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

Category: my research

Networked Scholars course (#scholar14) starting on Monday, October 20th

Posted on October 15th, by George Veletsianos in moocs, my research, online learning, open, scholarship, sharing. 18 comments


This is just a quick note to  remind you that the Networked Scholars course is starting on Monday October 20th. The #scholar14 hashtag is already collecting relevant resources.

The course is happening at an opportune time, providing ample material for us to examine. Academics are often encouraged to blog and participate online to increase their reach and impact. However, when scholars are online they face tensions, dilemmas, and conundrums. For example, some are concerned about navigating personal-professional boundaries on social media and others are worried about the degree to which online activities may be cause for termination, as revealed by the recent Kansas Board of Regents policy on “Improper Use of Social Media” and the ongoing case of Dr. Steven Salaita. It seems that these stories are never-ending: The Conversation included an article today entitled: To tweet or not to tweet: academic freedom and social media.

What do academics do on social media? What tensions do they face? Why do they continue being on these contentious spaces when a number of their senior colleagues advice them to “get off Twitter and write those papers?” These are questions that I am hoping we will explore together starting on Monday.

I have also finalized our guest experts for the course, and I’m happy to report that we have a wonderful group of colleagues from three countries joining us to discuss issues pertaining to networked scholarship. The live events are scheduled for the times/days listed below, so if you would like to join us, please add them to your calendar, and join our Google Hangout on Air events. If you can’t join us live, we will be recording and archiving the events so that you can watch them later at your convenience.

October 23 at 9am PST: Dr. Laura Czerniewicz from the University of Cape Town (South Africa) – Google Hangout on Air link
October 29 at 4pm PST: Dr. Royce Kimmons from the University of Idaho (USA) – Google Hangout on Air link
November 6, 10:30am at PST: Bonnie Stewart from the University of Price Edward Island (Canada) – Google Hangout on Air link

To convert these times to your local time zone, please use this tool:

See you soon!

Image: The Art of Social Media by mkhmarketing

Networked Scholars syndication hub: Live

Posted on October 7th, by George Veletsianos in courses, emerging technologies, moocs, my research, NPS, open, scholarship. 13 comments

STS-131 Discovery Launch

The Networked Scholars course starts in two weeks, on October 20th, with 2 options for participation.

1. Through the Canvas Network.

2. Through personal blogs and twitter accounts, syndicated, via the…. drumroll…. Networked Scholars Syndication hub. With special thanks to Alan Levine who has been helping a number of people implement this design, all readings and activities will be publicly-available, and this site syndicates blog/twitter feeds used as discussion/reflection spaces. The official Twitter hashtag for the course is #scholar14. If you are interested in this option, feel free to head over to the syndication hub, and connect your blog to the site!

Image: STS-131 Discovery Launch

Teacher professionalization in the age of social networking sites

Posted on July 28th, by George Veletsianos in my research, NPS, open, papers, sharing, work. 15 comments

Tensions. The more we study social media and online networks, the more evidence we find that these spaces are replete with tensions.


Tensions. Image by floridjohn

In our latest published study (citation below) with my colleague Royce Kimmons, we found that expectations of professionalization in online social networks cut deeply into pre-service teachers self-concept. We found that participants generally had difficulty articulating what professionalism in online social networks actually looks like and what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate action online. As participants were exposed to a better understanding of what professionalism means online, participants recognized that they were not completely aware that their behavior might be watched and scrutinized by others, and this realization surprised them. Many pre-service teachers were also surprised at the severity of professional requirements and how the public might scrutinize seemingly innocuous behaviors on social media.

Numerous participants explained that as teachers they will need to be careful to not offend any community members, and the topics of politics and religion featured significantly in these conversations.

Though participants seemed to feel that a plurality of political opinion was a good thing and that they should have a right to political opinions, they nonetheless seemed to feel that teachers should take care in voicing those opinions.

Religion, on the other hand, seemed to be a different issue altogether, as participants seemed to feel that it was appropriate for them to express religious beliefs online even if others might happen to take offense or to disagree with them.

It’s important here to pause and consider the following: Participants’ preference of religion over politics likely reflects sociocultural values of the geographic region where the study took place (i.e. at a University in the South), and may not be generalizable.

