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

Category: open

Digital Learning Environments, Networks, Communities. Your thoughts on a new course?

Posted on October 17th, by George Veletsianos in courses, Ideas, online learning, open. No Comments

At the School of Education and Technology at Royal Roads University, we are very excited to be redesigning our MA in Learning and Technology. We will share more about the program in the near future, but for now we’d love any input that you may have on one of the courses my colleague Elizabeth Childs and I are designing. The course is called Digital Learning, Environments, Networks, and Communities. The link sends you to a Google Doc that hosts a very rough first draft of the course. We would love to hear your thoughts, critiques, ideas, gaps, etc on the Google Doc. Are we missing important details/readings? Are there additional activities that we should consider? What questions do you have? How can this course be better?

Some background information on the program follows.

Context: This is the first course in a two year MA degree in Learning and Technology (33 credits). The degree is offered in two modes: fully online and blended. The online group of students and the blended group of students come together in the third course. Thereafter, they continue together and complete the rest of the degree fully online.

Program Goal:

The program is founded upon principles of networked learning, open pedagogy, personalization, relevance, and digital mindsets. Students collaborate and contribute meaningfully to digital learning networks and communities in the field. Graduates will be able to create and evaluate digital learning environments. Students will apply theoretical and practical knowledge to critically analyze learning innovations and assess their impact on organizations and society.

Program Description:

The program responds to the demand for qualified professionals in the field of technology-mediated learning and education. It addresses the need for individuals who have the knowledge, skills and ability to assume the leadership roles that are required to plan, design, develop, implement and evaluate contemporary learning initiatives. Following several foundational courses, students transition into the inquiry-focused portion of the program. Next, they create digital learning resources based on personalized learning plans and facilitate a student-designed and student-led seminar experience that requires them to draw upon the networks and community(ies) they have been contributing to and cultivating over the duration of the program.  

Educational Technology. #EdTech. A discipline?

Posted on October 16th, by George Veletsianos in Ideas, open, scholarship, sharing. No Comments

I’ve been (re) reading the numerous posts on whether educational technology is a discipline, and on whether it’s needed. In light of that, I thought I’d post a link to this book: Educational Technology: A definition with commentary.

The first paragraph from the introduction reads:

“Continuing the tradition of the 1963, 1977, and 1994 AECT projects to define the ever-changing contours of the field, the Definition and Terminology Committee completed the most recent definitional effort with the publication of Educational Technology: A Definition with Commentary in 2007. The main purpose of the 384-page book is to frame the issues confronting educational technology in the context of today’s world of education and training. What is new, and frankly, controversial, about this latest definition is its insistence that “values” are integral to the very meaning of educational technology.”

I wonder what this conversation around discipline would look like if we published our work in more open ways, described the field in more consistent ways, were more inclusive, and engaged in more advocacy.

Discreet Openness: Scholars’ Selective and Intentional Self-Disclosures Online

Posted on August 17th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, NPS, open, papers, scholarship, sharing. No Comments

What do scholars share on social media? Like the jelly jars below, some topics shared/discussed are familiar. The center jelly nn the top row? I’ve seen many of those. A scholar sharing a link to a paper? I’ve seen many of those, too. Other jellies, and scholarly activities online, are more complex and require a closer look. The bottom right jelly? I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Some scholars disclose challenging professional and personal issues on social media. That’s what Bonnie Stewart and I set out to understand in a our paper Discreet Openness: Scholars’ Selective and Intentional Self-Disclosures Online. Popular literature tends to offer conflicting advice on this topic. Scholars are encouraged to share both personal and professional aspects of their self online, but at the same time they are advised to “watch what they say.”  The empirical literature examining scholars’ online self-disclosures and the reasons for making these disclosures remains limited.


