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

Category: scholarship

Institutional use of Twitter: Can universities surpass brand image to make their social media relevant?

Posted on July 5th, by George Veletsianos in my research, scholarship. No Comments

The article below was originally published on The Conversation with the launch of their Canadian-focused site. The original article is on their site, but it is posted here for posterity.

Disconnected: Can universities surpass brand image to make their social media relevant?

File 20170616 14532 cerqrr

Universities portray campus life as idyllic, but may be missing an opportunity to truly connect with students.

George Veletsianos, Royal Roads University and Ashley Shaw, Royal Roads University

Universities fail to exploit social media’s most compelling features, tending to broadcast their brands instead of engaging students and the public online, new research suggests.

Visualise this: smiling students and successful faculty. In the background, beautiful buildings framed by blue skies.

These are the ways that Canadian universities choose to represent themselves on social media. This picture is somewhat accurate, but a tad misleading.

Social media are a staple of Canadian universities. Twitter — where one can quickly and easily share information, pictures and videos — is particularly used by nearly all Canadian universities. Researchers have generally found that universities use Twitter to broadcast information about themselves, both to potential students and to the wider public.

Twitter use by universities raises many questions for us as educators and researchers with an interest in social media. In our research, we have looked closely at exactly what universities are posting on Twitter, asking two important questions: What messages are universities conveying through their official Twitter accounts? How is university life depicted in their tweets? We examined over nine months’ worth of tweets from public universities in Canada, paying particular attention to the images and videos shared as well as the text accompanying them.

Positive branding

What we found was troubling. Based on the information shared from these official university accounts, one would likely conclude life in Canadian universities is universally gratifying, enjoyable and beautiful.

Students in images were nearly always smiling and happy. Faculty members — almost all middle-age white males — were shown giving speeches or conducting research. Campuses were always portrayed as attractive and sunny, boasting shiny buildings and new facilities. References to graduation ceremonies, groundbreaking research and sporting victories were all too common.

Teaching and learning received much less attention. This is not just a Canadian representation. We replicated our research using the Twitter feeds of more than 2,000 U.S. universities. The results were similar.

Institutional Twitter accounts seem to highlight and market an institutional brand — a positive ideal that they would like the public and potential students to hold. It’s understandable that universities, like individuals, want to present their ‘best self’ on social media. This makes sense from a marketing perspective.

Obscured reality

This carefully crafted and tightly controlled representation gives an incomplete and unrealistic portrayal of the people and activities of the university. There is little suggestion in this portrayal of the struggles students face in their studies, health and well-being, finances, and so forth. There is little mention of the day-to-day effort, difficulty and struggles of teaching and learning.

We are compelled to ask: What is it that drives universities to use social media as they do? In what ways have social, economic and political forces (such as the reduction in public funding and greater emphasis on competition) led universities to use these powerful social technologies in the service of branding and marketing?

We want to encourage Canadian universities to use Twitter, and other social media, in different ways — ways that would improve Canadian society.

Social media provide an opportunity not just to broadcast a message to the public, but to foster two-way engagement and communication between stakeholders. Universities could make more meaningful contributions to our broader society by using social media to summarise research findings for public use, connect alumni with students and provide educational opportunities to those outside the institution.

George Veletsianos, Professor and Canada Research Chair, Royal Roads University and Ashley Shaw, Researcher and Ph.D candidate, Royal Roads University

The Conversation

MA and PhD student research assistantships available

Posted on July 4th, by George Veletsianos in my research, networked scholars, open, papers, Royal Roads University, scholarship. No Comments

We have two part-time research assistantships open for individuals to work with us (one for an MA and one for a PhD student).

PhD student:

MA student:

Successful applicants need to be legally able to work in Canada at the time of application, enrolled in a MA/PhD program. They do not need to be enrolled at a Canadian University.

Successful individuals will support an international team of researchers with research and knowledge mobilization activities pertaining to online harassment and faculty use of social media.

Thinking out loud about coding bootcamps, nanodegrees, & alternative credentials

Posted on June 29th, by George Veletsianos in scholarship. 2 comments

“The CanCode program will invest $50 million over two years, starting in 2017-18, to support initiatives providing educational opportunities for coding and digital skills development to Canadian youth from kindergarten to grade 12 (K-12).

