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

Category: online learning

Who studies MOOCs? (or, thinking with Siemens & Downes)

Posted on May 2nd, by George Veletsianos in my research, online learning, open, papers. 28 comments

If it wasn’t abundantly clear by now, George Siemens and Stephen Downes are two individuals that are making significant contributions to the field. I respect them both and I enjoy engaging with their work. They have been having a conversation  regarding the research and academic diversity in MOOCs, (here and here and here) as a result of a report that George and colleagues released on the history and current state of blended, distance, and online education.

I am writing to add to that conversation because my colleagues and I analyzed some parts of the literature published on MOOCs, and have some results that are relevant and interesting. The paper is under review but the editor gave me permission to share our findings.

We studied the disciplinary distribution of the authors who published MOOC research in 2013-2015 and compared it to the submissions to the MOOC Research Initiative (MRI) reported in Gašević et al., (2014). Our tests showed that the MOOC literature published in 2013-2015 differed significantly from the MRI submissions: our corpus had a greater representation of authors from Computer Science and the Gašević et al., corpus had a greater representation of authors from Education and Industry. In other words, our corpus was less dominated by authors from the field of education than were the MRI submissions. One of Downes criticisms is the following: “the studies are conducted by people without a background in education.” This finding lends some support to his claim, though a lot of the research on MOOCs is from people affiliated with education, but to support that claim further one could examine the content of this papers and identify whether an educational theory is guiding their investigations. 

We also compared author affiliation information in our papers with the papers used in Liyanagunawardena et al.’s (2013) review of the 2008-2012 MOOC literature. We found that the two samples differed significantly. For example, the Liyanagunawardena et al. corpus was relatively over-represented in the Independent Researcher category. This result suggests that the bodies of literature published in 2008-2012 and 2013-2015 differ in significant ways. This may or may not hold true for the writing that has occurred in blogs, unpublished reports etc. We don’t know and we haven’t studied that. 

Finally, and most significantly, we found that the disciplinary makeup of the literature is changing over time: there’s greater interdisciplinary activity in MOOC research now than in the past. This result is very interesting and its implications are worth examining. Suffice to say that this provides opportunities (can we capitalize on the expertise of one another to improve education?) and challenges (are newcomers to the field capitalizing on what we now about the science of learning?). The move to greater inter- and cross- disciplinarity in the field is evident in other initiatives. See for example, the Digital Learning Research Network.

Keep in mind that this research faces some of the same limitations raised by Downes (i.e. like Siemens, our inclusion criteria mean that some research is included while other is excluded). However, it also addresses some of those criticisms. For example, we tried to verify whether some of our results could have arisen by chance by running 10,000 computer simulations on the samples. The computer is confident that they could not have arisen by chance.

I’m hoping this paper will be out of peer-review soon so that I can share, but I’m thankful to the editor that allowed us to share our findings.

The Defining Characteristics of Emerging Technologies and Emerging Practices in Online Education

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

My amazing colleagues Amy Collier and Jen Ross have been blogging about the chapter they wrote for the second edition of my Emerging Technologies in Distanced Education book, and have thus encouraged me to blog about it :)

First, the good news: Athabasca University Press will be publishing Online Learning: Emerging Technologies and Emerging Practices in an open access format.

One of the interesting aspects of editing a book is interacting with chapter authors (15 in this case) and helping to create a coherent narrative. In this case, we were starting with the first edition of the book as a foundation, but more importantly, we were building on the first chapter of the first book in which I defined “emerging technologies.” I’ve clarified in the second book that this collection focuses as much on the emerging practices of online learning/participation (e.g., networked scholarship, open education, learning analytics) as much as it focuses on the technologies that underpin them. Hence the new title.

In the first edition of the book, I argued that emerging technologies are “not yet fully researched” and “not yet fully understood.” Thus, you can quickly begin to see that emerging technologies and emerging practices are intertwined, as, open scholarship for example, or learners’ experiences with automated assessment, are not yet fully research and not yet fully understood.

