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

Imagine a future in which technologies teach humans

Posted on October 17th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, my research, online learning, papers, scholarship. No Comments

Pause for a few minutes and imagine a future in which technologies teach humans. Call them robots, bots, chatbots, algorithms, teaching machines, tutoring software, agents, or something else. Regardless, consider them technologies that teach.

robo_teacher

Vector created by Freepik

How far into the future is that time?

What do these technologies look like? Are they anthropomorphous? Are they human-like? In what ways are they human-like? Do they have voice capabilities, and if so, do they understand natural language? Are they men or women?  Do they have a representation in the way that one would imagine a teacher – such as a pedagogical agent – or do they function behind the scenes in ways that seem rather innocuous – such as the Mechanical MOOC?

Do these technologies teach humans of all ages? Do they teach independently, support human teachers, or do human teachers assist them? Are they featured in articles in the New York Times, The Guardian, and The Economist as innovations in education? Or, are they as common as desks and chairs, and therefore of less interest to the likes of the New York Times? Are they common in all learning contexts? Who benefits from technologies that teach? Is being taught by these technologies better or worse than being taught be a human teacher? In what ways is it better or worse? Are they integrated in affluent universities and k-12 schools? Or, are they solely used in educational institutions serving students of low socioeconomic status? Who has access to the human teachers and who gets the machines? Are they mostly used in public or private schools?

How do learners feel about them? Do they like them? Do they trust them? Ho do learners think that these technologies feel about them? Do they feel cared for and respected? How do learners interact with them? How do human teachers feel about them? Would parents want their children to be taught be these technologies? Which parents have a choice and which parents don’t? How do politicians feel about them? How do educational technology and data mining companies view them?

Do teaching technologies treat everyone the same based on some predetermined algorithm? Or, are their actions and responses based on machine learning algorithms that are so complex that even the designers of these technologies cannot predict their behaviour with exact precision? Do they subscribe to pre-determined pedagogical models? Or, do they “learn” what works over time for certain people, in certain settings, for certain content areas, for certain times of the day? Do they work independently in their own classroom? Or, do colonies of robo-teachers gather, share, and analyze the minutiae of student life, with each robo-teacher carefully orchestrating his or her next evidence-based pedagogical move supported by Petabytes of data?

Final question for this complicated future, I promise: What aspects of this future are necessary and desirable, and why?

MOOCs and Open Education in the Developing World symposium

Posted on August 24th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, moocs. No Comments

A thought-provoking pre-conference symposium is being organized and facilitated on October 17th by Curt Bonk, Sheila Jagannathan, Tom Reeves, and Tom Reynolds at this year’s E-learn conference. It’s focused on a variety of innovations pertaining to online learning in the context of the developing world. While some research demonstrates that  socioeconomic divides persist in the context of MOOCs used by US learners, the symposium organizers note that “minimal attention has been placed on how developing countries and regions of the world are taking advantage of these new forms of technology-enabled learning” and “this is exactly where exciting and impactful innovations are currently occurring.”

Beyond the impressive list of presenters, I appreciate

  • the diverse organizations represented here, which include universities, polytechnics, non-profits, NGOs, and financial institutions
  • the main questions behind the symposium, which is: How do innovations work in different contexts, for whom, why, and what can we learn from one another?

Plus: It’s in Vancouver, off the coast of Canada’s paradise, Victoria ;)

AERA statement and #edtech research

Posted on August 18th, by George Veletsianos in E-learning, emerging technologies, scholarship. No Comments

What appears below is a copy of the AERA Statement on the Hateful Acts in Charlottesville. I am posting it here because there’s a tendency in our field to focus on instruction and learning that is effective, efficient, and engaging without considering that we need to evaluate instruction/learning in the context of larger societal needs. What’s the value of an effective programming course if it leaves behind traditionally disenfranchised groups? This reminds me of Tom Reeves and his efforts to encourage us all to engage in socially responsible research that addresses the urgent problems of our time.

AERA statement

The American Educational Research Association condemns racism in all its forms and joins others throughout our nation in the fight to eradicate hate, injustice, and racial violence. The recent events in Charlottesville not only make visible how White supremacy, racism, antisemitism, religious persecution, homophobia, and xenophobia continue to permeate our society, but also remind us of the critical importance of studying, analyzing, and broadly communicating about these patterns and structures. Our social responsibility as a community of education researchers is to engage in producing knowledge and to share that knowledge with clarity and integrity.

