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

Category: scholarship

COHERE 2013. Small is beautiful and MOOCs as symptoms

Posted on October 27th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, my research, online learning, open, scholarship, sharing. 19 comments

I am sitting at a coffee shop in Vancouver, BC reflecting on my time at COHERE 2013. This was my first Canadian conference since moving to Victoria, and it was a great opportunity to meet and spend time with colleagues (many of them Canadians) including Tony Bates, Rory McGreal, Martha-Cleveland Innes, David Porter, Diane Janes, Diane Salter, Jenni Hayman, Richard Pinet, Robert Clougherty, and Cindy Ives. It was also great to see Ron Owston, Frank Bulk, and Kathleen Matheos again – and my colleagues Vivian Forssman and BJ Eib were there too! The conference was relatively small and the sessions were 40 minutes long, allowing ample time and space for conversations, networking, and debates. I really appreciated the intimate atmosphere that we were afforded for spending time with each other. The organizers (Kathleen Matheos and Stacey Woods) did a fantastic job!

Cable Green from Creative Commons delivered the first keynote and David Porter from BC Campus delivered the second. I sat on a respondent panel for Cable’s keynote and argued three points: (a) we need to build on and go beyond open educational resources, and think about open practices, (b) each of us needs to take action in supporting openness (e.g., by teaching sharing as a value and literacy), and (c) by recognizing that “open” is under threat of being subverted. It was fascinating to sit on a panel with four others and see how our responses to the keynote differed, but how they all coalesced around similar messages as well.

I also gave a presentation discussing early findings from my research into learners experiences in MOOCs, open courses, and other open learning environments, and you might be interested in Tony Bates’ take on this research:

These findings are not fully refined and analyzed, yet. However, in thinking about these results, reading the literature and claims around MOOCs, and thinking about recent developments in educational technology, I am beginning to see MOOCs more and more as a symptom of chronic failures of the educational system to tackle significant issues. On the one hand, I and others have argued that MOOC creators have ignored research into how people learn and how people learn with technology. Tony Bates  in particular (see the last link), is very clear when he says “Why is MIT ignoring 25 years of research into online learning and 100 years research into how students learn in its design of online courses?”

On the other hand however, the rise of MOOCs seems to be a symptom of a series of failures and pressures. I like the argument that George Siemens makes in relation to inadequate university approaches to educational needs, “Universities have failed to recognize the pent-up demand for learning as the economy has diversified and society has become more complex and interconnected. As a consequence, the internet has contributed by creating a shadow education system where learners learn on their own and through social networks. MOOCs reflect society’s transition to a knowledge economy and reveal the inadequacy of existing university models to meet learner’s needs.” I’d like to take this argument further. As a field, we could do more to have greater impact on the design and development of educational technology solutions, including MOOCs. Steps to do that would include sharing our research more broadly and in different ways (e.g., publishing in open access venues and putting theory-to-practice), engaging in what Tom Reeves calls socially-responsible research that solves real problems, working across disciplines, reconsidering the ways that we understand, evaluate, and reward impact at our institutions, and so on. More on these issues, soon!


Visiting Educause 2013. And encountering two innovations

Posted on October 21st, by George Veletsianos in open, scholarship, sharing. 3 comments

I visited Educause 2013 this year, largely after an invitation by Tanya Joosten and Amy Collier to participate on a panel exploring what makes technology pilots successful. The panel was entitled Prepare for Lift-Off: Becoming a Successful IT Pilot Site. Laura Pasquini took some notes on a google doc and Tanya posted the slidedeck here. The session was described as follows:

“Your campus is an innovator in many ways, and you’ve been approached to be a pilot site for a new campus IT product. You’d like to say yes to the idea, but you’re not sure you have the infrastructure to make it work. Join a panel of your university colleagues to learn the ropes and discover what it takes to successfully deliver and host technology pilots on your campus. The panelists will offer a dynamic conversation on the importance of stakeholder involvement, faculty engagement and selection, faculty development and support, technical infrastructure, student support, research and evaluation, and critical steps your institution needs to take to ensure your pilot not only flies but soars.”

Photo by Jason Jones

This was my first time at the conference. My goal throughout the conference was to explore this group’s horizon, or what this group is currently seeing as being promising initiatives for higher education. In summary, the focus was on: competency-based learning, learning analytics, and MOOCs. Openness was relatively absent. Research was largely absent. Vendor-driven solutions were pervasive, and I left yearning to know more about innovations created and implemented by learning designers and/or by institutions themselves.

There were two innovations that I have been thinking about since the event:

  • I had a lovely chat with Rob Farrow who shared with me the work that the Open University is doing with the OER Research Hub. The project aims to collect evidence in relation to the claims surrounding openness, and more specifically to answer the question ‘What is the impact of OER on learning and teaching practices?’ Given my beliefs about the inordinate value that research brings to educational technology, you can see why I was exited about the topic.
  • The second innovation that I learned about was Class Mob, which is a prototype developed through the Breakthough Models Academy. There are some interesting projects in that link, but I thought that Class Mobs represented a truly novel idea centering around the development of an alternative educational system that supported learners, accounted for what we know about teaching/learning, encouraged corporations to extend traditional higher education, and empowered individuals to have a say in their education.


The road to SXSWedu 2014

Posted on October 17th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, my research, open, scholarship, sharing. 5 comments

In mid-August,, I posted a note asking for your vote on a panel I proposed for SXSWedu consisting of Tanya Joosten, Amy Collier, Audrey Watters, and myself. The topic was: Startups Should Talk with Researchers and Educators,

I’m uber excited to report that our proposal has been accepted. We will be headed to Austin in March to discuss how researchers and educators can contribute to the design, development, refinement, and ultimately effectiveness of learning technologies and educational technology.


Tanya described why she is interested in this topic on her blog. I thought I would do the same, especially as Tanya, Amy, and I were at Educause this week discussing issues that educational institutions need to consider when piloting for technology/innovations.

A lot of you may not know this, but I have a degree in computer science, and way back when, in my undergraduate thesis I developed software enabling real-time interactions between students and instructor that emulated classroom processes by allowing students to “raise their hand” to ask questions, make comments, etc. This was nothing spectacular, unique, or groundbreaking. Yet, it was my first attempt at developing educational technology to solve a (perceived) problem. Since then, I have concurrently done design/development work and research, and I see myself as a researcher and a designer. Some of the projects I have worked on are AvenueASL (a language learning and e-assessment platform), Project Engage (a dual credit course and online learning environment introducing students to the Big Ideas relating to Computer Science), Geothentic (an online environment immersing students in Geography through situated, real-world problem-solving), and AL through Water and MOSS (an online learning environment supporting science learning via outdoor exploration). I don’t only write about learning technologies. I also build them.

How does one reconcile D&D work and research? My perspective is that it’s not enough to study what happens with educational technology. Studying, analyzing, critiquing, and questioning educational technology is very important. It’s imperative. But, we need to take the additional step to use the research to (a) design and develop educational applications, and (b) inform others on what the research says so that they can develop effective technology-based solutions based on what we know about teaching and learning. Hence the need for this panel.

I was also motivated to put together this panel after participating in SXSWedu 2013. One of the sessions I attended last year focused on business models for educational technology. One of the panelists noted that their commitment to their investors is profit, not learning outcomes. I’m not naive. Entrepreneurship is important and we should support and reward it in various ways. However, putting profits before learning outcomes is corrosive and dangerous. The biggest losers in such a setup will be learners, the idea of the university, and the idea of education.  Our panel at SXSWedu is an attempt to add some sense to the conversation, to ‘add the “edu” to “sxsxedu” ‘ (I think that’s a Laura Pasquini quote, but i might be mistaken). It is also an attempt to explain to startups and vendors how they can have their cake and eat it too, how they can make meaningful, and much needed, change in education without necessarily sacrificing other goals that they have.

Whether you are an educator, a startup company, a researcher, a reporter, or an administrator, please join us – we’d love to have you!

For your information, here is our panel’s description: Education is facing numerous challenges. Educational technology startups promise solutions. However, entrepreneurs seem to disregard the knowledge that educators and researchers have amassed that can help startups address these challenges, or, at least, help them avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. At the same time, we were astounded by the lack of educators and researchers that were sharing their knowledge at last year’s SXSWedu conference. The event felt more like a vendor gathering than what the SXSWedu website describes as “meaningful conversation and collaboration around promising practices and tools for improved learning.” If we want meaningful and transformational change in how we do education, it is imperative for entrepreneurs and educators/researchers to converse. In this interactive panel, we will discuss how educators/researchers can help startups improve their products and answer questions pertaining to education research, how people learn, and classroom practice.

Learner experiences with open online learning and MOOCs e-book

Posted on September 24th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, online learning, open, scholarship, sharing. 23 comments

I’m excited to announce the publication of an open access e-book on learners’ experiences with open learning and MOOCs. The book consists of ten chapters by student authors and one introductory chapter by me. Part pedagogical experiment, part an exploratory investigation into learners’ experiences with emerging forms of learning, the aim of the book is to capture and share student stories of open online learning.


This publication is necessary for a number of reasons.

First, from a pedagogical perspective, whenever possible, we should be asking students to do a discipline, not just read about it. In this occasion, students were asked to do open online learning and reflect/write about their experience, instead of just reading about the field and the experience of others.

Second, in the frenzy surrounding the rise of “edtech” and MOOCs, it seems that student voices and experiences are rarely considered. This e-book is an attempt to remind designers and developers that the learning experience should be a central tenet of attempts to reform education. Let’s all remind ourselves that what we should be designing is learning experiences – not products for efficient consumption.

Third, the examination of learning experiences with open learning and MOOCs in the literature is scant. Further, recent literature tends to gravitate towards big data and analytics, and while those research endeavors are worthwhile, they tend to generate abstract descriptions of learner behaviors. A holistic understanding of learner experiences should include both investigations of patterns of how learners behave as well as in-depth qualitative descriptions of what learning in open environments is like. To illustrate, learning analytics research suggests that there are a number of ways learners typically engage with a course (e.g., completing, auditing, disengaging, sampling). Complementary to this, our book generates nuanced descriptions of some of these categories. For example, even though one of the authors would be considered as completing a MOOC he “was left with a partial sense of accomplishment and feelings of hollowness and incompleteness.”

The scholarly contributions from this book are two. They can be summarized as follows, but for in-depth descriptions, please read my full chapter, which is simultaneously published on Hybrid Pedagogy:

  • The realities of open online learning are different from the hopes of open online learning.
  • We only have small pieces of an incomplete mosaic of students’ learning experiences with open online learning.

As with the emerging technologies in distance education book that I edited in 2010 (also available as open access), please don’t hesitate to send me an email to let me know what you think about this book. I’d love your thoughts! If you are teaching a class on emerging learning environments, open education, online learning, and other related topics, and you find this book helpful as reading material, I’d love to hear about how you are using it!

P.S The book is published on Github, which means that you can effortlessly improve and expand on this work. If you want to learn more about this, Kris Shaffer, who was instrumental in making our github project happen, wrote an excellent article on Github and publishing.


Forthcoming ebook and twitter chat on MOOC and open learning experiences

Posted on September 4th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, online learning, open, scholarship. 18 comments

I’m very excited to share the news that Hybrid Pedagogy will be publishing an open access e-book that I edited on learner experiences with Open Online Learning and MOOCs.

The e-book, entitled Learner Experiences with MOOCs and Open Online Learning, is a project in which student authors describe and reflect upon their open online learning experiences. While this book aims at improving our understanding of student experiences with open online learning, it is also an attempt to give voice to learners, as current conversations around educational innovations in general, and MOOCs in particular, lack student voices.

In setting the stage for the book, Hybrid pedagogy is holding a a Twitter discussion under the hashtag #digped on Friday, September 6 from 1:00 – 2:00pm Eastern (10:00 – 11:00am Pacific). We’d love for you to join us! You can read more details about the discussion here!


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.