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Mock wins CAPE Award for trailblazing work with MOOC courses, degree programs

Apr 15, 2021, 08:37 AM

Jason Mock in front of Armory Building

When Jason Mock started as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, his advisor recommended that he take a lighter course load during his first semester. A self-described Type A personality, Mock used the extra time to teach himself HTML and developed a passion for technology.

That set Mock on an educational path – combining his interests in technology and education – and a career path in online education that resulted in Illinois’ first Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and online graduate programs hosted on the Coursera platform.

Recently, Mock was announced as a 2021 recipient of the Chancellor’s Academic Professional Excellence (CAPE) Award for his trailblazing work and other leadership accomplishments at the Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning, where he is associate director of program management; the U of I; and beyond.

Given each year since 1989, the CAPE Award recognizes academic professionals for “demonstrated excellence” in their work and personal and professional contributions. 

“I’m completely shocked but deeply appreciative,” said Mock, who, along with five other recipients, will be honored at an April 15 virtual reception, hosted by Chancellor Robert Jones. Each winner will receive $1,000 and a commemorative plaque. 

Mock was nominated by Madhu Viswanathan, professor emeritus in business administration at the Gies College of Business and marketing professor in the College of Business Administration at Loyola Marymount University.

Viswanathan first worked with Mock on the development of an online business course at Illinois, and later when Viswanathan stepped in as the self-described faculty advisor for the development of the iMBA (online Master of Business Administration) program five months before its launch.

“I worked very closely with Jason and can describe him as one of perhaps three to four individuals who were the anchors, the reasons for our success,” said Viswanathan, who served in his role with the iMBA program for about nine months. “He has pioneered, championed, persevered, and succeeded on the largest stage. He has not just excelled; he has set a standard! This is a level of impact for an AP that I am unable to imagine in my 26-plus years of experience here at the University of Illinois.”

MOOCs and other accomplishments

In his nomination letter, Viswanathan said that Mock, then an instructional designer in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS), worked with more than 50 faculty members across campus to transform their in-person class to the fully-online format; designed 60 fully-online courses, including seven of Illinois’ first 10 MOOCs for the Coursera platform “while simultaneously developing much of the university’s infrastructure regarding MOOCs; and led the teams that launched Illinois’ first online graduate programs hosted on Coursera – the iMBA and MCS-DS (Master of Computer in Data Science).

“His MOOC designs are of such recognizable quality that Coursera directs other institutions to specifically review his MOOCs as the standard of excellence they should pursue,” Viswanathan said. “These MOOCs directly serve Illinois’ land-grant mission by bringing a free form of education to every part of the globe.”

To date, there have been close to 6 million course enrollments through Illinois’ partnership with Coursera.

Viswanathan also noted:

  • For several years, Mock co-managed operations for that partnership and launched multiple new and innovative initiatives aimed at improving the development and quality of online programs including the Illinois Online Course-in-a-Box, a faculty handbook, workshops, and forms, among other things.
  • Mock reformulated CITL’s online course service models; reorganized the instructional design team he led; revamped the department’s onboarding experience for new hires to better support faculty; and found no- or low-cost professional development opportunities for his staff.

In his current role, Mock and his team work with academic directors across campus to develop academic programs and connect them to resources within CITL.

He coordinated CITL’s strategic response to the COVID-19 crisis, moving the majority of the unit’s 80 full-time staff into positions where they could respond to faculty needs.

A member of CITL’s Senior Leadership Team, Mock led the unit’s first strategic-planning initiative and now manages more than a dozen unit-wide projects stemming from the five-year plan, aimed at improving the unit’s ability to function and serve campus needs.

“Jason is the ultimate professional, always focused on the goals and larger purpose,” Viswanathan said of Mock’s personal contributions, adding they are seamlessly intertwined with his work and professional contributions. “He brings tremendous emotional quotient to all his interactions with colleagues. The energy he brings to every situation is always positive. Having worked with Jason very closely during a time of tremendous stress as we launched the iMBA, his temperament was such an invaluable asset, as was the dignity and composure he brought to every situation.”

"Definition of exemplary professional"

Viswanathan received an “overwhelming” response when he reached out to Mock’s colleagues for their support in the nomination. Here are what a few had to say:

“I could not have asked for a better mentor or leader than Jason has been for me the past four years,” said one U of I colleague. “Back in 2012 I saw how he handled being thrown into the completely new sphere of MOOCs, and how willing he was not just to work hard to make Illinois’ first MOOCs happen, but immediately begin innovating and figuring out how to make them better than any existing MOOCs. Since then, I have seen him be an integral part of Illinois’ charge into the MOOC field as Illinois is now the leader among all of Coursera’s 145-plus partners, offering the first MOOC-based degree program.

 “Along the way he has guided me and my colleagues on the ever-growing Instructional Design team to contribute to the best of our abilities in both the MOOC and traditional online work that Illinois is doing,” the colleague continued. “Jason is the reason I am in the Instructional Design field and why I love the work I do.”

“Jason is the definition of exemplary professional,” another colleague offered. “He is highly knowledgeable, has excellent critical thinking abilities, applies well what he knows to any given situation, and has helped countless faculty offer high-quality online courses at Illinois. His leadership in online education, including MOOCs, has helped our campus become recognized throughout the world, and Jason, true to his character, never vies for credit. He simply embodies the highest caliber of productivity one would expect.”

Kevin Pitts, who worked with Mock when he served as Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, also congratulated Mock “on this well-deserved award, which speaks not only to his knowledge, dedication, and leadership but also to the effectiveness of the entire CITL team.”

Viswanathan went on to say that Mock’s impact on campus, in turn, extended his impact as others have sought out his expertise. Mock has been invited to give over thirty presentations to regional, national, and international conferences, including the Association of Public Catalan Universities in Barcelona, Spain. 

At Illinois, Mock has served on a number of steering committees and about a dozen campus search committees. He currently co-leads the Online Student Services Water Cooler Steering Committee, co-leads the Interest Group for Educational Technologies (IGET) Steering Committee, and is an ex-officio member of the Online Learning Operations Advisory Committee.

“Jason’s professional contributions resemble those of a world-renowned academic even though he does not have the advantage of a tenured position as a research professor,” Viswanathan said. “His contributions arise from his work on the online space, and the knowledge he has developed as a result of his rich experiences … This is a level of local, regional, national, and international impact that is most impressive and only going to grow as Jason takes our university to new heights in this arena of online education.”

The Mock File

  • Mock earned a BS in physics and Master of Education in Human Resource Development with a focus on Instructional Technologies, both from the University of Illinois
  • He joined CITL in 2015 and previously worked for the Office of Online and Continuing Education (OCE), one of CITL’s predecessors.
  • Prior to joining CITL, he also worked for Human Kinetics, a local government contractor, the UI system, and LAS.
  • Mock received the UPCEA's College Credit Distance Course Award Meritorious Course instructional designer (2012) and is an award-winning instructional designer for the Blackboard Exemplary Courses Program (2011).
  • Mock and his wife have three children.
  • He grew up in Mahomet and attended Mahomet-Seymour High School (Home of the Bulldogs), so orange and blue have run through his veins for a long time. “I always knew that I wanted to go to the U of I.” 

Learn more about Illinois’ MOOCs at https://online.illinois.edu/why-illinois-online/why-moocs and online degree and professional certificate programs at https://online.illinois.edu/online-programs.

Photo by: Fred Zwicky, U of I Public Affairs