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:
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.
Thank you for being a great audience. I am really excited to hear the speakers that follow me, as I am sure you are!
A visualization of my talk, created by Giulia Forsythe
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. 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.
I started responding to Jeffrey on Twitter, and realized that 140 characters ensured that my response would be cryptic at best. So, in relatively longer form:
- An early decision decision taken was that #scholar14 was going to be modular. There are 4 weeks in the course. Each week is a standalone module. A participant can do week 1 to explore some of the main ideas around scholarly practices on the Web. Week 2 focuses on the challenges and tensions that might arise when doing so. Week 3 is somewhat of a case study looking at issues of community, caring, and vulnerability when academics are online. Week 4 is an activity that can be applied to any of the weeks (i.e. one can do the activity for week 1 if they only completed week 1 or for all weeks if they followed along for all weeks). I made this design decision for a number of reasons, but one of the main ones was to help people jump into a week without feeling that they needed to go through past weeks. I am assuming a certain level of familiarity with the material here, but i tried to limit the extent of prerequisite knowledge required to participate in each week.
- Mini activities. Al lot of the activities developed are small and relatively independent. One can choose to do multiple throughout the week or just 1. For instance, week 2 includes 5 discussion threads on relevant topics. I could just pick 1 of those, or 3 if I have the time. Here’s an example of a discussion thread/activity: “Giant publisher (Elsevier) sends takedown notices to academic social networking site (Academia.edu): Publisher demands that social networking site remove research papers from its servers. Here’s a notice sent to an academic. Elsevier wrote an note explaining their perspective. Share your thoughts/reflections on the case with the rest of us on the discussion thread dedicated to each case. Feel free to join discussion threads, ask questions, and help your colleagues gain a greater understanding of the topic.”
- Live events. These serve as opportunities for gaining a more intimate overview of the ideas in the course, based on conversations with guest experts. They are recorded and archived.
- Multiple pathways. The #dalmooc folks are doing a dual-layer MOOC on a much larger and experimental scale, and are learning quite a lot from it. In my case, content, updates, and interactions pertaining to#scholar14 exist outside of the platform as well, and I think that provides opportunities to join the space that makes the most sense to an individual. I believe that we need more (and better) scaffolds to support this. For instance, Jeffrey is reaching out on Twitter, and he might be doing so because that’s proven to be a supportive place in the past vis-a-vis a new environment created just for the purpose of a course, like the canvas platform for example. Others connected their blog to a space developed to aggregate content… multiple options are available, in the hopes that these provide flexibility and options.
What do you think?
- What are some other ways that individuals could join an open course when time permits?
- How can we design more flexibility into a course without losing its essence?
The first week of Networked Scholars is almost over. It’s been a busy and interesting week with an “Ask Me Almost Anything” discussion thread with Michael Barbour, who answered all questions thrown at him by course participants, and a Google Hangouts on Air session with Laura Czerniewicz (below).
I just sent this note to all participants, and as others might find it helpful, I’m sharing it here too:
I hope you are having a great weekend. It’s a cloudy and rainy morning here in Victoria, BC, and I’m finding myself at a local coffee shop listening to The Doors and thinking about our course.
Our first week is nearly over, and I wanted to share with you some of the interesting ideas and things happening in our course:
- Jenny Mackness wrote a wonderful reflection for the first week of the course. You can read it here: http://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2014/10/26/academic-blogging/
- Some participants are planning a real-time chat via Google Hangouts today. I love it! Feel free to use the discussion thread created to find study buddies or to reach out via #scholar14 if you are looking for a friend to chat with about the course or about a particular reading/week.
- The Research Excellence Framework is a system put in place to assess the research output of UK’s Higher education institutions. Laura Pasquini shared the following article which suggests five recommendations for using alternative metrics in in assessing research quality: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2014/10/23/alternative-metrics-future-uk-research-excellence-framework-thelwall/
- The Networked Researcher is a summary of Cristina Costa’s PhD thesis: http://www.slideshare.net/cristinacost/the-networked-researcher
The materials for week 2 are available, and as we are entering a week looking at challenges and tensions in networked scholarship, remember that you don’t need to do all the activities listed. We have a live session scheduled again, a few of readings, and some activities that I am hoping will spark lively debates.
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
I am organizing a panel for the Social Media & Society conference entitled Networked Participatory Scholarship: Empirical perspectives on scholars use of social media. If you are attending the conference and are interested in the changing nature of scholarship, we’d love to see you there! Below is a short description of the panel
George Veletsianos, Associate Professor, Canada Research Chair, Royal Roads University, @veletsianos
Anatoliy Gruzd, Associate Professor, Ryerson University, @gruzd
Royce Kimmons, Director of the Doceo Center for Innovation + Learning, Assistant Professor, University of Idaho, @roycekimmons
Christine Greenhow, Assistant Professor, Michigan State University, @chrisgreenhow
Bonnie Stewart, Doctoral Candidate, University of Prince Edward Island, @bonstewart
The overarching objective of this panel is to examine the concept of Networked Participatory Scholarship, which refers to academics’ use of digital and social technologies to “share, reflect upon, critique, improve, validate, and further their scholarship” (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012). The five researchers participating in the panel are making significant contributions to our enhanced understanding of how and why academics are engaging in digital, social, networked, and social scholarship via the use of social media. Panelists will make 7 minute presentations which will be followed by an interactive conversation. Each panelist’s contribution is summarized below.
Scholars from disparate fields have discussed social media use in scholarship. However, such discussions are often disconnected. Kimmons will disambiguate several terms describing emergent scholarship, including open, social, digital, and networked participatory scholarship and identify bridges between disciplines.
Gruzd will discuss results from a recently-completed SSHRC award that examined if, how, and why Canadian scholars and their international counterparts are using social media in their research.
Greenhow will discuss social scholarship and trends and challenges experienced by educational researchers in the United States based on a recent survey and interviews with PhD students, and early- and mid-career scholars.
Stewart will discuss the different ways and purposes scholars engage in networked participatory scholarship, based on a recent ethnographic study. She will examine changing identity roles for academics and scholars.
Veletsianos will discuss a framework he developed summarizing empirical research in the field. In this framework scholars’ social media participation is seen to exist in networks of (a) knowledge creation and dissemination, (b) tension, (c) care and vulnerability, (d) fragmentation, and (e) transparency.
The more we study social media and online networks, the more evidence we find that these spaces are replete with tensions.
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. (in press). Teacher Professionalization in the Age of Social Networking Sites: Identifying Major Tensions and Dilemmas. Learning, Media, and Technology.
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.