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Recent appointment: Leading expert appointed to spearhead digital strategy and online learning at Western Sydney University

Following an international search handled by De Sailly Search, recognised expert and researcher in online and digital learning, Professor Kevin Bell, will join Western Sydney University as its new Pro Vice-Chancellor (Digital Futures).

Professor Bell comes to Australia from the United States, where he was Executive Director for Curriculum Development and Deployment at Northeastern University in Boston – a pioneering institution when it comes to online and experiential learning.

Professor Bell will take up his new appointment with Western Sydney University on 11 July. His role will facilitate and lead innovation in learning and teaching, support digital technology integration across programs and campuses, and analyse the impacts of these initiatives. He will also lead the learning analytics initiative, while conducting research in technology-enabled learning.

Passionate about making quality online education that is both challenging and engaging for students, Professor Bell was instrumental in developing Northeastern’s Online Experiential Learning team, which supports both online and hybrid course development at the University.

Professor Bell has also led various research projects that have expanded our knowledge about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to the intrinsic motivation and engagement of students online.

He was a senior fellow with the Lowell Institute in Boston, where he led a federally-funded multi-million dollar project that investigated how to engage, motivate and support students, particularly first generation and under represented students, in online STEM education.

Prior to joining Northeastern, Professor Bell was Chief Academic Officer at Southern New Hampshire University’s College of Online and Continuing Education. There he led the academic arm of what became one of the biggest growth stories in American higher education, expanding the College from a $20 million operation to one drawing over $100 million during his tenure. At SNHU he was also the academic lead on what became the first true competency-based direct assessment program in American higher education. This project was co-funded by the Gates Foundation.

Professor Bell says he is excited to be joining Western Sydney University, and is impressed with its energy and eagerness to explore means of increasing access and engagement across a range of delivery formats and technologies.

His doctoral dissertation at the University of Pennsylvania focused on ‘gamification’, or more accurately, the Gameful Design of higher education in online and hybrid formats. In this work he studied practitioners and their use of psychological hooks and incentives, as seen in successful games, in order to keep students motivated and engaged with their studies.

“It’s fascinating to understand why someone can happily spend hours at a screen playing a game, but can become easily bored or disenchanted with an online course,” says Professor Bell.

“I am keen to explore how we can leverage some of the same principles of gaming to develop better, self-motivating content for students – providing them with personalised content, appropriate and dynamic levels of challenge and means by which they can incrementally develop their skills, score some quick wins in the early stages, and build up their knowledge through practice. The ultimate goal being to engender a ‘flow’ state, where time and engagement pass smoothly and study becomes as invigorating as a good game, book, sport or movie.”

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Professor Denise Kirkpatrick says Western Sydney University is delighted to welcome Professor Bell to its Executive team.

“Professor Bell is joining us at a very exciting time. His vision, innovative thinking and wealth of expertise will be vital as we continue to explore new ways for the University to create more innovative learning experiences for our students,” says Professor Kirkpatrick.

“We share the same commitment to student-centred education. Our students will undoubtedly be the beneficiaries of Professor Bell’s extensive knowledge and experience in this field. I know our team looks forward to working closely with him when he joins us.”

Summary information:

• Professor Bell has over 20 years’ experience working in both industry and academia. He is extensively published, and has presented at specialist conferences throughout the United States and around the world.

• He is the author of the book, The Rise of the Gamer Educator: The Potential Role of Gamification in Online Education (Johns Hopkins University Press) scheduled for release in July this year.

• Among his many board memberships and professional affiliations, Professor Bell is a member of the National University Technology Network (NUTN) and has served on the Educause Leading Academic Transformations team

• Professor Bell holds a Bachelor of Science (Honours) from Manchester University in England; a Master of Arts in Teaching with Internet Technologies from Marlboro College Graduate Centre in Vermont; and an EdD in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania.

• He is also fluent in Japanese, having also spent five years working for ECC Foreign Language Institute in Japan – one of the country’s largest language companies.