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

Category: scholarship

Talking to machines: What do learners and robots talk about?

Posted on August 8th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, my research, scholarship. 6 comments

Talk like me

 Talk like me by pursyapt

My research endeavors originally started with an attempt to understand interactions between learners and virtual characters, bots, and other artificially intelligent beings. Even though a lot of that research has been published, there’s still a couple of papers arriving. As we are moving closer and closer to everything (and i mean everything) being networked, I believe that it’s important to keep on examining our mediated existence and the ways we experience and interact with emerging forms of media. This is especially true for education. Until very recently, educators and practitioners have been adopting technologies developed for non-educational purposes and using them to fit education needs (e.g., TV, Radio, computers, the Internet, YouTube, iTunes, the list is endless). This might be changing a little bit with the booming interest in educational technology, but when we adopt technologies developed for other purposes, we need to investigate the congruency between those technologies and our teaching/learning context.

In a paper that a graduate student and I wrote, we tried to understand what learners and virtual characters may discuss when they have the ability to have open-ended conversations. If you were a student, and a virtual robot (of sorts) was deployed to support your learning, what would you ask it (him?her?)? If you could talk about anything, what your interactions with him/her (it?) look like?

Here’s our abstract, describing our findings:

Researchers claim that pedagogical agents engender opportunities for social learning in digital environments. Prior literature, however, has not thoroughly examined the discourse between agents and learners. To address this gap, we analyzed a data corpus of interactions between agents and learners using open coding methods. Analysis revealed that: (1) conversations between
learners and agents included sporadic on-task interactions with limited follow-up; (2) conversations were often playful and lighthearted; (3) learners positioned agents in multiple instructional/social roles; (4) learners utilized numerous strategies for understanding agent responses; (5) learners were interested in agents’ relationship status and love interests; and (6) learners
asked personal questions to the agent but did not reciprocate to requests to talk about themselves.

You can download a pdf of the full paper below:

Veletsianos, G. & Russell, G. (2013). What do learners and pedagogical agents discuss when given opportunities for open-ended dialogue? Journal of Educational Computing Research, 48(3), 381-401.

The MOOC stories we are told, and the ones that remain untold

Posted on July 21st, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, my research, scholarship. 12 comments

I’ve been fascinated by the rhetoric surrounding MOOCs, and the storylines and narratives that are shared by providers of these initiatives.

One of the main storylines around MOOCs focuses on amazing individuals that overcome insurmountable struggles to succeed (e.g., individuals in conflict-ridden Afghanistan and Syria). I believe that we can all agree that these stories are inspiring. As I’ve argued in the past, these individuals are extraordinary. They will succeed despite shortcomings in pedagogy, platform, design, etc. These individuals can serve as role models, and they should be celebrated.

At the same time, one has to wonder about the numerous individuals that have struggled and abandoned MOOCs, individuals whose life circumstances, motivations, and needs negatively impact their learning. These stories, the stories of the individuals who are struggling, are rarely shared. They are, in fact, hidden. They become figures and statistics (e.g., “90% dropped out” or “82% completed the first two assignments), and as such their stories remain untold.


University of New Hampshire keynote talk

Posted on June 13th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, online learning, open, scholarship. 19 comments

I have just returned from the University of New Hampshire where I gave a keynote talk at the 12th annual Faculty Instructional Technology Summer Institute. My hosts (Terri, Stephanie, Marshall, Dan, Ken, Shane) organized an excellent event and were so welcoming and gracious that it was difficult to leave!


Photo courtesy of UNH Information Technology

This year’s faculty member participants represented departments that have launched or were exploring the launch of an online program. Professional development events like this one have a number of goals including helping participants understand online education, gain technological and pedagogical skills, alleviate anxiety, share, foster community, and create a sense of shared purpose.

My talk focused on exploring the opportunities, challenges, truths, myths, and realities of online education. I argued that our goal as educators and designers is to create and foster learning experiences and opportunities that are effective, fulfilling, inspiring, meaningful, caring, empowering, and democratic. Using this goal as the starting point, my fellow faculty members and I explored the online learning landscape and discussed a variety of topics that included the “no significant difference phenomenon” as it pertains to online vs. face-to-face education, competency-based models, disaggregation and unbundling, online program management services, the role of the faculty member, the quest for efficiency and automation, and openness.

