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

EdTech Startups: Exceptional Courses or Exceptional Students?

Posted on February 29th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, learner experience, my research, online learning, scholarship. No Comments

This blog entry was supposed to go out next week, but I am sharing it today because it is relevant to the entry that George Siemens wrote today.

I gave a talk to Curt Bonk’s class a couple of weeks ago and the central premise of that talk was that we should be designing experiences, not products. This is not a new idea. It goes back to the beginning of my career and it’s a passion that I share with a lot of folks, most notably Aaron Doering and Charles Miller at the University of Minnesota (who incidentally just landed in Sydney for their most recent Adventure Learning project). For example, see  Raising the bar for instructional outcomes: Towards transformative learning experiences (2008) and Designing Opportunities for Transformation with Emerging Technologies (2011). A central tenet of the 2008 paper is the following:

There exist “strong pressures to produce mediocre instructional products based on templates and preexisting content.”

That was in 2008. Now consider 2011/2012: Interest in open courses and in large online classes has exploded. The edtech entrepreneur is eager to leverage online education and capitalize on efficiency, by focusing on the delivery of pre-packaged content. Scale and efficiency are key in that if one is able to efficiently deliver content (read: low cost) to large numbers of people, s/he can charge a small fee that will yield high profit. This isn’t a new idea either. David Noble talks about the commodification of education, the attempt to market and sell education as a commodity.

Sebastian Thrun, who was one of the faculty members teaching the Stanford AI class last Fall recently “showed emails from a student who took the AI class, when he could get Internet access, amidst mortar and rocket attacks in Afganistan; and another, a single working mother, who refused to quit the class because it gave her a sense of accomplishment.” Are these statements describing exceptional courses? Are they describing experiences that pull students and engage them to their core? Or are they describing exceptional people? When you provide access to exceptional people (like the two individuals above), they will amaze you, because, well, they are exceptional! How do you design courses that are exceptional, that adapt to all learners, and provide support structures for individuals who are not exceptional? You provide opportunities for personally relevant and meaningful transformation. How do you do that, you ask? Here’s my (free) advice to any hopeful edtech startup: Designing Opportunities for Transformation with Emerging Technologies (pdf).

Academics, Crowdsourcing, and Collectives

Posted on February 28th, by George Veletsianos in sharing. No Comments

When we wrote about Networked Participatory Scholarship we discussed how as a culture we have found great value in online collaborative projects, ranging from Wikipedia, to Firefox, to Apache, Python, etc. We argued that such collective ways of thinking are scarce in academia though innovators are currently toying with such approaches. One example includes the cadre of mentors who helped Alec Couros teach one of his open courses in 2010 (see other examples pertaining to crowdsourcing in education).

The value of the Web as a platform for collectives to organize around issues of interest is now being demonstrated again with a call to boycott Elsevier that appears to have been successful. This is an example that demonstrates the value, implications, and insights of  digital/network skills and literacies for academics. For instance, the social web supported Timothy Gowers in organizing the boycott. Of course not everyone has such a great following as Gowers to be able to enact change, but the possibility is  there – after all the Star Wars kid didn’t have any sort of following prior to his video being released online, but following that he quickly became an Internet sensation. The lesson here is that as academics we need to understand the culture of the Web and its participatory nature because it can help us forge a scholarly future with values that we deem to be important.


Improving Computer Science Education: Module 1

Posted on February 20th, by George Veletsianos in sharing. 2 comments

A few weeks ago, I mentioned Project Engage: Our approach to improve and broaden participation in computer science for high school students. We are using a technology-enhanced PBL approach and are adopting the Computer Science Principles as our guiding curricular framework. Rather than focusing on the teaching of a specific programming language, this course focuses on CS ideas, skills, and processes for students new to CS. We are nearing completion of our first module, and I thought that others might find our approach and work worthwhile so I am posting one of our artifacts here.

In this module students are tasked with the following problem: Leandro’s online identity has been stolen and used to cyberbully Chris. As a result, Leandro has been expelled from school. As Leandro’s friend, you must help convince the principal that Leandro is innocent. As a group, dig through the digital evidence available from the investigation, and create a compelling presentation to exonerate Leandro. Good luck!