DGJ_5184 – Jelly Jars by Dennis Jarvis

Research into emergent forms of scholarship focuses on academics’ use of technology for learning, teaching, and research. Very little attention has been paid in the literature to scholars’ uses of social media to disclose challenging personal and professional issues. This article addresses the identified gap in the literature and presents a qualitative investigation into the types of disclosures that 16 scholars made online and their reasons for doing so. Results identify wide-ranging personal and professional disclosures. Participants disclosed not only about academia-related issues but also about challenges pertaining to family, mental health, physical health, identity, and relationships. Some scholars disclosed as a way to grapple with challenges they faced; others disclosed tactically, sharing information for political rather than personal reasons. Yet others disclosed as a way to welcome care in their lives. In all instances, though, disclosures were selective, intentional, and approached with foresight.

Unlike popular literature that suggests that scholars are “naive users of social media” and must exercise caution, our research shows that people might be thinking deeply about the the ways that the share aspects of their lives.

You can retrieve the paper from here:

Veletsianos, G. & Stewart, B. (2016). Scholars’ open practices: Selective and intentional self-disclosures and the reasons behind them. Social Media + Society, 2(3). doi: 10.1177/2056305116664222

Your thoughts on our Table of Contents for an upcoming book proposal?

Posted on July 22nd, by George Veletsianos in Ideas, my research, online learning, open. 10 comments

My colleague Ash Shaw and I are working on a book. The book aims to highlight student voices in online learning. The main aims are to surface the experiences of online learners in an evocative and accessible manner, synthesize literature on the topic, and present our original work. Below is our draft table of contents. If you have a couple of minutes, could you take a look at it and let us know if there are any topics/debates/issues that might be of interest to the average faculty member and student that we are missing?

Thank you!

# Topic Summary and questions answered
2 Demographics Examines who today’s online learners are and how online learners demographics have changed over time. Who are today’s online learners? How many students enroll in online courses nationally and globally? How have demographics changed over time?
3 Who succeeds? (or, The online paradox) Investigates the reasons why students who take online courses have greater degree completion rates when online courses are characterized by higher attrition rates.
4 Motivations Investigates the reasons that individuals take online courses. Shows that students take online courses for a variety of reasons, and reveals that reasons differ depending on the type of online course (e.g., some learners take MOOCs for different reasons than online courses).
5 Digital Literacies Examines the need for skills and the skills required to participate productively in online courses.
6 Note-taking Uses note-taking to illustrate that online learning research that focuses on tracking student activity on platforms alone is insufficient to understand the human condition and hence improve learning outcomes.
7 Self-directed learning Investigates self-directed learning as a process necessary for contemporary learners to develop and apply.
8 Openness Investigates the meaning of the term openness in the context of online learning.
9 Personalized learning Examines efforts to develop adaptive learning software and automate instruction (system control), and juxtaposes those efforts with designs that allow learners to personalize their own learning (learner control). Explores instructor strategies and designs to personalize learning.
10 Flexibility Examines the ways that online courses can be designed to accommodate learners’ lives and allow flexible participation. Investigates issues of modality and (a)synchrnonicity.
11 Social Media Investigates how social media are used in online courses and shows how intentional integration of such tools can lead to positive outcomes.
12 Loneliness or “The student who watched videos alone” Examines how online learning can be a lonely and isolating experience and proposes strategies for enhancing presence and immediacy.
13 Emotions Shows that learning online is an emotional experience, calling for a more caring pedagogy and critiquing the calls to employ online learning to simply make online learning offerings more efficient.
14 Lurking or “The student who learned as much by just watching videos” Investigates the topic of lurking. Highlights the visible and invisible practices that online learners engage in. Demostrates…
15 Time or “The student who stole time from his family to study” Explores the topic of time-management in online students’ lives, and investigates how courses can be designed to fit with the complexity of learner’s day-to-day realities (e.g., work and family requirements).
16 Dropout, Attrition, and Persistence Explores the topic of attrition, as online courses often face higher attrition rates than alternatives.
17 Instructor The role of the instructor in online learning environments. Investigates instructor presence, support, and explores how instructors can contribute to meaningful and effective learning experiences
18 Online vs. face-to-face learning Investigates the question as to whether face-to-face learning is better than online learning. Presents the empirical research on the question and highlights (a) how different forms of education serve different needs, and (b) how learning design is a more significant factor in determining learning outcomes than modality.
19 MOOCs or “The student who completed 200 courses: And other, less profound, online learning experiences” Explores the topic of MOOCs and summarizes the empirical research that exists on the topic. Explains the origins of the term, the different designs, and how the concept has evolved over time, with particular emphasis on students’ experiences in MOOCs.
20 The Learning Management System and Next-Generation Digital Learning Environments Investigates the idea that Learning Management Systems contribute little to student learning. Proposes the courses are “nodes in a network” as opposed to hermetic containers of knowledge. Shows how course design differs between these two ideas.
21 Challenges and remediation strategies Investigates the challenges that online learners face and the strategies employed by themselves and others to remediate them.