In the second edition of the book, I revisit this work, and argue that what makes technologies and practices emerging are not specific technologies or practices, but the environments in which a particular technology or practice operate. This definition recognizes that learning, teaching, and scholarship are sociocultural phenomena situated in specific contexts and influenced by the cultures in which they take place. Emerging technologies and practices appear to share four characteristics:

  • Emerging Technologies and Emerging Practices are Not Defined by Newness
  • Emerging Technologies and Emerging Practices Are Evolving Organisms that Exist in a State of “Coming into Being”
  • Emerging Technologies and Emerging Practices Are Not Yet Fully Understood or Researched (what Amy and Jen branded as not-yetness)
  • Emerging Technologies and Emerging Practices Have Promising But as Yet Unfulfilled Potential

There’s 8 more great chapters in the book, and I’m looking forward to sending them off to the publisher. More in the coming months!

Mediated learning experiences and activities in MOOCs and open courses

Posted on April 13th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, moocs, my research, online learning, open. 17 comments

At AERA this week, Amy Collier, Emily Schneider, and I will be presenting a paper that makes a series of arguments regarding learner activities and experiences in MOOCs in relation to clickstream-based MOOC research. One of the implications of our work is the following: learners’ participation and experiences in these courses resist binary and monolithic interpretations as they appear to be mediated by a digital-analog continuum as well as a social-individual continuum. In other words, learning and participation in MOOCs are both distributed and individually-socially negotiated. The following visual (which provides some hints on our results) makes this point clearer:

digital-analog-social-individual

* and since the work of peer reviewers often goes unrecognized, let it be known, that this insight was prompted by a comment from one anonymous reviewer. So, whoever you are, thank you for your input.

 

Emerging Practices in Open Online Learning Environments

Posted on February 23rd, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, moocs, my research, NPS, online learning, open, scholarship. 33 comments

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:

-Students generally stop watching online videos after 4-5 minutes. This then encourages the creation of 4-5 minute lecture videos
-Students fall in discrete categories when they are in MOOCs. For example students who are just sampling content, students who are disengaged,  or they are on track for completing. Once you identify categories you can identify and support learner needs

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.

To summarize:

1. Online learning is becoming more interdisciplinary, but we need to work together and address our assumptions
2. There is excitement about learning analytics, but we also need to understand why people do the things that they do
3. For example, we see that online education needs to accommodate lives as opposed to the other way round
4. And we see that by interviewing people we can get a better sense of the things that they do that don’t get captured by the digital trails they leave behind.

Thank you for being a great audience. I am really excited to hear the speakers that follow me, as I am sure you are!

visual

A visualization of my talk, created by Giulia Forsythe

Experiences from the trenches: An add-on to the MOOC special issue CFP

Posted on December 8th, by George Veletsianos in cfp, moocs, my research, online learning, open, scholarship. 16 comments

My colleague Charalambos Vrasidas and I are editing a special issue for Educational Media International focusing on learner experiences in massive open online courses. We are interested in empirical and theoretical manuscripts as well as systematic reviews/analyses/syntheses of the literature. Preliminary abstracts are due by December 19th. We have planned for the process to be prompt and aim for the issue to be published within 8 months or so.

As part of the special issue, and prompted by a note by Al Filreis, we have decided to include a section that enables individual learners to tell their own stories about their experiences with MOOCs. If you have taken an open course and would like to write a short piece about an aspect of your experience, this section of the special issue would be relevant to you. Like all other submissions, these will be peer-reviewed as well.

Individuals interested in this route can submit a 200-word abstract summarizing their intended submission and a 200-word bio by the 19th of December to moocs@cardet.org.

