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

Category: E-learning

On Noam Chomsky and technology’s neutrality

Posted on January 23rd, by George Veletsianos in E-learning, emerging technologies, my research, online learning, scholarship. 21 comments

In a recent interview, Noam Chomsky commented on the relationship between technology and education and one of his thoughts was the following:

As far as technology itself and education is concerned, technology is basically neutral. It’s like a hammer. The hammer doesn’t care whether you use it to build a house or whether on torture, using it to crush somebody’s skull, the hammer can do either.

Hammer – CC Photo by Birmingham Museum and Arts Gallery

I admire Noam Chomsky and his brilliance. I agree with this perspective, but this perspective does not paint the whole picture of what happens when we use technology in education. I’d like to unpack this just a little bit because there is a more accurate picture of technology use in education available to us. The broader picture I describe below helps us understand how technologies are used, why they succeed/fail, and how we can design better learning environments. From my observations of technology use in education, my research, my colleagues’ research, and my reading of the field’s research, here’s what I understand:

  • Technologies can be as neutral as described above. For example, Twitter can be used as a broadcasting medium, a conversational medium, or even a 1-1 support tool. YouTube can replace the VCR used in class. Or, it can bring together people from different locations to discuss topics of common interest. In this sense, technologies are neutral in that they can serve various needs and can be used in different ways.
  • Technologies themselves are rarely neutral. How can that be, you ask, when the bullet point above stated the opposite? Technology is not created in a vacuum. When technology is created, it is built with the developers’ worldviews, values, beliefs, and assumptions embedded into the technology and revealed through the activities supported and encouraged when individuals use the technology. For example, social networking sites (SNS) structure relationships in specific ways (e.g., followers, friends) and perceive privacy in different ways. Technologies hold particular views of the world, and in this way, they are not neutral. This is true for technologies that we repurpose for educational means (e.g., Twitter, YouTube, Ning, Elgg, Facebook, Flickr, and so on) as well as for technologies created specifically for educational purposes. For example, Learning Management Systems (LMS) espouse certain beliefs about the educational process and their default settings and suggestions may shape how they are used. Whn introduced in educational settings, said technologies tend to introduce tensions and conundrums (e.g., The way the LMS or SNS structured instructor-learner relationships vs. the way faculty envisioned instructor-learner relationships may be in conflict, leading to low uptake, rejection of the tool, etc).
  • Technologies can be put to different uses, but not all uses are productive or effective. A hammer doesn’t care whether you use it to “build a house… or crush somebody’s skull,” but it will do a poor job if you try to use it in lieu of a screwdriver. The problem arises when entrepreneurs, designers, instructors, etc treating the hammer as a tool that can help them address all needs. A recent example of this is Udacity treating its product as a solution in search of a problem.

The ways that technology is used on the ground are complex and negotiated. In preparing instructors to use technology in education and designers to envision ways that technology can support/enhance education, we need to expose them to skills and mindsets that allow them to use tools in creative and inspirational ways. We also need to help them understand the assumptions and beliefs that technologies espouse and remain cognizant of the pressures and tensions that these may introduce.

 

* References pertaining to technology being not-neutral:

Whitworth, A., & Benson, A. (2010). Learning, Design, and Emergence: Two case studies of Moodle in distance education. In G. Veletsianos (Ed.), Emerging Technologies in Distance Education (pp. 195-213). Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University Press.

Hall, R. (2011). Revealing the transformatory moment of learning technology: the place of critical social theory. Research in Learning Technology, 19(3), 273-284.

Lane, L. (2009). Insidious pedagogy: How course management systems impact teaching. First Monday, 14(10).

Crook, C. (2012). The “ digital native ” in context: tensions associated with importing Web 2.0 practices into the school setting. Oxford Review of Education, 38(1), 63-80.

Videos on Teacher Roles and Memorable Teachers

Posted on October 6th, by George Veletsianos in adventure learning, E-learning, emerging technologies, online learning, open, sharing. 3 comments

Teachers, Parents, Principals, Professors, Students, Researchers, and all the shades in-between: We’d like to hear from you! My research/development team (Cesar Navaerrete, Greg Russell*, and Janice Rios) has been diligently working with me on a project in which we intend to study the diverse roles of teachers. The goal of our activity is to collect and share as many ideas and opinions as possible.

And, what a better way to learn about this, by asking all of you to share your thoughts with us in the form of a video! Some of you may have seen examples of crowdsourced video already. For instance, Alan Levine’s Amazing Stories of Openness serves as one of the models we are using for this project. And the Learning Technologies group at the University of Minnesota (Aaron, Charlie, & Cassie) is traveling around the globe to create a narrative around the question “what is education?

