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

Tag: education

Multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and cross-disciplinary research on MOOCs and digital learning

Posted on July 2nd, by George Veletsianos in moocs, my research, online learning, scholarship. No Comments

Multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and crossdisciplinary research represent promising approaches for studying digital learning. Prior research however, discovered that research efforts directed at digital learning via MOOCs were dominated by individuals affiliated with education (Gašević, Kovanović, Joksimović, and Siemens, 2014). In their assessment of proposals submitted for funding under the MOOC research initiative (MRI), Gašević and colleagues show that more than 50% of the authors in all phases of the MRI grants were from the field of education. This result was interesting because a common perception in the field is that the MOOC phenomenon is “driven by computer scientists” (p. 166).

We were curious to understand whether this was the case with research conducted on MOOCs (as opposed to grant proposals) and used a dataset of author affiliations publishing MOOC research in 2013-2015 to examine the following questions:

RQ 1: What are the disciplinary backgrounds of the authors who published empirical MOOC research in 2013-2015?

RQ 2: How does the disciplinary distribution of the authors who published MOOC research in 2013-2015 compare to that of the submissions to the MRI reported by Gašević et al. (2014)?

RQ 3: Is the 2013-2015 empirical research on MOOCs more or less interdisciplinary than was previously the case?

Results from our paper (published in IRRODL last week) show the following:

– In 2013-2015, Education and Computer Science (CS) were by far the most common affiliations for researchers writing about MOOCs to possess
– During this time period, the field appears to be far from monolithic, as more than 40% of papers written on MOOCs are from authors not affiliated with Education/CS.
– The corpus of papers that we examined (empirical MOOC papers published in 2013-2015) was less dominated by authors from the field of education than were the submissions to the MOOC Research Initiative.
– A comparison of affiliations with past published papers shows that recent MOOC research appears to be more interdisciplinary than was the case in research published in 2008–2012.

We draw 2 implications from these results:

1. Current research on MOOCs appears to be more interdisciplinary than in the past, suggesting that the scientific complexity of the field is being tackled by a greater diversity of researchers. This suggests that even though xMOOCs are often disparaged for their teacher-centric and cognitivist-behaviorist approach, empirical research on xMOOCs may be more interdisciplinary than research on cMOOCs.

2. These results however, also lead us to wonder whether the trend toward greater interdisciplinarity of recent research might reflect (a) the structure and pedagogical model used in xMOOCs, (b) the greater interest in the field of online learning, and (c) the hype and popularity of MOOCs. Could it be that academics’ familiarity with the xMOOC pedagogical model make it a more accessible venue in which researchers from varying disciplines can conduct studies? Or, is increased interdisciplinary attention to digital education the result of media attention, popularity, and funding afforded to the MOOC phenomenon?

We conclude by arguing that “The burgeoning interest in digital learning, learning at scale, online learning, and other associated innovations presents researchers with the exceptional opportunity to convene scholars from a variety of disciplines to improve the scholarly understanding and practice of digital learning broadly understood. To do so however, researchers need to engage in collaborations that value their respective expertise and recognize the lessons learned from past efforts at technology-enhanced learning. Education and digital learning researchers may need to (a) take on a more active role in educating colleagues from other disciplines about what education researchers do and do not know about digital learning from the research that exists in the field and, (b) remain open to the perspectives that academic “immigrants” can bring to this field (cf. Nissani, 1997).”

For more on this, here’s our paper.

Institutional (strategic) visions for the future

Posted on March 30th, by George Veletsianos in sharing. 16 comments

I am in the process of designing a new course for our new MA degree in higher education administration and leadership and one of the activities I will be asking my students to engage with will be an analysis, evaluation, and critique of institutional visions and strategic plans. I am giving providing them with a list of resources/visions, and am asking them to locate their own as well. Here’s what I have so far:

[Webpage] Learning and Living at Stanford 2025:

[White Paper] Flexible learning: Charting a strategic vision for UBC-Vancouver

[White Paper] University of Saskatchewan Vision 2025: From Spirit to Action:

[White Paper] Institute-wide taskforce on the future of MIT education:

If your institution has one of these that is shared publicly, could you please share it below?

