I have a new paper out that sought to identify and describe faculty members’ open and sharing practices at one North American institution. Part of the goal was to juxtapose open practices and sharing practices. The paper highlights individual and environmental influences on open and sharing practices. The paper also suggests that defaults (e.g., the default youtube license) may be exerting pressures on the ways that scholars share their teaching, research, and scholarship. In other words, one way to instigate further change in this domain might be to rethink the default options.
Although the open scholarship movement has successfully captured the attention and interest of higher education stakeholders, researchers currently lack an understanding of the degree to which open scholarship is enacted in institutions that lack institutional support for openness. I help fill this gap in the literature by presenting a descriptive case study that illustrates the variety of open and sharing practices enacted by faculty members at a North American university.
Open and sharing practices enacted at this institution revolve around publishing manuscripts in open ways, participating on social media, creating and using open educational resources, and engaging with open teaching. This examination finds that certain open practices are favored over others. Results also show that even though faculty members often share scholarly materials online for free, they frequently do so without associated open licenses (i.e. without engaging in open practices). These findings suggest that individual motivators may significantly affect the practice of openness, but that environmental factors (e.g., institutional contexts) and technological elements (e.g., YouTube’s default settings) may also shape open practices in unanticipated ways.
The paper, open access and all, is here in pdf, or directly from the source: Veletsianos, G. (2015). A case study of scholars’ open and sharing practices. Open Praxis, 7(3), 199-209. http://openpraxis.org/index.php/OpenPraxis/article/view/206/168
The op-ed below first appeared on Inside Higher Ed. This is a first glimpse of a partnership with HarvardX intended to examine learners’ experiences in open courses.
The Invisible Learners Taking MOOCs
“Anyone, anywhere, at any point in time will be able to take advantage of high quality education.”
That could be a tagline from just about any enthusiast or provider of open online courses (often called MOOCs). The intention certainly seems laudable and, if not transformational, at least desirable.
What are the caveats?
Recent research suggests that the majority of people enrolled in these open online courses are highly educated. As far as US participants are concerned, a large percentage also live in high-income neighborhoods.
And yet, despite the extensive research and data on open online courses, we really do not know much about these millions of learners engaged in everything from courses on computer science to poetry to physiotherapy to gender studies to bioinformatics.
In fact, apart from a few anecdotes of extraordinary individuals who overcome insurmountable struggles to succeed (e.g., the exceptional Nigerian man who completed 250 courses) or abstract descriptions of learners and their activity (e.g., “less than 10% complete courses,” “auditors,” or “latecomers”) these learners might as well be invisible.
And thus, my fellow researchers and I are asking more questions. We want to better understand open courses and their learners (and their successes and their failures). How do these people experience open courses? Why they do they things that they do in these courses?
We are currently in the midst of conducting the largest series of interview studies in open courses, and we have just released our first study. Our research is motivated by the fact that very few commentators and researchers to date have paused to talk to learners and to listen to them describe their experiences and activities.
In fact, what researchers know about MOOCs is largely the result of analyzing the data trails that learners leave behind as they navigate digital learning environments.
So far we have interviewed more than 70 individuals who have completed a range of MOOCs. Three of our initial findings question the initial excitement that surrounded MOOCs and contradict the initial hope that these types of courses can help anyone, anywhere, at any point in time to succeed.
Successful online learners have sophisticated study skills. For example, nearly every individual that we have interviewed described his or her notetaking strategies. Learners described how they combine notes across multiple courses and how they arrange notes in order to use them in their exams or future studies.
Learners also described an array of strategies to deal with unfamiliar content, such as using resources external to MOOCs to clarify their understanding of what they learned.
Bjorn, one of the learners we interviewed, reported watching all lecture videos twice. He said: “I read an article about how priming really helps the mind cement content.” And then he applied that insight to his studies: “Instead of watching the videos and taking notes and pausing constantly,” he “watched the video in fast speed first, just really concentrating on the content, and then afterwards, watched it through while taking notes.” This strategy was aimed at improving the processing of new information and demonstrates the sophistication with which some learners approach studying.
Such complex approaches to studying are neither innate nor universal, and throw a cast of doubt over the claim that “anyone” can equally participate in and benefit from these courses.
Flexibility and a flexible life are often essential for engaged participation. A significant proportion of the learners we interviewed either live flexible lives that enable them to participate or appear to be exceptional in their abilities to create time to participate in these courses.
Individuals that live flexible lives are often retirees who frequently tell us that they have time available to explore topics that interest them. Numerous others shared with us that they create time to participate.
