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

Category: my research

What is the experience of instructors who use a social networking site in their teaching?

Posted on February 11th, by George Veletsianos in my research, scholarship. 8 comments

It has been suggested that the use of social technologies (e.g., social media, social networking sites) in higher education may be a worthwhile endeavor. Nevertheless, empirical literature examining user experiences, and more specifically instructor experiences, with these tools is limited. My colleagues and I conducted a study recently to address this gap in the literature. Our goal was to  identify, describe, and make sense of initial instructor experiences with a social networking platform (Elgg) used in higher education courses. This follows a prior study in which we examined learner experiences with Elgg.

This study does not purport to describe the experiences of all instructors. Rather, it provides an in-depth examination and rich description of the experiences of five instructors who used a social networking platform in their courses. Readers should examine the context in which this study occurred and decide whether these findings may apply in their own situations.

We found that instructors:

  • had expectations of Elgg that stemmed from numerous sources
  • used Elgg in heterogeneous ways and for varied purposes
  • compartmentalized Elgg and used it in familiar ways, and
  • faced frustrations stemming from numerous sources.

Importantly, the ways that Elgg came to be used “on the ground” was contested. These ways contrasted starkly with the narrative of how social software might contribute benefits to educational practice. Furthermore, we found that learning management systems (e.g., Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas, Desire2Learn) may frame the ways through which other tools, such as social media and Elgg, are understood, used, and experienced, as instructors in our study continuously discussed their experiences with Elgg in comparison to an LMS, even though Elgg is not a traditional LMS.

Veletsianos, G., Kimmons, R., & French, K. (2013). Instructor experiences with a social networking site in a higher education setting: Expectations, Frustrations, Appropriation, and Compartmentalization (pdf). Educational Technology, Research and Development, 61(2), 255-278

You can download a pdf of the paper from the link above, or visit dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11423-012-9284-z for the published version.

 

Assumptions and Challenges of Open Scholarship

Posted on November 1st, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, moocs, my research, NPS, open, papers, scholarship, sharing. 15 comments

What is the value of a critique?

The value of critique is to help us see a phenomenon through a different lens, to help us make sense of something in a different way, and to spark a conversation. This is the purpose, and value, of a paper we recently published with IRRODL on the topic of open scholarship.

The paper identifies the assumptions and challenges of openness and open scholarship and attempts to put forward suggestions for addressing those. A summary of our paper, appears below:

Many scholars hope and anticipate that open practices will broaden access to education and knowledge, reduce costs, enhance the impact and reach of scholarship and education, and foster the development of more equitable, effective, efficient, and transparent scholarly and educational processes. Wiley and Green (2012, pp. 88) note that “only time will tell” whether practices of open scholarship will transform education or whether the movement “will go down in the history books as just another fad that couldn’t live up to its press.” Given the emerging nature of such practices, educators are finding themselves in a position in which they can shape and/or be shaped by openness (Veletsianos, 2010). The intention of this paper is (a) to identify the assumptions of the open scholarship movement and (b) to highlight challenges associated with the movement’s aspirations of broadening access to education and knowledge. The goal of this paper is not to frame open scholarship as a problematic alternative to the status quo. Instead, as we see individuals, institutions, and organizations embrace openness, we have observed a parallel lack of critique of open educational practices. We find that such critiques are largely absent from the educational technology field, as members of the field tend to focus on the promises of educational technologies, rarely pausing to critique its assumptions. Selwyn (2011b, pp. 713) even charges that our field’s inherent positivity “limits the validity and credibility of the field as a site of serious academic endeavour.” Our intention is to spark a conversation with the hopes of creating a more equitable and effective future for digital education and scholarship. To this end, this paper is divided into three major sections. First, we review related literature to introduce the reader to the notion of open scholarship. Next, we discuss the assumptions of openness and open scholarship. We then identify the challenges of open scholarship and discuss how these may limit or problematize its outcomes.