 

A wide range of scholarship can and must be used to inform and engage current and future generations in the multiple stories of our pasts, the realities of our presents, and the critical demands of our futures. We need to uncover and analyze how our educational system is connected to our past and present legacies of racism in all of its forms—how our institutions and practices persistently reproduce inequities. We must also develop the knowledge and evidence that can lead to practices and policies that address hate, support understanding and respect of others, and disrupt the divisive patterns of disparity and denigration. Researchers, together with educators across all levels of education, must confront the racism, xenophobia, power and privilege, and injustice that permeate the ordinary life of our nation and world and interrogate and teach the histories of our past. No one should leave our educational institutions thinking that the expressions of hate that were on display in Charlottesville are just legitimate “points of view” or acceptable acts of “free speech.” No one should leave our classrooms or campuses believing that the symbols of oppression and killing are mere logos.

 

Education is fundamentally about our futures as a nation and a world, for education can empower the next generation of human beings who can promote and protect human rights, build institutions, make laws, create knowledge and art, and imagine and make possible a just world. AERA is committed to providing the knowledge base and working with other scientific organizations to support educators and others in our communities to be able to confront hate and to teach all people to know the histories of slavery, racism, genocide, inhumanity, oppression, colonialism, and White supremacy, as well as to know and learn from the stories of those who have fought and devoted their lives to justice. We strive to make known and foster the use of research on institutional and individual factors that engender prejudice and acts of violence against groups. As researchers, we must be prepared to support educators with tools, knowledge, and expertise to notice, name, deal with, and confront these issues as they arise in our contemporary world, our communities, and in our institutions and classrooms.

 

Now is the time, as new school and academic years commence, to ensure that we do not ignore or forget the realities that underlie what we have just experienced nor resume a normalcy that belies the scholarship that we have. AERA is committed to continuing this conversation as we go from city to city. It is our priority in planning for the 2018 Annual Meeting in April in New York and speaks to the very heart of this year’s theme—“The Dreams, Possibilities, and Necessity of Public Education.”

 

 

Deborah Loewenberg Ball, AERA President

Felice J. Levine, AERA Executive Director

Recharging

Posted on August 6th, by George Veletsianos in sharing. No Comments

I remember watching a TV show back when I moved to Canada in which the protagonist said something to the effect of “Like most Canadians, I enjoy the great outdoors.” I don’t know whether enjoyment of the outdoors is a Canadian trait but I do know that there’s many hiking trails in BC that I’ve enjoyed. One of them is the Heart Trail on Pender island, which is exactly what I think I need on a daily basis.



Diversity, Justice, and Democratization in Open Education and #opened17

Posted on July 31st, by George Veletsianos in Ideas, open, work. 1 Comment

This post is more about connecting some dots for myself, and drawing parallels (see 4 especially), than making a fully comprehensible argument.

Blog work-in-progress, they say.

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Diversity by Manel Torralba

1. In 2012, we wrote that the open movement, and thereby the individuals associated with it, assume “ideals such as democratization, human rights, equality, and justice.” We argued that individuals should be vigilant and reflective of their practices, and that “such vigilance should focus both on determining who profits from [open] practices and who is excluded from them so as to combat both under-use by some (e.g., those lacking entry to or knowledge of useful networks) and over-use or exploitation by those with the wealth, power, and prestige necessary to effectively strip mine sources.”

2. I was reminded of this recently, as there has been many conversations around diversity in the open education movement. Some, but not all, of these conversation surround the choice of a keynote talk at the Open Education 2017 conference. Here are a few tweets to contextualize this conversation.

3. As part of the Digital Learning and Social Media Research Group, we’ve been awarding funding to individuals interested in conducting research with us. One of the papers resulting from these research opportunities contributes somewhat here. Michael Paskevicius was interested in examining discourses surrounding openness on Twitter and we analyzed a large Twitter dataset for this purpose. In that (forthcoming) paper, we wrote: “Inherent in the idea of openness is the attitude that all should be able to participate and share and reap the benefits of open communities. However, our results on the national and gender demographics of participants raises questions as to the ongoing diversity of the open education community. Notably, the U.S. dominates English-speaking conversations about openness, and though this might be somewhat expected given the relative size of that country, overrepresentation of males in the community should lead us to consider whether there are social or other barriers of entry for female participants. Interestingly, females gradually gained traction in the community and even overtook males in 2013, but this trend swiftly reversed the following year, and males now participate more than females at a rate of 1.8-to-1. The reasons for this up- and then down-turn is unclear… At any rate, if diversity of perspectives would be valued in any community, we would anticipate that this would be the case within open communities, so we suggest that leaders in this area should consider ways to better understand this issue and the reasons why many who should be participating in these conversations are not.” [emphasis mine] From: Paskevicius, M., Veletsianos, G., & Kimmons, R. (in press). Content is king: An analysis of how the Twitter discourse surrounding open education unfolded from 2009 to 2016. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning.

