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

Category: online learning

#et4online notes, thoughts, reflections

Posted on April 15th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, my research, online learning, open, scholarship. 19 comments

I just returned from the 2013 Sloan-C Emerging Technologies for Online Learning conference in Las Vegas. What a fantastic gathering! The value of the conference to me was the numerous great conversations with new friends (Jen Ross, Christopher Brooks, Amy Collier, David Wicks) and old friends (Tanya Joosten, Laura Pasquini). And, as always, I finally met friends and colleagues who I have interacted with online for a while (Mark Lee, Rolin Moe).

* * *

Amy notes that the unconference was fantastic. She is spot on!

I’ve been trying to make sense of the conference and my experiences since I left. My friend and colleague Joel Donna (of 3ring) came to Austin to spend some time with me on Saturday-Monday and the conversations I had at the conference continued with him as well. Here’s what has been on my mind:

1. Three years ago, I used to have conversations with colleagues wherein I was desperately trying to make the case that technology-enhanced pedagogy was a powerful approach to have in our “how to improve education” toolkit. I wouldn’t  be surprised if at times I was called a technology evangelist (any of you that follow my work know that I am not). Nowadays, I am finding myself on the other end of the spectrum – cautioning colleagues about the narrative that education is broken, educational technology is the fix, and for-profit corporations are here to save the day. If Gardner Campbell was here, he would have said, “That is not what I meant at all; That is not it, at all.” What is education for? Who is it for? What does it mean to learn? If education really “is broken,” what exactly is broken? Is the funding structure broken? Are the pedagogies that we use broken? Is instructor preparation broken? Is our understanding of how people learn broken? Is the notion of academic freedom broken? What is broken?

In the world that I inhabit, “broken” refers to educational systems that employ unjust practices, disregard unequal access, promote exploitation, and embrace pedagogies of hopelessness and marginalization. Unfortunately, I suspect that the notion of “broken” that I perceive may be unlike the notion of “broken” that popular narratives embrace.

2.  I can try to convince individuals that this contemporary fable of education being broken is a story told and retold by powerful individuals/entities who have something to gain by creating alternative systems (…and just to clarify, I am not arguing that education is perfect – see above). Do we stop there? Ideally, no. What educators and researchers need to do is to become involved in the design and development of educational systems and educational technology. If we don’t, someone else will design our future for us. Do we really want that? Do we really want future educational systems designed without input from educators and researchers? I hope not. I am working on a project related to this and I hope to be able to share it with you within the next two weeks.

3. I met a a lot of colleagues at the conference that are thinking about similar issues. This makes me quite happy. And I am very glad and fortunate to be able to spend time with all of you!

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I had a great time participating in the Career Forum roundtables, giving advice to PhD students about academia and sharing my own experiences. I value this. I value having conversations with students and spending time together answering difficult questions. The question that keeps coming up here is: What is your passion? Is it teaching? Is it service? Is it a particular research method, a particular pedagogy, or worldview? How does that relate to the world at present? How can you pursue your passion? And to close the circle, unstructured time with colleagues is important and can be very productive for these types of conversations.

* * *

I was originally invited to the conference to give a plenary talk on emerging technologies. Huge thanks to David and Jen for all their help in making this a success. My presentation was recorded and I am really hoping that it will be made available online for free (hint, hint). My slides are  below, and a storify of my talk, courtesy of Laura Pasquini, is here.

Keynote at the University of New Hampshire (Faculty Instructional Technology Summer Institute)

Posted on March 27th, by George Veletsianos in my research, online learning, open, scholarship. 10 comments
Interactive Narrative by aaron13251, on Flickr
Interactive Narrative by  aaron13251  licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

The University of New Hampshire holds a Faculty Instructional Technology Summer Institute for instructors and faculty members each summer. I was invited to give the keynote presentation at this year’s institute. Unlike prior keynotes and plenaries that I will be giving that will be focusing on stories and tales, I am framing this talk in terms of a debate, in terms of the stories that are told with respect to education, and in terms of the forces that are shaping it:

Title: Online Learning Myths and Truths

We live in opportune times. We live at a time when education features prominently in the national press and discussions focusing on improving the ways we design education are a daily occurrence. Stanford President John Hennessy notes that “a tsunami” is coming – and Pearson executives are calling the impending change an “avalanche.” We are told that “education is broken” and that technology provides appropriate solutions for the perils facing education. But, what do these solutions look like? Will these be the times that capture Dewey’s and Freire’s visions of education? Will these be times of empowered students, democratic educational systems, learning webs, and affordable access to education? Or, will these be the times where efficiency, venture capital, and market values dictate what education will look like? Is technology transforming education? If so, how? During this keynote presentation, I will highlight how learning and education are (and are not) changing with the emergence of certain technologies, social behaviors, and cultural expectations. Using empirical research and evidence I will discuss myths and truths pertaining to online education and present ways that faculty members and educators can make meaningful contributions to the future educational systems that we are creating today.


