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

Category: online learning

Udacity, MOOCs, hammers, and the problems of education

Posted on November 18th, by George Veletsianos in online learning, scholarship. 33 comments

Last week’s big news was that Udacity intends to switch its focus from higher education to corporate training. A number of colleagues have provided thoughtful responses to these news, including Michael Caulfield, Audrey Watters, Rolin Moe, George Siemens, and Bonnie Stewart.

Here’s my take on this development: Maslow once said: “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” It seems that Udacity has discovered a solution and after realizing that it’s not a solution for the perils facing higher education, that solution is taken elsewhere. Reflecting on the xMOOC phenomenon it appears that this is a consistent approach. If MOOCs don’t work for X, they must work for Y, and if they don’t work for Y, they must work for Z.

I have drummed this tambourine in the past. This is educational technology history repeating itself. During the mid-90’s the instructional media/design field was engaging in The Great Media debate. In short, on the one side of the debate were individuals who argued that media do not influence learning outcomes. On the other side of the debate were individuals who noted that media provide affordances for learning. In the midst of the debate Tennyson (1994) noted the following:

I refer to this transition from scientist to advocate as the big-wrench approach to complex problem solution: The advocate, with the big wrench in hand, sets out to solve, suddenly, a relatively restricted number of problems. That is, all of the formerly many diverse problems, now seem to be soluble with the new big wrench (or panacea).

If educational technology companies (and Centers for Teaching and Learning) are eager to improve education, rather than searching for problems to apply their solutions, they should focus on identifying problems and designing solutions to those problems. Higher education may lack a lot of things, but what it does not lack are problems in need of solutions. Talk to any faculty member and ask: What problem are you facing in your teaching? Observe classrooms and see what things appear commonplace but hinder practice. For example, one of the projects that I had the good fortune to work on emanated from the observation that instructors asked students to borrow video cameras, record assignments, and return tapes to the instructor to watch and return feedback. This process usually took 6 weeks. We automated a lot of this process by developing an online assessment environment through which students recorded their assignments on webcam, instructors were notified of the availability of the video, and were then quickly able to student feedback. By eliminating the need for video cameras and tapes, and introducing an environment that addressed needs and problems, we were able to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the process and drastically reduce the amount of time by which students received their feedback.


Tennyson, R. D. (1994). The big wrench vs. integrated approaches: The great media debate. Educational Technology Research & Development, 42(3), 15–28.

COHERE 2013. Small is beautiful and MOOCs as symptoms

Posted on October 27th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, my research, online learning, open, scholarship, sharing. 19 comments

I am sitting at a coffee shop in Vancouver, BC reflecting on my time at COHERE 2013. This was my first Canadian conference since moving to Victoria, and it was a great opportunity to meet and spend time with colleagues (many of them Canadians) including Tony Bates, Rory McGreal, Martha-Cleveland Innes, David Porter, Diane Janes, Diane Salter, Jenni Hayman, Richard Pinet, Robert Clougherty, and Cindy Ives. It was also great to see Ron Owston, Frank Bulk, and Kathleen Matheos again – and my colleagues Vivian Forssman and BJ Eib were there too! The conference was relatively small and the sessions were 40 minutes long, allowing ample time and space for conversations, networking, and debates. I really appreciated the intimate atmosphere that we were afforded for spending time with each other. The organizers (Kathleen Matheos and Stacey Woods) did a fantastic job!

Cable Green from Creative Commons delivered the first keynote and David Porter from BC Campus delivered the second. I sat on a respondent panel for Cable’s keynote and argued three points: (a) we need to build on and go beyond open educational resources, and think about open practices, (b) each of us needs to take action in supporting openness (e.g., by teaching sharing as a value and literacy), and (c) by recognizing that “open” is under threat of being subverted. It was fascinating to sit on a panel with four others and see how our responses to the keynote differed, but how they all coalesced around similar messages as well.

I also gave a presentation discussing early findings from my research into learners experiences in MOOCs, open courses, and other open learning environments, and you might be interested in Tony Bates’ take on this research:

These findings are not fully refined and analyzed, yet. However, in thinking about these results, reading the literature and claims around MOOCs, and thinking about recent developments in educational technology, I am beginning to see MOOCs more and more as a symptom of chronic failures of the educational system to tackle significant issues. On the one hand, I and others have argued that MOOC creators have ignored research into how people learn and how people learn with technology. Tony Bates  in particular (see the last link), is very clear when he says “Why is MIT ignoring 25 years of research into online learning and 100 years research into how students learn in its design of online courses?”