4. In response to a question I asked a couple of weeks ago, Martin Weller noted open universities’ contributions to the ideal of democratizing education/learning. Others, noted openness in general. To what extent can an innovation/approach/activity be said to be democratizing when itself could be more diverse and more inclusive? Put differently, can open education be democratizing when itself and its community could benefit from being more democratic, diverse, and just? If i had to venture a guess, I would say that many in the open education community would say “yes, open education can concurrently be democratizing and in need of growth.” Warning: How is this different from techno-utopian SV approaches to educational technology that go like this: “We are democratizing/uberizing/disrupting education, even though we do need to work on our privileged heteronormative ways?” Perhaps what’s different is that in the open education community there seems to be a desire to do better, to be better, or at least, to start with, an acknowledgement that we can do better.

As I said… work-in-progress.

Institutional use of Twitter: Can universities surpass brand image to make their social media relevant?

Posted on July 5th, by George Veletsianos in my research, scholarship. No Comments

The article below was originally published on The Conversation with the launch of their Canadian-focused site. The original article is on their site, but it is posted here for posterity.

Disconnected: Can universities surpass brand image to make their social media relevant?

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Universities portray campus life as idyllic, but may be missing an opportunity to truly connect with students.
(Shutterstock)

George Veletsianos, Royal Roads University and Ashley Shaw, Royal Roads University

Universities fail to exploit social media’s most compelling features, tending to broadcast their brands instead of engaging students and the public online, new research suggests.

Visualise this: smiling students and successful faculty. In the background, beautiful buildings framed by blue skies.

These are the ways that Canadian universities choose to represent themselves on social media. This picture is somewhat accurate, but a tad misleading.

Social media are a staple of Canadian universities. Twitter — where one can quickly and easily share information, pictures and videos — is particularly used by nearly all Canadian universities. Researchers have generally found that universities use Twitter to broadcast information about themselves, both to potential students and to the wider public.

Twitter use by universities raises many questions for us as educators and researchers with an interest in social media. In our research, we have looked closely at exactly what universities are posting on Twitter, asking two important questions: What messages are universities conveying through their official Twitter accounts? How is university life depicted in their tweets? We examined over nine months’ worth of tweets from public universities in Canada, paying particular attention to the images and videos shared as well as the text accompanying them.

Positive branding

What we found was troubling. Based on the information shared from these official university accounts, one would likely conclude life in Canadian universities is universally gratifying, enjoyable and beautiful.

Students in images were nearly always smiling and happy. Faculty members — almost all middle-age white males — were shown giving speeches or conducting research. Campuses were always portrayed as attractive and sunny, boasting shiny buildings and new facilities. References to graduation ceremonies, groundbreaking research and sporting victories were all too common.

Teaching and learning received much less attention. This is not just a Canadian representation. We replicated our research using the Twitter feeds of more than 2,000 U.S. universities. The results were similar.

Institutional Twitter accounts seem to highlight and market an institutional brand — a positive ideal that they would like the public and potential students to hold. It’s understandable that universities, like individuals, want to present their ‘best self’ on social media. This makes sense from a marketing perspective.

Obscured reality

This carefully crafted and tightly controlled representation gives an incomplete and unrealistic portrayal of the people and activities of the university. There is little suggestion in this portrayal of the struggles students face in their studies, health and well-being, finances, and so forth. There is little mention of the day-to-day effort, difficulty and struggles of teaching and learning.

We are compelled to ask: What is it that drives universities to use social media as they do? In what ways have social, economic and political forces (such as the reduction in public funding and greater emphasis on competition) led universities to use these powerful social technologies in the service of branding and marketing?

We want to encourage Canadian universities to use Twitter, and other social media, in different ways — ways that would improve Canadian society.

Social media provide an opportunity not just to broadcast a message to the public, but to foster two-way engagement and communication between stakeholders. Universities could make more meaningful contributions to our broader society by using social media to summarise research findings for public use, connect alumni with students and provide educational opportunities to those outside the institution.