Our goal here is to build a collection of user-created videos on the topic of teacher’s roles and create a freely-available curriculum for anyone interested in exploring the topic. The more voices shared, the more open and diverse the discussion can be.  Thus, we hope that if you have a few spare minutes, you might contribute a video clip and add your own perspective.

If you’d like to help out, we would greatly appreciate your response to one of the following:

  • What should the role(s) of a teacher be?
  • Tell us a story about your most memorable teacher.

Talk about your thoughts as they relate to your background, beliefs, or practices! There are no correct answers and we aren’t looking for one single answer. The definition of “teacher” is also fluid: it can be a k-12 teacher, a professor, or a family member who acted as a teacher, a coach, or someone/something else that you consider to be a teacher.

Your contribution should be a short (45-90 sec.) video clip of your ‘off-the-cuff’ response, recorded with a webcam or digital camera.   There is no need for editing, HD, or a great deal of planning.  Just keep it short and simple.  But, don’t let us constrain your creativity. When you are finished upload it to Youtube or Vimeo and either post a link on the comments, email us a link (veletsianos |AT| gmail.com), or send us a note on twitter at @veletsianos or @mrgsrussell

Another example of the videos we have so far is below:

We will be posting a portion of interviews onto our project’s website; therefore, you must be willing to have your video published online. A link to the site will be posted within the next two weeks

Thank you in advance for your time and help!

George, Greg, Cesar, Janice

* This entry has largely been written by Greg Russell, one of our first-year PhD students at UT Austin.

Restaurant Menus, Typography, and Design for Learning

Posted on October 13th, by George Veletsianos in E-learning, Ideas, learner experience. 6 comments

I took the following two pictures in two recent trips of mine. Similarities and differences abound, but one difference (other than the language) stands out for me. And that difference reminds me of an unfortunate state of affairs in the learning technologies field.

Look at the photo below. It’s from a  menu that I came across in Dublin.

dublin

And the next one: It’s from a  menu that I came across in Stockholm.

stockholm

Other than the differences in the language, do you notice anything else? (Hint: Look at the typography.) Wouldn’t it be amazing if instructional/learning designers paid that much attention to the details as well? Yes, beauty and aesthetics are probably the least of our problems (so say the critics), but they count, and they count more and more in a world where beauty (constructed as it may be) surrounds us.

(High resolution images are available on my flickr page)

Enhancing the interactions between pedagogical agents and learners

Posted on September 21st, by George Veletsianos in E-learning, emerging technologies, pedagogical agents. No Comments

One thing that I don’t usually post on this blog is information related to my research on pedagogical agents and virtual characters, which is one of the research strands that I’ve followed for the past 4 years. I am breaking away from that mold by posting this note : )

virtual character, pedagogical agent

Specifically, my colleagues (Aaron Doering and Charles Miller) and I developed a research and design framework to guide smooth, natural, and effective communication between learners and pedagogical agents. Our reasons for developing this framework were varied, but after four years of research and design in the field, I became convinced that to push the field forward, we needed guidance. I use the word “guidance” as opposed to the words “rules” or “laws” because we “anticipate that designers, researchers, and instructors will adapt and sculpt the guidelines of the EnALI framework into their unique instructional contexts, ultimately kindling future research and design that will expand the framework foundations.”

The framework (called Enhancing Agent Learner Interactions or EnALI) is grounded on three major theories: socio-cultural notions of learning, cooperative learning, and conflict theory. In this, we have tried to bring a humanist perspective and encourage designers and researchers to move beyond the use of pedagogical agents as dispassionate tools delivering pre-recorded lectures… but I’ll save that information for a different post. The paper is to appear in the Journal of Educational Computing Research as: Veletsianos, G., Miller, C., & Doering, A. (2009). EnALI: A Research and Design Framework for Virtual Characters and Pedagogical Agents. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 41(2), 171-194 [email me for a preprint].

The framework is posted below, but if you want a full explanation of the guidelines, please refer to the paper. As always questions, comments, and critique are appreciated:

1. Pedagogical Agents should be attentive and sensitive to the learner’s needs and wants by:

• Being responsive and reactive to requests for additional and/or expanded information.
• Being redundant.
• Asking for formative and summative feedback.
• Maintaining an appropriate balance between on- and off-task communications.

2. Pedagogical Agents should consider intricacies of the message they send to learners by:

• Making the message appropriate to the receiver’s abilities, experiences, and frame of reference.
• Using congruent verbal and nonverbal messages.
• Clearly owning the message.
• Making messages complete and specific.
• Using descriptive, non-evaluative comments.
• Describing feelings by name, action, or figure of speech.