I am including my presentation below. This is the first talk in which I included practical advice and simple strategies that a faculty member new to online learning may find helpful in their teaching. If you are interested in that aspect of online education make sure to explore the last few slides of my talk.

Critical Studies in Teaching and Learning journal

Posted on May 17th, by George Veletsianos in scholarship. 8 comments

A number of South African colleagues have come together to launch Critical Studies in Teaching and Learning, a peer-reviewed, open access journal with the goal to publish scholarly articles and essays that describe, theorize, and reflect on teaching and learning practice in higher education. The inaugural issue is scheduled for December 2013.

The editors welcome contributions that are critical and well-researched, whether they are analytical, theoretical or practice-based, as well as contributions that deal with innovative and reflective approaches to teaching and learning. They are particularly interested in articles that have relevance to the South African educational context.


Social Media in Learning, Teaching, and Scholarship: 6 Tales of Practice

Posted on May 8th, by George Veletsianos in my research, online learning, open, scholarship. 22 comments

I had the pleasure of delivering the opening keynote to the 2013 Teaching and Learning to the Power of Technology conference on May 1st. Our hosts (Heather Ross, Jim Greer, and Brad Wuetherick) from the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Saskatchewan put together an excellent program! It was difficult to leave Saskatoon 2 days later as everyone was so gracious, kind, and eager to share his/her work! It was also great to spend time with Valerie Irvine (who did the 2nd keynote of the conference), Rick Schwier, and Alison Seaman!

My talk focused on Social Media in Education/Scholarship. I wanted to discuss a number of ideas including the rich history of the field of educational technology, the role of openness in scholarship, and the practices that open scholars engage in. Additionally, part of the talk included a call for individuals to become involved in the design of future educational systems/technologies. I highlighted my qualitative stance more strongly in this talk, essentially arguing that the world is grey (not black or white) and binary thinking is dangerous: There are multiple ways to see and read the world, there are multiple truths, and those truths can coexist at the same time.

Here is a video recording of the event. And, as always, here are my slides:

Vote for our #MOOC production fellowship application?

Posted on May 7th, by George Veletsianos in courses, emerging technologies, my research, online learning, scholarship. 28 comments

Audrey Watters and I submitted an application for Iversity’s MOOC production fellowship program. If funded, we will co-teach a course that is desperately needed: Foundations of Educational Technology. Our goal is to help individuals learn the history, research, practice, and debates of the field.

We want to improve education. To do so, we believe that educational technology developers, learning designers, and practitioners need to know the answers to a number of important questions including:
(a) how do people learn?
(b) how does technology/pedagogy impact learning?
(c) why have educational technology efforts failed/succeeded in the past?

Our course focuses on these pillars.

The fellowship recipients are selected by a jury of peers and by a process of public voting. If you think that this is a worthwhile cause, we would love your support. If so, please *vote for our proposal*. To vote for our proposal first you have to  register on the platform and then you have to click on the green vote button. While you are there you can also read more about our application. There you will notice that our proposed course blends pedagogies, approaches, and ideals that originate from the progressive and open education movements (e.g., OER reuse, cMOOCs, knowledge-building, communities of practice ideas) while introducing artifacts and values that we feel should be staples in xMOOCS (e.g., personal learning plans and instructor-supported community interactions).



The next step, if you are so inclined, is to help spread the good word. Please tell your colleagues and friends about it. Send them to this blog post, to Audrey’s post, or to our proposal, and ask them to help us help the world design meaningful, purposeful, effective, and equitable educational technologies. Remix it, share it on Twitter, Facebook, Google +, your department’s listserv, shout it from your rooftop, write a song about it, create a banner…. do whatever else pleases you to help spread the word. Or, just grab the message below and post it on your favorite social media platform:

I voted for the Foundations of Educational Technology class! Help me spread the word: #edtechCourse

Finally: I’m very excited about this course. However, I am humbled, I am in awe actually, that friends and colleagues from around the world have offered to help us with the course. So far, 13 students from the University of Texas at Austin have volunteered to be Teaching Assistants for the class and Dr. Valerie Irvine from the University of Victoria and Dr. Rick Schwier from the University of Saskatchewan have also offered to help with various aspects of the course. I am in awe of my colleagues and students who unselfishly offer their time to improve education. The world is a better place because of you. And for that, we thank you!

George & Audrey

I have some news to share

Posted on May 6th, by George Veletsianos in my research, open, scholarship, sharing, work. 55 comments

Sherrilyn Kenyon wrote that “Life is a tapestry woven by the decisions we make” and to that, I would add, “and the experiences we create.”

