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Meet the editor of... Cutting Edge Technologies in Higher Education


An interview with: Charles Wankel
Interview by: Margaret Adolphus

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Photo: Dr Charles Wankel. Dr Charles Wankel is Professor of Management at St John's University's Tobin College of Business, and received his doctorate from New York University. He has also been a visiting researcher and lecturer in many nations, and is vice rector of the Poznań University of Business.

He has edited or authored more than 30 books, including the American Library Association's Outstanding Reference Source of 2009 award-winning Encyclopedia of Business in Today's World (SAGE). Other recent volumes include Higher Education in Virtual Worlds: Teaching and Learning in Second Life (Emerald), Alleviating Poverty through Business Strategy (Palgrave Macmillan), and Management Education for Global Sustainability (Information Age Publishing). Recent journal publications include "Management education using social media" (Organization Management Journal).

He has been the recipient of top awards for best paper, service and technology, from the Academy of Management, the premier scholarly society for his discipline.

He has developed training programs for thousands of Fortune 50 company managers, including IBM Learning Services and McDonald's Corporation, for Columbia University School of Business executive programme, and for the oil industry in Siberia.

About the book series

Cutting-Edge Technologies in Higher Education is a book series (available in print and as an e-book) on emerging technologies and their application to higher education. Covering both teaching and administration, the series explores various aspects of technological innovation in a range of disciplines.

The first three volumes in the series focus on social media: Educating Educators with Social Media, Higher Education Administration with Social Media, and Teaching Arts and Science with the New Social Media. Forthcoming volumes include Transforming Virtual World Learning and Misbehavior Online in Higher Education.

Series mission and editorial objectives

Why did you start a series on this topic?

I have been interested in teaching as a research topic for some years now. In 1991 I got the Best Paper Award from the Academy of Management's Management Education and Development Division for a paper on teaching total quality management, and became an official and programme chair in the division.

I developed subsequent articles on management education and now have 14 books on various areas within the topic, and more recently I've been writing on all areas of higher education.

The context of the series is the changing economic and political landscape of the twenty-first century, which is characterized by collaboration, globalization, and new information technologies.

Can you tell me a bit about the history of the series? The first three volumes were all published in 2011, so it must have all come together very quickly!

Well, I'm a very networked person, actively involved in hundreds of virtual communities, mainly listservs, and with hundreds of thousands of people. Consequently, when I put out a call for people to work with me on projects, the responses can come in a tsunami!

This was certainly the case with the call for papers on higher education using social media, both teaching and administration, for which I received 160 proposals. After the review process I was left with 89 that seemed excellent. Ultimately this seemed to be several books rather than one book, so I decided to split the volumes.

I very much enjoyed working with Emerald on the Higher Education in Virtual Worlds book (Wankel and Kingsley, 2009) so I contacted Chris Hart, commissioning editor at Emerald, and he suggested that these books could initiate a new series. So this is how they came onto the scene in the first three months of 2011, to a very good reception.

Teaching and other functions in higher education – as in most industries – are increasingly being augmented by social media. It's interesting to understand what social media is. Two thousand years ago St Paul was very successful using letter writing as a social medium; if he had lived now, he would probably have been an early adopter of Twitter! What history does is to constantly redefine and reprioritize, and you can look at these deep roots of social media in our history and predict where things are going.

Can you say something about your forthcoming titles?

We have no shortage of new technologies in higher education, and right now I am focused on Web 3.0, the Semantic Web. The Semantic Web is characterized by the ability to better understand information about those you are collaborating with.

It's about having deeper drill-down, understanding more about peoples, places, organizations, not only those with whom we have a current connection, but also those who might provide a good fit in terms of future collaborations.

We also have another book coming out in a few months on teaching using virtual world interfaces, such as Second Life, which I am co-editing with Randy Hinrichs. Randy was involved with the first virtual worlds at Microsoft, and he's still out in Seattle at the University of Washington where he heads up a doctoral programme for people to learn how to create virtual worlds for higher education.

I would like to have the series explore some of the new emerging distance education technologies, both synchronous and asynchronous, that enable groups to work together in telepresence.

