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

Category: my research

Social media in academia & Networked Scholars: The book cover

Posted on March 11th, by George Veletsianos in my research, NPS, scholarship. 30 comments

In my spare time (that’s a joke), I am writing a book about faculty members’ experiences and practices online. The focus is social media and online social networks, and the book draws on our research on networked participatory scholarship.  I was really excited yesterday to see the Chronicle of Higher Education publish a story largely focusing on the tensions surrounding social media use in academia (chapter 3 in my book). And a couple of weeks ago, Kristen Esheleman wrote about the value of networked research for digital learning at Inside Higher Ed.

More exciting though,. today, I received four covers to choose from, and I thought I’d share them here. I have a favorite, but I’d love your input, too! Which one (1, 2, 3, or 4) would you choose? Why?

822757_roughs-4
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822757_roughs-1

Emerging Practices in Open Online Learning Environments

Posted on February 23rd, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, moocs, my research, NPS, online learning, open, scholarship. 33 comments

I joined Audrey Watters, Philipp Schmidt, Stephen Downes, and Jeremy Friedberg in Toronto last week, to give a talk at Digital Learning Reimagined, an event hosted and organized by Ryerson University’s Chang School. I presented some of our latest research, and tried to highlight research findings and big ideas in 15 minutes. Below are my slides and a draft of my talk.

Welcome everyone! It’s a pleasure and an honor to be here. Even though I’m the person giving this talk, I’d like to acknowledge my collaborators. A lot of the work that I am going to present is collaborative and it  wouldn’t have been possible without such amazing colleagues. These are: Royce Kimmons from the University of Idaho, Amy Collier and Emily Schneider from Stanford University, and Peter Shepherdson from the University of Zurich. The Canada Research Chairs program, the National Science Foundation and Royal Roads University have funded this work.

I want to start my talk by telling a story.

This castle that you see here is one of the most recognizable parts of Royal Roads University (RRU). But, don’t let the castle fool you. RRU was created in 1985. It’s purpose was to serve the needs of a changing society by serving working professionals through graduate digital education and multidisciplinary degrees. It has grown since 1985. It has matured, developed a social learning model that is now infused in all courses, developed new areas of focus, forged global partnerships, and continues to explore how to improve what it does through pedagogical and technological approaches.

Why am I sharing this short story about RRU?

Because this story, minus the specific details, is a common story. It’s also a Ryerson story, a story that is played out at the University of Southern New Hampshire, a story that Open Universities around that world have gone through. It is a story that repeats itself over and over for years and years.

What is the essence of the story?

It is often assumed that universities have been static, unchanging since the dawn of time. The short story I shared illustrates that universities are, and have always been, part of the society that houses them, and as societies change, universities change to reflect those societies. The economic, sociocultural, and technological pressures that universities are facing are sizable, and for better or for worse, usually for both, there’s a continuous re-imagination of education throughout time. Throughout time. Universities have always been changing.

As universities are changing and exploring different ways to offer education, faculty, researchers, and administrators engage in a number of practices that I like to describe as emerging. Emerging practices & emerging technologies are those that are not necessarily new, not yet fully researched, but appear promising.

Online learning and openness are example of emerging practices.

Online learning has a long history. But it also has a new history, with the development of multimedia platforms, media that can be embedded across platforms, syndication technologies that enable learners to use their own platforms for learning and so on. So, even though some of the problems that online learners are facing in contenmporary situations are not new (eg dropout), learners abilities’ to congregate in online communities is expanded through newer technologies and that poses different sorts of challenges and opportunities.

Another emerging practice is openness. Openness refers to liberal policies for the use, re-use, adaptation, and redistribution of content. Openness is also a value: It refers to adopting an ethos of transparency with regards to access to information. And this ethos ranges from academics publishing their work in open formats, to teaching open courses, to creating open textbooks. And it doesn’t stop at individual academics or institutions. In 2014 the Premiers of Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan signed a Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate creation, sharing, and use of Open Educational Resources. In the same year, SSHRC, NSERC, and CIHR have drafted a tri-agency open access policy to improve access to and dissemination of research results (NSERC, 2014);

There is a growing interest in and exploration of online learning and openness, practices which are still emerging. Next, I will share four recent results from our research into these practices that I believe are interesting to consider because they reveal the tensions that exist when dealing with emerging topics.

