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WELS welcomes four new Professors

Four academics from the Faculty of WELS have been promoted to Professor. Pictured above, left to right, they are Rebecca Ferguson, Professor of Learning Futures; Kristina Hultgren, Professor of Sociolinguistics and Applied Linguistics; Peter Keogh, Professor of Health and Society; and Joan Simons, Professor of Health Studies. They take the number of Professors in the Faculty to 34, of whom 23 are women.


Portrait of Professor Rebecca Ferguson. She has long fair hair with a headband holding it off her face, and is wearing glassesRebecca Ferguson - Professor of Learning Futures, Institute of Educational Technology
Professor Ferguson joined the OU in 2004 as a research student. Since then, she has been researching educational futures and how people learn together online.

She worked on the Schome project in SecondLife; investigating new ways of thinking about education; constructing educational environments; and considering whether project meetings worked best during yacht races, on magic carpets or amidst a rain of pink pigs!

Rebecca was an academic advisor to FutureLearn, helping to devise the pedagogy that underpins the platform. Since then, she has been involved in new types of course across the university, has worked on the Innovating Pedagogy report since its inception, including two years as lead author, and is academic lead on the OU’s Microcredentials programme.

Over the last decade, Rebecca has taken a leading role in the worldwide learning analytics community, with a focus on ethical and accessible approaches. She’s currently working on a series of international projects within IET (Institute of Educational Technology), and enjoying studying fun and learning in many ways as part of the Rumpus research group.


Portrait of Professor Kristina Hultgren. She is side on to the camera, looking into the lens and is smiling. She has long brown hair and is wearing a headset- you can just see the red cable from the headset. Kristina Hultgren - Professor of Sociolinguistics and Applied Linguistics, School of Languages and Applied Linguistics
Professor Hultgren’s work centres on uncovering fundamental principles governing language shift and its consequences for social justice, developing interdisciplinary frameworks that enhance understandings of the relationship between language and globalisation.

Recently, she has been leading an international team that brings together linguists, political scientists and policy makers to generate new understandings of how past decades’ higher education reforms and marketisation of universities may, perhaps unintentionally, drive a global shift to English as a language of teaching. Recognised with a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship, this work will foster a new generation of scholars working in the intersection of linguistics and political science through the establishment of a research group.

“Having gained my Personal Chair through the research profile, I am delighted that the OU recognises research as a fundamental value of our institution, as well as academic leadership that paves the way to addressing pressing global challenges,” Kristina said. “I hope my professorship will inspire colleagues to honour their research ambitions. For my students and my postdocs, I hope it will encourage them to think beyond their discipline and to constantly ask questions about this complex world in which we live.”


Portrait of Prof. Peter Keogh. He is looking off to the right of the picture. He has short dark hair and a goatee style beard and moustache, he is wearing wire framed glasses.Peter Keogh - Professor of Health and Society, School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care
Before joining the OU in 2015, Professor Keogh spent twenty-five years in academic and non-academic roles conducting community-based research with sexual and gender minorities and people living with HIV. Peter has worked on a range of topics including forced marriage, clinical and social care services for people with HIV, and has completed an extensive programme of applied qualitative research into sexual risk practices of men who have sex with men spanning twenty years.

Peter’s current work explores the role of intimacy, embodiment, affect and materiality in people’s sexual and reproductive experiences with regard to HIV and LGBT health and rights. He’s particularly interested in developing novel approaches to co-creating and co-deploying knowledge with, by and for marginalised communities. He is currently involved with two major research and development projects: ACCESS (Approaches in Complex and Challenging Environments for Sustainable Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights) is a major multi-agency project working with the most marginalised communities in Uganda, Lebanon, Nepal and Mozambique; ICTA  (Integrating Care for Trans Adults) is a UK-wide study exploring the healthcare experiences of Trans (including non-binary) people.

Peter said, “I’m hugely proud to be awarded a Professorship at the OU. I have always cherished the opportunity to work at an institution whose unique values of social justice and empowerment through education I wholeheartedly share. I see this appointment and title as a tool to be used in consolidating the university’s reputation in the areas of sexual and reproductive health and rights and critical approaches to public health.”


Portrait of Professor Joan Simons. She is looking at the camera and smiling. She has shoulder-length dark blonde hair and is wearing a blue print top. Joan Simons - Professor of Health Studies, School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care
Professor Simons has worked in Higher Education for 27 years, 11 of which have been at the OU. She has been motivated to help address the disadvantages experienced by some students and driven to deliver equality of opportunity for all students. This has led to work into resilience of level one students, prevention of passive withdrawal of students, and the part intrinsic motivation plays in student success. Her latest projects have focused on Disabled Veterans, and the knowledge, experience and skills of Associate Lecturers in supporting students with mental health issues.

Joan’s research interests stemmed from her work with children who had experienced burns and how their pain was managed. This led to a number of studies including an international travel scholarship and, more recently, the development of a new framework for the management of children’s pain after surgery. This framework, and additional resources created, has been endorsed by the Royal College of Nursing.

Joan said, “This Professorship would not have been possible without significant support from my amazing colleagues in WELS. With this promotion I hope to be able to contribute to the success of other colleagues in their quest for advancement.”

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