MOOCs, credit, accreditation, and narratives

Posted on November 20th, by George Veletsianos in moocs, online learning, sharing. 22 comments

I’m working through my thoughts with this blog entry, as I’ve been trying to use this space to think out loud about my work and what I see happening in online education and higher ed.

A lot has been written about MOOCs and accreditation, and a lot more will be forthcoming. For example, see Terry Anderson’s post on this.

Today, I run across this quote in an article at Time Magazine:

…if Liu passes the graduate-level Harvard course she is taking for free through edX — one of the leading providers of massive open online courses, or MOOCs — she will be granted 7.5 credit hours, which her school district has agreed to accept as a form of professional development that can help her earn a higher salary. Liu might be among the first students nationwide to turn free online coursework into tangible college credit, but that number may soon grow exponentially.
Critical educators have done a good job on exposing systems of oppression and unequal distribution of power that impoverish learning experiences. I believe that such a lens is increasingly important in the work of any researcher and educator thinking about the future of education. To illustrate, the description above is not just a narrative of the success of open education. It’s also a narrative of moocs  “carving new markets” rather than innovating the way higher education functions for the masses of people that could not have attained a degree in the first place. I think that we need to keep an open mind with regards to the potential, as well as the aims and pitfalls, of such initiatives. To explore a different perspective, I suggest that you read Richard Hall’s analysis on how the profit motive is threatening higher education.
Contrast this with the TechCrunch perspective that  “the school system, as we know it, is on the verge of extinction”as “it’s inevitable that online courses will in one way or another replace schools.”  The question to ask here is not whether this prophecy will come true. We know that it won’t because universities are valued social institutions that are embedded in the culture of their times, and even though they may change, they won’t disappear. An analysis of educational technology predictions of the past also shows that hype is rarely realized (pdf). What is important to ask however is this: Who benefits from the narrative of “extinct schools?” Is it the student? The edtech startups? The investors?


Invited talk at ICEM 2012

Posted on September 23rd, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, learner experience, moocs, my research, NPS, online learning, open, scholarship. 9 comments

I am in Cyprus to meet with a number of colleagues and give an invited talk at ICEM 2012.

Talk title: What does the future of design for online learning look like? Emerging technologies, Openness, MOOCs, and Digital Scholarship

Abstract:  What will we observe if we take a long pause and examine the practice of online education today? What do emerging technologies, openness, Massive Open Online Courses, and digital scholarship tell us about the future that we are creating for learners, faculty members, and learning institutions? And what does entrepreneurial activity worldwide surrounding online education mean for the future of education and design? In this talk, I will discuss a number of emerging practices relating to online learning and online participation in a rapidly changing world and explain their implications for design practice. Emerging practices (e.g., open courses, researchers who blog, students who use social media to self-organize) can shape our teaching/learning practice and teaching/learning practice can shape these innovations. By examining, critiquing, and understanding these practices we will be able to understand potential futures for online learning and be better informed on how we can design effective and engaging online learning experiences. This talk will draw from my experiences and research on online learning, openness, and digital scholarship, and will present recent evidence detailing how researchers, learners, educators are creating, sharing, and negotiating knowledge and education online.

What education research and instructional design practice can offer to Coursera MOOCs

Posted on July 30th, by George Veletsianos in courses, engagement, moocs, my research, NPS, online learning, open, scholarship. 1 Comment

This is part of my ongoing reflection on moocs. See the rest of the entries here.

I have signed up to a number of MOOCs as a student (and led one of the #change11 weeks), and have spoken in general terms a couple of weeks ago about how education research can help improve the type of education offered through a MOOC. In this post, I will give specific suggestions, focusing on the University of Pennsylvania MOOC: Listening to World Music, offered through Coursera. I am signed up to this course, which started on June 23, and I just submitted the first assignment. I decided to post these thoughts early because of two reasons. First, the beginning of any course is an important moment in its success and I find that it takes a lot of planning and reflection. Second, MOOCS are discussed as being experiments in online education. The Atlantic even calls them “The single most important experiment in higher education.” I agree that they are experimental initiatives, and as such would benefit from ongoing evaluation and advice. Where I disagree with is the notion that they are a departure from what we know about online (and face-to-face) education. This post is intended to highlight just a couple of items that the Coursera instructional designers and learning technologists could have planned for in order to develop a more positive learning experience.

1. Length of the video lectures.

The syllabus lists the length of the video lectures (e.g., video 1 is 10:01 minutes long and video 2 is 10:45 minutes long.) However, this length is not provided on the page that students visit to watch the videos, which is where they need that information. I’ve annotated this below.