3. Pedagogical Agents should display socially appropriate demeanor, posture, and representation by:

• Establishing credibility and trustworthiness
• Establishing role and relationship to user/task.
• Being polite and positive (e.g., encouraging, motivating)
• Being expressive (e.g. exhibiting verbal cues in speech).
• Using a visual representation appropriate to content.

Open Access Educational Technology journals

Posted on August 9th, by George Veletsianos in E-learning, open, sharing, work. 14 comments
[This posting is divided into 2 parts. This is part 1 and it provides an editable listing of open access journals publishing research in educational technology]

For the Fall semester of 2009, I am teaching a course for MA students on “Researching Digital Technologies, Communication, and Education.” One of the resources developed for my students is a listing of open access journals (name, url, and RSS feed) that publish papers on the nexus between technology and education (educational technology, instructional design, e-learning, online distance education, and so on, and so on). I initially thought that this list would be available elsewhere, but I couldn’t find it. I could find numerous other collections of journals (here, here, here, and here) but nothing that consisted of only open access and only for technology-enhanced education. So, we created our own.

spreadsheet

Obviously, it would be plain silly to develop such a resource and not share it openly. Therefore, I am making the list available as a Google Spreadsheet that you can access here (update: if you don’t have a google account, you can view the document in html format). The spreadsheet is also open, so that if you have a Google account, you can add any journals/information that we were not able to find (if you don’t have a Google account to add information to the spreadsheet you will need to use this form). You will see that the information that is mostly missing are the journals’ RSS feeds (if you are the editor of one of the journals listed, please consider adding RSS feeds to your online journal and adding this information in the spreadsheet). Note that there is also a column that allows you to add your name so that additions to the spreadsheet are properly attributed.

I hope that this is useful for the community, for instructors who want to introduce their students to open access, and to researchers who would like to have a handy list around when considering where to submit their next paper.

[Stay tuned by subscribing to this blog's RSS feed or following me on twitter: Part 2 of this series presents popularity metrics for these journals. These metrics are calculated in real-time and are automatically generated for every new addition to the spreadsheet]

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Notes from an e-learning workshop

Posted on August 4th, by George Veletsianos in E-learning, Ideas, sharing, work. No Comments

This past week, my colleague and I had the pleasure of having with us a group of 25 faculty members from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In cooperation with the National Center For e-learning and Distance Learning, we held a two week workshop/training session for them on e-learning, digital technologies and education. Our conversations over these days touched upon multiple aspects of online and distance learning, ranging from cultural issues to techno-social affordances, to LMS evaluation, quality assurance, creativity, and pedagogical transformation. While I had a curriculum designed for my workshop days, I followed about half of it. The rest was revised on the spot according to what we felt we needed to cover and the needs that arose. In reality, the workshop wouldn’t have been successful had the curriculum was set in stone, but, if you are reading this far, I am probably preaching to the wrong choir :)

Below, is a list of items/ideas surrounding workshop issues. Other than being helpful to me, they might also be helpful to you if you are planning on leading a workshop/training session:

  • People seem to like lists. I don’t know why, but they do. I think it was Curt Bonk who had wrote that people like lists and acronyms (probably because they are memorable), but the last item that I gave to my colleagues before they left today was a list of 10 things to keep in mind when using technology in education.
  • This group was especially interested in learning from our experience with e-learning. Frequent questions were: How does the University of Manchester do e-learning? How do you train instructors/professors in using technology in education? What is your e-learning agenda? How do you convince instructors to adopt technology? What went wrong and what did you learn?
  • Pedagogy and technology-enhanced pedagogy should be central and this should be made explicit from the very beginning. By George (!) enough with pedagogy-enhanced technology!
  • University networks are just plain weird. On the one hand, my computer (that is registered on the network by its mac address, which is a unique identifier) would not connect to the network via ethernet. On the other hand, more than 1 person can log on the lab machines using the same username and password. The reason why the first issue arises while the second issue is ok is baffling me.
  • Practical activities and discussion trump theory.
  • People also seem to like to explore the courses that others have created and investigate specific design ideas or specific things that worked well or didn’t. I had my own courses to showcase and a few other open courses, but I wasn’t able to invite others to talk about their own experiences/courses. Perhaps the next time.
  • Every university is different and it’s always difficult to give specific input on what might work in a specific situation. Recipes for success are generally recipes for disaster. For example, in some of these universities, the university’s budget is a non-issue. Yes, you read this right. In this economic climate. This was something new for me. To be more specific, it doesn’t matter if Blackboard costs money and Moodle doesn’t.
  • Studying your learners helps. Did you know that online learning and distance education are  pressing matters in Suadi Arabia due to the fact that 38% of the country’s population is between the ages of 10-14 and the country needs to provide higher education to these people? It’s an exciting time for our field in this part of the world.
  • Respectfulness, politeness, openness, appreciation, and kindness (along with a desire to improve education) go a long way.

