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Fulbright recipient at College stands out as innovator in online education

by Sal Nudo / Jun 29, 2015

Fulbright recipient Peter Kell

Australian scholar Peter Kell also instrumental in planning College’s summer study abroad trip to Australia

Online learning can be a drab, isolating experience in which learners watch videos of lectures and then take quizzes.

On the flip side, online learning can entail structured peer-to-peer interaction in which students offer each other feedback on work and discuss issues in a social media type of environment. Professor Peter Kell, who is finishing a Fulbright fellowship hosted by the College of Education, applies the latter style of online learning in his courses, especially at the postgraduate level.

Taking the online learning experience even further, he hopes to internationalize the educational process for graduate students attending Charles Darwin University, a mostly online institution where he is the head of school in the School of Education.

“We have ambitions to create partnerships with Hong Kong, Greece, Malaysia, Australia, and the United States,” Kell said. “So coming here was part of exploring what a joint and collaborative degree might look like.”

Kell, whose university is located in the Northern Territory region of Australia, said many of the available online learning platforms haven’t changed much from the early days of computer-based instruction. Such platforms may be acceptable for undergraduates, he said, but in a postgraduate environment he believes students are “reflective practitioners” who want to explore issues more deeply and receive feedback from colleagues. 

“One of the reasons I came to the College of Education is because those sorts of synergistic online qualities are happening here.” 

Allison Witt, interim director of the Office of International Programs, said she and Dr. Kell are both interested in the possibilities and challenges of international partnerships in higher education. Both have been working together since Kell’s U.S. arrival.

“Some of Peter’s work considers the potential of online education to open up new collaborations,” Witt said. “That particular area of research is of great interest to me.”   

Kell said online technology platforms for graduate students must allow for interaction, discussion, publication, and collaboration.

“One of the reasons I came to the College of Education is because those sorts of synergistic online qualities are happening here,” he said. “Students are using those interactive online tools and platforms that are ideal for postgraduate learning.”

Fulbright fun and an increased international presence

Kell said he has enjoyed becoming “embedded in the routine” of the U of I campus since arriving in January. He called the University a wonderful institution that is impressive in size, in scope, and in its resources. While in Urbana-Champaign he has helped teach classes, attended town hall meetings, and witnessed aspects of University governance.

Within the College Kell has worked with scholars Nick Burbules, Bill Cope, and Witt, and he has helped teach an online course with Dr. Peter Kuchinke in the Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership. 

“For me it’s been a way of reenergizing,” said the 63-year-old Kell. “Reenergizing, getting new ideas.”

In May Kell spoke at a lecture in the Education Building called “Reaching Out to the Globe: Internationalising Masters Postgraduate Learning in Education.” His presentation covered shifts in the nature of internationalization, graduate programs, and numerous contemporary policy settings that promote and facilitate international collaborations.

Kell has also been instrumental in helping plan the College’s study abroad tour to Australia, a trip that included 26 students and three staff members of the College. Prior to the June 12 departure he provided the travelers with advice, suggestions, and contacts in his homeland, as well as an overview of the Australian education system.

“His warm and friendly personality helped the students relax and fueled their excitement for everything they’ll experience in Australia,” said Witt.

As part of his Fulbright experience in the U.S., Kell has done plenty of traveling himself. He said the flexible and long-term nature of a Fulbright award makes it possible to genuinely experience living life in America, far from being an ordinary tourist. “It’s more than just the project,” said Kell, who happily listed New Mexico, Arizona, Chicago, Michigan, and Washington, D.C., as locations he has seen while abroad.

Cope said Kell has a sincere interest in helping solve the practical issues of education that can potentially assist people’s lives—quality online learning is one example. Not everybody, Cope noted, can afford to pay high tuition fees and take several years out of their lives to live on a campus.

“He’s someone who’s a very compassionate person who sees education as a means, particularly for the people who are somewhat disadvantaged,” Cope said.

Witt added that having a Fulbright scholar within the College is a way to highlight the important research that is taking place and generate more international opportunities.

“We hope to build on the relationship in order to increase international possibilities for our students,” she said. “We’ll continue to explore ways to work together online and hope to develop further study abroad opportunities.” 

View the Study in Australia blog posts from the 26 College of Education students who will be in Professor Peter Kell’s homeland this summer.

College of Education Fulbright recipients since 2013

Amine Amzil, Department of Educational Psychology
Aug. 18, 2012

Maureen Robinson, Department of Education Policy Organization and Leadership
April 22 – Oct. 18, 2013   

Kazuyo Nakamura, Department of Education Policy Organization and Leadership
Oct. 1, 2014 – March 31, 2015