On the other hand however, the rise of MOOCs seems to be a symptom of a series of failures and pressures. I like the argument that George Siemens makes in relation to inadequate university approaches to educational needs, “Universities have failed to recognize the pent-up demand for learning as the economy has diversified and society has become more complex and interconnected. As a consequence, the internet has contributed by creating a shadow education system where learners learn on their own and through social networks. MOOCs reflect society’s transition to a knowledge economy and reveal the inadequacy of existing university models to meet learner’s needs.” I’d like to take this argument further. As a field, we could do more to have greater impact on the design and development of educational technology solutions, including MOOCs. Steps to do that would include sharing our research more broadly and in different ways (e.g., publishing in open access venues and putting theory-to-practice), engaging in what Tom Reeves calls socially-responsible research that solves real problems, working across disciplines, reconsidering the ways that we understand, evaluate, and reward impact at our institutions, and so on. More on these issues, soon!


Learner experiences with open online learning and MOOCs e-book

Posted on September 24th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, online learning, open, scholarship, sharing. 23 comments

I’m excited to announce the publication of an open access e-book on learners’ experiences with open learning and MOOCs. The book consists of ten chapters by student authors and one introductory chapter by me. Part pedagogical experiment, part an exploratory investigation into learners’ experiences with emerging forms of learning, the aim of the book is to capture and share student stories of open online learning.


This publication is necessary for a number of reasons.

First, from a pedagogical perspective, whenever possible, we should be asking students to do a discipline, not just read about it. In this occasion, students were asked to do open online learning and reflect/write about their experience, instead of just reading about the field and the experience of others.

Second, in the frenzy surrounding the rise of “edtech” and MOOCs, it seems that student voices and experiences are rarely considered. This e-book is an attempt to remind designers and developers that the learning experience should be a central tenet of attempts to reform education. Let’s all remind ourselves that what we should be designing is learning experiences – not products for efficient consumption.

Third, the examination of learning experiences with open learning and MOOCs in the literature is scant. Further, recent literature tends to gravitate towards big data and analytics, and while those research endeavors are worthwhile, they tend to generate abstract descriptions of learner behaviors. A holistic understanding of learner experiences should include both investigations of patterns of how learners behave as well as in-depth qualitative descriptions of what learning in open environments is like. To illustrate, learning analytics research suggests that there are a number of ways learners typically engage with a course (e.g., completing, auditing, disengaging, sampling). Complementary to this, our book generates nuanced descriptions of some of these categories. For example, even though one of the authors would be considered as completing a MOOC he “was left with a partial sense of accomplishment and feelings of hollowness and incompleteness.”

The scholarly contributions from this book are two. They can be summarized as follows, but for in-depth descriptions, please read my full chapter, which is simultaneously published on Hybrid Pedagogy:

  • The realities of open online learning are different from the hopes of open online learning.
  • We only have small pieces of an incomplete mosaic of students’ learning experiences with open online learning.

As with the emerging technologies in distance education book that I edited in 2010 (also available as open access), please don’t hesitate to send me an email to let me know what you think about this book. I’d love your thoughts! If you are teaching a class on emerging learning environments, open education, online learning, and other related topics, and you find this book helpful as reading material, I’d love to hear about how you are using it!

P.S The book is published on Github, which means that you can effortlessly improve and expand on this work. If you want to learn more about this, Kris Shaffer, who was instrumental in making our github project happen, wrote an excellent article on Github and publishing.


Interested in a post-doc studying emerging forms of online participation?

Posted on September 12th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, my research, NPS, online learning, open, work. 19 comments

Are you interested in a post-doctoral fellowship in any of the following topics?

  • open online learning
  • emerging forms of online participation
  • digital and open scholarship
  • online social networks
  • learner, instructor, and scholar experiences in any of the above

If so, I would love to see an application from you to our call for Banting post-doctoral fellows! The call is open to Canadians and non-Canadians alike.

On the call listed above, you will see that we are seeking applicants for multiple positions. The section relevant to my interests is the following:

Working with Dr. George Veletsianos, Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Innovative Learning and Technology, the post-doc will focus on emerging technologies and innovations in online education, and in particular open education, open/digital scholarship, and social media/networks. The experiences and practices of learners, instructors, and scholars with emerging forms of online participation (e.g., MOOCs, social media) are ill-understood and ill-researched. The objective of a Banting post-doc within this research program will be to make sense of participants’ experiences and practices with open online education and social media/networks in higher education and to understand why individuals use these emerging innovations in the ways that they do. Research questions may include, but are not limited to: What is the nature of open online learning, teaching, and participation? What does the experience of open online learning/teaching and/or social network learning consist of? What is the lived experience of open scholars? How is technology changing scholarship? How do scholars perceive and construct their identity using social media/networks? How do individuals use social media/networks to cope with the expectations of their academic roles (e.g., being a doctoral student, being a newly-hired faculty member, etc)?

Take a look at the call, explore my research on these topics, and if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me. Applications are due by September 27, 2013.

Forthcoming ebook and twitter chat on MOOC and open learning experiences

Posted on September 4th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, online learning, open, scholarship. 18 comments

I’m very excited to share the news that Hybrid Pedagogy will be publishing an open access e-book that I edited on learner experiences with Open Online Learning and MOOCs.