These findings suggest that teacher education students might be willing to adjust the way that they participate in some ways to fit in with professional expectations (e.g., political opinions), but that there are some cases where what they feel might be expected of them cuts so acutely into their self-concept that they are afraid of losing their sense of identity (e.g., religious beliefs).

The implications of this study are the following:

First, teachers must consider how participating in SNS or altering their participation in them (e.g., content, connections, etc.) may impact their identity and sense of who they are.

Second, if teachers do not clearly understand how moral turpitude is defined in a given community, then how can they be sure that their behavior (online or offline) is beyond reproach?

The dilemma facing teachers in SNS is the following: As teachers present themselves in SNS in a way that is reflective of their complex and ever-developing identities, they may find it difficult to maintain meaningful social connections in online spaces as they pass through new phases of life and are simultaneously judged in an historical manner.

Kimmons, R., & Veletsianos, G. (2015). Teacher Professionalization in the Age of Social Networking Sites: Identifying Major Tensions and Dilemmas. Learning, Media, and Technology, 40(4), 480-501.

MOOCs, automation, artificial intelligence seminar

I will be visiting my colleagues at the University of Edinburgh in mid-June to give a seminar on MOOCs, automation, artificial intelligence and pedagogical agents. This is a free event organized by the Moray House School of Education at the U of Edinburgh and supported by the Digital Cultures and Education research group and DigitalHSS. Please feel free to join us face-to-face or online (Date: 18 June 2014; Time: 1-3pm) by registering here.

This seminar will bring together some of my current and past research. A lot of my work in the past examined learners’ experiences with conversational and (semi)intelligent agents. In that research, we discovered that the experience of interacting with intelligent technologies was engrossing (pdf). Yet, learners often verbally abused the pedagogical agents (pdf). We also discovered that appearance (pdf) may be a significant mediating factor in learning. Importanly, this research indicated that “learners both humanized the agents and expected them to abide by social norms, but also identified the agents as programmed tools, resisting and rejecting their lifelike behaviors.”

A lot of my current work examines experiences with open online courses and online social networks, but what exactly does pedagogical agents and MOOCs have to do with each other? Ideas associated with Artificial Intelligence are present in both the emergence of xMOOCs (EdX, Udacity, and Coursera emanated from AI labs) and certain practices associated with them – e.g., see Balfour (2013) on automated essay scoring. Audrey Watters highlighted these issues in the past. While I haven’t yet seen discussions on the integration of lifelike characters and pedagogical agents in MOOCs, the use of lifelike robots for education and the role of the faculty member in MOOCs are areas of  debate and investigation in both the popular press and the scholarly literature.  The quest to automate instruction has a long history, and lives within the sociocultural context of particular time periods. For example, the Second World War found US soldiers and cilvilians unprepared for the war effort, and audiovisual devices were extensively used to efficiently train individuals at a massive scale. Nowadays, similar efforts at achieving scale and efficiencies reflect problems, issues, and cultural beliefs of our time.

I’m working on my presentation, but if you have any questions or thoughts to share, I’d love to hear them!


Publication: The Structure and Characteristics of #PhDChat

Posted on May 12th, by George Veletsianos in my research, online learning, open, papers, scholarship, sharing. 9 comments

One of the highlights of academia is working closely with students and seeing them grow, take on challenges, struggle, and create meaningful change in the world. This happens in classrooms, on the web, in design/development projects, in research endeavors, and so on. Kasey Ford, who was one of my advisees, recently completed her MA thesis examining #PhDChat, an online social network, and we have published a study out of that work in the Journal of Interactive Media in Education. I’m excited to share the abstract below:

#PhDChat is an online network of individuals that has its roots to a group of UK doctoral students who began using Twitter in 2010 to hold discussions. Since then, the network around #PhDchat has evolved and grown. In this study, we examine this network using a mixed methods analysis of the tweets that were labeled with the hashtag over a one-month period. Our goal is to understand the structure and characteristics of this network, to draw conclusions about who belongs to this network, and to explore what the network achieves for the users and as an entity of its own. We find that #PhDchat is a legitimate organizational structure situated around a core group of users that share resources, offer advice, and provide social and emotional support to each other. Core users are involved in other online networks related to higher education that use similar hashtags to congregate. #PhDchat demonstrates that (a) the network is in a continuous state of emergence and change, and (b) disparate users can come together with little central authority in order to create their own communal space.

