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

Category: papers

Online Social Networks as Formal Learning Environments

Posted on February 5th, by George Veletsianos in my research, NPS, online learning, papers, scholarship. 7 comments

I’m always excited to participate in dialogue regarding my work. In this post, I will respond to a couple of questions/comments posed to me as a result of a recent paper I published in IRRODL with Cesar Navarrete, who is a doctoral student at the Learning Technologies program at UT Austin.

The paper is: Veletsianos, G. & Navarrete, C. (2012). Online Social Networks as Formal Learning Environments: Learner Experiences and Activities. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 13(1), 144-166. [PDF]

In this paper we try to make sense of student experiences and practices in an online social network using within an online course. The abstract reads: While the potential of social networking sites to contribute to educational endeavors is highlighted by researchers and practitioners alike, empirical evidence on the use of such sites for formal online learning is scant. To fill this gap in the literature, we present a case study of learners’ perspectives and experiences in an online course taught using the Elgg online social network. Findings from this study indicate that learners enjoyed and appreciated both the social learning experience afforded by the online social network and supported one another in their learning, enhancing their own and other students’ experiences. Conversely, results also indicate that students limited their participation to course-related and graded activities, exhibiting little use of social networking and sharing. Additionally, learners needed support in managing the expanded amount of information available to them and devised strategies and “workarounds” to manage their time and participation.

The first question/comment is from Jenny Mackness who says: “I was surprised by the finding ‘students did not appear to mix social and educational participation’. In my experience, students have always mixed social and educational participation, e.g. in the coffee bar – or in my own work, wiki discussions will sometimes veer off into more personal, social discussions. Do you think your students did not mix social and educational participation in your Elgg environment because of the constraints of tutor presence/control, assessment and so on. I’m wondering where else they might have mixed social and educational participation. Did you ask them whether there were any ‘back channels’?”

Thanks for the question, Jenny! I agree with you that students tend to mix social and educational participation. We did not observe this on occurring in this study though. I believe both of these tendencies can be true, and sometimes even co-exist. One or two students sought social, non-educational interactions, but their attempts were not reciprocated. The majority of them just didn’t mix the two. Following up from this, it is interesting to ask why. We did not ask students about it but I can say that (a) just because we didn’t see it on the social network, it doesn’t mean that it did not happen (i.e., it might have happened on email), and (b) a lot of reasons might explain why: the fast pacing of the course might have been a factor; students might have been focusing on completing the course and its requirements; or students might not have felt that Elgg was the appropriate place for them to do that. It’s highly likely that it’s a combination of all of these. What’s important, I believe, is the implication that just because students are on an online social network, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they will engage with each other in the types of social interactions that we see occurring elsewhere (e.g., twitter, facebook, etc).

The second comment is from Stephen Downes who says: “We haven’t heard a lot about Elgg recently but it remains an important model for online learning. One weakness of the case study is that it takes place in a traditional institution.” Results also indicate that students limited their participation to course-related and graded activities, exhibiting little use of social networking and sharing.” Then again, this might just be a feature of the (very) small group studied. I think the discussion of Elgg is valuable, but would place the case study as just one out of (we would hope) many data points.”

Again, thank you, Stephen, for the comment! I may be misunderstanding part of the comment, but I wouldn’t say that the fact that this study took place at a traditional institution is a “weakness.” That was actually part of the reason why we did the study, as the majority of the work that we have seen focuses on the use of these technologies outside of the institution, and individuals tend to think that findings will easily transfer to institutional settings. If you mean that the results were influenced by the fact that the course occurred in a traditional institution or that the institutional setting influenced how the technology was used, you are absolutely correct, and that’s an implication of the study. Finally, I agree with you in that this is just one case study of the use of Elgg and online social networks in an institutional setting. A collection of case studies can help us make sense of this phenomenon, and these are slowly appearing (e.g., in our paper we cite Arnold & Paulus (2010), Brady et al. (2010), Dron & Anderson (2009b)).

What do scholars do on Twitter?

Posted on October 24th, by George Veletsianos in my research, NPS, online learning, open, papers, scholarship. 7 comments

I have just had an article published with the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, entitled Higher education scholars’ participation and practices on Twitter. The paper focuses on a qualitative analysis of 45 scholars’ (anonymized and edited) tweets to acquire a deep meaning of practice, and is part of my research into Networked Participatory Scholarship. Those of you interested in how faculty members use social media, the relationship between social media and identity, digital scholarship, scholarly use of online networks, and the rise of the digital scholar, may find this worthwhile.

