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

Category: scholarship

Critical perspectives on Educational Technology

Posted on April 22nd, by George Veletsianos in online learning, scholarship. 4 comments

I was in Vancouver at AERA 2012 last week, where I had the opportunity to present some of my recent work and catch up with colleagues. A few of the conversations I had centered around the increasing interest our field is receiving. This is a great time to be involved with educational technology, though there’s a lot of discussion about what higher education may look like a few years down the road. At the same time however, contemporary discourse on how technology can “transform” education concerns me because it is largely guided by techno-enthusiasm, techno-determinism, and a desire to improve “efficiency,” on models grounded on marginal costs and revenues. This is not a new concern – I wrote about it in the past as well. However, George Siemens does a great job  describing what current thinking in the edtech corporate world looks like. My perspective is that, if we want to improve education for all, we have to engage with educational technology critically, involve educators in designing innovations, and use the research that a lot of us have done on learning, education, and technology.

To this end, I decided to share a a list of papers from my research library that offer a critical perspective on the use of technology in education. This is not a rant against the field. Rather, this is an attempt to highlight alternative ways of thinking. Alternative perspectives are important, because they help us question our assumptions and worldview. I thought it was about time for this, as the last entry that I wrote on this issue was about two years ago. If you have any additional work that might fit into this category, please share it in the comments section, and I will update the blog entry with those. Alternatively, you can add papers to this group on mendeley (feel free to join as well).

Amory, A. (2010). Education Technology and Hidden Ideological Contradictions. Educational Technology & Society, 13(1), 69- 79.

Bayne, S. (2010). Academetron, automaton, phantom: uncanny digital pedagogies. London Review of Education, 8(1), 5-13.

Friesen, Norm. (2010). Education and the social Web: Connective learning and the commerical imperative. First Monday, 15(12).

Friesen, Norm. (2011). Critical Theory: Ideology Critique and the Myths of E‐Learning, (February), 1-20.

Kahn, R., & Kellner, D. (2007). Paulo Freire and Ivan Illich: technology, politics and the reconstruction of education. Policy Futures in Education, 5(4), 431-448.

Njenga, J. K., & Fourie, L. C. H. (2010). The myths about e-learning in higher education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(2), 199-212.

Oliver, M. (2011). Technological determinism in educational technology research: some alternative ways of thinking about the relationship between learning and technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, (November 2010), no-no. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2011.00406.x

Peck, C., Cuban, L., & Kirkpatrick, H. (2007). Techno-Promoter Dreams,Student Realities. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(6), 472-480.

Piña, A. A. (2010). Online diploma mills : implications for legitimate distance education. Distance Education, 31(1), 121-126. doi:10.1080/01587911003725063

Ravenscroft, A. (2001). Designing E-learning Interactions in the 21st Century: revisiting and rethinking the role of theory. European Journal of Education, 36(2), 133-156. doi:10.1111/1467-3435.00056

Sahay, S. (2007). Beyond Utopian and Nostalgic Views of Information Technology and Education: Implications for Research and Practice. Information Systems, 5(7), 282-313.

Selwyn, N. (2010). Looking beyond learning: notes towards the critical study of educational technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(1), 65-73. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2009.00338.x

Selwyn, Neil. (2011). Editorial: In praise of pessimism—the need for negativity in educational technology. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42(5), 713-718.

Selwyn, Neil, & Gorard, S. (2004). Exploring the role of ICT in facilitating adult informal learning. Education, Communication & Information, 4(2-3), 293-310. doi:10.1080/14636310412331304726

Warschauer, M. (2007). The paradoxical future of digital learning. Learning Inquiry, 1(1), 41-49. doi:10.1007/s11519-007-0001-5

Weston, M. E., & Bain, A. (2010). The End of Techno-Critique : The Naked Truth about 1 : 1 Laptop Initiatives and Educational Change. The Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 9(6).

Digital Scholarship: Visualizing a Twitter hashtag

Posted on March 30th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, learner experience, scholarship. 9 comments

As part of my research on digital scholarship and the experiences/practices of scholars in online networks, I am working with the Texas Advanced Computing Center and the newly-established Visualization Lab at the College of Education to understand learner and scholar participation patterns on the social web. Below is our first visualization, which shows interactions between three types of users who are contributing to a hashtag (red, blue, green). It’s a directed graph, with nodes representing users, and edges representing interactions between users. The thickness of the edge represents # of interactions (thick = more interactions). When nodes of a different color interact with each other, the edges take the color of the two node (e.g., when a blue node interacts with a red node, the edge is purple). What does this visualization tell us?