Ford, K., Veletsianos, G., & Resta, P. (2014). The Structure and Characteristics of #PhDChat, an Emergent Online Social Network. Journal Of Interactive Media In Education, 18(1). Retrieved April 16, 2014, from

Below is a visualization of users mentioning #PhDChat, with users grouped into clusters. Users with frequent or exclusive ties, represented in this study as replies and mentions, are clustered together. Thus, each cluster represents users that are most closely associated to one another based on their frequency of interactions.



The Beautiful, Messy, Inspiring, and Harrowing World of Online Learning

Posted on May 1st, by George Veletsianos in my research, NPS, online learning, open, scholarship. 20 comments

BCNET is a not-for-profit, shared information technology services organization focusing on British Columbia’s higher education system. The organization aims to to explore and evaluate shared IT solutions and hosts an annual conference. I  delivered one of the keynote talks for this year’s conference, and shared examples and stories of online learning initiatives. I framed these examples in terms of research on online learning and the context of the historic realities of educational technology practice. These stories illustrate the multiple realities that exist in online education and highlight how emerging technologies and open practices have (a) broadened access to education, (b) reinforced privilege, and (c) re-imagined the ways that academics enact and share scholarship.  I am including my slides below.

The Beautiful, Messy, Inspiring, and Harrowing World of Online Learning from George Veletsianos


Scholarly networks of care and vulnerability

Posted on April 14th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, my research, NPS, online learning, scholarship, sharing. 10 comments

I gave a presentation at the annual Emerging Technologies for Online Learning conference last week focusing on aspects of networked participatory scholarship. I kept track of other sessions of interest here.

The concept of networked scholarship is expressed in different ways in the literature, ranging from digital scholarship to social scholarship to open scholarship. In my presentation, I discussed two themes that have arisen from my 3+ years of qualitative and ethnographic studies into the practices of higher education scholars.

Both of these themes help us make better sense of scholars’ digital participation and networked scholarship. They also help us better describe online scholarly networks and the lives and practices of digital scholars.

The first theme refers to the notion of scholars using networks to enact digital/open scholarship and circumvent restrictions to the sharing of knowledge. I have a recent publication on this that you can read here.

The second theme is one that I am still developing. Specifically, in my research I found that social media and online social networks function as places where some academics express and experience care. While debates about the use of digital scholarship and social media use in education have so far largely focused on the professional experiences of scholars, with frequent suggestions to limit personal sharing, professional and personal identity are difficult to separate, and academics frequently collapse the boundaries between personal and professional sharing. Academics demonstrate vulnerability and express care online in many forms. In my presentation, I showed and discussed examples of what these very personal and intimate instances of sharing look like. A version of my slides appear below:

ELI 2014, learner experiences, MOOC research, and the MOOC phenomenon

I was at the Educause Learning Initiative conference last week (#ELI2014), where I had some interesting conversations and discussions around online learning, MOOCs, research methods, and the future of higher education.

Amy Collier and I presented early results from our qualitative studies looking at learners’ MOOC experiences (if you have not yet responded to our call to share your lived experiences with us, please consider this invitation). Our talk was entitled “Messy Realities: Investigating Learners’ Experiences in MOOCs.” Our thinking is guided by the notion that even though surveys and big data yield insights into general behavioral patterns,  these  methods are detached and can distance us rather than help us understand the human condition. As a result, the phenomenon of “learning in a MOOC” is understudied and undiscovered. During the session, we shared what we have been finding in our studies, highlighting the messiness of learning and teaching in the open.

Karen Vignare and Amy Collier were also very kind to extend an invitation to a number of us to share our work with individuals participating in the leadership seminar they organized. It was fantastic to hear  Katie Vale (Harvard), Matt Meyer (The Pennsylvania State University), Rebecca Petersen (edX, MIT), and D. Christopher Brooks (EDUCAUSE) discuss their work, and once again, I felt grateful that we are having these conversations more openly, more frequently, and with greater intent.

