HETL Global Communities

History and Overview

The International Higher Education Teaching and Learning Association (HETL) is an independent, nonpartisan, nonsectarian, 501(c)(3) not-for-profit non-governmental organization (NGO). HETL is open to all educators from all nationalities, all institutional types, and all functions, levels, and disciplines within the global educational community, including K-12 educators. HETL advances the scholarship and practice of teaching and learning in higher education by focusing on four focus areas: 1) global networking and interdisciplinary collaboration, 2) research, innovation, and academic publishing, 3) higher education development and capacity building, and 4) human rights and social justice. HETL is an association of educators, by educators, for educators. HETL maintains NGO Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and is a member of the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations. HETL also has strategic partnerships and affiliations with several like-minded organizations.

A chief aim of HETL is to make higher education work for all by transforming and democratizing higher education around the world and by improving teaching and learning for all in every aspect of life (e.g., lifelong and lifewide education, formal, informal, non-formal learning). To that end, HETL conducts and publishes basic and applied research in order to develop new research theories, principals, models, frameworks, taxonomies, methods, and concepts related to higher education and to teaching and learning at every level (primary, secondary, tertiary). HETL works at the nexus of theory, policy, and practice to help achieve this aim. Continuous professional development for faculty, administrators, and staff is a key outcome that flows from all HETL activities.


patrickblessingerphotoHETL began as a global grassroots effort in January of 2010 when Dr. Patrick Blessinger (US Department of State Fulbright Senior Scholar – Denmark; State of Georgia Governor’s Teaching Fellow – Institute of Higher Education, University of Georgia, USA; Doctor of Education – St. John’s University, New York City) envisioned the idea for the higher education teaching and learning association with the aim of transforming and democratizing higher education worldwide by bringing together education professionals and academic leaders from all education types, levels, functions, and disciplines from around the world to dialogue, network, and collaborate on effective, sustainable, and meaningful ways to transform teaching and learning for a brighter future for all people. Blessinger is an internationally recognized scholar and leader in the democratization of higher education (e.g., open education, democratization of knowledge, globalization-internationalization, human rights), in the use of internet-based professional social networking platforms to develop global online communities of practice for academic professional development, and in the areas of learning communities, inclusion, and instructional leadership.

The vision of HETL focuses on teaching and learning because the teaching-learning process is the most fundamental underlying mechanism and unifying process that lies at the core of any education system, regardless of institutional type or level or mission or discipline, and because lifelong and lifewide learning lies at the heart of political, social, economic, and personal empowerment for all people. The teaching-learning process is the main common denominator shared by all educational systems and institutions. The vision of HETL is therefore focused on teaching-learning and aligned with and supports the democratic principles of institutional diversification, pedagogical pluralism, learning diversity, and freedom of inquiry. Thus, HETL represents the emerging transformations taking place in higher education around the world.

In January of 2010, to begin bringing this vision to reality, Blessinger conducted extensive analysis on the strengths, challenges, and opportunities for transformative action within the global higher education community and, based on this analysis, he developed an initial set of ontologically oriented macro and micro conceptual-theoretical models and frameworks (e.g., global higher education change model, global higher education engagement model, formal learning cycle model, general organizational value model, educational research methodology frameworkHETL organizational model) to provide a more meaningful understanding of the fundamental underlying mechanisms driving change in higher education globally, nationally, and institutionally. Blessinger is an expert on the topics of research, leadership, innovation, teaching, learning, student engagement, faculty development, and international education, and their intersections.

