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

Category: my research

The tensions and conundrums of public scholarship

Posted on April 18th, by George Veletsianos in my research, networked scholars, NPS, scholarship. 2 comments

Scholars are often encouraged to be public intellectuals – to ‘go online’ and engage with diverse audiences. Yet, scholars’ online activities appear to be rife with tensions, dilemmas, and conundrums. In a presentation that I gave last week at AERA, I discuss some tensions and challenges scholars face when engaging networked publics and highlight some uncomfortable realities of being a public scholar. Evangelizing public and networked scholarship without acknowledging the existence of tensions is detrimental to the field and misleading to the scholars who may be considering greater public engagement- becoming more networked, more public, and more “digital.” Individual scholars and institutions need to evaluate the purposes and functions of scholarship and take part in devising systems that reflect and safeguard the values of scholarly inquiry.

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a copy of the paper:

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


New Research: Is Academic Twitter Egalitarian?

Posted on February 25th, by George Veletsianos in my research, networked scholars, NPS, open, scholarship. 6 comments

Royce Kimmons and I have been exploring the use of large-scale data in a number of recent studies. We just published a paper that tries to make sense of students’ and professors’ social media participation on a large scale. We are continuing our qualitative investigations to understand “why, in what ways, and how” scholars (students & professors) are using social media, but this is our first data mining study making use of Twitter data. It’s also the first study using large-scale Twitter data to make sense of how professors and students of education are using Twitter.

Here’s a high-level summary of three of our findings:

  • There is significant variation in how scholars participate on Twitter. The platform may not be the democratizing tool it is often purported to be: The most popular 1% scholars have an average follower base nearly 100 times that of scholars in the lower 99% and 700 times those in the bottom 50%.
  • Civil rights and advocacy seem to be an important activity of social media participation – this is rarely captured in research to date, which most often focuses on how social media are used in teaching & research. Scholars’ participation on Twitter extends well beyond traditional notions of scholarship.
  • We found that those scholars who follow more users, have tweeted more, signal themselves as professors, and have been on Twitter longer will have more followers. This model predicts 83% of the variation on follower counts. This finding raises questions as to the meaning of follower counts and its use as a metric in conversations pertaining to scholarly quality/reach.

Veletsianos, G., & Kimmons, R. (2016). Scholars in an Increasingly Digital and Open World: How do Education Professors and Students use Twitter? The Internet and Higher Education, 30, 1-10.

Digging deeper into learners’ experiences in MOOCs – infographic

Posted on February 16th, by George Veletsianos in moocs, my research, online learning, open, scholarship. No Comments

The British Journal of Educational Technology and BERA approached us to create an infographic for the article we (Amy Collier, Emily Schneider, and myself) published last year: Digging Deeper into Learners’ Experiences in MOOCs: Participation in social networks outside of MOOCs, Notetaking, and contexts surrounding content consumption

Below is the outcome (and a pdf version is here):


Social Media in Academia: Now available

Posted on January 27th, by George Veletsianos in my research, networked scholars, NPS, sharing, work. 2 comments

Martin Weller sent me a photo of my book a couple of weeks ago. I was away from the office, and that was the first time I saw a photo of the physical book. I saw the physical one a week later when I returned to my office. There it was. In print. And published.


I wanted to write a book about the complicated realities of the use of technology in education. I wanted to write about us. About the people who use technology as part of their day-to-day professional life – and about the times that professional and personal life are intertwined. I am tired of the recycled unsubstantiated claims regarding the potential of new solutions and new technologies. So, I wrote a book about scholars and social media. A book about what scholars – professors and doctoral students – do on social media and why the use them. A book about those times that the potential is realized, those times that new technologies are put into familiar uses, and those times that the issues become a tad more complex. No surprises there – I’ve been working on this area for a few years now.

If you would like me to talk to your colleagues or students about this area, I would be happy to do so. I hope the short blurb below describes the essence of the argument:

Social media and online social networks are expected to transform academia and the scholarly process. However, intense emotions permeate scholars’ online practices and an increasing number of academics are finding themselves in trouble in networked spaces. In reality, the evidence describing scholars’ experiences in online social networks and social media is fragmented. As a result, the ways that social media are used and experienced by scholars are not well understood. Social Media in Academia examines the day-to-day realities of social media and online networks for scholarship and illuminates the opportunities, tensions, conflicts, and inequities that exist in these spaces. The book concludes with suggestions for institutions, individual scholars, and doctoral students regarding online participation, social media, networked practice, and public scholarship.

Personalized learning: the locus of edtech debates

Posted on December 7th, by George Veletsianos in Ideas, my research, online learning, scholarship. 2 comments

“Personalized learning” is that one area of research and practice that brings to the forefront many of the debates and issues that the field is engaging with right now. If one wanted to walk people through the field, and wanted to do so through *one* specific topic, that topic would be personalized learning.


Personalized cans? (CC-licensed image from Flickr)

Here’s are some of the questions that personalized learning raises:


  • We have a problem with labels and meaning in this field. Heck, we have a problem with what to call ourselves: Learning Technologies or Educational Technology? Or perhaps instructional design? Learning Design? Learning, Design, and Technology? Or is it Learning Science? Reiser asks: What field did you say you were in? The same is true for personalized learning. Audrey Watters and Mike Caulfield ask what does “personalized learning” mean and what is the term’s history?  Does it mean different pathways for each learner, one pathway with varied pacing for each learner, or something else?