2. Opportunities for interaction.

The platform provides forums for students to interact with each other. Learners are of course instrumental and will figure out alternative, and more efficient and effective ways to communicate with each other, if they need to. For instance, in a number of other MOOCs students set up facebook groups, and I anticipate that this will happen here as well. What Coursera could do to support learners in working with each other is to integrate social media plugins within each course. I am surprised that this isn’t prominent within the course because you can see from the images below that Coursera uses social media plugins to allow students to announce participation in the course:

For instance, it appears that the course uses the #worldmusic hashtag, though it’s not integrated within the main page of the course, not does it seem to be a unique hashtag associated with the course.

3. How do you encourage students to watch the videos?

Let’s say that we added the length of each video next to its title. Now, the learner knows that they need about an hour to watch the video. Some learners (e.g., those who are intrinsically motivated by the topic) will watch them without much scaffolding. But, how do you provide encouragement for others to do so? Here’s where some social psychology insights might be helpful. By providing learners with simple descriptions of how the majority of their colleagues are behaving (i.e. appealing to social norms), then one might be able to encourage individuals to watch the videos. For example, the videos might include a dynamic subtitle that informs learners that “8 out of 10 of your peers have watched this video” or that “70% of your peers have completed the first assignment” and so on. This is the same strategy that hotels use to encourage users to reuse towels and the same strategy that Nike uses when it compares your running patterns to the running patterns of other runners, as shown in the image below:

4. Peer-grading expectations.

This course is different from others that I’ve participated in because it includes an element of peer-grading. This is exciting to me because I’m a firm believer in social learning. One minor concern however is the following: I don’t know how many peers I am supposed to evaluate. I thought I was supposed to evaluate just one, but each time I finish my evaluation, I am presented with the option to “evaluate next student.” Do I keep evaluating? How many do I need to evaluate before I can move to the next step? I don’t know. In other words, it’s always helpful to inform the learner of what s/he has to do. For instance, in my case, I just stopped evaluating peers after having evaluated 4 because I don’t know how much I am expected to do. Perhaps there’s no minimum… and this information would be helpful to me as a learner.

Overall, my experience with this course is positive, though there is a lot of room for improvement here, which is to be expected. For example, I haven’t touched much on the pedagogy of the course, but there’s a few more weeks left… so stay tuned!


Nike photo credit. Thanks to my colleague Chuck Hodges for directing my attention to the Nike example.

MOOCs can, and should, learn from past research in education

Posted on July 17th, by George Veletsianos in moocs, online learning, open, scholarship. 7 comments

This entry is part of a reflective series of posts/questions relating to online learning, MOOCs, and openness. See the first one here.

Coursera announced today that it is adding a dozen or so universities as partners. In an article in the New York Times, Sebastian Thrun notes that MOOC courses are still experimental and argues: “I think we are rushing this a little bit,” he said. “I haven’t seen a single study showing that online learning is as good as other learning.”

This perception of online education as “better than” or “as good as” other forms of education (I imagine that Sebastian Thrun is referring to face-to-face education here), is rampant. I believe it is rampant because our field has not done a good job disseminating what we know and what we don’t know about online education. At the same time, individuals do not tend to go back to the foundations of the field to investigate what others have discovered.

The result: A lack of understanding that there’s a whole field out there (here?) that has developed important insights on how we can design online education effectively. The list of references at the end of this post are merely a few of the resources one can use to get started on what we know and what we don’t know about comparison studies (i.e. studies that compare learning between delivery modes).

The point of this entry is to argue that there’s no point to reinvent the wheel. There’s no point to make the same mistakes. And above all, past research has shown that there’s no point to study whether online education is as good as (or as bad as) other forms of education because what one will discover is that:


  1. There are no significant differences in learning outcomes between face-to-face education and online education.
  2. When differences are found between the two, the differences can be attributed to (a) pedagogy, or (b) and a lack of controls in the experimental design.


It is important to point out that the effectiveness of an educational approach is influenced greatly by other variables, such as instructor support or pedagogical approach. Therefore, it is very difficult (if not impossible) to compare face-to-face and online education because when one is not a replication of the other, they are vastly different, are based on different learner-instructor interactions, and offer different affordances. While researchers have tried to minimize differences and compare face-to-face learning and online learning in experimental ways, the interventions end up being meaningless for the types of powerful online/face-to-face teaching we might envision. Comparing delivery mechanisms therefore, blinds us to the important variables that truly impact how people learn.

The important and informative questions to ask are not comparative. Rather they focus squarely on understanding online education:

  1. How can we design effective and engaging online education (e.g., MOOCs)?
  2. What is the nature of learning in a MOOC?
  3. What is the learning experience in a MOOC like?

These questions are difficult. They won’t be answered by comparing survey responses and they won’t generate one simple answer. They will however generate answers that will be different depending on context. And that’s what’s exciting about doing research on online education.