First, research into online learning is becoming more interdisciplinary

Interdisciplinary research into online learning means that individuals from a diverse range of disciplines, not just education, are interested in making sense of online learning. It is hoped that more research into online learning and more research from multidisciplinary groups will help us learn more about online learning and about learning in general.

We have evidence to show that research into online learning is becoming more interdisciplinary. I won’t bore you with the statistics, but we measure diversity in published research using a nifty measure and found that the period 2013-2014 can be described as more interdisciplinary than the period 2008-2012.

This is a positive trend, but before I explain its significance, let me explain to you how I view technology.

My perspective on online learning centers around the idea that technology is socially shaped . That means that technology always embeds its developers’ worldviews, beliefs, and assumptions into its design and the activities it supports and encourages.

What does this mean for interdisciplinarity? This means that we have both an opportunity and a challenge.

Our opportunity: to use our respective expertise to improve education.

Our challenge: to actually do interdisciplinary thinking and to go into the study and design of future educational systems with an open mind and the realization that our own personal experiences of education may not be generalizable. A lot of educational technology is produced by people of privilege and to develop educational technology that matters and makes societal difference, we need diversity in thinking and experience.

Our second finding refers to the increasing desire to collect, mine, and analyze data trails to make inferences about human behavior and learning. This practice is often referred to as learning analytics and educational data mining. This practice is a reflection of a larger societal trend toward big data analytics. The idea is that by looking at what people do online one can understand how to improve education.

A couple of things that researchers discovered for example are:

-Students generally stop watching online videos after 4-5 minutes. This then encourages the creation of 4-5 minute lecture videos
-Students fall in discrete categories when they are in MOOCs. For example students who are just sampling content, students who are disengaged,  or they are on track for completing. Once you identify categories you can identify and support learner needs

Data trails. Nearly everything that learners do online is tracked. Can we understand learners and improve learning by analyzing their data trails?

While these approaches can help us explain what people do, they often don’t tell us why they do they things they do nor how they actually experience online education.

My colleagues and I are interviewing MOOC students to learn about their experiences in MOOCs.

I am now going to tell you about our third result. We find that learners schedule their learning, use of resources, and participation to fit their daily life. This is in stark contrast to the idea of undergraduate education situated at a university and happening at particular time periods.

One retired individual in Panama that we interviewed works on his class early in the morning every day. Why does he do that? He does that because at that time his daughter is asleep. She is homeschooled and once she wakes up she needs access to the 1 computer that they have in the household to do her own schoolwork. In this case a lack of resources necessitates this scheduling.

One individual that we interviewed moved from the UK to the USA to be with her partner. She is currently waiting for her work permit, driver’s license, and so on, and she was enrolled in multiple MOOCs at the same time. She would work on her courses on Monday because she just “wanted them out of the way,” and so she would work on these courses straight throughout the day.

The fourth and final finding that I have for you today, is that MOOC platforms to date have not offered learners the ability to keep notes, so that particular activity, by virtue of being unsupported by the platform goes undetected when researchers only look at data trails.

Unsurprisingly, learners keep notes. A number of students that we talked to described that they keep notes on paper, frequently keeping a notebook for particular courses and returning to them during exams or during times that they needed them. Learners of course also keep notes in digital format. Usually in word documents, but again documents are dedicated to particular courses, but sometimes they are dedicated to particular topics across courses.

To give you an example, of how we believe this activity could be supported in the future and how we believe innovations  can contribute to learning, we recommend designers support this practice by pedagogical innovations such as scaffolding notetaking, but also by technological innovations, by developing online systems for notetaking. What is important here is that such systems should support learning by being interoperable, by allow learners full and unrestricted access to their notes, supporting them to be able to import & export their notes between platforms. Such a design is in line with emerging ideas in the field which call for learners to own their data.

To summarize:

1. Online learning is becoming more interdisciplinary, but we need to work together and address our assumptions
2. There is excitement about learning analytics, but we also need to understand why people do the things that they do
3. For example, we see that online education needs to accommodate lives as opposed to the other way round
4. And we see that by interviewing people we can get a better sense of the things that they do that don’t get captured by the digital trails they leave behind.