The program aims to equip youth, including traditionally underrepresented groups, with the skills and study incentives they need to be prepared for the jobs of today and the future. Canada’s success in the digital economy depends on leveraging our diverse talent and providing opportunity for all to participate—investing in digital skills development will help to achieve this.”

The CanCode program is a new funding opportunity in Canada. Similar initiatives have occurred globally. The investment in coding to prepare youth and adults for the jobs of the future is an interesting phenomenon. In a past project for example, we worked with over fifty high schools and developed a dual enrolment course focused on computational thinking and the presence of computing in daily life. The ability to read, write, and tinker with code is one aspect of this course. Our course was about introducing students to computer science – and though coding is an aspect of it, computer science is not coding.

But, coding is a central feature of an ever-expanding market of emerging credentials. Badges. Nanodegrees. Certs. And so on. Providers offer these in many different ways, both in terms of modality (e.g.,  online courses vs. face-to-face coding bootcamps) and pacing (e.g., self-paced vs. cohort-based). Some highlight experiential components (e.g., industry partnerships) while others highlight the flexibility of adjusting to learner’s life circumstances.

In short, providers make a case that their credentials promise employment opportunities in a rapidly changing global economy where coding is in demand. This space seems to be an example of what certain aspects of unbundling may look like. The space configures alternative credentials, digital learning, for-profit education, skills training, and re-training in unique ways. I have a lot of questions around this space

  • What are learners’ experiences with coding bootcamps and nanodegrees?
  • Who enrols? Who succeeds?
    • To what extent do these programs broaden participation in computing?
    • To what degree and in what ways do these programs democratize learning and participation? Do they?
  • What do learners expect from these offerings and how do they judge the quality of their experience and credential?
  • What are the dominant pedagogical practices (within and across providers) in teaching people how to code?
  • What is the role of technology in these programs?
  • What do outcomes look like, and how do those align with providers’ promises? For instance, what proportion of participants find gainful employment and what does that employment look like?
  • What are instructors’ roles in these offerings? Who are they? What is their pedagogical background? Is this their main employment? Are there connections to the gig economy and precarious employment here?
  • How diverse are these offerings in terms of gender and race with respect to students (who enrols?), instructors (who teaches?) and content (are minorities represented in curricular materials? in what ways?)

I’ve been looking for some answers to my questions, but I’m not finding much.

Additional reading

Industry report:

RA positions for students to join our research team

Posted on June 16th, by George Veletsianos in my research, open, Royal Roads University, scholarship, sharing. 1 Comment


If you are doctoral student or know of one interested in a research assistantship, please share this job posting with them:

Successful applicants need to be Canadian citizens (or permanent residents) and enrolled in a doctoral program, but they do not need to be enrolled at a Canadian University. We will have two more research assistantships available for MA/PhD students as well. Those are not posted yet, but please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions if interested.

These positions are aimed at hiring MA/PhD students to work with my colleagues and I on two separate projects.
The first project is in collaboration with Royce Kimmons and the second is in collaboration with Jaigris Hodson. The students hired will work with us (and the rest of the research team) to conduct qualitative and quantitative research on social media use over time and faculty/student experiences with online learning and social media.

#NotAllEdTech and critical #edtech conversations

Posted on May 19th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, scholarship, sharing. No Comments

The article below was posted on Inside Higher Ed. I’m copying and pasting it here for posterity.


#NotAllEdTech Derails Critical Educational Technology Conversations

Last month, Rolin Moe and I published an essay in EDUCAUSE Review highlighting ideological and sociocultural factors associated with the rise of Educational Technology (hereafter EdTech). Motivated by two responses to our essay, I decided to write this additional piece highlighting an argument/misunderstanding that can often circumvent and derail critical discussions in the field.

The critique, offered by Downes and Kim, counters our underlying premise. They say: Not all educational technology is characterized by technocentric, market-centric, and product-driven ideologies. Downes argues that the way we describe educational technology doesn’t describe him – and by implication many that work in the field. Kim notes that he doesn’t know anyone in the field who thinks and behaves in the ways that aligns with how we describe the rise of EdTech.

Moe parsimoniously summarized these responses as #NotAllEdTech, as a hashtag version of not all educational technology is this way, paralleling usage of the phrase “not all men.”

I will unpack the meaning of #NotAllEdTech here.