I will end by posting a link to a twitpic posting that occurred during class time when we were trying to explore how the college of applied arts could promote student work online. And, in the spirit of the cross-cultural learning that transpired during the sessions, I look forward to visiting my newfound colleagues in the near future in Saudi Arabia. Inshallah (which, incidentally is a common Cypriot expression and is not derived from a specific religion)… oh, the things that this blog’s visitors learn are never-ending :)

Update on the definition of emerging technologies

Posted on November 30th, by George Veletsianos in E-learning, emerging technologies, open, sharing, work. 3 comments

This is an update on my work regarding my attempt to define the term emerging technologies for education: I was feeling a bit uneasy to write that the term “emerging technologies” has not yet been defined. Perhaps I was simply not discovering the definition? Perhaps the definition was laying somewhere out there and my research abilities weren’t up to par? (Unlikely, I know : ), but possible). I asked a few more people about this and ended up emailing George Siemens asking if he had a definition that he is using in his work. He asked the question on twitter here, and posted the replies he received here. Picking up on the twitter message and George’s blog post, a few other definitions have emerged here and here. Thank you everyone for contributing your thoughts – once again, I am thrilled to see educators worldwide adding their knowledge to this work! I will be using these thoughts to improve the ideas presented in my paper. The working book chapter with the definition of emerging technologies for education, teaching, and learning is now updated and available. This book is planned to be published as an open access publication by Athabasca University Press and the knowledge sharing that underpins this specific chapter makes a better case for why an open license is the best way forward!

A definition of emerging technologies for education

Posted on November 18th, by George Veletsianos in E-learning, Ideas, open, sharing, work. 3 comments
[Update 2: The ideas discussed below appear in full detail at: Veletsianos, G. (2010). A Definition of Emerging Technologies for Education. In G. Veletsianos (Ed.), Emerging Technologies in Distance Education (pp. 3-22). Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University Press. You can download a pdf of this chapter from: http://www.aupress.ca/books/120177/ebook/01_Veletsianos_2010-Emerging_Technologies_in_Distance_Education.pdf ] [Update 1 : Nov 30, 2008: I was feeling a bit uneasy to write that noone has yet come up with a definition of emerging technologies. So, I emailed George Siemens asking if he had a definition that he is using in his work. He asked the question on twitter here, and posted the replies he received here. Picking up on the twitter message and George's blog post, a few other definitions have emerged here and here. Thank you everyone for contributing your thoughts! The working book chapter with the definition of emerging technologies for education, teaching, and learning is updated and available]

Surprisingly enough, the education, e-learning, educational technology, instructional design, and so on literatures do not include a definition of emerging technologies for education. Below is my attempt at defining the term. This definition will be part of a book chapter to be published in 2009. The complete chapter will be posted here by the end of January 2009. Enjoy, and if you have any comments, or if you happen to stumble upon a definition of emerging technologies, please feel free to comment!

Emerging Technologies are tools, innovations, and advancements utilized in diverse educational settings (including distance, face-to-face, and hybrid forms of education) to serve varied education-related purposes (e.g., instructional, social, and organizational goals). Emerging Technologies (ET) can be defined and understood in the context of the following five characteristics:

1. ET can be, but are not necessarily, new technologies. It is important to note that in this context the words emerging and new are usually treated as synonymous, but they may not necessarily be so. While a definition of new might be perilous and contentious, ET may represent newer developments (e.g., utilizing the motion sensing capabilities of the Wii Remote to practice surgical techniques) as well as older ones (e.g., employing open source learning management systems at higher education institutions). Even though it may be true that most emerging technologies are newer technologies, the mere fact that they are new, does not necessarily categorize them as emerging. This idea of new technologies being emerging technologies also begs the following two questions: When do technologies cease to be new? When technologies cease to be new, do they also cease to be emerging? For example, synthetic (or virtual) worlds were described as an emerging technology more than ten years ago (Dede, 1996). Today, virtual worlds are still described as emerging technologies (e.g. de Freitas, 2008). Newness, by itself, is a problematic indicator of what emerging technologies, as older technologies can also be emerging– the reasons for this will become clearer after we examine the characteristics that follow.

