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

Category: emerging technologies

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).

Improving Computer Science Education through Project Engage

Posted on January 18th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, engagement, my research, online learning, open, sharing. 3 comments

Part of my research demands that I develop technology-enhanced interventions in order to study them. I enjoy this part of my work partly because I get to create solutions to tackle education problems and partly because it has allowed me to explore technology-enhanced learning across different disciplines (e.g. I was involved with developing online learning environments for American Sign Language, environmental stewardship, and sociological concepts).

Now comes another excitement and challenge: Last August, Dr. Calvin Lin and I were awarded a National Science Foundation grant (award #1138506) to develop a hybrid “Introduction to Computer Science” course to be taught at Texas high schools and institutions of higher education. The project is a collaboration between the department of Computer Science (Dr. Lin) and Curriculum and Instruction – Instructional Technology (me). I’ll be posting more about the project (probably on a different blog), but the overarching goal here is to enhance how CS is taught using emerging technologies and pedagogies (mostly PBL) while valuing local contexts and practices. Mark Guzdial, in a recent paper, notes that “We need more education research that is informed by understanding CS—how it’s taught, what the current practices are, and what’s important to keep as we change practice. We need more computing education researchers to help meet the workforce needs in our technology-based society.”

I look forward to sharing more about this project with everyone soon!


My contribution to the Change MOOC #change11

Posted on September 6th, by George Veletsianos in courses, emerging technologies, NPS, online learning, open, scholarship, sharing. No Comments

I just came across Nancy White’s discussion of her contribution to the 2011-2012 Change MOOC organized by George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and Dave Cormier (through Stephen’s announcement). Draft schedule here. I thought that Nancy’s description of her session sounded wonderful – so wonderful actually, that I wish that we had all shared our session descriptions with each other prior to designing them so as to create more synergies between the weekly sessions. There’s always room for re-design however, and I’m sure the #change11 organizers wouldn’t mind (smile)!

I am sharing my session description below, and even though I have tried to draw links to other sessions, you will see that task #2 is asking participants to make connections to other parts of the course in a very specific and personal way.

I would love to hear any input that you may have about this!

Scholars’ online participation and practices (April 30-May 6, 2012)

George Veletsianos, Instructional Technology – University of Texas at Austin

1. Overview

Within the openness movement, we have seen increasing calls for scholars and educators to employ open digital practices. For instance, enthusiasts argue that networked technologies such as blogs, social networking sites, microblogging fora, and other emerging social media can help democratize knowledge production and dissemination. During this week, we will explore how academics co-opt and appropriate technology in their day-to-day professional lives, with specific emphasis on social networking technologies. We will discuss faculty members’ experiences and practices when they adopt online social networks (e.g., Twitter) and online scholarly networks (e.g., for professional purposes, and investigate whether their online participation is (re)defining academic work (i.e. teaching and research).

My work in this domain has started with a desire to understand faculty member’s digital practices. Professor Weller’s research (2011), which was also presented in this MOOC, has set the foundations for this investigation. Thus, the digital scholarship movement influences and informs my work. In this context, I have studied the relationship between scholarly practice and participatory technologies, and sought to understand (a) what faculty members’ do in online social networks, (b) what their experiences in these networks are like, and (c) what issues and pitfalls we might face when suggesting the use of social media for faculty members’ professional practice. This is an important topic of study because (a) digital scholarship is gaining increasing interest, and (b) a large percentage of higher education faculty have adopted, are considering the use of), or have rejected social networking technologies for professional practice, Importantly, the field is in dire need of empirical data to be in a position to critically evaluate claims with regards to the benefits that social technologies might afford academic practice (i.e. teaching and research).

During this particular week, we will consider whether the rise of online social networking within academic circles is a result of technological or cultural shifts, and investigate the purposes, goals, and pitfalls of networked participation. For instance, we will ask: What are academics doing in online public spaces? What are their intentions and what are their fears? Are faculty members’ altruistically sharing information on social media for the benefit of the community in which they belong? Or, is information-sharing a self-serving activity? Are academics sharing information in order to assist the profession grow intellectually, or are they attempting to develop a “brand” around themselves? Are we seeing the rise of the “public scholar” or the rise of the “celebrity scholar?” A critical evaluation of academics’ participation in digital spaces matters because an understanding of these reasons will allow us to gain a better sense of how and why online social networks are used in the ways that they are. Whether we recognize it or not, we are part of a complex techno-cultural system that is ever changing in response to both internal and external stimuli, including technological innovations and dominant cultural values. An understanding of the cotemporary forces that shape academic work is necessary for enhancing education and scholarship.

2. List of Readings

Hall, R. (2010). Open Education: The need for critique. Blog entry retrieved on August 12, 2011 from

Selwyn, N. (2010). Looking beyond learning: notes towards the critical study of educational technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(1), 65-73.

Veletsianos, G. (in press). Higher Education Scholars’ Participation and Practices on Twitter. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning.

Weller, M. (in press). The digital scholar: How technology is changing academic practice. Bloomsbury Academic.

Plus two other papers that I am not yet able to share publicly, but will be available by the time this session arrives.

3. Suggested Activities

Task 1: What do academics do on _________________ ?

The intention of this task is to describe academics’ participation on a number of social technologies (e.g., Twitter, Quora, Google +, Linkedin, Blogs, etc).  The goal is to evaluate participation and understand (a) how technology and its affordances influence participation, and (b) professional roles influence participation and use of technology. This is essentially a mini research task.