Citation and link to pdf: Veletsianos, G. (2012). Higher Education Scholars’ Participation and Practices on Twitter. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 28(4), 336-349.

Twitter bird logo icon illustrationIf you have been participating on Twitter for a while, some of the findings won’t be surprising, but the paper can serve as a starting point for deeper conversations on the why and how social media is used by scholars, academics, and faculty members. Nonetheless, interesting implications to point out include the following:

“Even though social networking technologies in general were developed for purposes unrelated to education, they have been co-opted and repurposed by scholars, in part, to satisfy educational and scholarly pursuits.”

“Is Twitter fostering more social opportunities and community-oriented approaches to education and scholarly participation? Or, do the individuals who espouse these kinds of beliefs happen to make use of Twitter for scholarly pursuits?”

“Are scholars altruistically sharing information for the benefit of the community in which they belong? Or, is information sharing a self-serving activity? Are scholars sharing information in order to assist the profession grow intellectually, or are they attempting to develop a ‘brand’ around themselves?”

“Twitter is often dismissed as a platform of meaningless soliloquies and dull updates…Rather than representing meaningless chatter, [Twitter] updates may introduce opportunities to explore shared interests, experiences, goals, mindsets, and life dispositions/aspirations.”

The themes relating to participation and practices highlighted in the paper are the following: Scholars participating on Twitter (1) shared information, resources, and media relating to their professional practice; (2) shared information about their classroom and their students; (3) requested assistance from and offered suggestions to others; (4) engaged in social commentary; (5) engaged in digital identity and impression management; (6) sought to network and make connections with others; and (7) highlighted their participation in online networks other than Twitter.

Enjoy, and if you have any input, I would love to hear it!

Destination: Cyprus. Purpose: STELLAR Fellowship

Posted on July 7th, by George Veletsianos in NPS, online learning, open, papers, scholarship. 2 comments

I timed this entry to appear while I am flying across the Atlantic Ocean en route to Europe. During the next month or so, I will be in Cyprus under a STELLAR Mobility Fellowship. STELLAR (Sustaining Technology Enhanced Learning at a LARge scale) is a European Union initiative to foster Technology Enhanced Learning dialogue and collaboration between the young generation of researchers and experienced researchers. While I’ve worked with colleagues from Cyprus in the past, I haven’t had a chance to spend dedicated time working there, so this will be a good chance to explore and learn with others.

My STELLAR project focuses on educators’ and researchers’ participation in online networks. I will be analyzing a large data set relating to online participation and I will be working towards completing a set of manuscripts dealing with online practices, challenges, and activities, in an attempt to understand the meaning of online participation for the today’s “public” educator, scholar, and researcher. Anecdotal evidence suggests that scholars’ absence from online networks can be detrimental to teaching and scholarship, but empirical evidence as to educators’/researchers’ online practices is missing. This research is closely aligned to ideas of openness (open participation, open scholarship) and digital scholarship.

I hope to be able to post more about the project (and these topics) soon, so please feel free to tag (and comment) along!

Emerging Technologies and Transformative Learning

Posted on February 25th, by George Veletsianos in my research, online learning, open, papers, sharing. 1 Comment

I’m excited to announce the publication of a special issue that Brendan Calandra and I did for Educational Technology, focusing on the complex relationship(s) between emerging technologies and transformative learning [Educational Technology, 51(2)]. The  issue is in part the result of a conversation we have had over the last two years about emerging technologies and their potential to foster unique types of learning. We have found that these unique types of learning to be qualitatively different than goal-based and performance-oriented learning, and to share many characteristics with Jack Mezirow’s original notion of transformative learning such as disorienting dilemmas, critical reflection, dialogue, and changes to frames of reference (1978, 1991, 1997). Our suggestions for future work include further examination of how transformative learning might be negotiated in technology-enhanced contexts, and how emerging technologies might foster and influence transformative outcomes.

Here is a copy of the introduction to the special issue: Emerging Technologies and Transformative Learning.