Blessinger, P. 2010. Global Higher Education Change Model

Blessinger, P. 2010. Global Higher Education Change Model


LinkedInImageIn February of 2010, to begin the work of operationalizing these models, Blessinger conducted extensive analysis on the strengths and characteristics of the major internet-based communication platforms to determine which platform(s) would be most suitable for developing and managing a global online community of practice and academic discussion forum. Based on the results of this analysis, on February 17, 2010, Blessinger created an academic discussion forum on the professional social networking site LinkedIn to serve as a global online academic community of practice and invited educators from around the world to participate in and collectively manage the community based on democratic principles of inclusion, self-governance, shared responsibility, and global cooperation and understanding. Thus, this inclusive, grass-roots, self-organizing learning community also serves as a “proof of concept” (i.e., empirical test case) for the conceptual models. Utilizing free internet-based professional social networking and other global communication platforms allows educators from around the world to readily join and participate in the global learning community for free, thereby eliminating geographic, economic, and other barriers. The aim of these HETL communities is therefore to remove all unnecessary and arbitrary access barriers, thereby allowing all educators to freely connect, communicate, and collaborate in meaningful ways and engage in open meaning-making processes with other educators. The HETL global online community of practice was the subject of an academic research study conducted by Nancy Richmond titled “Digital ethnography: understanding faculty use of an online community of practice for professional development“.


patrickThroughout 2010, the HETL learning community was further developed and refined through input from all members in the academic discussion forum, which resulted in a policy document that defined policies for how best to self-govern the community and self-determine its direction. The democratic characteristics of inclusion, self-governance and self-determination recognizes the professional nature of the educational community while respecting the uniqueness of each participant.  The HETL learning community grew to several thousand members in its first year, reflecting the desire of the global higher education community to come together to dialogue, network, and collaborate on meaningful ways to transform teaching and learning and reflecting their desire to democratize higher education by creating a global participatory culture of education that brings educators together from all levels and functions to work at the nexus of theory, policy, and practice.


ChronicleHigherEdImageAs a result of the development of the online community of practice and academic discussion forum, in January of 2011, Blessinger envisioned the idea for a global “academic digital learning commons” based on an ethos of a global participatory culture and with the aim of democratizing higher education academic publishing. To that end, Blessinger created an initial publishing model that led to the creation of the HETL Portal and the International HETL Review (IHR). This type of open educational resource platform and web-based portal serves as a free public clearinghouse and repository of knowledge on cutting-edge research and innovation related to the scholarship and practice of teaching and learning in higher education. Leading scholars and faculty from the HETL academic discussion forum were invited to serve on the initial editorial and review boards to help collectively define policies for how best to steer the evolving organization and how best to collectively manage HETL’s emerging publications and activities. The academic discussion forum  and the launch of the portal was reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

patrickIn February of 2011, Krassie Petrova from New Zealand was appointed the first editor-in-chief of IHR and, in March of 2011, IHR published its inaugural article, authored by John M. Carfora. In March of 2011, Cyndy Woods-Wilson was appointed the first editor of the HETL Newsletter. HETL began publishing its newsletter as a free, open, and convenient way to keep the HETL global community informed and up-to-date on important HETL publications and activities and important news occurring within the global higher education community.


OlgaKovbasyukIn March of 2011, an executive committee emerged from the initial editorial and review boards in order to provide more focused direction to the organization and to start work on a constitution and by-laws in order to formalize the governance and management structure of the organization and to put in place a structure to allow the organization to become self-sustaining and to endure for many years. In March of 2011, Patrick Blessinger was unanimously elected as standing executive director (CEO) by the 120 members of the HETL boards, serving in their capacity as representatives of the global higher education community. In June of 2011, the HETL executive committee approved the HETL Constitution and By-laws and Olga Kovbasyuk from the Russian Federation was selected by the committee as the first president of HETL.

Mauricio VasquezIn the first half of 2011, representatives from the HETL discussion forum  worked on a set of policies to help the discussion group run professionally and ethically and to help ensure that the development and direction of the forum is in alignment HETL’s values, mission, and vision.  The scope of the discussion forum policies includes the basic rules, roles, and responsibilities related to the proper management and moderation of the group.  On July 8, 2011, the HETL Discussion Group Policies were unanimously approved by the HETL executive committee.  In August of 2011, Mauricio Vasquez from Puerto Rico was appointed as the first content manager for the HETL academic discussion forum.