Below are my rough notes from my 5-7 minute presentation. I appreciate parsimony (who doesn’t?), and in the words of D. Christopher Brooks, this is the litany of things I think:

I am a designer and researcher of education and learning. I study emerging technologies and emerging learning environments. I’m also a faculty member , and I have been teaching in higher education settings both face-to-face and online since 2005.

To contextualize my comments on MOOCs, first I want to describe my experiences with them:

– I have facilitated one week of the #change11 MOOC was organized by George Siemens and Stephen Downes in 2011. This MOOC had a distinctively connectivist flavor with each week being facilitated by 1 person.
– I have enrolled in a number of MOOCs, and have even completed a small number of them.
– I have repurposed MOOCs in my own courses. For example, I have asked students to enroll in MOOCs and write about them.
– I have published an e-book with my students, sharing stories of student experiences with MOOCs.
– Finally, I am actively involved in studying learners’ experiences in MOOCs in order to understand the human element in these emerging learning environments.

I have recently come to the realization that I have an ambivalent relationship with MOOCs. My relationship with MOOCs is one of the most ambivalent relationships I have had with anyone or anything. This relationship is more ambivalent than the love-ignore-hate relationship that my cat has with me!

On the one hand, I appreciate the opportunities for open learning that MOOCs provide. I also appreciate how MOOCs have brought us together to discuss issues around technology, teaching, and learning. At the same time, I cringe at the narratives around big data, I cringe at the hype, at the ignorance around what education is and should be about.

I want to talk about two topics today: MOOC research and the MOOC phenomenon.

On MOOC Research

– We don’t know much about MOOCs
– The things that we know about MOOCs are mostly the result of surveys, learning analytics, and big data research
– The existing research and the existing methods that we use are informative, BUT they simply paint an incomplete picture of MOOCs. We should be asking more in-depth questions about learner and instructor experiences in MOOCs
– Qualitative and interpretive research methods can and will help us better understand MOOCs, open learning, and open scholarship
– Descriptions of learner behaviors are helpful, but these descriptions only provide a glimpse and superficial summary of what students experience and what they do in digital learning environments. To give you an example, emerging research suggests that students may be “sampling” courses; a behavior that we don’t frequently see in traditional online courses or traditional face-to-face courses. Nonetheless, “sampling” is not how participants would describe their experiences or the ways they participate MOOCs. To illustrate, consider family-style Mediterranean meals that consist of numerous dishes, where participants sample a wide array of food. If you ask a person to describe this meal, to explain it to someone else, or to simply tell you about the meal, they will likely describe the meal as a feast, they might describe the tahini as lemony, the variety of flavors as intriguing, the whole meal as satisfying. Different people will also describe the meal differently: Tourists might describe the meal as fulfilling, heavy, or even extravagant; locals might describe the same meal as appropriate, or better than or worst than meals that they have had at other restaurants. “Sampling” may be an appropriate descriptor of the act of eating a family-style meal, or exploring a MOOC, but the descriptor does not fully capture the experience of sampling.


On the MOOC as a Phenomenon

MOOCs. The acronym stands for massive, open, online courses. That is not what MOOCs are though. MOOCs are a phenomenon. They represent something larger than a course and should be seen in conjunction to the rebirth and revival of educational technology. They represent symptoms, responses, and failures facing Higher Education. For instance,  MOOCs are a response to the increasing costs of Higher Education; represent the belief that the purpose of education is to prepare students for the workforce; represent the belief that technology is the solution to the problems that education is facing; are indicative of scholarly failures; seem to represent the belief that education is a product that can be packaged, automated, and delivered; and, are a response to failures by researchers, designers, administrators, and institutions to develop effective and inspiring solutions to the problems of education (alternatively, they might also represent the failure of existing systems to support creative individuals in enacting change)*.

The  MOOC is an acronym that elicits strong feelings: excitement, fear, defiance, uncertainty, hope, contempt…. To address these feelings we have to address the failures of higher education and the underlying causes that have given rise to MOOCs. For this reason, instead of talking about MOOCs at my own institution, I discuss innovations and approaches that I value, including networked scholarship, openness, flexibility, social learning, and the design and development of new technologies.


* NOTE: Rolin Moe and I are working on a paper refining and delineating these. If you have thoughts, concerns, or input on any of these issues, we’d love to hear form you!