The papers for this issue are as follows:

Teaching in an Age of Transformation: Understanding Unique Instructional Technology Choices which Transformative Learning Affords
Kathleen P. King

Transformative Learning Experience: Aim Higher, Gain More
Brent G. Wilson
Patrick Parrish

Learning Experience as Transaction: A Framework for Instructional Design
Patrick Parrish
Brent G. Wilson
Joanna C. Dunlap

The Seven Trans-disciplinary Habits of Mind: Extending the TPACK Framework Towards 21st Century Learning
Punya Mishra
Matthew J. Koehler
Danah Henriksen

Virtual Worlds as a Trigger for Transformative Learning
Steve W. Harmon

Using digital video to promote teachers’ transformative learning
Brendan Calandra
Anton Puvirajah

Opportunities for and Barriers to Powerful and Transformative Learning Experiences in Online Learning Environments
Benjamin B. Bolger,
Gordon Rowland,
Carrie Reuning-Hummel,
Stephen Codner

Designing Opportunities for Transformation with Emerging Technologies (pdf posted by permission)
George Veletsianos

Shaping global citizens: Technology enhanced inter-cultural collaboration and transformation
P. Clint Rogers

A Framework for Action: Intervening to Increase Adoption of Transformative Web 2.0 Learning Resources
Joan E. Hughes,
James M. Guion,
Kama A. Bruce,
Lucas R. Horton,
Amy Prescott


Emerging Technologies in Distance Education: Available

Posted on July 23rd, by George Veletsianos in online learning, open, papers, scholarship, work. 3 comments

My edited book, Emerging Technologies in Distance Education, has just been published from Athabasca University Press, Canada’s leading publisher of Open Access, peer-reviewed, scholarly publications! Go get your free copy from the AU site above, and if you want to support the great work that Athabasca University Press is doing, then purchase the paperback volume (disclaimer: I earn a minute stream of royalty fees per copy).

A summary of the book follows:

A one-stop knowledge resource, Emerging Technologies in Distance Education showcases the international work of research scholars and innovative distance education practitioners, who use emerging interactive technologies for teaching and learning at a distance. This widely anticipated book harnesses the dispersed knowledge of international experts who highlight pedagogical, organizational, cultural, social, and economic factors that influence the adoption and integration of emerging technologies in distance education. Emerging Technologies in Distance Education provides expert advice on how educators can launch effective and engaging distance education initiatives, in response to technological advancements, changing mindsets, and economic and organizational pressures. The volume goes beyond the hype surrounding Web 2.0 technologies and highlights the important issues that researchers and educators need to consider to enhance educational practice.

Individual chapters are as follows:

PART 1: Foundations of Emerging Technologies in Distance Education
1. A definition of emerging technologies for education | George Veletsianos
2. Theories for Learning with Emerging Technologies | Terry Anderson
3. Imagining multi-roles in Web 2.0 Distance Education | Elizabeth Wellburn & BJ Eib
4. Beyond distance and time constraints: applying social networking tools and Web 2.0 approaches in distanceeducation | Mark J. W. Lee & Catherine McLoughlin

PART 2: Learning Designs for Emerging Technologies
5. “Emerging”: A re-conceptualization of contemporary technology design and integration | The Learning Technologies Collaborative
6. Developing Personal Learning Networks for Open & Social Learning | Alec Couros
7. Creating a Culture of Community in the Online Classroom Using Artistic Pedagogical Technologies | Beth Perry & Margaret Edwards
8. Structured Dialogue Embedded within Emerging Technologies | Yiannis Laouris, Gayle Underwood, Romina Laouri, Aleco Christakis

PART 3: Social, Organizational, & Contextual Factors in Emerging Technologies Implementations
9. Personal Learning Environments | Trey Martindale & Michael Dowdy
10. Open source course management systems in distance education | Andrew Whitworth & Angela Benson
11. Implementing Wikis in higher education institutions: the case of the Open University of Israel | Hagit Meishar-Tal, Yoav Yair and Edna Tal-Elhasid
12. The Use of Web Analytics in the Design and Evaluation of Distance Education | P. Clint Rogers, Mary R. McEwen & SaraJoy Pond
13. New communication options: A renaissance in IP use | Richard Caladine, Trish Andrews, Belinda Tynan, Robyn Smyth, & Deborah Vale

PART 4: Learner-learner, Learner-Content, & Learner-Instructor Interaction & Communication with Emerging Technologies
14. Using Social Media to Create a Place that Supports Communication | Rita Kop
15. Technical, Pedagogical and Cultural Considerations for Language Learning in MUVEs / Charles Xiaoxue Wang, Brendan Calandra & Youngjoo Yi
16. Animated Pedagogical Agents and Immersive Worlds: Two Worlds Colliding / Bob Heller & Mike Procter