Your “description” can be done individually or collaboratively. It can also take any form that you are comfortable with. For instance, it can be an essay posted as a blog entry, a video narrative, a digital story, or a concept map. You should include support for any claims that you make. For instance, you can use empirical data or references to the literature (or other writing) to support your claims.

Task 2: Create a concept map that explains how the topic studied this week relates to and/or contributes to further understanding the topics studied in preceding weeks.

Digital Scholarship Practices: Fellowship post #4

Posted on August 6th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, my research, NPS, open, scholarship, sharing. 2 comments

This is post #4 of my StellarNet Fellowship (see posts 1, 2, and 3). The purpose is to examine practices undertaken by academics and educators in networked publics. These practices fall under the general heading of “digital scholarship” and these individuals have been called “digital scholars” or “open scholars.”

I am preparing to leave Cyprus, and this is  my final fellowship entry. In this short entry, I’d like to discuss the spaces in which digital scholarship is becoming visible and what this visibility means for expertise and impressions. On the one hand, we have seen an increase in specialized technology tools targeting scholars. For instance, here is my profile and my mendeley profile. On the other hand, we have seen general purpose tools that have been appropriated by academics and used in ways that further their teaching and research. Examples include such spaces as Facebook and Twitter (e.g., #PhDchat), but also YouTube, personal blogs, and iTunes. Some examples of open activities taking place in these spaces include:

  • – Book and manuscript authoring in public (while sharing ongoing drafts). This includes both individuals who have earned their PhDs, but also individuals who are working on their PhDs and are using online spaces to reflect and network on PhD-related topics.
  • – Debates on issues pertaining to theory and research
  • – Crowdsourcing videos, thoughts, solutions to problems
  • – Sharing clips from classroom teaching

These activities contrast to academic notions of expertise. While experts are sometimes perceived to be those individuals who “have the answers,” the experts that I have been following are willing to share drafts of their work in public and work through the issues that they are studying with the help of others. The trails that they leave on the web show may show how their thinking and work developed and improved over time; yet, individuals who are not immersed in this culture have often asked me: “How would others perceive me and my work, if they just happen to see my blog entry from June 2010 and nothing else, when in June 2010 I was just starting work in this area?”  That is a valid concern; and perhaps one that may be felt more by those who are just beginning their career or those who do not have a wide and persistent following. In the world of the open web, it’s not just our activities that matter, but also how our activities are perceived by others. To this extent, the scholars that I’ve been following have not only been sharing content, but they are also seeking to manage the impressions of others. Furthermore, activities aimed at impression management are undertaken not just on content that the individual posts, but also on content that others post. For example, in the words of a participant from a related project, “it’s my facebook wall, and if you write something I don’t like, I’m going to delete it.” It’s becoming increasingly clear I think, that participation in these communities (a) assists academics in improving their work (e.g., by receiving feedback on drafts), (b) enables them to become part of various academic subcultures, and (c) is used by academics as a way to further their career and their position. One may question why item C matters. Reasons for sharing matter because an understanding of these reasons will allow us to gain a better sense of how and why online social networks are used in the ways that they are. Such an understanding aligns with recent calls for educational technology research to investigate the social, political, cultural and economic factors that influence technology use and non-use (e.g., see Selwyn, 2010).

That is all for now, but if you are interested stay tuned. I’ll be sharing a longer draft of this work soon. In the meantime, if you have questions, please feel free to post them!


Selwyn, N. (2010). Looking beyond learning: notes towards the critical study of educational technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(1), 65-73.

Emerging Technologies in Distance Education: Summary

Posted on January 19th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, open, sharing. 1 Comment

Following Elizabeth Wellburn on her project to blog summaries of each chapter of Emerging Technologies in Distance Education has been very exciting. She has now blogged summaries of each chapter and if you’d like a short introduction to the book, you can head to her blog.

YoTeach.US: Adventure Learning project

Posted on October 26th, by George Veletsianos in adventure learning, emerging technologies, online learning, open, sharing. 2 comments

We are in our second week of our latest Adventure Learning project and I am really excited to be working with a group of committed graduate students on this! It is called YoTeach.US and is currently being used in a large sociology course at UT. The aim of the project is to assist sociology students in exploring the relationship between large social forces and individual behaviors and actions. Outside of that course, the project is also intended to be a free resource for students and educators when discussing teacher roles, teacher excellence, and memorable teachers. Here’s a small audio teaser:

Cesar: The teacher’s role by veletsianos

Adventure Learning is an approach to learning design that involves students in the authentic, experiential, and collaborative exploration of topics of interest. It usually revolves around an adventure or a narrative, and engages students in inquiry-based activities. For instance, the GoNorth adventure learning projects have been admired as an example of an innovative approaches to education. A review of research on adventure learning is available at the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning journal.

In our project, our team traveled through the city of Austin and asked individuals to respond to the following:

  • What is the role of the teacher/instructor?
  • Tell us a story about your most memorable teacher.

These contributions were then compiled into mini documentaries and shared on the online learning environment. At the same time, we crowdsourced contributions online and received notes, audio files, and short videos from Texas, California, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin from students, teachers, parents, professors, and researchers. Once student exploration with this topic ends, they will then investigate the relationship between social forces and individual choices within their own communities, create digital artifacts on this exploration, and discuss the results of their research with others.

As always, this project is free to use. If you do use the project or media in your courses, we’d love to hear about it, and if you have any questions or concerns, please lets us know!

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|, 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.

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.