New Open Access Book! Emergence and Innovation in Digital Learning

Posted on June 6th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, my research, online learning, open, sharing. No Comments

emergencecoverAthabasca University Press has just published Emergence and Innovation in Digital Learning, a book I edited that owes its existence to the insightful authors who contributed their chapters on the topic. Like other titles published by AU Press, the book is open access.

Emerging technologies (e.g., social media, serious games, adaptive software) and emerging practices (e.g., openness, user modeling) in particular, have been heralded as providing opportunities to transform education, learning, and teaching. In such conversations it is often suggested that new ideas – whether technologies or practices – will address educational problems (e.g., open textbooks may make college more affordable) or provide opportunities to rethink the ways that education is organized and enacted (e.g., the collection and analysis of big data may enable designers to develop algorithms that provide early and critical feedback to at-risk students). Yet, our understanding of emerging technologies and emerging practices is elusive. In this book, we amalgamate work associated with emergence in digital education to conceptualize, design, critique, enhance, and better understand education.

If you’ve ben following the conversations in the last two years, there will be some themes that you’ll recognize here. To mention a few: defining emerging technologies; not-yetness; data mining; technology integration models; open and social learning; and sociocultural aspects of MOOCs.

In the days that follow, I will summarize each chapter here.

Listening to learners to improve access, equity, their experiences, and education overall

Posted on April 29th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, learner experience, moocs, my research, online learning, open. No Comments

Over the last year or so, we’ve interviewed more than 200 individuals who have participated in a number of open courses. We are working on a project in which we are using learner narratives and vignettes from these interviews to help administrators, faculty, researchers, and learning designers understand learners and improve their learning experience. Though there are many ways that are used to understand learners (e.g., dashboards) we believe that in-depth vignettes of typical experiences may allow for greater sensitivity of the learners’ lifeworld and realities. We will be using these stories to problematize various aspects of digital learning. Each story will be followed by a longer analysis of the issues raised in the story. For now, below is one such (DRAFT!) story. What do you think? Is there anything else that you’d like to see in this narrative? Is it interesting? If you are an administrator, faculty, researcher, or learning designer, does this story add anything valuable?


Title: Why not?

Theme:  Open learning opportunities are oftentimes costless and relatively risk-free.

Mary and her demanding Pomeranian, Kylie, live deep in the heart of Texas. “I have a passion for the law!” the thirty-year-old exclaimed when we called her on her landline. She had seriously considered going to law school and had even passed her LSATS, the law school entrance exams used for US Universities. But having just finished four intense years of a bachelor’s degree, she decided to wait a bit. “Law school just didn’t seem like a good choice at the time,” she reflected. Five years later, Mary has settled into her work as a business consultant. Her interest in the law is still keen, and she’s never completely given up the dream of law school, but it’s been tempered with a bit of realism. “I don’t know if I can afford to spend another three years in the classroom,” she confided to us, “I don’t know if I still have the same passion for the legal industry as I did five years ago.”