2. ET are evolving organisms that exist in a state of “coming into being”. The word evolving describes a dynamic state of change and continuous refinement and development. Twitter, the popular social networking and micro-blogging platform, represents an illustrative example of an ET that is “coming into being.” Twitter’s early success and popularity would often cause frequent outages. Such issues were most noticeable during popular technology events (e.g., during the MacWorld keynote address). After a while, Twitter’s outage issues were both lambasted and anticipated by the industry. When a new company moved into Twitter’s old offices, an image was posted on the office door (Figure 1) as a tongue-in-cheek statement regarding Twitter’s downtime and office relocation. Early attempts to satisfy sudden surges in demand included using more servers and implementing on/off switches to various Twitter features (e.g., during the 2008 WorldWide Developers Conference), while later efforts included  Re-designing the application’s architecture and withdrawing services (e.g., free SMS and instant messaging support). Existing in a state of evolution, Twitter continuously develops and refines its service, while maintaining its core purpose, and still being an emerging rather than an established technology.

3. ET go through hype cycles. Today’s emerging technology might be tomorrow’s fad, and today’s simple idea might be tomorrow’s key to boosting productivity. While it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that today’s innovations will completely restructure and revolutionize the way we learn and teach, it is important to remain critical to hype. Even though technology has had a major impact on how distance education is delivered, managed, negotiated, and practiced, it is also important to recognize that due to organizational, cultural, and historical factors, education, as a field of study and practice, is resistant to change (c.f. Cuban, 1993; Lortie, 1975). Technologies and ideas go through cycles of euphoria, adoption, activity and use, maturity, impact, enthusiasm, and even infatuation. In the end, some of today’s emerging technologies (and ideas) will become stable (and staple), while others will fade in the background.

One way to describe the hype that surrounds emerging technologies and ideas for education is to observe the Hype Cycle model (Fenn & Raskino, 2008) developed by Gartner Inc. This model evaluates the relative maturity and impact of technologies and ideas and follows five stages that have been successfully applied to diverse topics (table 1). Most specific to the topic of this book are the hype cycle models developed for Higher Education (Gartner, 2008a) e-learning (Gartner, 2006), and emerging technologies (Gartner, 2008b).

4.      ET satisfy the “not yet” criteria. The “not yet” criteria refer to two interrelated issues:

a. ET are not yet fully understood. One factor distinguishing ET from other forms of technology is the fact that we are not yet able to understand what such technologies are, what they offer for education, and what they mean for learners, instructors, and institutions. For example, what exactly is mobile learning? How does it differ from other forms of learning? What does it mean to have access to data regardless of geographic location? What are the social and pedagogical affordances of mobile learning in relation to alternative forms of learning? As a result of ET not being fully understood, a second issue arises:
b. ET are not yet fully researched or researched in a mature way. Initial investigations of ET are often evangelical and describe superficial issues of the technology (e.g., benefits and drawbacks) without focusing on underdtanding the affordances of the technology and how those affordances can provide different (and hopefully better) ways to learn and teach at a distance. Additionally, due to the evolutionary nature of these technologies, the research that characterizes it falls under the case study and formative evaluation approaches (Dede, 1996), which, by itself, is not necessarily a negative facet of research, but it does pinpoint to our initial attempts to understand the technology and its possibilities. Nevertheless, because ET are not yet fully researched, initial deployments of emerging technology applications merely replicate familiar processes, leading critics to argue that technologies are new iterations of the media debate (e.g., Choi and Clark, 2006; c.f. Clark, 1994; Kozma, 1994; Tracey & Hasting, 2005). Unfortunately, to a large extend, they are right – newer technologies are often used in old ways: Linear PowerPoint slides replace slideshow projectors; blogs – despite the opportunities they offer for collaboration – replace personal reflection diaries; and pedagogical agent lectures replace non-agent lectures (e.g., Choi and Clark, 2006).

5. ET are potentially disruptive but their potential is mostly unfulfilled. Individuals and corporations recognize that a potential exists, but such potential hasn’t yet been realized. The potential to transform practices, processes, and institutions, is both welcomed and opposed. For example, open access journals have the potential to transform the ways research and knowledge are disseminated and evaluated. While this advancement has the potential to disrupt scholarship, to date, the majority of research is still published at closed access journals and periodicals.

As I have said before, i developed the above “definition/description” because i couldn’t find one in the literature. If you have one that for one reason or another i couldn’t find, please feel free to add the citation/reference to the comments or send me an email. If you have any critiques, i also wouldn’t mind hearing those either :)