501c3logoWith headquarters in New York City, on September 12, 2011, HETL became a legally certified not-for-profit association (type B corporation under Section 201 of the not-for-profit corporation law) in the State of New York (USA) and a not-for-profit public charity under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of the IRS (USA) at which point the executive committee officially became the Board of Directors (the governing board) and the Office of Executive Director was formally established to provide professional executive management for the organization and to manage all executive and administrative aspects of the organization. Thus, broadly speaking, the Office of Executive Director serves as the executive arm of HETL and the Board of Directors serves as the legislative arm of HETL.  At both the state (New York) and federal (IRS) levels, the remit of HETL is to provide educational, scientific, literary, and cultural services to the public and to the global educational community.

BronxCommunityCollegeIn December of 2011, Harriet Shenkman hosted HETL’s first annual board meeting at Bronx Community College, City University of New York, USA. During the period of 2011-2013, HETL formally operationalized its constitution and by-laws by implementing appropriate and meaningful organizational structures (e.g., policies, roles, strategies, processes, resources) and activities (e.g., conferences, publications, research).


jarhecoverIn May of 2012, the Faculty Academy was formed as an independent, self-sustaining organization to provide educators with technology-based solutions to transform their professional development. In July of 2012, HETL partnered with the web development company, Dot Solutions and Technologies, to provide technology services for HETL. In August of 2012, HETL was selected by international academic publisher, Emerald Group Publishing, to manage the editorship of the Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education (JARHE). Educators can view the Meet the Editor video to find out more about the journal.

CuttingEdgeBookCoverIn February of 2013, HETL sponsored and edited its first book series on the topic of increasing student engagement and retention using cutting-edge technologies. The book series focused on innovative approaches to learning-centered teaching. This project produced seven books that included chapter contributions from nearly one hundred scholars from around the world. In April of 2013, HETL sponsored and edited a book on the topic of meaning-centered education and learning and included chapter contributions from a dozen scholars from around the world. The book explores and develops a vision of education where students and instructors engage in open meaning-making processes and self-organizing educational practices and learning activities.

MCELogoVersion2bIn September of 2012, the Institute for Meaning-Centered Education emerged as an independent think tank and research institute. The institute’s mission is to conduct research and disseminate new knowledge on meaning-centered approaches to education and learning. The formation of this institute was the result of two years of collaborative research by educational scholars from around the world that began in 2011 when HETL initiated a research and book project on meaning-centered education. This research project resulted in the development of a new educational philosophy called meaning-centered education and a new learning theory called meaning-centered learning.


2013HETLConference_logoIn January of 2013, the first HETL conference was hosted by Melody Bowdon at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida, USA, with the theme, Exploring Spaces for Learning. The conference was attended by over 400 delegates from 40 countries. The conference is a first in a series of annual international academic conferences focused on research and innovation in teaching and learning and centered around a cross-disciplinary participatory culture.

GoogleGrantsAdWordsIn January of 2013, HETL received an on-going in-kind grant from the Google for Nonprofits program. The grant recognizes HETL’s non-for-profit status and allows HETL to more effectively use Google services to promote the message of HETL to the global higher education community.

NYCLogoIn August of 2013, HETL produced its first Annual Report. The report highlights the progress HETL has made in reaching its vision by putting in place a solid and flexible infrastructure and a sound governance and management model that positions HETL for the future.


EricMazurIn 2013, HETL partnered with Emerald Group Publishing to produce the annual Awards for Excellence to recognize academic excellence and outstanding contributions to the field of higher education. The awards honor excellence in teaching, learning, research, service, and publishing in higher education. The awards are available to any educator from any country. The first awards were announced in October of 2013. Harvard University Professor Eric Mazur was the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievements in Teaching and Learning Award for 2013, and Professor Melody Bowdon, at the University of Central Florida, was the first recipient of the Outstanding Service to Higher Education Award for 2013.

patrickIn September of 2012, HETL members gathered in Khobarovsk Krai, Russia for the international conference entitled, A Happy Teacher: Felicitology in Education. The conference explored the meaning and issues involved in academic happiness. The conference was an exciting opportunity to enhance international relations, intercultural communications, and educational development. In April of 2013, HETL members gathered in Montreal, Canada for a conference entitled, The Future of Learning. The conference explored how technology can be a catalyst for new forms of teaching and learning and how technology can expand opportunities for interaction between faculty and students across all modes of inquiry and all course delivery methods.