For example, a British engineer goes to work an hour earlier every morning in order to work on MOOCs, and an American mother watches MOOC videos when she is not busy caring for her newborn.
Personal and professional circumstances structure the ways that people participate in MOOCs. And here is the conundrum: While online learning experiences can generally be more flexible than face-to-face ones, time is a limited resource, and the individuals who have the privilege of time and flexibility are not necessarily the ones that the quest for the democratization of education via MOOCs aspired to serve.
Online learning is an emotional experience. Somewhere between enrollment numbers, statistics describing completion rates, and the fascination with big data, we forgot that learning experiences are deeply emotional.
Anxiety, appreciation, embarrassment, and pleasure are some of the emotions that learners used to describe their experience in these courses to us.
One of our interviewees, Maria, lives in Greece and works for the public sector. She was “pleasantly surprised” with her experience, especially because she “never thought [she] would be able to study the subject.” She continued: “The most important thing for me is that I can actually learn about the things I have wanted to learn about ever since I was a child. It’s really a dream come true. I will never be able to use it for work or I will never be able to change my profession under the circumstances right now – but I really like and I really want to learn about astronomy and cosmology just for the – just for the joy of it. And that’s why I am going to keep on taking classes.”
Understanding why learners had these emotions is significant in improving digital learning initiatives. More importantly, innovation that lacks care and appreciation for the human condition is not an aspirational strategy to get behind for a bright future.
Our research is providing a better understanding of open online learning and the learners that participate in such endeavors. We are finding that the democratization of education and knowledge are noble goals, but free access to content can only go so far in eliminating societal and global inequities.
What’s the value of a course that features high completion rates but perpetuates gender stereotypes?
What’s the value of a course that is freely available but cannot be accessed by people in remote areas of East Texas or remote areas of British Columbia because of language or technological barriers?
Alternatively, isn’t a course that helps people explore their passions desirable, even if only a small minority participate for the duration of it?
We’ve interviewed learners in Australia, Canada, El Salvador, France, Greece, India, Ireland, the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These individuals are not mere statistics to which phrases like “any” “always” and “anywhere” can apply.
Ultimately, our research calls into question whether open courses, in their current form, are the democratizing forces they are sometimes depicted to be—and even whether “educating a billion” with MOOCs is a laudable goal.
By getting to know these invisible learners, we think we can build a better foundation for online learning, the design of digital learning experiences, and the use of technology in education. It is already clear from our initial interviews that in order to create more egalitarian structures for education, we need to start peeling away the multitude of barriers that prevent the most vulnerable populations from participating. And that’s a good goal for all of us who care about learning, teaching, and education.
Acknowledgements: Numerous colleagues, research associates, and students contributed to the research reported here, including: Amy Collier (Stanford), Emily Schneider (Stanford), Peter Shepherdson (University of Zurich), Laura Pasquini (Royal Roads University), and Rich McCue (University of Victoria & Royal Roads University). Special thanks to Justin Reich and Rebecca Petersen (Harvard University) and the rest of the HarvardX research team.
I am editing, revising, and re-writing various parts of my book, Networked Scholars. I still like the name, but I mentioned the other day on Twitter that I should rename the book to “Yes, but…” because of the complexities and intricacies inherent in the use of social media for scholarship (as in “yes scholars network, but privilige permeates networks”). Or because I now know that trying to synthesize research my colleagues and I did over the last 6 years isn’t an easy feat (as in “Yes, I’ll write this book, but I am looking forward to turning my attention to other activities”).
Today I was writing about crowdsourcing and networks as places of knowledge sharing, creation, and dissemination. Here’s a relevant piece:
While Tufecki (2014) convincingly argues that practices may differ from one social media platform to another, and big data analyses focusing on one platform may not transfer to others, one common element in the use of social media for knowledge production and dissemination is the concept of crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing refers to the process of gathering contributions from large groups of individuals in order to solve a common problem or tackle a challenge. Though readers may be familiar with modern crowdsourcing examples that are mediated by technology (e.g., wikipedia as a content crowdsourcing platform), the practice has long existed before the rise of social media. For instance, the design of the Sydney Opera House was crowdsourced. It was based on a 1955 international design competition that received 233 entries. Crowdsourcing content and ideas characterizes social media use, and scholars have capitalized on this practice to gather readings for their syllabi, activities for their courses, resources for their research, and other input – including effort – intended to solve scholarly problems.[Not included in the book: A fun but could-have-held-my-iphone-more-horizontally picture of the lovely Sydney opera house I took a while back]
Update (May 13): As a result of your amazing response to this invitation, we are not currently seeking to interview any more people. We are deeply humbled by everyone’s desire to contribute and will be sharing our results in due course. Thank you!