George Veletsianos, Professor and Canada Research Chair, Royal Roads University and Ashley Shaw, Researcher and Ph.D candidate, Royal Roads University

The Conversation

MA and PhD student research assistantships available

Posted on July 4th, by George Veletsianos in my research, networked scholars, open, papers, Royal Roads University, scholarship. No Comments

We have two part-time research assistantships open for individuals to work with us (one for an MA and one for a PhD student).

PhD student: https://humanresources.royalroads.ca/job-posting/research-assistant-3-0

MA student: https://humanresources.royalroads.ca/job-posting/research-assistant-2-0

Successful applicants need to be legally able to work in Canada at the time of application, enrolled in a MA/PhD program. They do not need to be enrolled at a Canadian University.

Successful individuals will support an international team of researchers with research and knowledge mobilization activities pertaining to online harassment and faculty use of social media.

Thinking out loud about coding bootcamps, nanodegrees, & alternative credentials

Posted on June 29th, by George Veletsianos in scholarship. 2 comments

“The CanCode program will invest $50 million over two years, starting in 2017-18, to support initiatives providing educational opportunities for coding and digital skills development to Canadian youth from kindergarten to grade 12 (K-12).

The program aims to equip youth, including traditionally underrepresented groups, with the skills and study incentives they need to be prepared for the jobs of today and the future. Canada’s success in the digital economy depends on leveraging our diverse talent and providing opportunity for all to participate—investing in digital skills development will help to achieve this.”

The CanCode program is a new funding opportunity in Canada. Similar initiatives have occurred globally. The investment in coding to prepare youth and adults for the jobs of the future is an interesting phenomenon. In a past project for example, we worked with over fifty high schools and developed a dual enrolment course focused on computational thinking and the presence of computing in daily life. The ability to read, write, and tinker with code is one aspect of this course. Our course was about introducing students to computer science – and though coding is an aspect of it, computer science is not coding.

But, coding is a central feature of an ever-expanding market of emerging credentials. Badges. Nanodegrees. Certs. And so on. Providers offer these in many different ways, both in terms of modality (e.g.,  online courses vs. face-to-face coding bootcamps) and pacing (e.g., self-paced vs. cohort-based). Some highlight experiential components (e.g., industry partnerships) while others highlight the flexibility of adjusting to learner’s life circumstances.

In short, providers make a case that their credentials promise employment opportunities in a rapidly changing global economy where coding is in demand. This space seems to be an example of what certain aspects of unbundling may look like. The space configures alternative credentials, digital learning, for-profit education, skills training, and re-training in unique ways. I have a lot of questions around this space

  • What are learners’ experiences with coding bootcamps and nanodegrees?
  • Who enrols? Who succeeds?
    • To what extent do these programs broaden participation in computing?
    • To what degree and in what ways do these programs democratize learning and participation? Do they?
  • What do learners expect from these offerings and how do they judge the quality of their experience and credential?
  • What are the dominant pedagogical practices (within and across providers) in teaching people how to code?
  • What is the role of technology in these programs?
  • What do outcomes look like, and how do those align with providers’ promises? For instance, what proportion of participants find gainful employment and what does that employment look like?
  • What are instructors’ roles in these offerings? Who are they? What is their pedagogical background? Is this their main employment? Are there connections to the gig economy and precarious employment here?
  • How diverse are these offerings in terms of gender and race with respect to students (who enrols?), instructors (who teaches?) and content (are minorities represented in curricular materials? in what ways?)

I’ve been looking for some answers to my questions, but I’m not finding much.

Additional reading

http://hackeducation.com/2015/11/23/bootcamps-the-new-for-profit-higher-ed

https://www.wired.com/2017/02/programming-is-the-new-blue-collar-job

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/04/education/edlife/where-non-techies-computer-programming-coding.html

https://www.geekwire.com/2015/dear-geekwire-a-coding-bootcamp-is-not-a-replacement-for-a-computer-science-degree/

https://news.slashdot.org/story/16/08/22/0521230/four-code-bootcamps-are-now-eligible-for-government-financial-aid

http://www.chronicle.com/article/Coding-Boot-Camps-Come-Into/239673?cid=cp21

http://hackeducation.com/2011/10/28/codecademy-and-the-future-of-not-learning-to-code

Industry report: https://www.coursereport.com/reports/2016-coding-bootcamp-job-placement-demographics-report