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

Category: emerging technologies

Research Dissemination, Research Mobilization, and Reaching Broader Audiences

Posted on June 21st, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, engagement, my research, open, research shorts. No Comments

I gave an ignite talk at the Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education in early June, sharing some of the lessons learned in creating whiteboard animation videos for mobilizing research and reaching broader audiences. We’ve now turned that talk into a whiteboard animation video. It’s all very meta. Here it is below:

#NotAllEdTech and critical #edtech conversations

Posted on May 19th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, scholarship, sharing. No Comments

The article below was posted on Inside Higher Ed. I’m copying and pasting it here for posterity.


#NotAllEdTech Derails Critical Educational Technology Conversations

Last month, Rolin Moe and I published an essay in EDUCAUSE Review highlighting ideological and sociocultural factors associated with the rise of Educational Technology (hereafter EdTech). Motivated by two responses to our essay, I decided to write this additional piece highlighting an argument/misunderstanding that can often circumvent and derail critical discussions in the field.

The critique, offered by Downes and Kim, counters our underlying premise. They say: Not all educational technology is characterized by technocentric, market-centric, and product-driven ideologies. Downes argues that the way we describe educational technology doesn’t describe him – and by implication many that work in the field. Kim notes that he doesn’t know anyone in the field who thinks and behaves in the ways that aligns with how we describe the rise of EdTech.

Moe parsimoniously summarized these responses as #NotAllEdTech, as a hashtag version of not all educational technology is this way, paralleling usage of the phrase “not all men.”

I will unpack the meaning of #NotAllEdTech here.

#NotAllEdTech posits that not all educational technology is malevolent and not all educational technology represents an insidious attempt at privatizing and automating education. The #NotAllEdTech argument notes that there are many good people in our field. People who care. Entrepreneurs, researchers, and colleagues of many vocations – instructors, instructional designers, directors of digital learning  – who are working, in their own way, to improve teaching and learning with technology. Not all educational technology is sinister, atheoretical, ahistorical, and driven by unsavory desires. #NotAllEdTech. Individuals that make this argument seem to want to guard themselves, and others, against being defined by the ideologies we identified in our original paper.

This all makes sense, of course. If it weren’t for the thoughtful, caring, creative, innovative, and justice-oriented people in the field focused on making positive change in education and society, I would have switched careers a long time ago. Moe and I, and countless colleagues, use educational technology toward valued ends, from providing educational opportunities where none have existed before, to providing them in more flexible ways, to re-thinking the ways students learn and instructors teach. Making a meaningful contribution to society is at the core of this multi-faceted and exciting field.

We know that there is good in educational technology. To borrow Downes’s terminology, we know that educational technology can be benign.

But, that’s not the point.

Just because there are many well-intentioned people in the field, just because our essay doesn’t accurately characterize Downes, just because Kim doesn’t “know of ” anyone who thinks of educational technology in the ways we described, it doesn’t mean that educational technology is operating outside of socio-cultural, -economic, and –political forces.

I’m certain that many well-intentioned people were involved in a wide-range of initiatives that ended up being problematic. Many well-intentioned individuals believed in xMOOCs and for-profit online universities as emancipatory. Many well-intentioned individuals write, adopt, and otherwise participate in the operations of the textbook publishing industry despite the exorbitant prices that some publishers charge. Many well-intentioned individuals review for or publish in non-open-access journals and otherwise support the academic publishing industry despite the restrictions the industry places upon knowledge dissemination. Many well-intentioned individuals imagined the aforementioned practices as ways to democratize access, but the presence of well-intentioned individuals did not ensure positive outcomes.

The most pressing problem with the #NotAllEdTech argument though, is that it perpetuates a dangerous counternarrative.

#NotAllEdTech can be a tactic that derails and deflects from discussions of educational technology as a practice that needs deep questioning. #NotAllEdTech could, perhaps inadvertently, redirect attention on the optimism surrounding educational technology, ignoring the broader landscape around which educational technology operates. It might also create a false binary: the heroes and good guys of EdTech vis-à-vis the bad ones (e.g., for-profits, large companies, and so on). Most importantly, such a binary might imply that those on the good side are somehow shielded by outside forces (some of which, such as pressures to rethink our practices, might in fact be very useful).

