Emerging technologies boost academic learning

Joyce Seitzinger is a digital learning expert whose background is as varied as her work as an education technologist. Although born in the Netherlands where she graduated with a degree in Celtic studies, she has lived in Germany, Ireland and Egypt, and then in 2006 she moved to the other side of the world to take up a job as an e-learning advisor for five years at New Zealand’s Eastern Institute of Technology.

There she led a team of learning technologists providing strategic advice, instructional design and course development services before moving again, this time to Australia. She worked as a lecturer in ‘blended learning’ at Deakin University in Melbourne, running a “capacity building project on network literacies” for faculty of health staff before establishing her own learning design and social media consultancy company called Academic Tribe.

“I am passionate about improving learning experiences through emerging technologies and innovative teaching strategies,” Seitzinger says.

“My special interests are social content curation, learning design and networked learning but I’m probably best known in the education technology community for developing the Moodle Tool Guide for Teachers that, since I developed it, has been translated into several languages”.

Much in demand as a speaker at conferences, workshops, seminars and lectures, Seitzinger has addressed audiences in Australia, Britain, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Oman and Spain, as well as at a distance and virtually to people in Canada, Croatia and Switzerland.

Emerging world of digital learning

Now she is to give a keynote address next month at the 26th ICDE World Conference in South Africa, held in the mega-resort Sun City, north of Johannesburg, from 14-16 October. The conference of the International Council for Open and Distance Education will be hosted by the University of South Africa under the theme “Growing capacities for sustainable distance e-learning provision”.

Seitzinger says she will focus on two aspects of the emerging world of digital learning: one is called ‘open badges’ which she describes as a new means of credentialing: “Traditionally, we have these large badges that are awarded when a person has earned a degree but since 2011 I’ve been involved in the development of open badges and creating a standard for organisations to issue credentials to people that are portable, that become part of a digital back-pack so wherever they learn they should be able to pick up a credential.”

In this way, she says, all the digital credentials would begin to paint a good picture of a person’s lifelong learning activities. One of the attractions is that this would match the informal learning that people undertake in non-formal learning spaces.

“When someone set outs to upgrade their skills, wouldn’t it be great to be able to show the work that you have done to a potential employer, a credential you could carry with you wherever you go? A lot of work is now being done in the United States and United Kingdom around these digital badges while Deakin University plans to set up a separate credentialing organisation.”

The other topic she will tackle in her address at the ICDE conference is learner experience design, which is about applying experience design methodology to how courses are designed: “Rather than just creating a course that is functional, the aim is to create one that makes the learning experience more engaging.”

Seitzinger is also likely to touch on the topic of social media and her use of twitter as a way of engaging with a wide and ever-growing number of others. She checks her twitter account during our interview and finds that she has sent 48,487 tweets to her 10,649 followers – “although it’s likely to be more now because I’m running a course on how to do social media for career researchers and I’ve been tweeting about that and showing the researchers how to tweet”.

“The numbers grow even more at a conference and this is always what I tell academics: If you’re going to start tweeting, then do it around an event. Leading a workshop or giving an address at a conference is a really great way to connect with the people who are there because they will be sharing your interests and you can meet them face-to-face. I’ll be tweeting avidly before and during the ICDE conference.”

From Celtic to cyber

So how did a graduate with a degree in Celtic studies end up exploring the digital world?

As Seitzinger says, she did not think that moving into e-learning after Celtic studies would be an obvious progression but it occurred when she began as a translator for a Dutch publishing house that had just bought the rights to a new learning management system.

“I worked on the translation of the website and the accompanying manual, and then they asked me to stay on and develop a portal for them which was how I got into course design. I found it very creative being able to work with people on different projects and the intellectual challenge of studying how people learn.

“But I also wanted to back up my work with more formal training and so I did a masters degree in education technology online with the University of Southern Queensland – well before I ever set foot in Australia. It is an excellent programme that I started before moving to New Zealand which was where I finished the degree.”

Eighteen months ago, Seitzinger left her work at Deakin University to set up Academic Tribe as a collective of experienced and creative learning designers, education technologists and other education experts, working with institutions and organisations to develop learning solutions.

The webpage says the tribe’s network approach “is a response to our time, where educational solutions are more complex than before, need to be updated more often and require a combination of skills to develop.

“By contracting the skills you need, when you need them, you and your organisation remain flexible. And so do our network members, as they can work to their strengths, from their location and still contribute to projects that suit their special expertise.”

Seitzinger says the seven members of the team have a range of skills and all work virtually although she is “on the ground” in Melbourne while the others are based in Sydney, New Zealand and Portugal. All are involved in education in various roles and each has their own speciality so when a project comes that needs certain skills “we tap into the network and find the person who fits”.

Social media for academics

She has also developed an online social media course for academics although she has found that they often still want face-to-face meetings on campus when it would be more efficient to meet virtually via Skype. The course is intended to show academics how to use a social media network as a way of relating to the research they do.

“It explains how you set it up, how you grow it, and how to use it to create more of a research impact,” Seitzinger says. “This is something I wanted to develop after I was involved in a project at Deakin on crowd-funding research where I acted as a social media coach for the researchers.

“I found it really interesting to see how we could organise crowd-funding campaigns and build the researcher’s individual presence that would not only enable them to crowd-fund but would also be beneficial for their other professional activities.

“I saw a real gap there with few universities offering courses or, if they are, it may only be once a year or a term. I thought this is the kind of thing that would work really well online and have now developed my own framework which I’ve just used with a project at another university.”