#NotAllEdTech posits that not all educational technology is malevolent and not all educational technology represents an insidious attempt at privatizing and automating education. The #NotAllEdTech argument notes that there are many good people in our field. People who care. Entrepreneurs, researchers, and colleagues of many vocations – instructors, instructional designers, directors of digital learning  – who are working, in their own way, to improve teaching and learning with technology. Not all educational technology is sinister, atheoretical, ahistorical, and driven by unsavory desires. #NotAllEdTech. Individuals that make this argument seem to want to guard themselves, and others, against being defined by the ideologies we identified in our original paper.

This all makes sense, of course. If it weren’t for the thoughtful, caring, creative, innovative, and justice-oriented people in the field focused on making positive change in education and society, I would have switched careers a long time ago. Moe and I, and countless colleagues, use educational technology toward valued ends, from providing educational opportunities where none have existed before, to providing them in more flexible ways, to re-thinking the ways students learn and instructors teach. Making a meaningful contribution to society is at the core of this multi-faceted and exciting field.

We know that there is good in educational technology. To borrow Downes’s terminology, we know that educational technology can be benign.

But, that’s not the point.

Just because there are many well-intentioned people in the field, just because our essay doesn’t accurately characterize Downes, just because Kim doesn’t “know of ” anyone who thinks of educational technology in the ways we described, it doesn’t mean that educational technology is operating outside of socio-cultural, -economic, and –political forces.

I’m certain that many well-intentioned people were involved in a wide-range of initiatives that ended up being problematic. Many well-intentioned individuals believed in xMOOCs and for-profit online universities as emancipatory. Many well-intentioned individuals write, adopt, and otherwise participate in the operations of the textbook publishing industry despite the exorbitant prices that some publishers charge. Many well-intentioned individuals review for or publish in non-open-access journals and otherwise support the academic publishing industry despite the restrictions the industry places upon knowledge dissemination. Many well-intentioned individuals imagined the aforementioned practices as ways to democratize access, but the presence of well-intentioned individuals did not ensure positive outcomes.

The most pressing problem with the #NotAllEdTech argument though, is that it perpetuates a dangerous counternarrative.

#NotAllEdTech can be a tactic that derails and deflects from discussions of educational technology as a practice that needs deep questioning. #NotAllEdTech could, perhaps inadvertently, redirect attention on the optimism surrounding educational technology, ignoring the broader landscape around which educational technology operates. It might also create a false binary: the heroes and good guys of EdTech vis-à-vis the bad ones (e.g., for-profits, large companies, and so on). Most importantly, such a binary might imply that those on the good side are somehow shielded by outside forces (some of which, such as pressures to rethink our practices, might in fact be very useful).

What I fear, and hope to avoid, is a world where conversations about educational technology focus solely on individuals (e.g., those who use the technology, create the technology, etc.), while avoiding criticisms of educational technology as an overly optimistic practice shaped by societal trends. It’s easy to shift the focus on individuals. It’s easy to blame teachers for not using technology in participatory ways, faculty for not employing more progressive digital pedagogies, and researchers for not publishing in open access venues. But such blame, such a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” approach, ignores the unequal distribution of power in our social systems and ignores sociocultural and sociopolitical constraints that individuals face. Teachers might face testing regimes that favor certain (poor) pedagogies. Researchers might face institutional policies or disciplinary norms that favor publishing in certain (closed) journals. Using a parallel example, it’s easy (and tempting) to claim that Uber drivers enjoy opportunities to supplement their income, work at their leisure, and make use of idle resources (i.e. their cars), and easy to avoid investigations of the broader social trends surrounding the gig economy.

Have we had successes using educational technology to re-imagine pedagogical approaches, expand flexibility, reduce costs, improve outcomes, and escalate access? Of course we have. And the future is bright. But, if we keep ignoring the ways that educational technology is a symptom of powerful forces, such as our changing economy[1], outside of the control of any single well-intentioned individual we might find ourselves supporting systems and practices that are in conflict with the positive societal ideals that we are aspiring towards.

Through such conversations, our field becomes more vibrant, critical, and reflective. And, for that, despite our disagreements, I’d like to thank Downes and Kim.

Being online: Recommendations for early-career academics

Posted on May 15th, by George Veletsianos in Ideas, my research, online learning, open, papers, scholarship, sharing. No Comments

When I wrote my book Networked Scholars, I was very intentional in my writing. I wanted to avoid writing a “how to” book. Not that there’s anything wrong with “how to use social media” books, but there’s plenty of those, not to mention countless blog posts and advice columns on outlets like Inside Higher Ed, The Chronicle, etc.

