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

Introduction to Mao Zedong Thought MOOC & open course transparency

Posted on November 25th, by George Veletsianos in moocs, my research, open, sharing. 2 comments

The New York Times published an article on an edX course (Introduction to Mao Zedong Thought) offered by Tsinghua University. Inside Higher Ed (IHE) wrote about it, too. The following quote from IHE articles summarizes the articles:

“That course is raising eyebrows because, despite hours of video lectures and supplemental material in the course, students would still have to tab over to Wikipedia to learn about the millions who died as a result of Mao’s land reforms or that his economic initiatives led to what may have been the greatest famine in human history, which killed tens of millions. Introduction to Mao Zedong Thought references those events glancingly in passing as “mistakes,” and generally heaps praise on Mao and his philosophies.”

I was asked to provide commentary for the New York Times article, and since it wasn’t included in the writeup, I thought it would be a good idea to share it publicly rather than leave it hidden away in my email inbox. Here is what I said:

Open courses are transparent, and that’s one of their positive aspects. They allow anyone to examine the ways that course creators think about a topic. The instructional materials from the Mao course are available to anyone to examine and study. One can look at the materials and ask: How do these materials position Mao Zedong? What are the elements of Mao’s thought that the creators of this course want to highlight? What elements of Mao’s thoughts are left behind and what are the elements that are being highlighted? What is the story that is being told here, and who stands to benefit from this story?

Stephen Downes made a similar argument in the IHE article: ““courses that might have been offered behind closed doors are offered for everyone to see.”

Now, that’s parsimonious :)


Are professors naive users of social media?

Posted on November 20th, by George Veletsianos in my research, networked scholars, open, sharing. 1 Comment

The Chronicle of Higher Education published a commentary some time ago that argued that professors are “naive users of social media” and must exercise caution. It’s difficult to argue with the recommendation to exercise caution, when one looks at the list of scholars who found themselves in trouble in the last year: Salaita, Goldrick-Rab, Grundy, and so on.

But, the claim that professors are naive users of social media is unsubstantiated and reveals a limited understanding of the literature on how professors actually use social media and what they think about them. My colleagues and I have been conducting research on networked scholarship and scholars’ use of social media since 2009, and since that time, I can’t recall interviewing a faculty member or reading a study that revealed naiveté regarding social media and the challenges/tensions they introduce. If anything, most academics have an astute understanding of how social media intersect with their professional (and personal) lives and make informed (and tactical) decisions regarding their use of these technologies.

Granted, many find themselves in conundrums as a result of being in collapsed contexts and being exposed to unanticipated audiences, but to argue naiveté is misinformed.

Theorizing Openness at #opened15

Posted on November 19th, by George Veletsianos in my research, online learning, open, scholarship. No Comments

I’m at the Open Education 2015 conference, and I am struck by the continuing focus on costs, and the absence of theorizing openness, (and by extension OER and open textbooks). Is this a problem? Reducing costs is of course important. There’s no question about it. But whether the absence of theory is a problem depends what we believe theory does. After hearing many talks start with statements akin to “we asked faculty to use open textbooks, but…” or “we hoped the institution would embrace openness because it reduced costs, but…”, I thought that it might be worthwhile to ask more why questions:

  • Why do some faculty do and others do not adopt open textbooks?
  • Why do some faculty revise OER?
  • Why do some faculty choose to publish their work in closed journals?

Theorizing openness can help us answer many of these questions. Because openness does not exist in a vacuum. I think that a sociocultural theoretical framing of openness  can help practitioners and researchers make better sense and use of openness. Here’s a quote from a recent paper that argues for and clarifies this framing:

“A sociocultural perspective on openness, open practices and open scholarship views these practices as being socially shaped, and the technologies used to enact openness as necessarily, if not always intentionally, embedding their developers’ worldviews, values, beliefs, and assumptions into their design and the activities they support and encourage. By recognizing that open practices are shaped by social, cultural, economic, and political factors, this perspective rejects the notion that such practices are deterministic and holds that, with adequate information and evidence, learners, instructors, and researchers have the agency to accept or reject any particular technology or practice or to find alternative uses for it that will better serve their needs.” (p. 202)

Veletsianos, G. (2015). A Case Study of Scholars’ Open and Sharing practices. Open Praxis 7(3), 199-209.

Related: See this presentation by Royce Kimmons which argues the following:

“[O]penness is more than economy. The freedoms afforded by open practices have great promise for improving the pedagogy and professionalism in our educational institutions as educators are empowered to differentiate, collaborate, and innovate in ways that were impossible under non-open paradigms.”


What is it like to learn and participate in MOOCs?

Posted on November 16th, by George Veletsianos in learner experience, moocs, online learning, open. No Comments

We recently published a special issue for Educational Media International by asking authors to submit papers focusing on the following question: What is it like to learn and participate in MOOCs? This has now been published.

We developed this special issue to enhance our collective understanding of learner experiences and participation in MOOCs because the scholarly community still has an incomplete mosaic of students’ learning experiences with open online learning.

The following papers are included:

Editorial: Contributions to the mosaic describing learners’ experiences with open online learning (pdf)
George Veletsianos and Vrasidas Charalambos

Learning from MOOCs: a qualitative case study from the learners’ perspectives
Yeonjeong Park, Insung Jung and Thomas C. Reeves

A classroom at home: children and the lived world of MOOCs
Yin Yin, Catherine Adams, Erika Goble and Luis Francisco Vargas Madriz

What makes a cMOOC community endure? Multiple participant perspectives from diverse cMOOCs
Maha Bali, Maureen Crawford, Rhonda Jessen, Paul Signorelli and Mia Zamora

Fulfilling the promise: do MOOCs reach the educationally underserved?
Lorrie Schmid, Kim Manturuk, Ian Simpkins, Molly Goldwasser and Keith E. Whitfield

Examining learners’ perspective of taking a MOOC: reasons, excitement, and perception of usefulness
M. Liu, J. Kang and E. McKelroy


  • Note: While the journal is not open access, a number of the authors above have self-archived copies of their paper, like I am doing above.