  • Where is the locus of control? Is personalization controlled by the learner? Is the control left to the software? What of shared control? Obsolete views of personalization and adaptive learning focus on how the system can control both the content and the learning process ignoring, for the most part, the learner, even though learner control appears to be an important determinant of success in e-learning (see Singhanayok & Hooper, 1998). The important question in my mind is the following: How do we balance system and learner control? Such shared control should empower students and enable technology to support and enhance the process. Downes distinguishes between personalized learning and personal learning. I think that locus of control is the distinguishing aspect, and that the role of shared control remains an open conceptual and empirical question. Debates about xMOOCx vs cMOOCs fall in here as well as the debate regarding the value of guided vs discovery learning.


  • How do big data and learning analytics improve learning and participation? What are the limitations of depending on trace data? Personalized learning often appears to depend on the creation of learner profiles. For example, if you fit a particular profile you might receive a particular worked-out example or semi-completed problem, and problems might vary as one progresses through a pathway. Or, you might get an email from Coursera about “recommended courses” (see my point above regarding definitions and meanings). Either way, the role that large datasets, analytics, and educational data science – as well as the limitations and assumptions of these approaches, as we show in our research – is central to personalization and new approaches to education.

  • What assumptions do authors of personalized learning algorithms make? We can’t answer this question unless we look at the algorithms. Such algorithms are rarely transparent. They often come in “black box” form, which means that what we have no insight into the processes of how inputs are transformed to outputs. We don’t know the inner workings of the algorithms that Facebook, Twitter, and Google Scholar use, and we likely won’t know how the algorithms that EdTechCompany uses work to deliver particular content to particular groups of students. If independent researchers can’t evaluate the inner workings of personalized learning software, how can we be sure that such algorithms so what they are supposed to do without being prejudicial? Perhaps the authors of education technology algorithms need a code of conduct, and a course on social justice?


  • Knewton touts its personalization engine. Does it actually work? Connecting this to broader conversations in the field: What evidence do we have about the claims made by the EdTech industry? Is there empirical evidence to support these claims? See for example, this analysis by Phil Hill on the relationship between LMS use and retention/performance and this paper by Royce Kimmons on the impact of LMS adoption on outcomes. If you’ve been in the position of making a technology purchasing in K-12/HigherEd, you have likely experienced the unending claims regarding the positive impact of technology on outcomes and retention.


  • And speaking of data and outcomes, what of student privacy in this context? How long should software companies keep student data? Who has access to the data? Should the data follow students from one system (e.g., K-12) to another (e.g., Higher Ed)? Is there uniformity in place (e.g., consistent learner profiles) for this to happen? How does local legislation relate to educational technology companies’ use of student data? For example, see this analysis by BCCampus describing how British Columbia’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) impacts the use of US-based cloud services. The more one looks into personalization and its dependence on student data, the more one has to explore questions pertaining to privacy, surveillance and ethics.


  • Finally, what is the role of openness is personalized learning? Advocates for open frequently argue that openness and open practices enable democratization, transparency, and empowerment. For instance, open textbooks allow instructors to revise them. But, what happens when the product that publishing companies sell isn’t content? What happens, when the product is personalized learning software that uses OER? Are the goals of the open movement met when publishers use OER bundles with personalized learning software that restricts the freedoms associated with OER? What becomes of the open agenda to empower instructors, students, and institutions?


There’s lots to contemplate here, but the point is this: Personalized learning is ground zero for the field and its debates.

Introduction to Mao Zedong Thought MOOC & open course transparency

Posted on November 25th, by George Veletsianos in moocs, my research, open, sharing. 3 comments

The New York Times published an article on an edX course (Introduction to Mao Zedong Thought) offered by Tsinghua University. Inside Higher Ed (IHE) wrote about it, too. The following quote from IHE articles summarizes the articles:

“That course is raising eyebrows because, despite hours of video lectures and supplemental material in the course, students would still have to tab over to Wikipedia to learn about the millions who died as a result of Mao’s land reforms or that his economic initiatives led to what may have been the greatest famine in human history, which killed tens of millions. Introduction to Mao Zedong Thought references those events glancingly in passing as “mistakes,” and generally heaps praise on Mao and his philosophies.”

I was asked to provide commentary for the New York Times article, and since it wasn’t included in the writeup, I thought it would be a good idea to share it publicly rather than leave it hidden away in my email inbox. Here is what I said:

Open courses are transparent, and that’s one of their positive aspects. They allow anyone to examine the ways that course creators think about a topic. The instructional materials from the Mao course are available to anyone to examine and study. One can look at the materials and ask: How do these materials position Mao Zedong? What are the elements of Mao’s thought that the creators of this course want to highlight? What elements of Mao’s thoughts are left behind and what are the elements that are being highlighted? What is the story that is being told here, and who stands to benefit from this story?

Stephen Downes made a similar argument in the IHE article: ““courses that might have been offered behind closed doors are offered for everyone to see.”

Now, that’s parsimonious :)


Are professors naive users of social media?

Posted on November 20th, by George Veletsianos in my research, networked scholars, open, sharing. 1 Comment

The Chronicle of Higher Education published a commentary some time ago that argued that professors are “naive users of social media” and must exercise caution. It’s difficult to argue with the recommendation to exercise caution, when one looks at the list of scholars who found themselves in trouble in the last year: Salaita, Goldrick-Rab, Grundy, and so on.

But, the claim that professors are naive users of social media is unsubstantiated and reveals a limited understanding of the literature on how professors actually use social media and what they think about them. My colleagues and I have been conducting research on networked scholarship and scholars’ use of social media since 2009, and since that time, I can’t recall interviewing a faculty member or reading a study that revealed naiveté regarding social media and the challenges/tensions they introduce. If anything, most academics have an astute understanding of how social media intersect with their professional (and personal) lives and make informed (and tactical) decisions regarding their use of these technologies.

Granted, many find themselves in conundrums as a result of being in collapsed contexts and being exposed to unanticipated audiences, but to argue naiveté is misinformed.