We are still trying to make sense of this, and we are slowly learning from the tutorials that Tony Hirst has created. This is what (i think) this says: First of all, we know that the majority of the people contributing to this hashtag are not having a conversation with each other (#nodes making up the dataset are 3 times the group shown above – this is not shown  on the graph). Second, it looks likes there’s a few “central” folk through which conversations occur. Finally, even though interactions happen between red and blue nodes, it looks like the majority of the interaction is happening within those two groups. And that’s important in this situation because one of our hypothesis was that the red group was joining this community to interact with the blue group (if that was the case, we would be seeing more purple in the image above). We definitely need additional ways to evaluate some of these statements, but that’s what it “looks like” from the image above. And here’s where I think data visualizations start becoming really valuable: You can quickly see patterns and ask questions, and continue from there. We have some ideas and hypotheses, but we also want to let the data bring up phenomena that we haven’t thought about. I don’t yet feel confident that I fully understand what I am seeing here, but I am quickly learning a lot! So my question to you is: how would you interpret this? What questions do you have of what you are seeing here?

Kickstarting educational innovations (or, the case of #ds106)

Posted on March 30th, by George Veletsianos in my research, NPS, online learning, open, scholarship. 4 comments

If you are trying to explain to colleagues why networks are important, why an understanding of participatory cultures is important, and why education should concern itself with social media and network literacies, then look no further than the success that the good people over at #ds106 had in raising funds through Kickstarter to support their project. Within a day they reached their goal and raised more than $4,500. Huge congratulations to everyone involved!

At the same time this is an opportunity to discuss notions of power and social capital. Can everyone do this? How many projects don’t reach their goal every day? This is not a shot at #ds106 or the people involved: #ds106 is an amazing project with a creative and passionate team of people and they deserve all the accolades they can get! Put in other words, will people read and comment on your blog just because you have one? Will people support your kickstarter project, just because you have one? What do educators, researchers, scholars and students need to know about social media and networks so that their tweets, facebook updates, and linkein profiles are not lost in a desert of digital sand?

Digital scholarship practices: Students and researchers working around the system

Posted on March 19th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, NPS, open, scholarship. 5 comments

Imagine being a student at a small university whose library does not have the funds to subscribe to a journal that you need for your final paper. What do you do?

Imagine being a faculty member and you come across a very promising paper relevant to your work, but you can’t access it because there’s a 6-month lag between the time a paper is published and the time it becomes available at your library. What do you do?

A standard approach is to search Google or Google Scholar for the article, as a number of us self-archive our publications as soon as they become available. Another option is to email an author directly and ask for a copy of the paper. I find that most are not only willing, but excited to share their work and talk about it. I love sharing my research and I truly enjoy talking about it, so I’d be delighted to share it with anyone who lacked access but needed it. I believe this falls under fair use licensing.

Through my research on the practices of digital scholars (i.e. individuals who use emerging technologies for purposes relating to networked participatory scholarship) I have discovered another way that individuals use to access scholarship that they need.  If you take a look at the image above, you will see that individuals employ digital tools that we use in our day-to-day lives (a forum) to circumvent obstacles that prevent them from doing their work. In particular, individuals request articles that they do not have access to, and those who have access respond with a copy of the article. What you see here is the creative use of networked technologies to enable practice and success. And it does not just happen in open forums like the one above, but I’ve also seen it occur on Facebook and Twitter. Interestingly enough, in one situation, the author was requesting access to an article s/he wrote because the publisher (!) did not provide him/her with a final copy of the paper. We can debate the moral and ethical dimensions of this activity, but to me this practice highlights ideas relating to empowerment, networked skills, digital participation, reciprocity, and participatory cultures as they pertain to scholars’ digital practices. [Update 11/26/2012: In addition to the platform above, other spaces where exchanges happen are: The pirate university  http://www.pirateuniversity.org/ and #IcanHazPDF on Twitter. Andy Coverdale has also discussed this topic.]

Such practices aren’t foreign to teachers, as they are akin to using proxies or usb keys to bypass school filters. For example, here’s a video by Alec Couros that demonstrates this activity:

Localizing Adventure Learning at SITE 2012

Posted on March 12th, by George Veletsianos in my research, scholarship. No Comments

Austin hosted SITE 2012 last week, which, in addition to providing a great opportunity to see friends and colleagues, it allowed us to share our most recent work on Adventure Learning. In this recent reformulation of the approach, we discuss what learned from five small-scale projects, and how those lessons have helped us refine the approach for small projects in which the students are tasked with being the explorers:

Title: Localizing Adventure Learning: Teachers and Students as Expedition Leaders and Members (.doc)

George Veletsianos, University of Texas at Austin, USA
Brant Miller, University of Idaho, USA
Karla Bradley Eitel, University of Idaho, USA
Jan U.H. Eitel, University of Idaho, USA
R. Justin Hougham, University of Idaho, USA

Abstract: Adventure Learning (AL) is an approach to education that aims to engage learners in hybrid learning experiences that bring content alive through meaningful connections to place and personal lives. In this paper, we present and discuss five small-scale AL projects enacted at Texas and Idaho that have informed our understanding of how the AL approach can be conceptualized and used within a variety of formal and informal learning contexts. Through the diverse and varied AL projects described in this paper, we have learned invaluable lessons that will inform future work and inspire possibilities for using AL in additional venues.

EdTech Startups: Exceptional Courses or Exceptional Students?

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

This blog entry was supposed to go out next week, but I am sharing it today because it is relevant to the entry that George Siemens wrote today.

I gave a talk to Curt Bonk’s class a couple of weeks ago and the central premise of that talk was that we should be designing experiences, not products. This is not a new idea. It goes back to the beginning of my career and it’s a passion that I share with a lot of folks, most notably Aaron Doering and Charles Miller at the University of Minnesota (who incidentally just landed in Sydney for their most recent Adventure Learning project). For example, see  Raising the bar for instructional outcomes: Towards transformative learning experiences (2008) and Designing Opportunities for Transformation with Emerging Technologies (2011). A central tenet of the 2008 paper is the following:

There exist “strong pressures to produce mediocre instructional products based on templates and preexisting content.”

That was in 2008. Now consider 2011/2012: Interest in open courses and in large online classes has exploded. The edtech entrepreneur is eager to leverage online education and capitalize on efficiency, by focusing on the delivery of pre-packaged content. Scale and efficiency are key in that if one is able to efficiently deliver content (read: low cost) to large numbers of people, s/he can charge a small fee that will yield high profit. This isn’t a new idea either. David Noble talks about the commodification of education, the attempt to market and sell education as a commodity.

Sebastian Thrun, who was one of the faculty members teaching the Stanford AI class last Fall recently “showed emails from a student who took the AI class, when he could get Internet access, amidst mortar and rocket attacks in Afganistan; and another, a single working mother, who refused to quit the class because it gave her a sense of accomplishment.” Are these statements describing exceptional courses? Are they describing experiences that pull students and engage them to their core? Or are they describing exceptional people? When you provide access to exceptional people (like the two individuals above), they will amaze you, because, well, they are exceptional! How do you design courses that are exceptional, that adapt to all learners, and provide support structures for individuals who are not exceptional? You provide opportunities for personally relevant and meaningful transformation. How do you do that, you ask? Here’s my (free) advice to any hopeful edtech startup: Designing Opportunities for Transformation with Emerging Technologies (pdf).

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)).

Author Experiences with Journals and Publishing

Posted on February 2nd, by George Veletsianos in scholarship. 6 comments

This entry was motivated by a blog entry from Jenny Mackness and an email I received on the same day from a Journal publisher. The publisher took 6 months from review to proofs, but just emailed me to let me know that they would like the proofs returned in 48 hours to “ensure fast publication of your paper.” I see a disconnect there, don’t you?

Moving on to Jenny’s blog entry: Jenny shares her experiences with a recent paper she published in the latest issue of IRRODL (which came out on January 31st). My co-authors and I also have a paper in the same issue. Jenny says, “We submitted the paper in October, which is not that long ago in terms of actual days, but it is in terms of my thinking. I doubt that IRRODL could have published any quicker, so I’m not sure how this mismatch between author and publisher could be resolved.” I agree with Jenny that our thinking in this field is moving quickly and we would all benefit from rapid access to each other’s work. However, I  think that 4 months is a great turn-around from submission to publication for a journal whose copyeditors do an amazingly thorough job. There are well-known book publishers out there that take longer and do no copy-editing whatsoever. Our paper, which appeared in the same issue, was submitted on July 31st, and I’m happy with the 6-month turn-around, which includes submission, double-blind peer-review, decision, minor revision, submission, acceptance, copyediting, and proofs.

Nonetheless, I do think that journals can publish papers quicker. Here’s how: My paper and Jenny’s paper appeared in a journal issue [13(1)] which consisted of 13 other papers. The notion of an issue consisting of a number of papers is a remnant of paper journals. It is possible for a digital journal to publish papers as soon as they are completed, by assigning them just to a volume instead of waiting to fill an issue. Thus Jenny’s paper could have been published in volume 13 and my paper could have been published in volume 13, but neither would have been published in issue 1. This is what Sage Open does. Another way to go about this would be to publish one the journal on a monthly basis, and just include those papers that are ready at the cut-off date for the month. This is the way First Monday works.