We are inviting PhD students/candidates and academics to participate in a research study that we are conducting entitled “Academics’ use of social media: care and vulnerability.”
While the research community has studied the use of social media for teaching/research, we don’t know much about how social media are used by academics to share the challenges they face, express their vulnerabilities, and experience care online.
If you have disclosed a professional challenge that you have faced on social media (e.g. blogged eponymously or anonymously about: being denied tenure, a dissertation committee conflict, or underemployment or adjunct challenges), we invite you to participate in this study.
If you know of any colleagues who have disclosed such challenges on social media, please feel free to share this call with them.
We believe that these experiences are significant to share and discuss and we would love the opportunity to interview you to learn and write about your experiences.
If you are interested in participating in this study, please visit the following page to read the consent form that provides more details about this project: http://survey.royalroads.ca/index.php?sid=44151
We understand that this topic is very personal and discussing it with us may be difficult. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this study, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We would love to talk to you more about it.
George & Bonnie
Dr. George Veletsianos
Canada Research Chair and Associate Professor
Royal Roads University
Dr. Bonnie Stewart
Royal Roads University/University of Prince Edward Island
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.
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:
* 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.
I joined Audrey Watters, Philipp Schmidt, Stephen Downes, and Jeremy Friedberg in Toronto last week, to give a talk at Digital Learning Reimagined, an event hosted and organized by Ryerson University’s Chang School. I presented some of our latest research, and tried to highlight research findings and big ideas in 15 minutes. Below are my slides and a draft of my talk.
Welcome everyone! It’s a pleasure and an honor to be here. Even though I’m the person giving this talk, I’d like to acknowledge my collaborators. A lot of the work that I am going to present is collaborative and it wouldn’t have been possible without such amazing colleagues. These are: Royce Kimmons from the University of Idaho, Amy Collier and Emily Schneider from Stanford University, and Peter Shepherdson from the University of Zurich. The Canada Research Chairs program, the National Science Foundation and Royal Roads University have funded this work.
I want to start my talk by telling a story.
This castle that you see here is one of the most recognizable parts of Royal Roads University (RRU). But, don’t let the castle fool you. RRU was created in 1985. It’s purpose was to serve the needs of a changing society by serving working professionals through graduate digital education and multidisciplinary degrees. It has grown since 1985. It has matured, developed a social learning model that is now infused in all courses, developed new areas of focus, forged global partnerships, and continues to explore how to improve what it does through pedagogical and technological approaches.
Why am I sharing this short story about RRU?
Because this story, minus the specific details, is a common story. It’s also a Ryerson story, a story that is played out at the University of Southern New Hampshire, a story that Open Universities around that world have gone through. It is a story that repeats itself over and over for years and years.
What is the essence of the story?
It is often assumed that universities have been static, unchanging since the dawn of time. The short story I shared illustrates that universities are, and have always been, part of the society that houses them, and as societies change, universities change to reflect those societies. The economic, sociocultural, and technological pressures that universities are facing are sizable, and for better or for worse, usually for both, there’s a continuous re-imagination of education throughout time. Throughout time. Universities have always been changing.
As universities are changing and exploring different ways to offer education, faculty, researchers, and administrators engage in a number of practices that I like to describe as emerging. Emerging practices & emerging technologies are those that are not necessarily new, not yet fully researched, but appear promising.
Online learning and openness are example of emerging practices.
Online learning has a long history. But it also has a new history, with the development of multimedia platforms, media that can be embedded across platforms, syndication technologies that enable learners to use their own platforms for learning and so on. So, even though some of the problems that online learners are facing in contenmporary situations are not new (eg dropout), learners abilities’ to congregate in online communities is expanded through newer technologies and that poses different sorts of challenges and opportunities.
Another emerging practice is openness. Openness refers to liberal policies for the use, re-use, adaptation, and redistribution of content. Openness is also a value: It refers to adopting an ethos of transparency with regards to access to information. And this ethos ranges from academics publishing their work in open formats, to teaching open courses, to creating open textbooks. And it doesn’t stop at individual academics or institutions. In 2014 the Premiers of Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan signed a Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate creation, sharing, and use of Open Educational Resources. In the same year, SSHRC, NSERC, and CIHR have drafted a tri-agency open access policy to improve access to and dissemination of research results (NSERC, 2014);
There is a growing interest in and exploration of online learning and openness, practices which are still emerging. Next, I will share four recent results from our research into these practices that I believe are interesting to consider because they reveal the tensions that exist when dealing with emerging topics.