What I fear, and hope to avoid, is a world where conversations about educational technology focus solely on individuals (e.g., those who use the technology, create the technology, etc.), while avoiding criticisms of educational technology as an overly optimistic practice shaped by societal trends. It’s easy to shift the focus on individuals. It’s easy to blame teachers for not using technology in participatory ways, faculty for not employing more progressive digital pedagogies, and researchers for not publishing in open access venues. But such blame, such a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” approach, ignores the unequal distribution of power in our social systems and ignores sociocultural and sociopolitical constraints that individuals face. Teachers might face testing regimes that favor certain (poor) pedagogies. Researchers might face institutional policies or disciplinary norms that favor publishing in certain (closed) journals. Using a parallel example, it’s easy (and tempting) to claim that Uber drivers enjoy opportunities to supplement their income, work at their leisure, and make use of idle resources (i.e. their cars), and easy to avoid investigations of the broader social trends surrounding the gig economy.

Have we had successes using educational technology to re-imagine pedagogical approaches, expand flexibility, reduce costs, improve outcomes, and escalate access? Of course we have. And the future is bright. But, if we keep ignoring the ways that educational technology is a symptom of powerful forces, such as our changing economy[1], outside of the control of any single well-intentioned individual we might find ourselves supporting systems and practices that are in conflict with the positive societal ideals that we are aspiring towards.

Through such conversations, our field becomes more vibrant, critical, and reflective. And, for that, despite our disagreements, I’d like to thank Downes and Kim.

Educational Technology as a Sociocultural and Ideological Phenomenon

Posted on April 10th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, my research, papers, scholarship. 1 Comment

Rolin Moe and I just published an article in Educause Review that examines the rise of educational technology as a phenomenon within the context of broader political, economic, ideological, and technological issues of concern to the future of higher education. This paper continues the call for thinking critically about the impacts, aims, and uses of technology in education, in our educational institutions, and in students’ and academics’ lives.

The paper posits that the rise of educational technology represents (a) a response to the increasing price of higher education, (b) a shift in political thought from government to free-market oversight of education, (c) a view of education as a product to be packaged, automated, and delivered, and (d) a technocentric belief that technology is a solution to the problems of higher education.

This investigation questions both the potential outcomes and ideological aims of technodeterministic thinking and argues that educational technology may ultimately exacerbate rather than mitigate the very problems it purports to solve.

Discreet Openness: Scholars’ Selective and Intentional Self-Disclosures Online

Posted on August 17th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, NPS, open, papers, scholarship, sharing. No Comments

What do scholars share on social media? Like the jelly jars below, some topics shared/discussed are familiar. The center jelly nn the top row? I’ve seen many of those. A scholar sharing a link to a paper? I’ve seen many of those, too. Other jellies, and scholarly activities online, are more complex and require a closer look. The bottom right jelly? I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Some scholars disclose challenging professional and personal issues on social media. That’s what Bonnie Stewart and I set out to understand in a our paper Discreet Openness: Scholars’ Selective and Intentional Self-Disclosures Online. Popular literature tends to offer conflicting advice on this topic. Scholars are encouraged to share both personal and professional aspects of their self online, but at the same time they are advised to “watch what they say.”  The empirical literature examining scholars’ online self-disclosures and the reasons for making these disclosures remains limited.


DGJ_5184 – Jelly Jars by Dennis Jarvis

Research into emergent forms of scholarship focuses on academics’ use of technology for learning, teaching, and research. Very little attention has been paid in the literature to scholars’ uses of social media to disclose challenging personal and professional issues. This article addresses the identified gap in the literature and presents a qualitative investigation into the types of disclosures that 16 scholars made online and their reasons for doing so. Results identify wide-ranging personal and professional disclosures. Participants disclosed not only about academia-related issues but also about challenges pertaining to family, mental health, physical health, identity, and relationships. Some scholars disclosed as a way to grapple with challenges they faced; others disclosed tactically, sharing information for political rather than personal reasons. Yet others disclosed as a way to welcome care in their lives. In all instances, though, disclosures were selective, intentional, and approached with foresight.