As in other problem-based learning projects, we are using a video clip to introduce the problem that is intended to attract interest and curiosity. Here’s our beta product:

Online Social Networks as Formal Learning Environments

Posted on February 5th, by George Veletsianos in my research, NPS, online learning, papers, scholarship. 7 comments

I’m always excited to participate in dialogue regarding my work. In this post, I will respond to a couple of questions/comments posed to me as a result of a recent paper I published in IRRODL with Cesar Navarrete, who is a doctoral student at the Learning Technologies program at UT Austin.

The paper is: Veletsianos, G. & Navarrete, C. (2012). Online Social Networks as Formal Learning Environments: Learner Experiences and Activities. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 13(1), 144-166. [PDF]

In this paper we try to make sense of student experiences and practices in an online social network using within an online course. The abstract reads: While the potential of social networking sites to contribute to educational endeavors is highlighted by researchers and practitioners alike, empirical evidence on the use of such sites for formal online learning is scant. To fill this gap in the literature, we present a case study of learners’ perspectives and experiences in an online course taught using the Elgg online social network. Findings from this study indicate that learners enjoyed and appreciated both the social learning experience afforded by the online social network and supported one another in their learning, enhancing their own and other students’ experiences. Conversely, results also indicate that students limited their participation to course-related and graded activities, exhibiting little use of social networking and sharing. Additionally, learners needed support in managing the expanded amount of information available to them and devised strategies and “workarounds” to manage their time and participation.

The first question/comment is from Jenny Mackness who says: “I was surprised by the finding ‘students did not appear to mix social and educational participation’. In my experience, students have always mixed social and educational participation, e.g. in the coffee bar – or in my own work, wiki discussions will sometimes veer off into more personal, social discussions. Do you think your students did not mix social and educational participation in your Elgg environment because of the constraints of tutor presence/control, assessment and so on. I’m wondering where else they might have mixed social and educational participation. Did you ask them whether there were any ‘back channels’?”

Thanks for the question, Jenny! I agree with you that students tend to mix social and educational participation. We did not observe this on occurring in this study though. I believe both of these tendencies can be true, and sometimes even co-exist. One or two students sought social, non-educational interactions, but their attempts were not reciprocated. The majority of them just didn’t mix the two. Following up from this, it is interesting to ask why. We did not ask students about it but I can say that (a) just because we didn’t see it on the social network, it doesn’t mean that it did not happen (i.e., it might have happened on email), and (b) a lot of reasons might explain why: the fast pacing of the course might have been a factor; students might have been focusing on completing the course and its requirements; or students might not have felt that Elgg was the appropriate place for them to do that. It’s highly likely that it’s a combination of all of these. What’s important, I believe, is the implication that just because students are on an online social network, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they will engage with each other in the types of social interactions that we see occurring elsewhere (e.g., twitter, facebook, etc).

The second comment is from Stephen Downes who says: “We haven’t heard a lot about Elgg recently but it remains an important model for online learning. One weakness of the case study is that it takes place in a traditional institution.” Results also indicate that students limited their participation to course-related and graded activities, exhibiting little use of social networking and sharing.” Then again, this might just be a feature of the (very) small group studied. I think the discussion of Elgg is valuable, but would place the case study as just one out of (we would hope) many data points.”

Again, thank you, Stephen, for the comment! I may be misunderstanding part of the comment, but I wouldn’t say that the fact that this study took place at a traditional institution is a “weakness.” That was actually part of the reason why we did the study, as the majority of the work that we have seen focuses on the use of these technologies outside of the institution, and individuals tend to think that findings will easily transfer to institutional settings. If you mean that the results were influenced by the fact that the course occurred in a traditional institution or that the institutional setting influenced how the technology was used, you are absolutely correct, and that’s an implication of the study. Finally, I agree with you in that this is just one case study of the use of Elgg and online social networks in an institutional setting. A collection of case studies can help us make sense of this phenomenon, and these are slowly appearing (e.g., in our paper we cite Arnold & Paulus (2010), Brady et al. (2010), Dron & Anderson (2009b)).