In November of 2013, to better manage the growth and direction of the organization, HETL officially added two more boards to its structure, the Executive Advisory Board and the Research and Innovation Advisory Board. In January of 2014, to expand the HETL’s literary and cultural resources, HETL officially created the Anthology Editorial Advisory Board to its structure and launched the HETL Anthology Series.  These boards play an advisory role to the Office of Executive Director on matters of policy, strategy, and overall development of the association.

FAimageIn February of 2014, in HETL partnered with Faculty Academy and Dot Solutions and Technologies to redesign and launch a new version of its website portal to better meet the needs of the global educational community. In March of 2014, HETL launched a new doctoral awards program called the Emerald/HETL Education Outstanding Doctoral Research Award. In April of 2014, HETL launched two new books series: Innovations in Higher Education Teaching and Learning Book Series  and Contemporary Teaching and Learning Poetry Series.  In May of 2014, HETL established an Institutional Review Board (IRB) to better manage its research projects and to implement higher quality ethical research protocols for HETL related research the the Office of Executive Director created the Security Division to better safeguard HETL’s electronic assets .

CarlWiemanPhoto2In May of 2014, HETL held its Second International Conference in Anchorage, Alaska. The conference theme was Innovative Learning-Scapes which explored how digital, social and mobile media and networks are impacting learning environments in higher education. The conference was attended by 250 delegates from 20 countries. The 2014 HETL Awards were announced at the conference.  Noble Laureate and Stanford University Professor Carl Wieman received the Lifetime Achievements in Teaching and Learning Award for 2014, and Professor Craig Mahoney, at the University of the West of Scotland, was the recipient of the Outstanding Service to Higher Education Award for 2014.


In November of 2014, Craig Mahoney and Heather Cavanagh were elected as the first Chair and Vice Chair, respectively, of the Executive Advisory Board.  Jill A. Perry and Michelle Young were elected as first Chair and Vice Chair, respectively, of the Research & Innovation Advisory Board.  Barbara Cozza and Milton Cox were elected as first Chair and Vice Chair, respectively, of the IHETL Editorial Advisory Board.  Gina Foster and Lesley Saunders were elected as the first Chair and Vice Chair, respectively, of the Anthology Editorial Advisory Board.  Mandla Makhanya was appointed as first Chief Liaison of the HETL Liaisons.

LeeShulmanPhotoIn January of 2015, HETL held its Third International Conference in Orem, Utah. The conference theme was Reaching the Summit: Explorations in Meaningful Learning through Community Engagement. The conference was attended by 175 delegates from 15 countries. The 2015 HETL Awards were announced at the conference.  Professor Lee S. Shulman received the Lifetime Achievements in Teaching and Learning Award for 2015, and Dr. Diana G. Oblinger was the recipient of the Outstanding Service to Higher Education Award for 2015.

UNimage1In February 2015, the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations, which is part of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations, approved HETL’s application for NGO special consultative status with the UN. Thus, HETL maintains NGO Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and is a member of the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations.

In June of 2017, HETL held its Fourth International Conference in Paisley, Scotland. The conference theme was Creating Inclusion and Diversity in Higher Education. The conference was attended by 250 delegates from 25 countries.  TBD received the Lifetime Achievements in Teaching and Learning Award for 2075, and TBD was the recipient of the Outstanding Service to Higher Education Award for 2017.


The HETL global network represents:

  • over 175 countries from six continents
  • all disciplines, functions, and levels within education
  • all institutional types and missions within education

Approximate representation by platform:

  • LinkedIn members (76,410)
  • Twitter followers (3,400)
  • Facebook followers (3,800)
  • Google+ followers (370)
  • YouTube followers (100)

Approximate representation by location:

  • North America (32%)
  • Europe (26%)
  • Asia (15%)
  • South America (12%)
  • Africa (9%)
  • Oceania (6%)

Approximate representation by function:

  • Educational faculty, researchers, scholars, academicians (80%)
  • Educational leaders, executives, managers, administrators (18%)
  • Educational staff, e.g., librarians, technologists, counselors (2%)
  • Educational publishing, e.g., publishers, editors, authors (<1%)


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