Common assumptions and challenges are summarized as follows:

Common themes and assumptions Challenges
Open scholarship has a strong ideological basis rooted in an ethical pursuit for democratization, fundamental human rights, equality, and justice. Are these ideals essential components of the open scholarship movement or are merely incidental to those who are pioneering the field?
Open scholarship emphasizes the importance of digital participation for enhanced scholarly outcomes Scholars need to develop an understanding of participatory cultures and social/digital literacies in order to take full advantage of open scholarship.Need to redesign university curricula to prepare future scholars to account for the changing nature of scholarship.

 

Open scholarship is treated as an emergent scholarly phenomenon that is co-evolutionary with technological advancements in the larger culture Technology both shapes and is shaped by practice.Technology is not neutral, and its embedded values may advance tensions and compromises (e.g., flat relationships, homophily, filter bubbles).
Open scholarship is seen as a practical and effective means for achieving scholarly aims that are socially valuable Open scholarship introduces new dilemmas and needs (e.g., personal information management challenges; Social stratification and exclusion).

Given the topic, the best home for this paper was the International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, through which you can download the paper for free in an open access manner:

Veletsianos, G. & Kimmons, R. (2012). Assumptions and Challenges of Open Scholarship. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning,13(4), 166-189. [HTML access or PDF access]

 

Invited talk at ICEM 2012

Posted on September 23rd, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, learner experience, moocs, my research, NPS, online learning, open, scholarship. 9 comments

I am in Cyprus to meet with a number of colleagues and give an invited talk at ICEM 2012.

Talk title: What does the future of design for online learning look like? Emerging technologies, Openness, MOOCs, and Digital Scholarship

Abstract:  What will we observe if we take a long pause and examine the practice of online education today? What do emerging technologies, openness, Massive Open Online Courses, and digital scholarship tell us about the future that we are creating for learners, faculty members, and learning institutions? And what does entrepreneurial activity worldwide surrounding online education mean for the future of education and design? In this talk, I will discuss a number of emerging practices relating to online learning and online participation in a rapidly changing world and explain their implications for design practice. Emerging practices (e.g., open courses, researchers who blog, students who use social media to self-organize) can shape our teaching/learning practice and teaching/learning practice can shape these innovations. By examining, critiquing, and understanding these practices we will be able to understand potential futures for online learning and be better informed on how we can design effective and engaging online learning experiences. This talk will draw from my experiences and research on online learning, openness, and digital scholarship, and will present recent evidence detailing how researchers, learners, educators are creating, sharing, and negotiating knowledge and education online.

What education research and instructional design practice can offer to Coursera MOOCs

Posted on July 30th, by George Veletsianos in courses, engagement, moocs, my research, NPS, online learning, open, scholarship. 1 Comment

This is part of my ongoing reflection on moocs. See the rest of the entries here.

I have signed up to a number of MOOCs as a student (and led one of the #change11 weeks), and have spoken in general terms a couple of weeks ago about how education research can help improve the type of education offered through a MOOC. In this post, I will give specific suggestions, focusing on the University of Pennsylvania MOOC: Listening to World Music, offered through Coursera. I am signed up to this course, which started on June 23, and I just submitted the first assignment. I decided to post these thoughts early because of two reasons. First, the beginning of any course is an important moment in its success and I find that it takes a lot of planning and reflection. Second, MOOCS are discussed as being experiments in online education. The Atlantic even calls them “The single most important experiment in higher education.” I agree that they are experimental initiatives, and as such would benefit from ongoing evaluation and advice. Where I disagree with is the notion that they are a departure from what we know about online (and face-to-face) education. This post is intended to highlight just a couple of items that the Coursera instructional designers and learning technologists could have planned for in order to develop a more positive learning experience.

1. Length of the video lectures.

The syllabus lists the length of the video lectures (e.g., video 1 is 10:01 minutes long and video 2 is 10:45 minutes long.) However, this length is not provided on the page that students visit to watch the videos, which is where they need that information. I’ve annotated this below.

 

2. Opportunities for interaction.

The platform provides forums for students to interact with each other. Learners are of course instrumental and will figure out alternative, and more efficient and effective ways to communicate with each other, if they need to. For instance, in a number of other MOOCs students set up facebook groups, and I anticipate that this will happen here as well. What Coursera could do to support learners in working with each other is to integrate social media plugins within each course. I am surprised that this isn’t prominent within the course because you can see from the images below that Coursera uses social media plugins to allow students to announce participation in the course:

For instance, it appears that the course uses the #worldmusic hashtag, though it’s not integrated within the main page of the course, not does it seem to be a unique hashtag associated with the course.

3. How do you encourage students to watch the videos?

Let’s say that we added the length of each video next to its title. Now, the learner knows that they need about an hour to watch the video. Some learners (e.g., those who are intrinsically motivated by the topic) will watch them without much scaffolding. But, how do you provide encouragement for others to do so? Here’s where some social psychology insights might be helpful. By providing learners with simple descriptions of how the majority of their colleagues are behaving (i.e. appealing to social norms), then one might be able to encourage individuals to watch the videos. For example, the videos might include a dynamic subtitle that informs learners that “8 out of 10 of your peers have watched this video” or that “70% of your peers have completed the first assignment” and so on. This is the same strategy that hotels use to encourage users to reuse towels and the same strategy that Nike uses when it compares your running patterns to the running patterns of other runners, as shown in the image below:

4. Peer-grading expectations.

This course is different from others that I’ve participated in because it includes an element of peer-grading. This is exciting to me because I’m a firm believer in social learning. One minor concern however is the following: I don’t know how many peers I am supposed to evaluate. I thought I was supposed to evaluate just one, but each time I finish my evaluation, I am presented with the option to “evaluate next student.” Do I keep evaluating? How many do I need to evaluate before I can move to the next step? I don’t know. In other words, it’s always helpful to inform the learner of what s/he has to do. For instance, in my case, I just stopped evaluating peers after having evaluated 4 because I don’t know how much I am expected to do. Perhaps there’s no minimum… and this information would be helpful to me as a learner.

Overall, my experience with this course is positive, though there is a lot of room for improvement here, which is to be expected. For example, I haven’t touched much on the pedagogy of the course, but there’s a few more weeks left… so stay tuned!

Notes:

Nike photo credit. Thanks to my colleague Chuck Hodges for directing my attention to the Nike example.

Kickstarting educational innovations (or, the case of #ds106)

Posted on March 30th, by George Veletsianos in my research, NPS, online learning, open, scholarship. 4 comments

If you are trying to explain to colleagues why networks are important, why an understanding of participatory cultures is important, and why education should concern itself with social media and network literacies, then look no further than the success that the good people over at #ds106 had in raising funds through Kickstarter to support their project. Within a day they reached their goal and raised more than $4,500. Huge congratulations to everyone involved!

At the same time this is an opportunity to discuss notions of power and social capital. Can everyone do this? How many projects don’t reach their goal every day? This is not a shot at #ds106 or the people involved: #ds106 is an amazing project with a creative and passionate team of people and they deserve all the accolades they can get! Put in other words, will people read and comment on your blog just because you have one? Will people support your kickstarter project, just because you have one? What do educators, researchers, scholars and students need to know about social media and networks so that their tweets, facebook updates, and linkein profiles are not lost in a desert of digital sand?

Localizing Adventure Learning at SITE 2012

Posted on March 12th, by George Veletsianos in my research, scholarship. No Comments

Austin hosted SITE 2012 last week, which, in addition to providing a great opportunity to see friends and colleagues, it allowed us to share our most recent work on Adventure Learning. In this recent reformulation of the approach, we discuss what learned from five small-scale projects, and how those lessons have helped us refine the approach for small projects in which the students are tasked with being the explorers:

Title: Localizing Adventure Learning: Teachers and Students as Expedition Leaders and Members (.doc)

George Veletsianos, University of Texas at Austin, USA
Brant Miller, University of Idaho, USA
Karla Bradley Eitel, University of Idaho, USA
Jan U.H. Eitel, University of Idaho, USA
R. Justin Hougham, University of Idaho, USA

Abstract: Adventure Learning (AL) is an approach to education that aims to engage learners in hybrid learning experiences that bring content alive through meaningful connections to place and personal lives. In this paper, we present and discuss five small-scale AL projects enacted at Texas and Idaho that have informed our understanding of how the AL approach can be conceptualized and used within a variety of formal and informal learning contexts. Through the diverse and varied AL projects described in this paper, we have learned invaluable lessons that will inform future work and inspire possibilities for using AL in additional venues.

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).

Online Social Networks as Formal Learning Environments

Posted on February 5th, by George Veletsianos in my research, NPS, online learning, papers, scholarship. 7 comments

I’m always excited to participate in dialogue regarding my work. In this post, I will respond to a couple of questions/comments posed to me as a result of a recent paper I published in IRRODL with Cesar Navarrete, who is a doctoral student at the Learning Technologies program at UT Austin.

The paper is: Veletsianos, G. & Navarrete, C. (2012). Online Social Networks as Formal Learning Environments: Learner Experiences and Activities. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 13(1), 144-166. [PDF]

In this paper we try to make sense of student experiences and practices in an online social network using within an online course. The abstract reads: While the potential of social networking sites to contribute to educational endeavors is highlighted by researchers and practitioners alike, empirical evidence on the use of such sites for formal online learning is scant. To fill this gap in the literature, we present a case study of learners’ perspectives and experiences in an online course taught using the Elgg online social network. Findings from this study indicate that learners enjoyed and appreciated both the social learning experience afforded by the online social network and supported one another in their learning, enhancing their own and other students’ experiences. Conversely, results also indicate that students limited their participation to course-related and graded activities, exhibiting little use of social networking and sharing. Additionally, learners needed support in managing the expanded amount of information available to them and devised strategies and “workarounds” to manage their time and participation.

The first question/comment is from Jenny Mackness who says: “I was surprised by the finding ‘students did not appear to mix social and educational participation’. In my experience, students have always mixed social and educational participation, e.g. in the coffee bar – or in my own work, wiki discussions will sometimes veer off into more personal, social discussions. Do you think your students did not mix social and educational participation in your Elgg environment because of the constraints of tutor presence/control, assessment and so on. I’m wondering where else they might have mixed social and educational participation. Did you ask them whether there were any ‘back channels’?”

Thanks for the question, Jenny! I agree with you that students tend to mix social and educational participation. We did not observe this on occurring in this study though. I believe both of these tendencies can be true, and sometimes even co-exist. One or two students sought social, non-educational interactions, but their attempts were not reciprocated. The majority of them just didn’t mix the two. Following up from this, it is interesting to ask why. We did not ask students about it but I can say that (a) just because we didn’t see it on the social network, it doesn’t mean that it did not happen (i.e., it might have happened on email), and (b) a lot of reasons might explain why: the fast pacing of the course might have been a factor; students might have been focusing on completing the course and its requirements; or students might not have felt that Elgg was the appropriate place for them to do that. It’s highly likely that it’s a combination of all of these. What’s important, I believe, is the implication that just because students are on an online social network, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they will engage with each other in the types of social interactions that we see occurring elsewhere (e.g., twitter, facebook, etc).

The second comment is from Stephen Downes who says: “We haven’t heard a lot about Elgg recently but it remains an important model for online learning. One weakness of the case study is that it takes place in a traditional institution.” Results also indicate that students limited their participation to course-related and graded activities, exhibiting little use of social networking and sharing.” Then again, this might just be a feature of the (very) small group studied. I think the discussion of Elgg is valuable, but would place the case study as just one out of (we would hope) many data points.”

Again, thank you, Stephen, for the comment! I may be misunderstanding part of the comment, but I wouldn’t say that the fact that this study took place at a traditional institution is a “weakness.” That was actually part of the reason why we did the study, as the majority of the work that we have seen focuses on the use of these technologies outside of the institution, and individuals tend to think that findings will easily transfer to institutional settings. If you mean that the results were influenced by the fact that the course occurred in a traditional institution or that the institutional setting influenced how the technology was used, you are absolutely correct, and that’s an implication of the study. Finally, I agree with you in that this is just one case study of the use of Elgg and online social networks in an institutional setting. A collection of case studies can help us make sense of this phenomenon, and these are slowly appearing (e.g., in our paper we cite Arnold & Paulus (2010), Brady et al. (2010), Dron & Anderson (2009b)).