Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology & Associate Professor at Royal Roads University

Pedagogical Agent Appearance & Stereotypes

Posted on May 22nd, by George Veletsianos in papers, pedagogical agents. 1 Comment

I have a new publication out that deals with the degree to which students stereotype virtual characters (short answer: yes they do and this behavior influences learning processes, but sometimes they resist. Or, they say that they resist. It’s a bit more complex than that, but the results present an interesting thinking exercise). This one has been “in the works” for more than a couple of years, but it’s recently been updated because interest on the topic seems to be growing.

Veletsianos, G. (2010). Contextually relevant pedagogical agents: Visual appearance, stereotypes, and first impressions and their impact on learning. Computers & Education, 55(2), 576-585. [pre-print PDF]

Abstract: Humans draw on their stereotypic beliefs to make assumptions about others. Even though prior research has shown that individuals respond socially to media, there is little evidence with regards to learners stereotyping and categorizing pedagogical agents. This study investigated whether learners stereotype a pedagogical agent as being knowledgeable or not knowledgeable and how this acuity influenced learning. Participants were assigned to four experimental conditions differing by agent (scientist or artist) and tutorial type (nanotechnology or punk rock). Quantitative analyses indicated that agents were stereotyped depending on their image and the academic domain under which they functioned. Regardless of tutorial, participants assigned to the artist agent recalled more information than participants assigned to the scientist agent. Learning differences between the groups varied according to whether agent appearance fit the content area under investigation. Qualitative results indicated learner’s stereotypic expectations as well as their unwillingness to draw conclusions based on visual appearance.

What do new forms of scholarship look like?

Posted on May 21st, by George Veletsianos in scholarship. 2 comments

A trackback from Jon Becker’s post on curating a review/article on a book has me thinking:

  • What do new forms of scholarship look like?
  • What is the role of the “reviewer” in new forms of scholarship?

More specifically, in terms of research questions and the creative idea that Jon had:

  • Who contributes to “alternative” (or, non-traditional) forms of scholarship? Why do they?
  • What is the perceived benefit of contributing?

Finally, I am wondering: What is the role of the reader? This question is especially intriguing: While research is usually “consumed” (and infrequently responded to), would readers and authors be more inclined to interact if new forms of scholarship provided more social affordances? Or, are we hitting a cultural wall again?

[Photo by watz is licensed under a Creative Commons license]

Technologies to support Adventure Learning projects

Posted on May 19th, by George Veletsianos in adventure learning, online learning, sharing. 4 comments

I am often asked how Adventure Learning projects come together. The usual question goes something like this, “It seems that there are so many technologies used to create an Adventure Learning project. How do you bring it all together?” The answer is rather simple actually: You center the project on an narrative and you use technological and social affordances to bring the narrative to life. Here is a simple example, that excludes any kind of interaction, other than the option to reply via comments on this post:

Saturday was a beautiful day.  The shining sun was appealing enough to put an end to my plans to work.

My partner in crime and I got our bikes and sought to explore parts of town off the beaten path. Art Alliance Austin was hosting an art fair and that was our destination. This is the story of our adventure to the fair and the art we encountered during our trip. Urban biking can sometimes be a challenge, but it’s mostly a fulfilling experience if you take the time to pause and look around. I ride a 2008 Marin Muirwoods. It’s a rugged, steel-framed city bike that allows me to go off-road quite easily. I rode this same bike in Minneapolis, MN, Manchester (UK) and Austin, TX and it has always been reliable.

The trip started a few miles North of the University of Texas at Austin. I am posting the route below along with placemarks of interest along the way. The route was automatically created via MyTracks which is an application for Android-based phones that records GPS tracks. I turned on the application when I started the trip and turned it off at the end of the trip. At times when I wanted to note locations of interest, I added points to MyTracks which then appeared on the map. The final map along with the 8 markers I added are shown below.


Each time I added a marker, I also took a picture. Each picture can therefore be mapped to the marker on the map above. In addition, if you select street view on the map above you may be able to match the picture to the images there (except perhaps in the cases where I was cycling through the alleys!). Geotagged pictures can also be added automatically to a map.

Our first stop was Sparky Park. This is an Austin Energy substation that was converted to a “pocket” park. We found this by accident, but is was quite fitting that we came across it on our way to the art fair!