Thank you for being a great audience. I am really excited to hear the speakers that follow me, as I am sure you are!

visual

A visualization of my talk, created by Giulia Forsythe

On peer-review

Posted on February 5th, by George Veletsianos in Ideas, my research, scholarship. 6 comments

My colleague Amy Collier wrote a thoughtful and reflective post on peer-review. Peer review has been a topic of conversation at a number of other spaces recently, including the Chronicle of Higher Education advice columns and Inside Higher Ed.

One of the most thoughtful writings on the topic that I have read is a conversational series of articles initiated by Kevin Kumashiro, called Thinking Collaboratively about the Peer-Review Process for Journal- Article Publication and published with Harvard Educational Review. This is an excellent piece of writing and even though it was published in 2005 it is as relevant today as it ever was. For example, here’s a sample from one of my favorite authors, William Pinar, that appears in this paper:

For professors of education, working pedagogically should structure all that we do, not just what happens in our classrooms or in our offices. Working pedagogically should structure our research as we labor to teach our students and our colleagues what we have understood from study and inquiry. It must also structure our professional relations with each other, especially during those moments of anonymity when we are called upon to critique research and inquiry that is under consideration for publication in our field’s scholarly journals. When we are anonymous, we are called upon to perform that pedagogy of care and concern to which we claim to be committed. The ethical conduct of our professional practice demands no less.

Peer-review will continue to receive attention and interest, as higher education is facing formidable technological and socio-cultural pressures. We wrote about this issue in the past in one of our papers (p. 770-771), and I am going to quote it at length here because of its relevance: 

“Peer review is the first example of how seemingly non-negotiable scholarly artifacts are currently being questioned: while peer review is an indispensable tool intended to evaluate scholarly contributions, empirical evidence questions the value and contributions of peer review (Cole, Cole, & Simon,1981; Rothwell & Martyn, 2000), while its historical roots suggest that it has served functions other than quality control (Fitzpatrick, 2011). On the one hand, Neylon and Wu (2009, p. 1) eloquently point out that “the intentions of traditional peer review are certainly noble: to ensure methodological integrity and to comment on potential significance of experimental studies through examination by a panel of objective, expert colleagues”, while Scardamalia and Bereiter (2008, p. 9) recognize that “like democracy, it [peer-review] is recognized to have many faults but is judged to be better than the alternatives”. Yet, peer review’s harshest critics consider it an anathema. Casadevall and Fang (2009) for instance, question whether peer review is in fact a subtle cousin of censorship that relies heavily upon linguistic negotiation or grammatical “courtship rituals” to determine value, instead of scientific validity or value to the field, while Boshier (2009) argues that the current, widespread acceptance of peer review as a valid litmus test for scholarly value is a “faith-” rather than “science-based” approach to scholarship, citing studies in which peer review was found to fail in identifying shoddy work and to succeed in censoring originality… The challenge for scholarly practice is to devise review frameworks that are not just better than the status quo, but systems that take into consideration the cultural norms of scholarly activity, for if they don’t, they might be doomed from their inception. A recent experiment with public peer review online at Nature, for example, revealed that scholars exhibited minimal interest in online commenting and informal discussions with findings suggesting that scholars “are too busy, and lack sufficient career incentive, to venture onto a venue such as Nature’s website and post public, critical assessments of their peers’ work” (Nature, 2006, { 9). Shakespeare Quarterly, a peer-reviewed scholarly journal founded in 1950 conducted a similar experiment in 2010 (Rowe, 2010). While the trial elicited more interest than the one in Nature with more than 40 individuals contributing who, along with the authors, posted more than 300 comments, the experiment further illuminated the fact that tenure considerations impact scholarly contributions. Cohen (2010) reported that “the first question that Alan Galey, a junior faculty member at the University of Toronto, asked when deciding to participate in The Shakespeare Quarterly’s experiment was whether his essay would ultimately count toward tenure”. Considering the reevaluation of such an entrenched and centripetal structure of scholarly practice as peer review, along with calls for recognizing the value of diverse scholarly activities (Pellino et al., 1984), such as faculty engagement in K–12 education (Foster et al., 2010), we find that the internal values of the scholarly community are shifting in a direction that may be completely incompatible with some of the seemingly non-negotiable elements of 20th century scholarship.”

