August 28, 2014

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Community Member Spotlight: Richard M. Kesner, Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA

by Jamie Burns

Richard M. Kesner, Executive Professor of Supply Chain and Information Management at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business, Northeastern University (Boston, USA), has taken full advantage of every opportunity to connect with other scholars and share his research since joining the World Universities Forum knowledge community in early 2013. The World Universities Forum, which consists of an annual conference, a scholarly journal, and a book imprint, is one of Common Ground’s 24 knowledge communities. In the last two years, Kesner has presented workshops at two conferences and plans to present a third at the upcoming 2015 conference. He has also published two articles in The Journal of the World Universities Forum and edited a book for On the University, the community’s imprint.

When asked about his first impressions of the World Universities Forum, Kesner explains that he was initially drawn to this knowledge community because of its focus on the role of the university in a changing world: “Universities are at a very serious crossroads. They’ve got to reinvent themselves in the 21st century. We’ve got to find better and more efficient ways of educating our population at a low cost.” He also admired the conference’s ability to attract an international group of scholars and practitioners from a variety of disciplines: “There was a wide array of people going, from Architects and Provosts to math teachers and people in my area, which is business management. It was interdisciplinary and international; there were delegates from something like 20 countries.” Once at the conference, the level of delegate engagement also impressed Kesner: “I’m very serious about interacting with my colleagues and learning from them, and the other attendees at this conference seemed to feel the same way.”

Prior to attending the 2013 World Universities Forum Conference in Vancouver, Kesner had recognized a need for a practical guide to transforming traditional classroom-based courses into online courses. His institution, Northeastern University, had begun requiring that all campus-based core courses include an online offering. Not surprisingly, many instructors found adapting in-ground classes to an online environment to be a daunting task. Kesner saw that “people needed help, needed concrete examples that were practitioner-oriented—not too technical or wholly theoretical—and thought, ‘there is real need here to tap into the knowledge of skilled practitioners and to share best practices with the greater higher education community’’”

With that in mind, and true to his commitment to meeting and learning from his colleagues, Kesner made a serious effort to attend as many presentations as he could at the 2013 World Universities Forum Conference, including a publishing workshop offered by a member of Common Ground’s editorial staff. At that session, he learned that the World Universities Forum had its own book imprint, On the University, and that it was accepting proposals.

Encouraged by the connections he made at the conference and armed with the knowledge that there was an interest in his idea for a practical guide to developing online courses, Kesner began formulating a proposal for an edited collection. He kept in touch with many of the people he met at the conference, and ultimately asked some of them to contribute to his book project. A year later, The Online University: Building Viable Learning Experiences for Higher Education launched at the 2014 World Universities Forum Conference in Lisbon. “My book is a perfect example of mining resources from within the knowledge community. At least half the [contributing] authors are people I met at the 2013 conference in Vancouver and recruited to write chapters.”

In addition to being there to launch his book, Kesner also attended the conference in Lisbon to accept the 2014 International Award for Excellence. Each year, the editorial board for The Journal of the World Universities Forum selects a winning article from the highest-ranked papers emerging from the peer review process. Kesner’s article, “Building an Asynchronous Learning Experience,” was a standout among the top-ten papers from Volume Six of the journal. It is currently being featured as a free download on Common Ground’s website.

Never one to miss an opportunity, Kesner attended numerous sessions at the 2014 conference. As he enthusiastically notes, “I don’t like to just go; I like to do.” One of the presentations he attended was Heidi Ganjineh Hutchinson’s presentation on an innovative mobile teaching and learning environment that she had developed for students in the Technology Department at the Community College of Beaver County in Pennsylvania. After her presentation, Hutchinson and Kesner spoke about both the difficulty of adapting in-ground courses to online ones and the issues associated with assessing the quality of newly converted courses. Kesner had been working on a rubric for identifying courses that are good candidates for online adaptation and a tool for evaluating the success of these classes once they move into the online learning space.

That initial conversation between Kesner and Hutchinson eventually led to a fruitful exchange and a larger post-conference collaboration. In fact, the two have been using Kesner's rubric and evaluation tool to fine-tune the design and implementation of a new course at Hutchinson’s institution over the last six months. They plan to discuss their partnership and present their findings at the upcoming World Universities Forum Conference in Savannah, Georgia in February 2015.

According to Kesner, the ongoing research collaborations and publishing projects that he has developed as a result of his involvement with the World Universities Forum knowledge community have greatly enriched his career and inspired him to grow his professional network. These experiences have also encouraged him to think about making even broader connections: “I foresee substantial, transformative work coming out of this knowledge community. The role of the university is an exciting focus for an organization—especially one that brings people together from so many different countries and disciplines. There could be opportunities for groundbreaking, cross-institutional funding for research here. University presidents and boards of trustees should take note.”

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