, anything but “distant.” Students will access their classes through their mobile devices. We are using better tools to connect people to each other and to connect people to places and experiences — through virtual reality. The velocity of technological change has also given us more options in accessibility. We embrace “universal design” so that our courses will be accessible to all learners.

UKNow: How do online education programs align with key institutional priorities, such as the strategic plan and the Our Path Forward initiative?

Kern: In our University of Kentucky Strategic Plan, we challenge ourselves to generate “new and innovative curricular” offerings and to engage in state-of-the art teaching. We have some fabulous new technologies that allow online teaching and learning to engage students in creative ways. Some faculty tell us that teaching online makes them better face-to-face teachers as well. It stimulates our creativity as teachers and forces us to think like designers and be more organized as well!

UKNow: If I’m interested in taking online courses, where do I go to get information?

Kern: We are excited to have launched a new website: