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

Category: my research

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)).

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!

 

What happens when pedagogical agents are off-task?

Posted on January 3rd, by George Veletsianos in my research, pedagogical agents, scholarship. 3 comments

Social and non-task interactions are often recognized as a valuable part of the learning experience. Talk over football, community events, or local news for example, may enable the development of positive instructor-learner relationships and a relaxed learning atmosphere. Non-task aspects of learning however have received limited attention in the education literature. Morgan-Fleming, Burley, and Price (2003) argue that this is the result of an implicit assumption that no pedagogical benefits are derived from non-task behavior, hence the reduction of off-task activities in schools such as recess time. This issue has received limited attention in the pedagogical agent literature as well. What happens when a virtual character designed to help a student learn about a topic, introduces off-task comments to a lesson? What happens when a virtual instructor mentions current events? How do learners respond?

These are the issues that I am investigating in a paper published in the current issue of the journal Computers in Human Behavior, as part of my research on the experiences of students who interact with virtual instructors and pedagogical agents. The abstract, citation, and link to the full paper appear below:

Abstract
In this paper, I investigate the impact of non-task pedagogical agent behavior on learning outcomes, perceptions of agents’ interaction ability, and learner experiences. While quasi-experimental results indicate that while the addition of non-task comments to an on-task tutorial may increase learning and perceptions of the agent’s ability to interact with learners, this increase is not statistically significant. Further addition of non-task comments however, harms learning and perceptions of the agent’s ability to interact with learners in statistically significant ways. Qualitative results reveal that on-task interactions are efficient but impersonal, while non-task interactions were memorable, but distracting. Implications include the potential for non-task interactions to create an uncanny valley effect for agent behavior.

Veletsianos, G. (2012). How do Learners Respond to Pedagogical Agents that Deliver Social-oriented Non-task Messages? Impact on Student Learning, Perceptions, and Experiences. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(1), 275-283.

Salman Khan on Reddit

Posted on December 30th, by George Veletsianos in my research, NPS, online learning, open, scholarship. 2 comments

Reddit is one of the communities that I follow for professional and personal purposes. For professional purposes specifically, it serves as a site for my online ethnography on networked participatory scholarship and digital scholarship. As part of that work, I am trying to make sense of the meaning of open digital participation for learning, teaching, scholarship, and education. One of the most informative and enjoyable aspects of Reddit is the IAmA subreddit in which individuals with interesting stories answer user questions. For example, one individual shared intimate details of his/her work and experiences with for-profit education, and another discusses teaching high school science and the misconceptions surrounding the teaching profession. The other day, Salman Khan (of Khan Academy) answered questions on the site, and I thought some of you might be interested in reading the Q&A, not just for Khan’s answers but also for the types of questions that were being asked. Though my vision of education differs from Khan’s vision of education, I appreciate that numerous students and teachers have found value in his efforts and I welcome any initiative that opens up conversations about what the future of education should look like. In any event, here is the Q&A with Salman Khan.

* Reddit logo courtesy of Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Reddit_logo.svg