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.
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!
We are in year 2 of an NSF-funded project intended to improve and broaden participation in high school computer science courses. We are using a technology-enhanced PBL approach and are adopting the Computer Science Principles as our guiding curricular framework. (P.S. Our course is available here for free under a Creative Commons license). I have received the near-final copy of our course trailer today, and I’m really excited about it. Houndstooth Studio and Respiree Learning worked with us for this, and as you can see from the video below they have done a great job!
I just returned from the 2013 Sloan-C Emerging Technologies for Online Learning conference in Las Vegas. What a fantastic gathering! The value of the conference to me was the numerous great conversations with new friends (Jen Ross, Christopher Brooks, Amy Collier, David Wicks) and old friends (Tanya Joosten, Laura Pasquini). And, as always, I finally met friends and colleagues who I have interacted with online for a while (Mark Lee, Rolin Moe).
* * *
Amy notes that the unconference was fantastic. She is spot on!
I’ve been trying to make sense of the conference and my experiences since I left. My friend and colleague Joel Donna (of 3ring) came to Austin to spend some time with me on Saturday-Monday and the conversations I had at the conference continued with him as well. Here’s what has been on my mind:
1. Three years ago, I used to have conversations with colleagues wherein I was desperately trying to make the case that technology-enhanced pedagogy was a powerful approach to have in our “how to improve education” toolkit. I wouldn’t be surprised if at times I was called a technology evangelist (any of you that follow my work know that I am not). Nowadays, I am finding myself on the other end of the spectrum – cautioning colleagues about the narrative that education is broken, educational technology is the fix, and for-profit corporations are here to save the day. If Gardner Campbell was here, he would have said, “That is not what I meant at all; That is not it, at all.” What is education for? Who is it for? What does it mean to learn? If education really “is broken,” what exactly is broken? Is the funding structure broken? Are the pedagogies that we use broken? Is instructor preparation broken? Is our understanding of how people learn broken? Is the notion of academic freedom broken? What is broken?
In the world that I inhabit, “broken” refers to educational systems that employ unjust practices, disregard unequal access, promote exploitation, and embrace pedagogies of hopelessness and marginalization. Unfortunately, I suspect that the notion of “broken” that I perceive may be unlike the notion of “broken” that popular narratives embrace.
2. I can try to convince individuals that this contemporary fable of education being broken is a story told and retold by powerful individuals/entities who have something to gain by creating alternative systems (…and just to clarify, I am not arguing that education is perfect – see above). Do we stop there? Ideally, no. What educators and researchers need to do is to become involved in the design and development of educational systems and educational technology. If we don’t, someone else will design our future for us. Do we really want that? Do we really want future educational systems designed without input from educators and researchers? I hope not. I am working on a project related to this and I hope to be able to share it with you within the next two weeks.
3. I met a a lot of colleagues at the conference that are thinking about similar issues. This makes me quite happy. And I am very glad and fortunate to be able to spend time with all of you!
* * *
I had a great time participating in the Career Forum roundtables, giving advice to PhD students about academia and sharing my own experiences. I value this. I value having conversations with students and spending time together answering difficult questions. The question that keeps coming up here is: What is your passion? Is it teaching? Is it service? Is it a particular research method, a particular pedagogy, or worldview? How does that relate to the world at present? How can you pursue your passion? And to close the circle, unstructured time with colleagues is important and can be very productive for these types of conversations.
* * *
I was originally invited to the conference to give a plenary talk on emerging technologies. Huge thanks to David and Jen for all their help in making this a success. My presentation was recorded and I am really hoping that it will be made available online for free (hint, hint). My slides are below, and a storify of my talk, courtesy of Laura Pasquini, is here.