The purpose of a MOOC? Google and societal well-being

Posted on July 11th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, moocs, online learning, open. 2 comments

This entry is part of a reflective series of posts/questions relating to online learning, MOOCs, and openness.

MOOCS are everywhere nowadays. Coursera, Udacity, EdX, the connectivist MOOCs (e.g., #ds106, Change11), etc, depending on what lens one is using to examine them, are generating hope, excitement, uneasiness, and frustration. An important question that one needs to ask is: What is the purpose of a MOOC?

MOOCS have different purposes. For example, some MOOCs are built on the idea of democratizing education and enhancing societal well being. See Curt Bonk’s MOOC types, targets, and intents for additional MOOC purposes.

Other MOOCs are built on the idea of improving a specific skills. Today’s EdSurge newsletter included the following note:

GOOGLE’S FIRST MOOC comes in the form of a “Power Searching with Google” course consisting of six 50-minute classes on how to search “beyond the ten blue links.” Classes just started and at last count, over 100,000 people have already registered. Google promises to go way beyond the 101 stuff and dive into advanced features. We’re ready: we’ve been a little stumped at finding a query “to search exclusively in the Harvard University website to find pages that mention clowns.”

Let’s unpack this a bit. What is the purpose of this MOOC? This MOOC will help users make better use of google’s search capabilities. It will also help Google experiment with offering MOOC-type courses and reinforce consumer loyalty.

How does the Google MOOC fare with regards to enhancing societal well-being? Rather than offering courses to teach users how to search better, I would have rather seen Google develop online courses specifically aimed at reducing societal inequalities and enhancing well-being. I would have rather seen a course on “using our tools for speaking out against oppressive regimes” or “using our tools to facilitate the development of community in your neighborhood” or “using our tools to design and develop your own online class.”

I hope that this course is not the last that we see from Google, and that rather than focusing on teaching users a specific skill set, future courses focus on supporting the development of societal well-being.

Technology, Education, and Learning Institutions in 2025

Posted on June 18th, by George Veletsianos in courses, online learning, scholarship. 4 comments

“Technology, Education, and Learning Institutions in 2025” is a signature course that I will be teaching for the School of Undergraduate Studies at UT Austin in Fall 2012. Thus, I was excited to learn the other day that George Siemens and colleagues will be teaching an open course entitled The Current/Future State of Higher Education. While the audiences and purposes of these two course may differ, it’s exciting to know that other groups are thinking that it’s important to lead a course that asks participants to think critically about the potential futures and alternative narratives of education. Anyone can make predictions about the future of education (e.g., predictions about the demise of higher education institutions are a dime a dozen). Yet, it’s hard for newcomers to differentiate between wishful thinking, “real” change, incremental change, and potential change. Thus, a well-rounded understanding of educational systems, and the multiple purposes they serve, is important.

Signature courses at UT are interdisciplinary seminar courses for incoming students emphasizing “discussion, critical thinking, short research projects, student presentations, and writing on interdisciplinary topics of contemporary importance.” Importantly, all UT signature courses carry the Writing Flag, meaning that they must meet certain writing requirements in order to ensure that students hone in on their writing skills. To this end, students in this course will write papers describing potential and alternative educational futures and institutions. To instill a sense of commitment, responsibility, encouragement, and hope , I approached the editor of Educational Technology and asked if he was willing to work with me on dedicating a special issue on student’s informed perspectives on the future of education. While we discuss the future of education, I think it’ important to hear from students and learn from what they have to say. Since Educational Technology magazine goes to about 2,000 readers in more than 100 countries around the world, I think that this is a great way to get some of these voices in the mainstream. Our guiding prompt will be the following: If you were going to design an educational system of the future today, what would it look like? This is a question that others have asked as well (e.g., Levin, 2002)

This is how I described the course to potential students:

What will education look like in 2025? What role will technology play in future learning institutions? What will schools and universities look like? Will we invent new forms of education that reside outside of schools and universities? What is the purpose of education and how will it change in the next 10-15 years? Will we still use lectures halls? Will online education be the norm? Are we reaching a point where “anyone can learn anything from anyone else at any time?” Or, are Google, Facebook, and Twitter “infantilizing our minds,” distracting us from meaningful learning and purposeful living? Together, we will answer these questions. Just as societies, governments, and other social groups adapt and change over time, so do institutions of learning, the work that they do, and how they do that work. We live at a transient time for education, at a time where entrepreneurs, politicians, philanthropists, college professors, and university presidents are defining what education may look like in 2025. Together, we will investigate major trends influencing education, and understand how education and learning institutions are changing with the emergence of certain technologies, social behaviors, and cultural expectations.

I’ll be posting my syllabus, readings, videos, and additional learning resources here in due course.