The Future of Academia in a Virtual Environment


Converting to Online Teaching
A series of short guidance articles for educators and institutions


By John Cable, Director

Project Management Center for Excellence
A. James Clark School of Engineering
University of Maryland

College Park, Maryland, USA




The coronavirus pandemic has been the motivation to quickly move campus courses online. The Project Management Center of Excellence has long been offering online classes in a variety of formats initially at the graduate level, but increasingly at the undergraduate level as well. Many faculty on campus have traditionally resisted teaching their classes online. However, the convulsive shift caused by the pandemic has given us a new opportunity to assess which aspects of teleworking and moving classes online have worked pretty well. What can we learn from this experience and what might the future look like?

When we think about Academia in a Virtual Environment there are certainly many functions in addition to instruction such as research, laboratory work in many disciplines, advising, mentoring, and many extracurricular activities. Some of these can work well virtually, for example, we at Maryland already do centralized academic advisement that was moved all online, and is working quite well, but other functions are more of a challenge. This article is focused on course instruction.

Our team thinks that we have a tremendous opportunity to significantly improve education and of course, if we can do that, we improve the student experience. In this article I am going to discuss a variety of things but there are basically three key ideas. One is to design our courses to be resilient, second is to utilize blended and active learning principles in course design, and the third is, if we do that, we can have the same course content and use it either online or on campus.

So the first point here is disruptions happen, and of course, we’re in this horrible pandemic right now, but if you think about it, we often have interruptions. Typically weather events, sometimes travel events, and sometimes it’s either personal health or family issues that cause a major disruption in what was planned. So the point I want to make is, let’s be smart and let’s design our courses to be resilient, meaning that they may be taught on campus or online and the shift is seamless.

So there are a couple basics to do this.  The first is that course design is not either/or, but and/also. In other words, if we’re smart about it, we can design a course that’s equally effective in either environment, teaching on campus or teaching online. We want to embrace the multiple learning styles that our students have, and we want to be able to do this so that again, the course can be offered in either situation. The third thing that we want to pay attention to is to take advantage of what technology can do for us. Let’s let technology enhance the teacher and student experience. Our learning management systems often are not fully utilized, and yet we really need to utilize them if we want to achieve our goals. There are also some very advanced video conferencing systems (we use Zoom at UMD) that enable us to do our jobs well.


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Editor’s note: This series of articles by the Director of the University of Maryland’s Project Management Center for Excellence provides information and advice for converting from traditional in-person classes to online teaching, based on their experience before and during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020. See Professor Cable’s background at the end of this article.

How to cite this paper: Cable, J. H. (2020). Converting to Online Teaching: A series of short guidance articles for educators and institutions – The Future of Academia in a Virtual Environment, PM World Journal, Vol. IX, Issue VIII, August. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/pmwj96-Aug2020-Cable-converting-to-teaching-online-4-future-of-academia.pdf



About the Author

John Cable

Director, Project Management Center for Excellence
University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA


John Cable is Director of the Project Management Center for Excellence in the A.James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland, where he is also a professor and teacher of several graduate courses in project management. His program at the University of Maryland offers masters and PhD level programs focused on project management. With more than 1,300 seats filled annually with students from many countries, including more than 40 PhD students, the program is the largest graduate program in project management at a major university in the United States.

John Cable served in the newly formed U.S. Department of Energy in 1980, where he was involved with developing energy standards for buildings, methods for measuring energy consumption, and managing primary research in energy conservation.  As an architect and builder, Mr. Cable founded and led John Cable Associates in 1984, a design build firm. In 1999 he was recruited by the University of Maryland’s Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering to create and manage a graduate program in project management. In his role as founder and director of the Project Management Center for Excellence at Maryland, the program has grown to offer an undergraduate minor, master’s degrees, and a doctoral program. Information about the Project Management Center for Project Management at the University of Maryland can be found at www.pm.umd.edu.

In 2002, PMI formed the Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Educational Programs (GAC).  Mr. Cable was appointed to that inaugural board where he served as vice chair.  In 2006, he was elected as chairman, a role he held through 2012.  As Chair of the PMI GAC, John led the accreditation of 86 project management educational programs at 40 institutions in 15 countries in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and the Asia Pacific Region. John was awarded PMI’s 2012 Distinguished Contribution Award for his leadership at the GAC.  He can be contacted at jcable@umd.edu.

To view other works by John Cable, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/john-cable/




  1. […] This article appeared in PM World Journal, Vol. IX, Issue 8, August 2020. […]