Beyond that though, my interests aren’t social media per se. My interests are on the ways that people learn online and the ways that knowledge is managed, negotiated, developed, and shared in digital environments. Though social media are central to these process these days – and let’s face it, most media are social nowadays – there are practices central to knowledge exchange and dissemination that have nothing to do with the technology, such as open access publishing and self-archiving.

What does this have to do with networked scholars? Well, I think the time is ripe to actually write a book of suggestions, principles if you will, for early-career academics (PhD students, new assistant professors). The suggestions will go beyond social media, aiming to (a) help people be more effective and productive online, and (b) help faculty and faculty trainers prepare people in these efforts.

This book will be different. It will be laconic and will nudge individuals to be more awesome in their online practices. I’m partnering with a graphic artist to create it. Below is a page from our early work.

Do you know of a publisher who might be interested? Are you a publisher that is interested? I am exploring Punctum Books, but would love to hear other suggestions.

Liberate your research

Educational Technology as a Sociocultural and Ideological Phenomenon

Posted on April 10th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, my research, papers, scholarship. 1 Comment

Rolin Moe and I just published an article in Educause Review that examines the rise of educational technology as a phenomenon within the context of broader political, economic, ideological, and technological issues of concern to the future of higher education. This paper continues the call for thinking critically about the impacts, aims, and uses of technology in education, in our educational institutions, and in students’ and academics’ lives.

The paper posits that the rise of educational technology represents (a) a response to the increasing price of higher education, (b) a shift in political thought from government to free-market oversight of education, (c) a view of education as a product to be packaged, automated, and delivered, and (d) a technocentric belief that technology is a solution to the problems of higher education.

This investigation questions both the potential outcomes and ideological aims of technodeterministic thinking and argues that educational technology may ultimately exacerbate rather than mitigate the very problems it purports to solve.

Learning Design at Pearson

Posted on December 21st, by George Veletsianos in learner experience, my research, online learning, pedagogical agents, scholarship, sharing. No Comments

Last week, a reporter from EdSurge reached out to me to shed some light on what Pearson called their Learning Design Principles. The EdSurge article is here, but below is a more detailed rough draft of the points that I made to share. I am posting them here for a fuller picture of some of my thoughts.

  1. Nothing proprietary (yet, perhaps). I saw a number of sources note that Pearson released their proprietary learning design principles. There’s not much proprietary in the principles. All of these ideas are well-documented in the literature pertaining to educational technology found in cognitive psychology, learning sciences, instructional design, and education literature.
  2. It’s good to see that Pearson is using findings from the education literature to guide its design and development. Some of these principles should be standard practice. If you are creating educational technology products without considering concepts like instructional alignment, feedback, and scaffolding, authentic learning, student-centered learning environments, and inquiry-based learning, you are likely creating more educational harm than good. The point is that using research to guide educational technology should be applauded and emulated. More educational technology companies should be using research to inform their designs and product iterations.
  3. BUT, since around 2011, the educational technology industry has promoted the narrative that education has not changed since the dawn of time. With a few exceptions, the industry has ignored the history, theory, and research of the academic fields associated with improving education with technology. The industry has ignored this at its own peril because we have a decent – not perfect, but decent – understanding of how people learn and how we can help improve the ways that people learn. But, the industry has developed products and services starting from scratch, making the same mistakes that other have done in the past, while claiming that their products and services will disrupt education.
  4. Not all of the items released are principles. For example, “pedagogical agents” is on the list but that’s not a principle. Having studied the implementation of pedagogical agents for more than 7 years, it’s clear that what Pearson is attempting to do is figure our how to better design pedagogical agents for learning. Forgive me while I link to some pdfs of my past work here, but, should amagent’s representation match the content area that they are supporting (should a doctor look like a doctor or should she have a blue mohawk?). Table 1 in this paper provides more on principles for designing pedagogical agents (e.g., agents should establish their role so that learners have a clear anticipation of what the agent can and cannot do: Does the agent purport to know everything or is the agent intended to ask questions but provide no answers?)
  5. As you can tell from the above, I firmly believe that industry needs research/researchers in developing, evaluating, and refining innovations.

But more importantly, happy, merry, just, and peaceful holidays to everyone!