Open practices in the absence of institutional policies

Posted on February 2nd, by George Veletsianos in my research, open, scholarship. 10 comments

Wherever you turn nowadays, there’s a push for openness: Institutional policies, state policies, provincial policies, and VC funds are encouraging and supporting open practices. Little has been written however about the use and adoption of open practices at any particular institution, and even less has been written about the adoption of open practices by academics at institutions that have no stated open policies.

In my latest research study, I am examining whether faculty members perform open practices at an institution that lacks open policies. This case study describes describes the range of open practices identified as being employed by faculty at this university, and shows that even though no institutional mandate exists to support openness, educators and researchers have employed a wide variety of open practices to support their work. The study suggests that institutions should do more to support innovative faculty as changemakers in the higher education landscape.

Institutional MOOC reports. Are we missing any?

Posted on January 5th, by George Veletsianos in moocs, my research, open. 2 comments

As part of our ongoing investigation into learning experiences and practices with openness and open courses, we are gathering institutional reports describing MOOC initiatives and outcomes. So far, we were able to locate the reports listed below. Do you know of any we are missing? If so, could you please share your links with us by posting a comment below?

Firmin, R., Schiorring, E., Whitmer, J., & Sujitparapitaya, S. (2013). Preliminary Summary: SJSU +Augmented online learning environment pilot project. Retrieved from http://www.sjsu.edu/chemistry/People/Faculty/Collins_Research_Page/AOLE Report -September 10 2013 final.pdf

Harrison, L. (2013). Open UToronto MOOC Initiative: Report on First Year of Activity. http://www.ocw.utoronto.ca/open-utoronto-mooc-initiative/

Ho, A. D., Reich, J., Nesterko, S., Seaton, D. T., Mullaney, T., Waldo, J., & Chuang, I. (2013). HarvardX and MITx : The First Year of Open Online Courses.

University of London. (2013). Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Report 2013. Retrieved from http://www.londoninternational.ac.uk/sites/default/files/documents/mooc_report-2013.pdf

MOOC STRATEGY ADVISORY COMMITTEE FALL 2013 INTERIM REPORT – University of Illiniois at Urbana-Champaign. (2013). Retrieved from http://mooc.illinois.edu/docs/MSAC-Interim-Report-2013-11-11.pdf

Ithaca S+R. (2013). Interim Report : A Collaborative Effort to Test MOOCs and Other Online Learning Platforms on Campuses of the University System of Maryland, (October). Retrieved from http://www.sr.ithaka.org/sites/default/files/reports/S-R_Moocs_InterimReport_20131024.pdf

University Edinburgh. (2013). MOOCs @ Edinburgh 2013 – Report # 1 (p. 42). Edinburgh. Retrieved from http://www.era.lib.ed.ac.uk/bitstream/1842/6683/1/Edinburgh MOOCs Report 2013 #1.pdf

Experiences from the trenches: An add-on to the MOOC special issue CFP

Posted on December 8th, by George Veletsianos in cfp, moocs, my research, online learning, open, scholarship. 16 comments

My colleague Charalambos Vrasidas and I are editing a special issue for Educational Media International focusing on learner experiences in massive open online courses. We are interested in empirical and theoretical manuscripts as well as systematic reviews/analyses/syntheses of the literature. Preliminary abstracts are due by December 19th. We have planned for the process to be prompt and aim for the issue to be published within 8 months or so.

As part of the special issue, and prompted by a note by Al Filreis, we have decided to include a section that enables individual learners to tell their own stories about their experiences with MOOCs. If you have taken an open course and would like to write a short piece about an aspect of your experience, this section of the special issue would be relevant to you. Like all other submissions, these will be peer-reviewed as well.

Individuals interested in this route can submit a 200-word abstract summarizing their intended submission and a 200-word bio by the 19th of December to moocs@cardet.org.

Invitations to submit full papers will be send on or before January 9, 2014. Manuscripts should be formatted using APA style and should be 1,200 words long, including references. The process to be followed thereafter is as follows:

  • March 1, 2015: Full-length papers due via email at moocs@cardet.org
  • May 1, 2015:  Notification of acceptance/rejections
  • June 30, 2015: Final papers with revisions due
  • 2015: Special issue is published

 

Networked Scholars, the book: Chapter summaries

Posted on November 7th, by George Veletsianos in my research, NPS, open, scholarship, sharing. 20 comments

I am writing a book focused on experiences and practices surrounding scholars’ online participation, and I don’t think I’ve blogged about it yet, though I’ve mentioned it multiple times. Let’s call this “the inaugural blog post concerning the Networked Scholars book.” The book will be published by Routledge. It’s due in mid-March.