Some of the new asynchronous technologies are particularly rich, for example video blogs. They enable students from disparate locations to collaborate on a report and introduce video clips of entrepreneurs or business people. The instructor also responds by video.

This enables the digital environment to re-create many of the positive features of face-to-face communication – facial expressions and gestures and tones, and pointing at charts and explaining them.

I want the series to showcase best practices, to examine these in comparative ways rather than just as single case studies. Hopefully this will inspire the reader to adopt some of the ideas and technologies in their own teaching or administration.

I teach 100 per cent online for St John's University and interactivity is an accreditation requirement. One of the teaching methods I use is to get students to use software such as LinkedIn to connect up with alumni who may be presidents of companies or in functions that the students aspire to. Their new connections can give them advice, and perhaps job leads.

For example, I have a student on my MBA programme who works for an oil company in Dallas. He was able to use LinkedIn to find customers, and thereby increase his sales revenue for which he was commended by the president of his company.

People used to worry about whether an online degree was equivalent to a campus-based one. However, at a school like Duke University, which offers both online and on-campus programmes, the students who graduate from the online version are sought after because they have developed skills that employers value – virtual communication and teamwork being more useful than the ability to take paper-based notes from a lecture!

You haven't mentioned mobile technology, a very important trend in higher education, particularly in developing economies where mobile phones are often a better way of accessing the Internet, given lack of broadband.

Certainly developing countries have their own constellation of issues, but the situation is improving. I'm noticing that in several African countries where I'm working, cell phones are becoming very popular, as is Google docs, a free cloud-based application.

So people use a combination of cloud computing and hand-held devices to make their computing more robust and help overcome infrastructural bumps and blips, caused by constant power surges, etc.

I'm involved with a global team project that is headquartered at the North Carolina State University. We have students in Lithuania, Barbados, and several other countries working together in teams doing simulations, so they are gaining experience of virtual collaboration that companies seek.

In my experience, faculty are reluctant to engage with new technology unless it has a clear pedagogical benefit as demonstrated through research. Is part of the function of the series to bring together the research evidence?

It is a research series, and many of the chapters both present research findings and are also nested within streams of other research studies that are available via references.

Sometimes the research needs to be purely exploratory, just clarifying the issues. So case studies are useful, as are studies that order the technologies and their possibilities into some sort of taxonomy, as with Linnaean and Darwinian taxonomies in biology.

How do you go about selecting topics, and authors, for chapters within an edited volume?

I have both a rifle and a shotgun! The shotgun approach involves putting out a call for chapter submissions on listservs, perhaps suggesting some general categories.

The rifle approach involves consulting Web of Science, which is a very selective database of top journals, to research the newest, most cutting-edge work by leading authorities around the world; I also look at who is presenting at leading scholarly societies. I then contact the people concerned.

With an edited volume, you receive a proposal of a few hundred words, and you are making a judgement based on a promise of something to come in the future. The fuller the proposal, and the more revealing of the work's central thrust, the easier to evaluate.

However, you also look at their track record: if the writer already has a body of high quality work on the topic, this increases the likelihood that they will deliver something good. I will also take into account their affiliation – Harvard obviously carries more weight than, say, Apache County Community College; are they an adjunct without a full-time position, or are they a full professor; where did they get their doctorate; with whom have they worked, etc.

Can you describe your review process?

After initial calling, proposals are submitted to blind review, as are first drafts. Reviewers will pick up on lacunae, errors in logic, staleness, redundancy, or failure to break interesting or important new ground.

At first draft, I have the book's co-authors look at one another's work; with 89 chapters and around 130 authors, I have a ready made review group! Each author will look (blindly) at four other chapters, so each chapter will get up to eight critical reviews.

Anyone who's already working on the project is by definition an expert. However, sometimes a paper may cite someone extensively, in which case, I will ask that person to do a review. It's very tantalizing for people to see how their work is used so they rarely say no, however busy or famous they are!

The medium

What are the key differences between writing a journal article and writing a chapter for an academic book series?