First, research into online learning is becoming more interdisciplinary
Interdisciplinary research into online learning means that individuals from a diverse range of disciplines, not just education, are interested in making sense of online learning. It is hoped that more research into online learning and more research from multidisciplinary groups will help us learn more about online learning and about learning in general.
We have evidence to show that research into online learning is becoming more interdisciplinary. I won’t bore you with the statistics, but we measure diversity in published research using a nifty measure and found that the period 2013-2014 can be described as more interdisciplinary than the period 2008-2012.
This is a positive trend, but before I explain its significance, let me explain to you how I view technology.
My perspective on online learning centers around the idea that technology is socially shaped . That means that technology always embeds its developers’ worldviews, beliefs, and assumptions into its design and the activities it supports and encourages.
What does this mean for interdisciplinarity? This means that we have both an opportunity and a challenge.
Our opportunity: to use our respective expertise to improve education.
Our challenge: to actually do interdisciplinary thinking and to go into the study and design of future educational systems with an open mind and the realization that our own personal experiences of education may not be generalizable. A lot of educational technology is produced by people of privilege and to develop educational technology that matters and makes societal difference, we need diversity in thinking and experience.
Our second finding refers to the increasing desire to collect, mine, and analyze data trails to make inferences about human behavior and learning. This practice is often referred to as learning analytics and educational data mining. This practice is a reflection of a larger societal trend toward big data analytics. The idea is that by looking at what people do online one can understand how to improve education.
A couple of things that researchers discovered for example are:
Data trails. Nearly everything that learners do online is tracked. Can we understand learners and improve learning by analyzing their data trails?
While these approaches can help us explain what people do, they often don’t tell us why they do they things they do nor how they actually experience online education.
My colleagues and I are interviewing MOOC students to learn about their experiences in MOOCs.
I am now going to tell you about our third result. We find that learners schedule their learning, use of resources, and participation to fit their daily life. This is in stark contrast to the idea of undergraduate education situated at a university and happening at particular time periods.
One retired individual in Panama that we interviewed works on his class early in the morning every day. Why does he do that? He does that because at that time his daughter is asleep. She is homeschooled and once she wakes up she needs access to the 1 computer that they have in the household to do her own schoolwork. In this case a lack of resources necessitates this scheduling.
One individual that we interviewed moved from the UK to the USA to be with her partner. She is currently waiting for her work permit, driver’s license, and so on, and she was enrolled in multiple MOOCs at the same time. She would work on her courses on Monday because she just “wanted them out of the way,” and so she would work on these courses straight throughout the day.
The fourth and final finding that I have for you today, is that MOOC platforms to date have not offered learners the ability to keep notes, so that particular activity, by virtue of being unsupported by the platform goes undetected when researchers only look at data trails.
Unsurprisingly, learners keep notes. A number of students that we talked to described that they keep notes on paper, frequently keeping a notebook for particular courses and returning to them during exams or during times that they needed them. Learners of course also keep notes in digital format. Usually in word documents, but again documents are dedicated to particular courses, but sometimes they are dedicated to particular topics across courses.
To give you an example, of how we believe this activity could be supported in the future and how we believe innovations can contribute to learning, we recommend designers support this practice by pedagogical innovations such as scaffolding notetaking, but also by technological innovations, by developing online systems for notetaking. What is important here is that such systems should support learning by being interoperable, by allow learners full and unrestricted access to their notes, supporting them to be able to import & export their notes between platforms. Such a design is in line with emerging ideas in the field which call for learners to own their data.
Thank you for being a great audience. I am really excited to hear the speakers that follow me, as I am sure you are!
A visualization of my talk, created by Giulia Forsythe
Wherever you turn nowadays, there’s a push for openness: Institutional policies, state policies, provincial policies, and VC funds are encouraging and supporting open practices. Little has been written however about the use and adoption of open practices at any particular institution, and even less has been written about the adoption of open practices by academics at institutions that have no stated open policies.
In my latest research study, I am examining whether faculty members perform open practices at an institution that lacks open policies. This case study describes describes the range of open practices identified as being employed by faculty at this university, and shows that even though no institutional mandate exists to support openness, educators and researchers have employed a wide variety of open practices to support their work. The study suggests that institutions should do more to support innovative faculty as changemakers in the higher education landscape.