From there, we rode towards downtown. The trees provided much needed coverage from the sun and it was great riding through the residential neighborhoods and looking at old houses. At some point we decided to cross Guadalupe Street which is one of the main Austin streets and runs right by the University of Texas.


View Larger Map

We quickly abandoned the plan to stay on that street because of the number of cars and people that were on it, and got on side streets again. That’s when we came across the following graffiti, celebrating UT Austin’s football team. Now, I’m not really into football, but from what I hear, UT has a pretty good football team with a dedicated following. That’s probably a topic for a different post though!

Riding past the university and towards downtown still, the next form of public “art” encountered was one of Austin’s still-standing moonlight towers. These structures were built in the late 1800′s as a way to provide light to the city. Originally, there were 31 of these structures in Austin – nowadays, there are only 15 towers left, while, according to Wikipedia, Austin is the only city left that still operates this system (as part of the “keep Austin weird” program I am assuming! )… To provide more contextual information, I “checked in” at this location using Gowalla.

The first leg of our journey ended at Lady Bird lake – which is named after Lady Bird Johnson former first lady and wife of Lyndon B. Johnson. Our very own Learning Technology Center at UT Austin keeps a presidential timeline of the 20th century along with digitized assets and information on LBJ is of course available.

The trip included many more highlights, but this short example provides the main ideas behind designing adventure learning experiences for real-world, participatory, and inquiry-based experiences that capitalize on events that happen outside of the classroom. Literature on adventure learning and these ideas can be found in my publications page.

And for those of you interested in data and the use of data to help teach relevant topics, here’s the graph of the trip!

Last day of class

Posted on May 6th, by George Veletsianos in sharing. 1 Comment

It’s our last day of class today and we are wrapping it up with a Pecha Kucha celebration. If you recall, it all started with a request to “hack my syllabus” (i.e. asking students to comment and critique the syllabus of the class). It’s rather strange actually; sitting here trying to put together a couple of slides to summarize 4 months of work, I am realizing that I’ll miss my students. We had some good times together this semester. Special thanks to the students for making this a fun class and special thanks to all of you who joined our little community and added real value to our learning via your insightful blog comments, virtual visits, and twitter replies. Given that the class was focusing on online and participatory learning, being able to engage with the community for online and participatory learning was quite fitting! Stay tuned for more: I am teaching this class again in the summer (though, this time, online!)

RFID to check student attendance?

Posted on May 5th, by George Veletsianos in sharing. 5 comments

(via shashdot and George Siemens)

It looks like Northern Arizona University is planning on implementing a system to “use sensors to detect students’ university identification cards when they enter classrooms, according to NAU spokesperson Tom Bauer. The data will be recorded and available for professors to examine. Bauer said the university’s main goal with the sensor system is to increase attendance and student performance….NAU Student Body President Kathleen Templin said most students seem to be against the new system. She added students have started Facebook groups and petitions against the sensor system. NAU sophomore Rachel Brackett created one of the most popular Facebook groups, “NAU Against Proximity Cards,” which has more than 1,400 members.”

I usually refrain from replying on initiatives that annoy me. This one goes over the top however, because it puts the blame on one of the groups that I care deeply about: students and youth.

May I suggest a few simple alternatives? :

  • Improve student performance by making teaching and education more appealing (i.e. increase instructor performance to increase student performance).
  • Redesign curricula with engagement at the core. Content learning will follow.
  • Treat lack of attendance as a sign of the problems that the institution faces rather than a student  issue.
  • Require professors to attend courses that are consistently rated above-average (and use RFIDs to check whether they are actually attending those course if you are so inclined to use the system)
  • Institute policies that encourage and reward instructor innovation.
  • Encourage sharing of innovative teaching approaches, transformative technology use, and curricular innovation.
  • Learn from your students and involve them in the decision-making process. It seems that they are  harnessing the power of the technology much better than you are (see facebook initiative above)
  • Invite me to give you a workshop (that’s a joke, but I won’t refuse if you actually do invite me)
[Update 5/5, 2:25pm: Terry Anderson just returned from a trip to New Zealand, and he provides an excellent example of instructors sharing when he says: " Ako [the National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence] funds post-secondary faculty members $3,000 each to compose 2,000 word good practice chapters on a host of topics relevant to teaching and learning in tertiary education. The results are a very impressive e-book with 30 chapters online  and still growing.”]

Thanks for listening. We now return to our regular programming.