Unlike popular literature that suggests that scholars are “naive users of social media” and must exercise caution, our research shows that people might be thinking deeply about the the ways that the share aspects of their lives.

You can retrieve the paper from here:

Veletsianos, G. & Stewart, B. (2016). Scholars’ open practices: Selective and intentional self-disclosures and the reasons behind them. Social Media + Society, 2(3). doi: 10.1177/2056305116664222

New Open Access Book! Emergence and Innovation in Digital Learning

Posted on June 6th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, my research, online learning, open, sharing. No Comments

emergencecoverAthabasca University Press has just published Emergence and Innovation in Digital Learning, a book I edited that owes its existence to the insightful authors who contributed their chapters on the topic. Like other titles published by AU Press, the book is open access.

Emerging technologies (e.g., social media, serious games, adaptive software) and emerging practices (e.g., openness, user modeling) in particular, have been heralded as providing opportunities to transform education, learning, and teaching. In such conversations it is often suggested that new ideas – whether technologies or practices – will address educational problems (e.g., open textbooks may make college more affordable) or provide opportunities to rethink the ways that education is organized and enacted (e.g., the collection and analysis of big data may enable designers to develop algorithms that provide early and critical feedback to at-risk students). Yet, our understanding of emerging technologies and emerging practices is elusive. In this book, we amalgamate work associated with emergence in digital education to conceptualize, design, critique, enhance, and better understand education.

If you’ve ben following the conversations in the last two years, there will be some themes that you’ll recognize here. To mention a few: defining emerging technologies; not-yetness; data mining; technology integration models; open and social learning; and sociocultural aspects of MOOCs.

In the days that follow, I will summarize each chapter here.

Listening to learners to improve access, equity, their experiences, and education overall

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

Over the last year or so, we’ve interviewed more than 200 individuals who have participated in a number of open courses. We are working on a project in which we are using learner narratives and vignettes from these interviews to help administrators, faculty, researchers, and learning designers understand learners and improve their learning experience. Though there are many ways that are used to understand learners (e.g., dashboards) we believe that in-depth vignettes of typical experiences may allow for greater sensitivity of the learners’ lifeworld and realities. We will be using these stories to problematize various aspects of digital learning. Each story will be followed by a longer analysis of the issues raised in the story. For now, below is one such (DRAFT!) story. What do you think? Is there anything else that you’d like to see in this narrative? Is it interesting? If you are an administrator, faculty, researcher, or learning designer, does this story add anything valuable?


Title: Why not?

Theme:  Open learning opportunities are oftentimes costless and relatively risk-free.

Mary and her demanding Pomeranian, Kylie, live deep in the heart of Texas. “I have a passion for the law!” the thirty-year-old exclaimed when we called her on her landline. She had seriously considered going to law school and had even passed her LSATS, the law school entrance exams used for US Universities. But having just finished four intense years of a bachelor’s degree, she decided to wait a bit. “Law school just didn’t seem like a good choice at the time,” she reflected. Five years later, Mary has settled into her work as a business consultant. Her interest in the law is still keen, and she’s never completely given up the dream of law school, but it’s been tempered with a bit of realism. “I don’t know if I can afford to spend another three years in the classroom,” she confided to us, “I don’t know if I still have the same passion for the legal industry as I did five years ago.”

During an afternoon enjoying frozen mango margaritas with a friend, trying to cope with the scorching sun, Mary learned about MOOCs. Shortly thereafter, she signed up for a number of courses, dabbling in some and promptly forgetting about others. One day, ContractsX, a course on contract law taught by a Harvard professor, popped up on her screen and she decided to “give it a shot”. What had she got to lose? “It’s a free class, taught at one of the more well-respected institutions. Why not?!” she laughed.