Pedagogical Agent Appearance & Stereotypes

Posted on May 22nd, by George Veletsianos in papers, pedagogical agents. 1 Comment

I have a new publication out that deals with the degree to which students stereotype virtual characters (short answer: yes they do and this behavior influences learning processes, but sometimes they resist. Or, they say that they resist. It’s a bit more complex than that, but the results present an interesting thinking exercise). This one has been “in the works” for more than a couple of years, but it’s recently been updated because interest on the topic seems to be growing.

Veletsianos, G. (2010). Contextually relevant pedagogical agents: Visual appearance, stereotypes, and first impressions and their impact on learning. Computers & Education, 55(2), 576-585. [pre-print PDF]

Abstract: Humans draw on their stereotypic beliefs to make assumptions about others. Even though prior research has shown that individuals respond socially to media, there is little evidence with regards to learners stereotyping and categorizing pedagogical agents. This study investigated whether learners stereotype a pedagogical agent as being knowledgeable or not knowledgeable and how this acuity influenced learning. Participants were assigned to four experimental conditions differing by agent (scientist or artist) and tutorial type (nanotechnology or punk rock). Quantitative analyses indicated that agents were stereotyped depending on their image and the academic domain under which they functioned. Regardless of tutorial, participants assigned to the artist agent recalled more information than participants assigned to the scientist agent. Learning differences between the groups varied according to whether agent appearance fit the content area under investigation. Qualitative results indicated learner’s stereotypic expectations as well as their unwillingness to draw conclusions based on visual appearance.

Help choose a book cover

Posted on February 20th, by George Veletsianos in open, papers, sharing, work. 1 Comment
[Update Feb 22, 2010: Thank you for the comments on the form below! I already have 70 bright ideas to improve the covers!!!]

Emerging Technologies in Distance Education is getting closer to completion. Now, we need to select a cover. Can you help?  The amazingly talented Natalie Olsen created the four cover concepts appearing below and I am having trouble selecting one! If you can help by completing the form below, we would greatly appreciate it! I’ll post the result by the end of next week (Feb 28).

The four designs are:

Cover 1: Pencils. Cover 2: Wordle.

Cover 3: Chalkboard. Cover 4: Tin Cans.

A Review of the Adventure Learning Literature

Posted on January 3rd, by George Veletsianos in papers. 1 Comment

The latest issue of The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning has been published and in it there’s an article I wrote with Irene, who’s one of the many talented PhD students I work with. The paper provides an up-to-date analysis and description of Adventure Learning and is intended to be a must-read for researchers and practitioners interested on the topic. Specifically, we are providing a metasynthesis of Adventure Learning identify current research and knowledge on the topic as well as research gaps. I’m very excited about this publication because it was very fun to write, it is my second paper with a PhD student, and it is published in an open access journal. If you are interested, here is the reference, link, and abstract. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as we enjoyed writing it:

Veletsianos, G., & Kleanthous, I. (2009). A review of adventure learning. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 10(6). Retrieved December 27, 2009, from

Adventure Learning (AL) is an approach for the design of digitally-enhanced teaching and learning environments driven by a framework of guidelines grounded on experiential and inquiry-based education. The purpose of this paper is to review the Adventure Learning literature and to describe the status quo of the practice by identifying the current knowledge, misconceptions, and future opportunities in Adventure Learning. Specifically, the authors present an integrative analysis of the Adventure Learning literature, identify knowledge gaps, present future research directions, and discuss research methods and approaches that may improve the AL approach.

Authors engaged in a systematic search strategy to identify Adventure Learning studies and then applied a set of criteria to decide whether to include or exclude each study. Results from the systematic review were combined, analyzed, and critiqued inductively using the constant comparative method and weaved together using the qualitative metasynthesis approach.

Results indicate the appeal and promise of the Adventure Learning approach. Nevertheless, the authors recommend further investigation of the approach. Along with studies that investigate learning outcomes, engaging aspects of the AL approach, and the nature of expert-learner collaboration, future Adventure Learning projects that focus on higher education and are (a) small and (b) diverse, can yield significant knowledge into Adventure Learning. Research and design in this area will benefit by taking an activity theory and design-based research perspective.