Invitations to submit full papers will be send on or before January 9, 2014. Manuscripts should be formatted using APA style and should be 1,200 words long, including references. The process to be followed thereafter is as follows:

  • March 1, 2015: Full-length papers due via email at moocs@cardet.org
  • May 1, 2015:  Notification of acceptance/rejections
  • June 30, 2015: Final papers with revisions due
  • 2015: Special issue is published

 

Ethics and transparency in the Coursera Learner Outcomes Survey

Posted on December 6th, by George Veletsianos in moocs, online learning, open, scholarship. 24 comments

On December 5th, Coursera sent an email inviting individuals to participate in a survey intended to investigate whether participation on Coursera “has had any career, educational, or social impact in [their] life.” The email also stated: “Your survey response will be used as part of a research study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Washington, and Coursera, examining the impact of MOOCs.”

Research studies examining the impact of MOOCs outside of individual courses and studies that use methods other than clickstream data, are worthwhile and needed. I applaud Coursera and its partners for the effort to address this research gap.

However, the lack of information pertaining to the research is concerning.

By clicking on the email invitation, potential participants land on a page that describes the research study as follows:

Screenshot 2014-12-06 07.40.12

Both the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Washington have offices in place to support researchers in conducting research in  ways that protect human participants (the UPenn IRB is here and the U of Washington site here). Importantly, these offices are not just regulatory: they provide help and support. The UPenn site for example states that the mission of the IRB includes providing “professional guidance and support to the research community.”

At the very minimum, potential participants should be informed about the study and should provide their agreement to participate in the study. This process is called informed consent. The University of Washington IRB website describes it as follows:

Researchers are required to obtain the informed consent of all participants in human subjects research prior to enrolling those individuals in a study. The individual’s consent must be voluntary and based upon adequate knowledge of the purpose, risks, and potential benefits of a research study. All potential participants should also be informed of their right to abstain from participation or to withdraw consent to participate at any time without reprisal. After ensuring that a person has understood the information, the researcher should then obtain the person’s consent, preferably in writing. [more details here]

This information should be written in language that a layperson can understand and should be included in the screenshot above. In online surveys, consent is usually gained by asking participants to click on a button that indicates that the individual agrees to participate in the study.

This is all missing from the Coursera survey.

Granted, Coursera is a business entity, and it is not bound by the same requirements imposed upon researchers to conduct a survey. Businesses conduct surveys and market research all the time, and none of this applies. But this isn’t just market research. The email and survey introduction have a clear statement of intent: The data will be used for research. Even if Coursera is unaware of the existence of ethical guidelines, Facebook’s emotion contagion study and other news stories on ethics (e.g., Harvard’s hidden cameras efforts) should have provided a moment to pause and ask: Are we doing all we can to ensure that we are treating each other, and our research participants especially, in an ethical and caring way?

CFP special issue: What is it like to learn and participate in MOOCs?

Posted on November 24th, by George Veletsianos in cfp, moocs, online learning, open, scholarship. 48 comments

Update #1: This special issue will include an “experiences from the trenches” section for individual learners to tell their own stories about their experiences with MOOCs. You can find the requirements for those papers here.

What is it like to learn and participate in MOOCs?

Special Issue – Call for papers 

Educational Media International

Scholarly Peer-Reviewed Journal published by Taylor & Francis

 

Overview

While during 2011-2012 the mass media were largely exuberant about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), claiming that these courses will revolutionize and democratize access to education, in 2013-2014 anti-MOOC sentiment rose amidst concerns pertaining to completion rates, sustainable business models, and pedagogical effectiveness. Heated debates on the status quo and future of higher education have ensued since then, and even though there is “no shortage of prophecies about [MOOC’s] potential impact” (Breslow et al., 2013, pp. 23), the academic community has yet to develop an in-depth understanding of learner experiences in MOOCs. The aim of the special issue is to add to our understanding of learner experiences in MOOCs by providing answers to the question: What is it like to learn and participate in MOOCs?

Learner experiences arise from the ways learners interact with and respond to content, activities, instructional methods, instructors, and the context within which learning and instruction happen (Parrish, 2005). At a time when researchers and online learning providers are embracing the use of learning analytics and big data to examine learner behaviors, activities, and actions, very few researchers have sought to gain a deep, qualitative, and multidimensional understanding of learner experiences with open forms of learning. A nuanced appreciation of how users experience open learning, including the successes and obstacles they face, will assist learning designers, researchers, and providers in making greater sense of the open course phenomenon as well as enable them to improve open online learning.