Author Experiences with Journals and Publishing

Posted on February 2nd, by George Veletsianos in scholarship. 6 comments

This entry was motivated by a blog entry from Jenny Mackness and an email I received on the same day from a Journal publisher. The publisher took 6 months from review to proofs, but just emailed me to let me know that they would like the proofs returned in 48 hours to “ensure fast publication of your paper.” I see a disconnect there, don’t you?

Moving on to Jenny’s blog entry: Jenny shares her experiences with a recent paper she published in the latest issue of IRRODL (which came out on January 31st). My co-authors and I also have a paper in the same issue. Jenny says, “We submitted the paper in October, which is not that long ago in terms of actual days, but it is in terms of my thinking. I doubt that IRRODL could have published any quicker, so I’m not sure how this mismatch between author and publisher could be resolved.” I agree with Jenny that our thinking in this field is moving quickly and we would all benefit from rapid access to each other’s work. However, I  think that 4 months is a great turn-around from submission to publication for a journal whose copyeditors do an amazingly thorough job. There are well-known book publishers out there that take longer and do no copy-editing whatsoever. Our paper, which appeared in the same issue, was submitted on July 31st, and I’m happy with the 6-month turn-around, which includes submission, double-blind peer-review, decision, minor revision, submission, acceptance, copyediting, and proofs.

Nonetheless, I do think that journals can publish papers quicker. Here’s how: My paper and Jenny’s paper appeared in a journal issue [13(1)] which consisted of 13 other papers. The notion of an issue consisting of a number of papers is a remnant of paper journals. It is possible for a digital journal to publish papers as soon as they are completed, by assigning them just to a volume instead of waiting to fill an issue. Thus Jenny’s paper could have been published in volume 13 and my paper could have been published in volume 13, but neither would have been published in issue 1. This is what Sage Open does. Another way to go about this would be to publish one the journal on a monthly basis, and just include those papers that are ready at the cut-off date for the month. This is the way First Monday works.



From Instructional Technology to Learning Technologies

Posted on February 1st, by George Veletsianos in sharing. 3 comments

When I was pondering the names of “Educational Technology” degrees last year, we were in the midst of examining the identity of the field. Now, I am happy to announce, that our program at the University of Texas at Austin has a new name: Learning Technologies. Though a name doesn’t mean that we will change the work we do, it does capture the field and essence of our work in a better way. We are definitely not the first to go through this change. Purdue, Georgia, Penn State, Georgia State, Michigan State, and the University of Minnesota have all moved towards this direction.

ICEM 2012 Call for Papers

Posted on February 1st, by George Veletsianos in sharing. No Comments


62nd Annual conference of the International Council for Educational Media 2012

In conjunction with the 5th Innovative Learning Environments 2012

Download the Call for Papers

CONFERENCE THEME: Design Thinking in Education, Media, and Society

DATE AND LOCATION: 26-29, September 2012, Nicosia, Cyprus


Extended Deadline for Abstracts: March 12, 2012

The theme of the conference is “Design thinking”. All humans have an inherent ability to design. When planning a dinner, a trip, a building, a learning activity, a new product, we engage in design. Everything that we have around us (with the exception of the untouched nature) has been designed. However, the process of design was poorly understood for a long time. Design thinking is an interdisciplinary framework that draws from the fields of cognition, creativity, engineering, arts, and the social sciences. Design thinking uses the sensibilities of a designer to develop human-centered innovative solutions to problems. During the ICEM2012 conference we will explore the various applications of design thinking and discuss challenges and opportunities that might arise when applying such a framework to solve problems faced in education, media and society.

Topics of interest to this international event include, but are not limited to the following:
– Design thinking and its application across contexts
– Arts-based approaches to education, design and problem solving
– E-learning theory, design, and practice
– Learning design (theory and practice)
– Games in education and training
– Mobile learning applications
– Visual and media literacy
– Design research across disciplines
– Accessibility and assistive technologies
– Technology and social justice
– Distance education and online environments
– Educational media production and distribution
– Research and evaluation methods in educational technology
– Teacher education and lifelong learning
– Applications of technology in business, government, and medicine
We encourage the submission of a variety of papers and work including but not limited to empirical research, case studies, classroom implementations, case studies with applications of technology, theoretical discussions, and critical reviews of literature.