Journal articles are usually submitted in completed form, and put to review. With a chapter, it's generally a proposal that's submitted so we weight more heavily the past work of an individual, as was described above.

With the articles, the person reviewing doesn't have a clue about the author – who they are, their background and qualifications, etc.

In terms of the finished product, they are really similar. Often something that was a journal article could follow up into a chapter, or vice versa.

And the quality of journals varies tremendously. Some have very high standards, for example the Academy of Management Learning & Education journal (for which I am on the editorial board) has an 8 per cent acceptance rate. But other journals accept everything!

Sometimes you have journal special issues where pretty much all the articles are invited, in the way that contributions to an edited volume are. So the genres are not dissimilar.

Journals are seen by some university administrations as being more clearly blind peer reviewed, a feature which some book chapters can lack. But in our case we do have everything blind peer reviewed twice. So a chapter in Cutting Edge Technologies in Higher Education fits the criteria for tenure and promotion.

Some general questions

The Semantic Web is the "next thing" in information and communications technologies (ICT), with applications in business, research, open data, etc. Do you see it as having an application in teaching and learning?

Yes. For example, a learner entering a course could benefit from knowing more about other students, the courses they have taken, their backgrounds, the companies they work for, etc. This information could create new possibilities for cross-university integration and for teaming up and partnering on individual, course and university levels. So I see the Semantic Web as opening up new vistas and new types of collaborative, perhaps interdisciplinary learning.

At the 2010 Association of Learning Technology conference, the contribution of ICT towards efficiencies of scale in an age of mass higher education was seen as a key trend. What are some of the main ways in which ICT can help universities become more competitive?

Sidestepping the issue of scale, it's the case that online education doesn't require parking lots, or buildings that have to be heated or cooled or lit. It also enables use of instructors from around the world rather than ones in your locality; indeed higher education institutions don't need localities much any more.

So I see online education as being more sustainable in that people can do it without commuting and so on, and it can also be cheaper.

Many people see online education as cramming thousands of students onto a course. But that's not always the case. In New York State, for example, you can't have accredited online education if you have more than 25 students in a class. They believe that's the maximum number that an instructor can handle in an online situation and maintain the level of quality desired.

Of course there are cases where students will view a course from a Nobel laureate or top professor. But in general, online education, even at for-profit companies like the University of Phoenix, is still based in smaller class groups, and even with the large-scale lecture, students will still meet in small groups to discuss, perhaps with an instructor, either online or face-to-face.

At places like the University of Phoenix, standard courses are created and new lecturers are trained how to use them; they are primarily there to critique students' work and answer questions.

Online courses will be used by some universities as a way of meeting large demand. For example, some states in the US, such as Minnesota, are expecting all their colleges to move to an increasing percentage of online courses as a way of being able to meet their budget for higher education. So in this case online education is viewed as cheaper, but cost is not the only reason for its popularity.

On the other hand, in the US there is a really strong culture of expectation for people to go to college, join fraternities, have parties, go to face-to-face classes and be inspired by genius professors, etc.

All this culture is very face-to-face based, but maybe it can become a more mixed mode whereby people who are taking online courses have meet ups near where they live to get some aspects of higher education that are not available in digital mode.

The cost of an undergraduate education at some universities is immense. Take Columbia University: an undergraduate degree can cost more than $200,000. Then, if you do a PhD, the amount can double.

Some people might just not want to get into that sort of debt, and for the born digital generation, the online connection is not something alien, but a normal way to interact. So as Bob Dylan sang: "… you don't have to be a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows".


Wankel, C. and Kingsley, J. (2009), Higher Education in Virtual Worlds: Teaching and Learning in Second Life, Emerald Group Publishing Limited, UK.

Publisher's note

If you wish to share your experiences or collaborate with one of the authors in the Cutting Edge Technologies in Higher Education series, you may wish to join a group which Charles administers on LinkedIn: Higher Education Teaching and Learning.

Margaret Adolphus interviewed Charles Wankel in March 2011.

Visit the information page for: Cutting-Edge Technologies in Higher Education