This CFP arises has its foundations on a 2013 call in which Veletsianos argued that “we only have small pieces of an incomplete mosaic of students’ learning experiences with open online learning” (Veletsianos, 2013). While there’s been an expansive amount of research on MOOCs, the existing literature predominantly focuses on learner behaviors and practices, while investigations of learners’ lived experiences are largely absent (Adams et al., 2014). The availability of large-scale data sets also appears to have shaped the research questions that are being asked about MOOCs, and, while significant insights are developed via that research route, the field will benefit tremendously by gaining a better understanding and appreciation of learners’ experiences.

To address these issues and to support the development of the field, we invite authors to submit manuscripts investigating the learner experience in massive open online courses.  Manuscripts can be of three types:

  • Empirical. Such manuscripts should follow rigor guidelines appropriate for the research methods used.
  • Systematic reviews of the literature and literature meta-syntheses.
  • Theoretical manuscripts, contributing to the development of theory pertaining to learner experiences in open courses.

We are interested in hosting a forum for leading edge contributions to the nascent field that help us make sense of learner experiences, and allow practitioners and researchers to benefit from these contributions. Towards this aim, recommended topics of interest for this special issue include, but are not limited to, the following research questions:

  • What is it like to learn in massive open online courses?
  • What are learners’ experiences in open courses?
  • Why are learners participating in open courses in the ways that they do?
  • What are learner-learner and learner-instructor interactions like?
  • How do learners respond to various instructional design decisions and instructor roles?
  • How do learners perceive their relationships with each other, content, instructors, institutions, and MOOC providers?

Submission Process

Interested authors should submit 500-word abstracts and 200-word bios by December 19 at moocs@cardet.org. Submissions should include short descriptions of the following:

  • Identified gap/problem addressed
  • Methods or modes of inquiry
  • Data sources
  • (in-progress or final) results

Invitations to submit full papers will be send on or before January 9, 2014. Manuscripts should be formatted using APA style and should be 6,000 words, including references. The process to be followed thereafter is as follows:

  • March 1, 2015: Full-length papers due via email at moocs@cardet.org
  • May 1, 2015:  Notification of acceptance/rejections
  • June 30, 2015: Final papers with revisions due
  • 2015: Special issue is published

Special Issue Editors

Dr. George Veletsianos
Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology
Associate Professor
Royal Roads University, Victoria, BC, Canada.

Dr. Vrasidas Charalambos
Executive Director, CARDET (www.cardet.org)
Associate Professor of Learning Innovations & Associate Dean for e-learning, University of Nicosia, Cyprus.

References

Adams, C., Yin, Y., Vargas Madriz, L.F., & Mullen, S. (2014). A phenomenology of learning large: The tutorial sphere of xMOOC video lectures. Distance Education, 35, 202-216.

Breslow, L., Pritchard, D. E., DeBoer, J., Stump, G. S., Ho, A. D., & Seaton, D. T. (2013). Studying learning in the worldwide classroom: Research into edX’s first MOOC. Research & Practice in Assessment, 8, 13-25.

Parrish, P. (2005). Embracing the aesthetics of instructional design. Educational Technology, 45(2), 16-25.

Veletsianos, G. (2013). Learner Experiences with MOOCs and Open Online Learning. Madison, WI: Hybrid Pedagogy Publications. Retrieved from http://learnerexperiences.hybridpedagogy.com.

 

 

“How do I get involved, even briefly, with the MOOC?”

Posted on October 30th, by George Veletsianos in courses, moocs, NPS, online learning, open. 13 comments

Jeffrey Keefer says: “I wish I could follow more of #scholar14 but where does the time go?! Wondering how to get involved even briefly. Perhaps this is a start.”

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?