The course was flexible and fit into her busy life. On Saturday mornings she would sit in her office, with Kylie by her side and a warm cup of dark roast coffee in her hand, and use her trusted iPad to watch Harvard Law lectures. These weren’t just any lectures. Professor Fried was a masterful storyteller, a king of his trade. It was through these short, interesting, and memorable stories that Professor Fried taught concepts relating to contract law. “I can’t believe that I’m sitting here, I’m learning this material from Harvard law!” The fast pace and cramped content made the course challenging, Mary acknowledged, and she didn’t always do as well as she would have liked on the course tests. But, as she was able to go back to review the answers and re-watch the videos, this didn’t stress her too much, and she ended up passing the course with flying colours. Proud of her certificate of accomplishment, Mary enthused, “It makes me want to keep coming back for more!”

Even though it was a personal interest in the law that led her to sign up for this course, Mary has found what she learned in ContractsX helpful when she has to deal with contracts in her own job. She has enthusiastically recommended the course to co-workers and friends. She’s currently taking a number of other open courses and is anxiously awaiting the second version of the Contracts course. While Mary’s dream of attending law school, may not have changed, her confidence in herself has: “I never thought of applying to Harvard. There was no way I would be getting in. But then, five years later, I’m taking a course from Harvard. I wouldn’t say that I’m a Harvard law student, but at least now I could sit across from a Harvard law student and have a clear conversation with them. It’s very rewarding to know that.”


Analysis of the data-driven MOOC literature published in 2013-2015

Posted on March 21st, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, learner experience, moocs, my research, online learning, open, papers. 2 comments

A number of literature reviews have been published on MOOCs. None has focused exclusively on the empirical literature. In a recent paper, we analyzed the empirical literature published on MOOCs in 2013-2015 to make greater sense of who studies what and how.  We found that:

  • more than 80% of this literature is published by individuals whose home institutions are in North America and Europe,
  • a select few papers are widely cited while nearly half of the papers are cited zero times,
  • researchers have favored a quantitative if not positivist approach to the conduct of MOOC research,
  • researchers have preferred the collection of data via surveys and automated methods
  • some interpretive research was conducted on MOOCs in this time period, but it was often basic and it was the minority of studies that were informed by methods traditionally associated with qualitative research (e.g., interviews, observations, and focus groups)
  • there is limited research reported on instructor-related topics, and
  • even though researchers have attempted to identify and classify learners into various groupings, very little research examines the experiences of learner subpopulations (e.g., those who succeed vs those who don’t; men vs women).

We believe that the implications arising from this study are important for research on educational technology in general and not jut MOOC research. For instance, given the interest on big data and automated collection/analysis of the data trails that learners leave behind on digital learning environments, a broader methodological toolkit is imperative in the study of emerging digital learning environments.

Here’s a copy of the paper:

Veletsianos, G. & Shepherdson, P. (2016). A Systematic Analysis And Synthesis of the Empirical MOOC Literature Published in 2013-2015The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 17(2).


Making sense of the Digital Learning Research Network gathering (#dLRN15)

Posted on October 20th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, my research, online learning, sharing. No Comments

I was at a small gathering last week, called the Digital Learning Research Network. It was hosted at Stanford and it aimed to explore the messiness of digital learning. This was not representative of Silicon Valley’s uncritical love affair with technology. Many colleagues wrote reflections about it: Catherine CroninKristen Eshleman,  Josh KimJonathan Rees, Tim Klapdor,  Alyson Indrunas, Adam Croom, Whitney Kilgore, Matt Crosslin, Laura Gogia, Patrice Torcivia, and Lee Skallerup Bessette (to name a few). When was the last time you were at a small conference, other than the ones focusing on blogging, and this many people took time after the event to blog about it?

The messiness of digital learning isn’t a new development. It is something that educational technology evangelists ignore, but as a researcher who has an affinity for qualitative data, and as one who is increasingly using data mining techniques on open social data, I can tell you that mess is the norm and not the exception. I’m not the only one.

For me, the conference questioned educational technology but looked to it for empowerment. It critiqued universities but saw them as places to create a more just and equitable society. It brought attention to the US-centric conversations happening in this space, but recognized that we can learn from one another. It sought research, but did not seek to emulate research-focused conferences. It allowed Dave to share his thoughts but called him out on it when it was time to stop. ;)

I see the conference as the start of a longer and larger conversation. Many of us are doing research in this space and many were missing. Let’s expand the conversation.