During an afternoon enjoying frozen mango margaritas with a friend, trying to cope with the scorching sun, Mary learned about MOOCs. Shortly thereafter, she signed up for a number of courses, dabbling in some and promptly forgetting about others. One day, ContractsX, a course on contract law taught by a Harvard professor, popped up on her screen and she decided to “give it a shot”. What had she got to lose? “It’s a free class, taught at one of the more well-respected institutions. Why not?!” she laughed.

The course was flexible and fit into her busy life. On Saturday mornings she would sit in her office, with Kylie by her side and a warm cup of dark roast coffee in her hand, and use her trusted iPad to watch Harvard Law lectures. These weren’t just any lectures. Professor Fried was a masterful storyteller, a king of his trade. It was through these short, interesting, and memorable stories that Professor Fried taught concepts relating to contract law. “I can’t believe that I’m sitting here, I’m learning this material from Harvard law!” The fast pace and cramped content made the course challenging, Mary acknowledged, and she didn’t always do as well as she would have liked on the course tests. But, as she was able to go back to review the answers and re-watch the videos, this didn’t stress her too much, and she ended up passing the course with flying colours. Proud of her certificate of accomplishment, Mary enthused, “It makes me want to keep coming back for more!”

Even though it was a personal interest in the law that led her to sign up for this course, Mary has found what she learned in ContractsX helpful when she has to deal with contracts in her own job. She has enthusiastically recommended the course to co-workers and friends. She’s currently taking a number of other open courses and is anxiously awaiting the second version of the Contracts course. While Mary’s dream of attending law school, may not have changed, her confidence in herself has: “I never thought of applying to Harvard. There was no way I would be getting in. But then, five years later, I’m taking a course from Harvard. I wouldn’t say that I’m a Harvard law student, but at least now I could sit across from a Harvard law student and have a clear conversation with them. It’s very rewarding to know that.”


Education Scholars’ Evolving Uses of Twitter as a Conference Backchannel and Social Commentary Platform

Posted on April 25th, by George Veletsianos in my research, networked scholars, NPS, open, papers, scholarship. No Comments

The scholarly community faces a lack of large-scale research examining how students and professors use social media in authentic contexts and how such use changes over time. Continuing our investigation into how professors and students use social media, Royce Kimmons and I just published a paper in which we used data mining methods to better understand academic Twitter use during, around, and between the 2014 and 2015 American Educational Research Association annual conferences both as a conference backchannel and as a general means of participating online. The first paper we published using similar methods, data, and comparing students and professors’ social media use is here. All of our research on networked scholarship and students’ and faculty members’ use of social media is gathered here.

Descriptive and inferential analysis is used to explore Twitter use for 1,421 academics and the more than 360,000 tweets they posted. Results demonstrate the complicated participation patterns of how Twitter is used “on the ground.” In particular, we show that:

  • tweets during conferences differed significantly from tweets outside conferences
  • students and professors used the conference backchannel somewhat equally, but students used some hashtags more frequently, while professors used other hashtags more frequently
  • academics comprised the minority of participants in these backchannels, but participated at a much higher rate than their non-academic counterparts
  • the number of participants in the backchannel increased between 2014 and 2015, but only a small number of authors were present during both years, and the number of tweets declined from year to year.
  • various hashtags were used throughout the time period during which this study occurred, and some were ongoing (ie, those which tended to be stable across weeks) while others were event-based (ie, those which spiked in a particular week)
  • professors used event-based hashtags more often than students and students used ongoing hashtags more often than professors
  • ongoing hashtags tended to exhibit positive sentiment, while event-based hashtags tended to exhibit more ambiguous or conflicting sentiments

These findings suggest that professors and students exhibit similarities and differences in how they use Twitter and backchannels and indicate the need for further research to better understand the ways that social technologies and online networks are integrated in scholars’ lives.

Here’s the full citation and paper:

Kimmons, R. & Veletsianos, G. (2016). Education Scholars’ Evolving Uses of Twitter as a Conference Backchannel and Social Commentary Platform. British Journal of Educational Technology, 47(3), 445—464.

