Virginia Padilla-Vigil, Ph.D.
Dr. Padilla-Vigil loves technology - not only because it helps her in her own teaching and organization, but because it enables her to be successful in one of her greatest passions: increasing education equity and access to traditionally underserved and minority populations.
Padilla-Vigil, now the Rio Rancho Center director at New Mexico Highlands University, has leveraged technology for years to bring greater educational access and opportunities to New Mexico’s often rural and isolated areas. In 2008, after helping implement El Colegio, a virtual college for New Mexico, Padilla-Vigil was hired as the chief academic officer for IDEAL-NM, a statewide K-12 eLearning program. Padilla-Vigil’s charge was to develop new courses and significantly increase enrollment. At the time, the nascent initiative only had 12 educators for online teaching and two courses - a New Mexico history and an algebra course. By the end of the first year, IDEAL-NM had developed 40 courses and increased enrollment to between 500 and 700 students per semester. More teachers also joined the program’s ranks - by the end of the first year, IDEAL-NM had trained 50 teachers and by the end of the second, 200 teachers were trained and enrollment increased to nearly 1,000 students per semester.
In 2010, when Padilla-Vigil became the executive director of the program, she started to focus on increasing New Mexico schools’ use of the statewide learning management system and encouraging them to start their own local-level online learning and blended learning programs. According to Padilla-Vigil, being able to see the program from concept to successful implementation has been both a privilege and a rewarding leadership experience.
“By 2013 we had 50 public schools and 20 charter schools that were utilizing the learning management system for online and blended learning programs,” Padilla-Vigil says. “That was what it was all about - empowering them to provide additional opportunities for their students. Working in partnership with the schools was key to the successful implementation of the program.”
In its sixth year of operation, in 2013, IDEAL-NM had 7,500 successful course completions with an 85 percent pass rate and more than 70 public and 30 charter schools participating in the virtual school. Initially created to connect rural students to additional resources, the eLearning initiative is used by urban schools as well, so much so that the two largest school districts in the state are also the largest users of IDEAL-NM.
In her current role at New Mexico Highlands University, Padilla-Vigil tries to influence the higher education community to embrace online learning and advocates for personalized and learner-centric approaches to learning. She works with faculty to implement virtual learning opportunities that enrich students’ learning experiences. Padilla-Vigil teaches a blended assessment and evaluation course at Highlands University as well as a fully online course for the University of the Southwest to continually perfect her craft. Additionally, she writes a blog that targets K-20 educators and beyond to entice them to give online and blended learning a try, a move she says enables educators to learn a lot about who they are as teachers and prompts growth.
“Technology is a powerful tool,” says Padilla-Vigil. “It does not replace teachers, but just like any tool, if it’s used effectively and meaningfully, it can enhance teaching and learning. I think students that experience online classes develop powerful 21st-century skills that better prepare them for college and the workforce. They have to be in the driver’s seat and they’re empowered to develop skills they wouldn’t be able to if they were allowed to be passive learners in traditional classrooms.”