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The Importance of Empowering Academia in the Digital Space: A Study

The Importance of Empowering Academia in the Digital Space: A Study

February 9, 2023

The ongoing evolution of educational technology in higher education necessitates support for academics to efficiently and purposefully utilise ‘new’ technologies in the delivery of teaching and learning.

This is among the findings of International College of Management, Sydney (ICMS) Learning, Teaching and Innovation Manager Dr Kwong Nui Sim in a co-Authored book chapter, Models of Professional Development for Technology Enhanced Learning in the Virtual University.1

Co-authored by Sim, while at Auckland University of Technology, and Henk Huijser, of Queensland University of Technology, recommend offering higher levels of academic TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning) development support to academics to enable them to leverage the advantages of educational technology tools in a learning and teaching environment.

“Our research findings can be linked directly back to the ICMS philosophy of mentoring and connection.

“As faculty/academics we aim to stay up-to-date and have a handle on advanced educational technologies to enhance the student experience and deliver effective, nuanced and refined learning and teaching to aid students connecting with and building their careers,” Sim said.

“We want to optimise our use of TEL to work towards achieving graduate capabilities and learning outcomes that empower students and which is respected, and expected, by industry.”

Dynamic response to constant changes in education technologies

Higher education today is dynamic and constantly changing, due to the rapid development of technologies used in academic practices. This makes it necessary for academics to continuously reflect and apply new and refreshed learning and teaching strategies. A good example of this is the acceleration of the use of virtual learning and teaching over the course of the Covid-19 global pandemic of 2020 which challenged academics to respond innovatively and creatively to unprecedented conditions where physical spaces were disrupted overnight.

For many academics, teaching in a virtual context was unfamiliar at the time and utilised in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The opportunity is to consider the longer term use of educational technologies, with a perspective on how to develop more effective and engaging ways of teaching and designing for learning in online/hybrid environments.

How effective and efficient is the implementation of educational technologies?

Sim and Huijser draw on data from two case studies that evaluated academic digital capabilities at a New Zealand institution where “new” strategies were implemented relating to educational technologies.

Findings were wide-ranging, but essentially the integration of technology in learning and teaching practises were found to be questionable in “efficiency” and “effectiveness”. Academics were often able to use TEL on a basic level, but were simply using digital innovations to deliver content rather than to enhance what they were teaching and/or creating student learning experiences.

Based on these case studies, Sim and Huijser recommend that “explicit” and direct academic TEL development support should be offered to academics to enable them to use TEL to its full potential. Support, in this case, would be delivered via a model for engaging, training and supporting academic use of TEL, taking into account the needs of academics, and how academic TEL developments could be designed for optimum use in a virtual, techno-savvy and student-centric environment. At ICMS, there are plans to provide connection and mentoring in TEL development through a centralised College Professional Development Lab.

Understanding opportunities and challenges of education in the virtual world

* Learning and Teaching is accessible 24/7

The traditional lecture concept, where students attend in real time, can be replaced by alternative options in learning and teaching practices where time and geographical location is less important2. How must learning and teaching practises evolve to keep up with the change in delivery of disciplinary content?

* From “sage on the stage” to “steering on the net” (changes in conceptions of learning and teaching)

Virtual learning, teaching and collaboration has been impacted by the forced uptake of new TEL initiatives post-Covid-19. Zoom calls and chat windows, with its unique advantages and disadvantages, for a period replaced traditional academic habitats such as lecture theatres and the use of physical teaching implements like whiteboards and notepads.

Evidence suggests3 that TEL could become the “new” or even “continuous” normal, with this “new” context becoming the foundation of learning and teaching in the higher education context. If this is to be the case, applicable learning and teaching expertise must be developed alongside technological developments.

* After COVID-19: Into a virtual future

If academics’ anxiety over the adoption of TEL could be overcome, and as levels of digital literacy rose over time, there are significant advantages to embracing technology in the learning and teaching  space.

Collaboration over space, place and time could allow for shared workloads and higher levels of engagement among academic professionals, ultimately to the benefit of students4.

What is required for this to occur, however, is to equip and support academics, teaching support staff and learning designers via an infrastructure around professional development that aims to develop both required digital literacy levels in staff as well as their currency in that respect, undergirded by a scaffolding support structure.

A Model to Maximise academic TEL development and support

To overcome barriers – perceived or otherwise – to the use of TEL not only as a delivery of academic content but also as an integrated enhancement of the academic offering, Sim and Huijser proposed the adopted model Developing Digital Capabilities and Digital Integration.

The proposed model takes into account the relationship between humans, digital learning and teaching environments to both unpack barriers as well as outline opportunities in the professional development of academics.

The model aims to address the following:

* Engaging, training, and supporting the use of digital tools by targeting what the digital literacy needs of academics are;

* Exploring how academic TEL development could respond to those needs;

* Examining how learning and teaching are enhanced in a virtual context, and what we need to know in order to do so; and

* Investigating how the use of digital tools could be designed to be responsive to the needs of learning and teaching in the virtual university.

The ICMS Approach to Digital Capabilities and Digital Integration

As ICMS Learning, Teaching and Innovation Manager, Sim and her colleagues lead the charge in the conscious equipping and empowering of ICMS faculty in the digital space.

The emergence of generative artificial intelligence in the education sphere, notably ChatGPT in late 2022, is a phenomenon that requires proactive thought and consideration. While the education sector must deal with the challenge of redefining academic integrity, the response has to balance with the acknowledgement that progressive technologies should be examined fully with the best interest of enhancing learning and teaching practices.

“The ICMS academic team has already formulated strategies for the 2023 academic year that consider both limitations and opportunities for student learning from new tools such as ChatGPT,” Dr Heidi Le Sueur (Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Learning & Teaching) stated.

Conclusively, enabling and supporting ICMS faculty to fully integrate TEL into the delivery of the wide variety of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and diplomas enhances ICMS’ academic offering. Using the latest in educational technology and harnessing what is evolving in the virtual and artificial intelligence space helps fulfil the award-winning higher education institution’s vision of developing career-ready graduates who will make an impact in their chosen industry.

The Learning, Teaching and Innovation team at ICMS is led by Jonathan Hvaal, who plans professional development of faculty as part of the Scholarship framework at the institution with the team.

* Kwong Nui Sim holds a PhD in Higher Education from the University of Otago, New Zealand.


  1. Sim. K. N., & Huijser. H. (In Press). Models of Professional Development for Technology Enhanced Learning in the Virtual University.
  2. Sim. K. N., & Cowling, M. (2020, October 19). Education tools for the 21 century. Newsroom.
  3. EDUCAUSE. (2020). 2020 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report: Teaching and Learning Edition.
  4. Sim. K. N., & Cowling, M. (2021, February 15). Ensemble efforts can, and should, replace the lone lecturer. Times Higher Education.


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