Compassion, Kindness, and Care in Digital Learning Contexts

Posted on April 5th, by George Veletsianos in Ideas, learner experience, open, scholarship, sharing. 5 comments

Bear with me. This work-in-progress is a bit raw. I’d love any feedback that you might have.

Back in 2008, my colleagues and I wrote a short paper arguing that social justice is a core element of good instructional design. Good designs were, and still are, predominantly judged upon their effectiveness, efficiency, and engagement (e3 instruction). Critical and anti-opressive educators and theorists have laid the foundations of extending educational practice beyond effectiveness a long time ago.

I’m not convinced that edtech, learning design, instructional design, digital learning, or any other label that one wants to apply to the “practice of improving digital teaching and learning” is there yet.

I’ve been thinking more and more about compassion with respect to digital learning. More specifically, I’ve been reflecting on the following question:

What does compassion look like in digital learning contexts?

I’m blogging about this now, because my paper journal is limiting and there is an increasing recognition within various circles in the field that are coalescing around similar themes. For instance,

  • The CFP for Learning with MOOCs III asks: What does it mean to be human in the digital age?
  • Our research questions reductionist agendas embedded in some approaches to evaluating and enhancing learning online. Similar arguments are made by Jen Ross, Amy Collier, and Jon Becker.
  • Kate Bowles says “we have a capacity to listen to each other, and to honour what is particular in the experience of another person.”
  • Lumen Learning’s personalized pathways recognize learner agency (as opposed to dominant personalization paradigms that focus on system control)

Compassion is one commonality that these initiatives, calls to action, and observations have in common (and, empowerment, but that’s a different post).

This is not a call for teaching compassion or empathy to the learner. That’s a different topic. I’m more concerned here with how to embed compassion in our practice – in our teaching, in our learning design processes, the technologies that we create, in the research methods that we use. At this point I have a lot of questions and some answers. Some of my questions are:

  • What does compassionate digital pedagogy look like?
    • What are the theories of learning that underpin compassionate practice?
    • What does a pedagogy of care look like? [Noddings’s work is seminal here. Some thoughts from a talk I gave. thoughts from Lee Skallerup Bessette and a paper describing how caring is experienced in online learning contexts.]
  • What are the purported and actual relationships between compassion and various innovations such as flexible learning environments, competency-based learning, and open education?
    • What are the narratives surrounding innovations [The work of Neil Selwyn, Audrey Watters, and David Noble is helpful here]
  • What does compassionate technology look like?
    • Can technologies express empathy and sympathy? Do students perceive technologies expressing empathy? [Relevant to this: research on pedagogical agents, chatbots, and affective computing]
    • What does compassion look like in the design of algorithms for new technologies?
  • What does compassionate learning design look like?
    • Does a commitment to anti-oppressive education lead to compassionate design?
    • Are there any learning design models that explicitly account for compassion and care? Is that perhaps implicit in the general aim to improve learning & teaching?
    • In what ways is compassion embedded in design thinking?
  • What do compassionate digital learning research methods look like?
    • What are their aims and goals?
    • Does this question even make sense? Does this question have to do with the paradigm or does it have to do with the perspective employed in the research? Arguing that research methods informed by critical theory are compassionate is easy. Can positivist research methods be compassionate? Researchers may have compassionate goals and use positivist approaches (e.g., “I want to evaluate the efficacy of testing regimes because I believe that they might be harmful to students”).
  • What does compassionate digital learning advocacy look like?
    • Advocating for widespread adoption of tools/practices/etc without addressing social, political, economic, and cultural contexts is potentially harmful (e.g., Social media might be beneficial but advocating for everyone to use social media ignores the fact that certain populations may face more risks when doing so)

There’s many other topics here (e.g., adjunctification, pedagogies of hope, public scholarship, commercialization….) but there’s more than enough in this post alone!