Diagram_of_a_social_network

Diagram of a social network. Image in the public domain.

I plan on blogging about the book as I am writing it. I want to share this work (and I have negotiated with the publisher to post 50% of the final product here), and I want to blog about it in order to think out loud about the book and to help improve it. Networked Scholars (the book, not the MOOC) summarizes the existing research on the use of social media and online networks by academics. In the book, I examine scholars’ practices and experiences with social media and online social networks. While the book synthesizes all existing research, the investigation is largely qualitative and ethnographic.

The book is currently divided in 8 chapters. Each chapter describes online social networks from a different angle:

Chapter 1: Introduction. Introduces the reader to networked participatory scholarship (social media, online networks, openness, networked practice). Introduces significant concepts appearing throughout the book: (a) deterministic perspective (social media shape scholarship), (b) social shaping perspective (technologies are shaped by social, cultural, economic, and political factors, and academics have the agency to accept or reject any particular technology or to find alternative uses for it that will better serve their needs), (c) context collapse, (d) “social media as instrument to achieve valued scholarly outcomes” narrative (e.g., more citations), and (e) “social media as gathering places” narrative (e.g., finding community).

Chapter 2: Networks of knowledge creation and dissemination. In this chapter, I  describe how scholars are using online networks to engage in knowledge creation and dissemination. I  describe how academics use particular technologies and practices to do and share research and present examples of academics doing research online, reaching new understandings, and supporting communities in creating knowledge. Case studies illuminate this chapter.

Chapter 3: Networks of tension and conflict. The main argument in this chapter is that even though the hope for positive outcomes has led many academics and educational institutions to advocate the adoption of social media, online social networks, and various open practices, scholars’ online participation appears to be rife with tensions, dilemmas, and conundrums. I describe a number of challenges that academics face when they online, and discuss how these shape participation.

Chapter 4: Networks of care and vulnerability. As contemporary narratives pertaining to impact, productivity, automation, efficiency, algorithms, follower counts, citation counts, impact factors, branding, and so on infuse academic lives, it’s easy to fall into the trap of viewing technologies merely as instruments that are used toward the achievement of particular professional outcomes. In this chapter, I discuss how social media & online networks function as places where (some) academics make themselves vulnerable and where they express and experience care.

Chapter 6: Fragmented Networks. In this chapter, I will explain that scholars’ identity online potentially consists of a constellation of identity fragments. What scholars reveal online about themselves is mediated by a variety of issues including professional concerns, collapsed contexts, imagined and invisible audiences, and identity work. This chapter will argue that what we see happening in social networks and media represents fragments of life.

Chapter 7: Transparent Networks. Here, I expand on openness and transparency and discuss how transparency relates to teaching, research, and scholarship. I discuss transparency in teaching and student-instructor interaction (e.g., instructor and teacher participation in open courses), transparency in the publishing process (e.g., The Paper Rejection Repository) and transparency in other areas of scholarship and participation (e.g., The Adjunct Project).

Chapter 8: Future Directions. Synthesis and suggestions for future research.

The spectrum of MOOCs

Posted on October 15th, by George Veletsianos in moocs, my research, online learning, open, scholarship. 8 comments

“xMOOC vs. cMOOC” is one way that is frequently used to describe the philosophical design of a MOOC. Tony Bates does an excellent job summarizing the philosophies behind the two. While this categorization is helpful in describing the foundations of the types of MOOCS that exist, I’m increasingly becoming more and more uncomfortable with this categorization as used to describe particular courses. I see MOOCs as a phenomenon more than anything, and when the xMOOC and cMOOC terms are used to describe courses, it seems that we are missing what actually happens in these courses, we are missing the details.

While the xMOOC and cMOOC labels are worthwhile to help individuals make sense of two opposing viewpoints, there is a spectrum the lies between the two. Between xMOOCs and cMOOCs, we see:

There is wide variation between MOOCs, and it behooves us to examine how and why particular MOOCs differ, and how the differences impact learner experiences and outcomes.