The e-book, entitled Learner Experiences with MOOCs and Open Online Learning, is a project in which student authors describe and reflect upon their open online learning experiences. While this book aims at improving our understanding of student experiences with open online learning, it is also an attempt to give voice to learners, as current conversations around educational innovations in general, and MOOCs in particular, lack student voices.

In setting the stage for the book, Hybrid pedagogy is holding a a Twitter discussion under the hashtag #digped on Friday, September 6 from 1:00 – 2:00pm Eastern (10:00 – 11:00am Pacific). We’d love for you to join us! You can read more details about the discussion here!


Startups should talk with researchers & educators

Posted on August 19th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, my research, online learning. 16 comments

If you believe that educational technology startups can learn a thing or two from educators and education researchers in their quest to improve education, then we’d love your vote for our 2014 SXSWedu proposal.

Tanya Joosten, Amy Collier, Audrey Watters and I have proposed a panel during which we will discuss how educators/researchers can help startups improve their education technology offerings, and answer questions pertaining to education research, how people learn, and classroom practice. If we want meaningful and transformational change in how we do education, it is imperative for
entrepreneurs and educators/researchers to converse. We’ve called for this over and over. And it’s not just us four that have noticed a disconnect between what educational technologies companies do and what we know about education and learning:

In discussing the flipped classroom model Schneider, Blikstein, and Pea note that “by failing to pay attention to the research, we were applying what is possibly a good idea in the wrong way. That’s why research in education is crucially important to improve our schools. Intuitions are good, but science is better.”

Neil Selwyn notes “The current understanding of schools in the digital age [is] hampered by a curious amnesia, forgetfulness or even willful ignorance of past phases of technology development and implementation…”

Rolin Moe argues, “In education, innovators and disruptors consistently reinvent the wheel, hyping revolutionary ideas that are often unaware of existing research, replications of prior models, or proud of their ignorance of history of the field’s theory and pedagogy.”

In short, our panel will provide answers to the following questions:

1. How can educational technology startups use knowledge generated through education research to improve their products and services?
2. How can educational technology startups partner with educators, researchers, and educational institutions to improve their
3. Why have education technology innovations failed in the past, and what can startups learn from those experiences, so as to avoid making the same mistakes?

If you feel that we have something meaningful to add to the conversation about how technology, pedagogy, and emerging ideas can improve education, then we’d love your vote.

University of New Hampshire keynote talk

Posted on June 13th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, online learning, open, scholarship. 19 comments

I have just returned from the University of New Hampshire where I gave a keynote talk at the 12th annual Faculty Instructional Technology Summer Institute. My hosts (Terri, Stephanie, Marshall, Dan, Ken, Shane) organized an excellent event and were so welcoming and gracious that it was difficult to leave!


Photo courtesy of UNH Information Technology

This year’s faculty member participants represented departments that have launched or were exploring the launch of an online program. Professional development events like this one have a number of goals including helping participants understand online education, gain technological and pedagogical skills, alleviate anxiety, share, foster community, and create a sense of shared purpose.

My talk focused on exploring the opportunities, challenges, truths, myths, and realities of online education. I argued that our goal as educators and designers is to create and foster learning experiences and opportunities that are effective, fulfilling, inspiring, meaningful, caring, empowering, and democratic. Using this goal as the starting point, my fellow faculty members and I explored the online learning landscape and discussed a variety of topics that included the “no significant difference phenomenon” as it pertains to online vs. face-to-face education, competency-based models, disaggregation and unbundling, online program management services, the role of the faculty member, the quest for efficiency and automation, and openness.

I am including my presentation below. This is the first talk in which I included practical advice and simple strategies that a faculty member new to online learning may find helpful in their teaching. If you are interested in that aspect of online education make sure to explore the last few slides of my talk.

Social Media in Learning, Teaching, and Scholarship: 6 Tales of Practice

Posted on May 8th, by George Veletsianos in my research, online learning, open, scholarship. 22 comments

I had the pleasure of delivering the opening keynote to the 2013 Teaching and Learning to the Power of Technology conference on May 1st. Our hosts (Heather Ross, Jim Greer, and Brad Wuetherick) from the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Saskatchewan put together an excellent program! It was difficult to leave Saskatoon 2 days later as everyone was so gracious, kind, and eager to share his/her work! It was also great to spend time with Valerie Irvine (who did the 2nd keynote of the conference), Rick Schwier, and Alison Seaman!

My talk focused on Social Media in Education/Scholarship. I wanted to discuss a number of ideas including the rich history of the field of educational technology, the role of openness in scholarship, and the practices that open scholars engage in. Additionally, part of the talk included a call for individuals to become involved in the design of future educational systems/technologies. I highlighted my qualitative stance more strongly in this talk, essentially arguing that the world is grey (not black or white) and binary thinking is dangerous: There are multiple ways to see and read the world, there are multiple truths, and those truths can coexist at the same time.

Here is a video recording of the event. And, as always, here are my slides: