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

Automating the collection of literature – or, keeping up to date with the MOOC literature

Posted on August 6th, by George Veletsianos in Ideas, moocs, open, sharing, work. 1 Comment

Spoiler: We’ve been toying with automating the collection of literature on MOOCs (and other topics). Interested? Read further.

Researchers use different ways to keep updated with the literature on a topic. On a daily basis for example, I use Table of Content (TOC) alerts, RSS feeds, and Google Scholar alerts. Many colleagues have sought to keep track of literature on a topic and share it. For example, danah boyd maintained this list of papers on Twitter and microblogging; Tony Bates shared a copy of the MOOC literature he collected on his blog; Katy Jordan also kept a collection of MOOC literature.


A Google Scholar Alert

The problem with maintaining an updated list of relevant literature on a topic is that it quickly becomes a daunting and time-consuming task, especially for popular topics (like MOOCs or social media or teacher training).

In an attempt to automate the collection and sharing of  literature, my research team and I created a python script that goes through the Google Scholar alert emails that I receive (see above), parses the content of the emails, and places it in an html page on my server, from where others can access it. The script runs daily and any new literature is added to the page.

We aren’t there just yet, but here is the output for the MOOC literature going back to November 2012. All 400 pages. I placed it in a Google Document because the html file is 2.5mb (and its easier for people to just download it in a format that they prefer)

In theory this is supposed to work quite well, but there’s a couple of problems with it:

  1. The output is as good as the input. Google Scholar (and its associated alerts) are a black box – meaning there’s no transparency of what is and isn’t indexed.
  2. It’s automated – which means it’s not clean and some “mooc literature” may not really be mooc literature because Google Scholar alerts work on keywords in the body of papers/text rather than keywords describing the papers/text.

We plan on to make the source code available and describe the process to install this so that others can use it for their own literature needs. My question is: How can the output be more helpful to you? Is there anything else that we can do to improve this?

New publication: A case study of scholars’ open and sharing practices

Posted on August 4th, by George Veletsianos in my research, open, papers, scholarship, sharing. No Comments

I have a new paper out that sought to identify and describe faculty members’ open and sharing practices at one North American institution. Part of the goal was to juxtapose open practices and sharing practices. The paper highlights individual and environmental influences on open and sharing practices. The paper also suggests that defaults (e.g., the default youtube license) may be exerting pressures on the ways that scholars share their teaching, research, and scholarship. In other words, one way to instigate further change in this domain might be to rethink the default options.

Although the open scholarship movement has successfully captured the attention and interest of higher education stakeholders, researchers currently lack an understanding of the degree to which open scholarship is enacted in institutions that lack institutional support for openness. I help fill this gap in the literature by presenting a descriptive case study that illustrates the variety of open and sharing practices enacted by faculty members at a North American university.

Open and sharing practices enacted at this institution revolve around publishing manuscripts in open ways, participating on social media, creating and using open educational resources, and engaging with open teaching. This examination finds that certain open practices are favored over others. Results also show that even though faculty members often share scholarly materials online for free, they frequently do so without associated open licenses (i.e. without engaging in open practices). These findings suggest that individual motivators may significantly affect the practice of openness, but that environmental factors (e.g., institutional contexts) and technological elements (e.g., YouTube’s default settings) may also shape open practices in unanticipated ways.

The paper, open access and all, is here in pdf, or directly from the source: Veletsianos, G. (2015). A case study of scholars’ open and sharing practices. Open Praxis, 7(3), 199-209. 

University curricula should include the teaching of Networked Scholarship

Posted on July 21st, by George Veletsianos in my research, networked scholars, NPS, scholarship, sharing. 1 Comment

This year’s AERA call for proposals focuses on public scholarship. But how do faculty members and scholars come to learn how to use social media and be “public scholars” in the networked world that they inhabit?

Given recent events surrounding professor’s use of social media (e.g., Salaita, Sara Goldrick-Rab, Kansas Board of Regents “improper use of social media” policy, the list goes on), it seems to me that we need to create curricula to help future scholars make sense of networked societies and networked cultures.

The need for such curricula is pressing because (a) scholars/professors face significant tensions when they are online and (b) many of the practices and innovations inherent to networked scholarship appear to question traditional elements of scholarly practice and institutional norms (e.g., questioning peer-review, publishing work-in-progress, accessing literature through crowdsourcing).

In other words, universities need to grapple with networked scholarship, as well as with the changing nature of scholarship, on a curricular level. Universities need to address  networked scholarship on a policy level too (e.g., clarifying ex ante, and not ex post facto whether social media participation is scholarship), but that’s a blog post for the future.

Networked scholarship curricula will need to balance a focus on tools and issues. The teaching of tools could instill future scholars with the abilities to use networked technologies productively. For instance, networked scholars might employ the services of text-mining techniques (e.g., Google Alerts) to track mentions of their name, areas of research, or publications such that they can keep track of and participate in discussions mentioning their work. Many trends, including the publication of journals in digital form, the pervasive use of institutional profiles, and the use of social media services for personal reasons combine to make it highly likely that scholars are already searchable and findable online. Thus online presence is assumed to exist regardless of whether a scholar has taken any steps in cultivating such a presence, and the teaching of tools to manage one’s presence may be necessary. The teaching of issues pertaining to networked scholarship is also significant. Scholars would benefit from making sense of issues such as networked societies, context collapse, alternative metrics, homophily, filter bubble, open access publishing, digital literacies, and community-engaged scholarship. For instance, doctoral preparation curricula might problematize the fact that while Twitter might allow researchers to follow one another and discuss topics of interest, such discussions may go unchallenged, if scholars are only followed by those who have similar educational training and beliefs to them.

Further,  scholars will benefit greatly from gaining a well-rounded understanding of networks that does not privilege a technodeterministic perspective, but rather accounts for a sociocultural understanding of networks that positions them as places where knowledge is produced and disseminated, tensions and conflict are rampant, inequities exists, disclosures often occur, and identity is fragmented. University curricula might also prepare scholars to work in an increasingly uncertain world: What challenges will scholars face at their institutions or in the broader culture as they enact networked practices?


“It will be fun, they said” meme – applied to Networked Scholarship

 The concept of “sharing” is a persistent finding in my research, and it might be a topic worth exploring in university curricula. The individuals who are embracing sharing practices are finding value in doing so, and often advocate that others should share too. It is not unusual for example to encounter quotes such as “good things happen to those who share,” or “sharing is caring,” or “education is sharing.” These quotes illustrate and exemplify the values of the networked scholarship subculture. While faculty members have historically shared their work with each other (e.g., through letters, telephone calls, and conference presentations), and open access publishing is gaining increasing acceptance, educators and researchers are increasingly sharing their scholarship online in open spaces. Wiley and Green (2012, pp. 82) even argue that “[e]ducation is, first and foremost, an enterprise of sharing. In fact, sharing is the sole means by which education is effected.” However, education, both K-12 to higher education, has generally lacked a culture of sharing. Barab, Makinster, Moore, and Cunningham (2001) note that “change efforts [in K-12] have often been unsuccessful due in large part to the lack of a culture of sharing among teachers (Chism, 1985).” A core value of this subculture seems to be that sharing should be treated as a scholarly practice. As such, future scholars may benefit from an examination and critique of this practice to understand both its implications as well as its ideologies. Significantly, doctoral preparation curricula may need to grapple with how “sharing” interfaces with “open practice” and what the implications of various means of sharing are for scholars and the academy. For example, posting copyrighted scholarship on may constitute a form of sharing, but this is not the same as “openness.” provides a distribution mechanism in the form of a social network, but does little to foster and promote open licensing and creative commons policies with respect to scholarship.

* This is an edited exceprt from my book, Networked Scholars (due out in January, 2016).

Networked Scholarship and Reddit

Posted on July 13th, by George Veletsianos in networked scholars. No Comments

Two points.

One. An article in Inside Higher Ed last week noted that for some academics, Reddit is becoming a “credible platform to discuss academic interests with people whom they otherwise would not have had a chance to debate.”

Owens (2014) provides more history into this phenomenon and describes in more detail into how “ Reddit created the world’s largest dialogue between scientists and the general public.” The argument goes something like this: Social media (like Reddit) allow scholars to network with diverse audiences – a valued activity, considering that knowledge generated in universities can have significant benefits for society.

Reddit is a popular content aggregator. Various communities within the site are called subreddits. One subreddit is called IAmA, which stands for “I am A.” In this community, users post “Ask Me Anything” or “Ask me Almost/Absolutely Anything” threads, inviting others to ask questions of them. This community is one of the most popular on the site, and it features more than 8 million subscribers. “Ask me Anything” threads appear in other subreddits as well (e.g., in the Science subreddit).

A number of scholars have  initiated threads and have sought to share their knowledge with this community. Such scholars included Tina Seelig (a professor of innovation and creativity at Stanford), Steven D. Munger (a researcher of tastes and odours at the University of Florida), Peggy Mason (a Professor of Neurobiology at the University of Chicago who studies empathy in rats), David Kimhy (a professor of psychiatry at the University of Columbia who discussed the results of his latest research study), and Mae Jemison (former NASA astronaut who discussed the teaching and learning of science).

Two. It’s not all rosy.

Reddit’s creators impose little restrictions and take a hands-off approach to user-contributed content. Thus, while Reddit features some shining examples of networked scholarship and knowledge exchange, it has often – and rightly so – been critiqued for being a festering ground for communities promoting misogyny, racism, and homophobia.

We need critical accounts of networked scholarship – because even though Reddit, any “Reddit” allows people to come together and network, the technology is not as democratizing as anticipated.