I am taking the next step in my life and career. One that I expect will add many more experiences to my life.

I have decided to accept a position with the School of Education and Technology at Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia. I have been appointed as Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology by the Canadian federal government and my post will begin on September 1st. As in the past, my position will be research-focused, and I will continue my research on understanding  learners’ and scholars’ practices and experiences in emerging online settings (e.g., online social networks, open courses, etc).

Royal Roads is a public university with a successful university-wide teaching model that combines short-term f2f residencies with online learning. I’m excited about being at a university that has had a blended learning model since 1995 and has a reputation of innovation that it embraces. I’m excited that my research is a natural fit with the institution and that the synergies exist for applying a lot of the work that I have been doing regarding online education, openness, and digital scholarship. I’m also excited about being in British Columbia, which will soon “become the first province in Canada to offer students free online, open textbooks.” On a more personal note, I’m excited to be able to live and work by the ocean.

It probably goes without saying, but I will miss the University of Texas at Austin, my colleagues, and my students at the College of Education. UT-Austin is an amazing university and I am very fortunate and grateful to have been able to spend a few years of my life there.

Leaving a university often leads individuals to ask why. And, I’ve experienced that already: Why leave a research-1 university that is recognized worldwide, especially when your tenure and promotion case would be easy to make? I have asked myself that same question. Why am I working long hours? Why do I spend time away from my family visiting back-to-back conferences? Why do I take pride in my students’ work and do all I can to help them succeed? I engage in these activities because I care, not because of tenure (though, admittedly, that is a positive by-product). I personally chose my field of study and research because I care about education and individual’s learning experiences. I care about societal well-being and growth, about social justice, and see education as a way to eradicate inequities and injustices. These values run across my work (which is partly why I make all of my publications available online).

…and since this post is getting long, a final thought: I don’t like moving. But… I AM looking forward to the road trip to Victoria.

AERA 2013 reflections

Posted on May 5th, by George Veletsianos in open, scholarship, work. 5 comments

I was at the annual AERA conference last week, held in San Fransisco, CA. My colleagues and I presented the following research and design work:

Instructor Experiences With a Social Networking Site in a Formal Education Setting: Expectations, Frustrations, Appropriation, and Compartmentalization (Royce Kimmons, George Veletsianos, Karen French) – This paper has recently been published.

What Do Learners and Pedagogical Agents Discuss When Given Opportunities for Open-Ended Dialogue? (George Veletsianos,  Gregory Russell) – This paper is in press. It presents a content analysis of conversations between learners and virtual characters supported by an AI engine.

A First Iteration of a Pedagogical Model for Teaching Computer Science Through Problems (George Veletsianos, Tara Craig, Bradley Beth, Gregory Russell, Calvin Lin) – We have developed an “introduction to computer science” course for high schools that is blended and guided by a problem-based pedagogy. In this presentation, we described our design process and findings after deploying the course in 6 high schools (see project website and other posts on my blog relating to this).


* * *

I was happy to see that AERA has finally caught up and sought to integrate technology throughout the conference. Twitter was encouraged and a select few sessions were streamed. Even though there is room to do much more, I appreciate that it is difficult for large organizations to change. I suspect that Chris Greenhow was involved in making this happen in her role as Communications Director of Division C. I am particularly eager for AERA to start thinking more broadly about technology and openness though… a lot of people are.

* * *

While at San Fransisco, I took half a day to visit Stanford University. My friend and colleague Amy Collier invited me to spend some time with the Lytics Lab, and I am glad I did. I enjoyed hearing everyone talk about their projects, but most of all I LOVED the students’ dedication, excitement, and eagerness to help and support each other. On a related note: You might have heard me bemoan the lack of educator participation in recent initiatives. If so, you can probably appreciate the fact that I am excited that the Lytics Lab is an interdisciplinary team of people that includes educators and learning scientists.

* * *

Some of the sessions that I attended were  extraordinary and the presenter’s passion for their work was evident. Some sessions weren’t as great, but I suspect that this is an outcome of the traditional 15 minute talk. Other than that, I had a lot of great experiences at the conference. I can honestly say that I’ll remember this one with fondness for a number of reasons. Not only did I get to celebrate Brendan Calandra’s birthday, but I also got to congratulate my friend Brant Miller for getting one of his photographs on the cover of Nature. Woot!