Universities have always been changing

Posted on February 26th, by George Veletsianos in scholarship. 5 comments


I’ve just mentioned to a room full of people that universities have always been changing and that the narrative of the static university unchanging since the dawn of time is a myth. I then look at my RSS feed, and see that Martin Weller writes:

“It is quite common to hear statements along the lines of “education hasn’t changed in 100 years”. This is particularly true from education start-up companies, who are attempting to create a demand for their product by illustrating how much change is required in the sector…If you were to come to a university campus, superficially it looks as though things are pretty unchanged.”

The reality is that universities have always been changing, shifting, largely to reflect the societies that house them. Martin notes a couple of things that have been changing: student demographics and the role of the technology.

Other changes include

  • institutional makeup and diversification: liberal arts colleges, community colleges, for-profit universities, public universities, mega universities, dual-institution degrees, online universities, and the list goes on and on
  • institutional funding: Institutions in the US and Canada used to receive a lot of their funding from the state/province. State/Province contributions have been declining, with some institutions in the US receiving less than 10% of their operating budget from the state
  • Faculty roles and responsibilities have been shifting and I expect that this will continue to happen, with greater involvement of instructional designers and media developers in the course development process

Perhaps when people say that education hasn’t changed or that universities have haven’t changed, they mean that universities have been present for a long time and go on to falsely assert that they haven’t changed their practices. That’s true, universities have existed for a long time, but they are much different than the universities of let’s say 100 years ago.

This of course doesn’t mean that universities are perfect. There’s a lot to improve upon, which is why this is an exciting time to be in the field!

On peer-review

Posted on February 5th, by George Veletsianos in Ideas, my research, scholarship. 6 comments

My colleague Amy Collier wrote a thoughtful and reflective post on peer-review. Peer review has been a topic of conversation at a number of other spaces recently, including the Chronicle of Higher Education advice columns and Inside Higher Ed.

One of the most thoughtful writings on the topic that I have read is a conversational series of articles initiated by Kevin Kumashiro, called Thinking Collaboratively about the Peer-Review Process for Journal- Article Publication and published with Harvard Educational Review. This is an excellent piece of writing and even though it was published in 2005 it is as relevant today as it ever was. For example, here’s a sample from one of my favorite authors, William Pinar, that appears in this paper:

For professors of education, working pedagogically should structure all that we do, not just what happens in our classrooms or in our offices. Working pedagogically should structure our research as we labor to teach our students and our colleagues what we have understood from study and inquiry. It must also structure our professional relations with each other, especially during those moments of anonymity when we are called upon to critique research and inquiry that is under consideration for publication in our field’s scholarly journals. When we are anonymous, we are called upon to perform that pedagogy of care and concern to which we claim to be committed. The ethical conduct of our professional practice demands no less.

Peer-review will continue to receive attention and interest, as higher education is facing formidable technological and socio-cultural pressures. We wrote about this issue in the past in one of our papers (p. 770-771), and I am going to quote it at length here because of its relevance: 

“Peer review is the first example of how seemingly non-negotiable scholarly artifacts are currently being questioned: while peer review is an indispensable tool intended to evaluate scholarly contributions, empirical evidence questions the value and contributions of peer review (Cole, Cole, & Simon,1981; Rothwell & Martyn, 2000), while its historical roots suggest that it has served functions other than quality control (Fitzpatrick, 2011). On the one hand, Neylon and Wu (2009, p. 1) eloquently point out that “the intentions of traditional peer review are certainly noble: to ensure methodological integrity and to comment on potential significance of experimental studies through examination by a panel of objective, expert colleagues”, while Scardamalia and Bereiter (2008, p. 9) recognize that “like democracy, it [peer-review] is recognized to have many faults but is judged to be better than the alternatives”. Yet, peer review’s harshest critics consider it an anathema. Casadevall and Fang (2009) for instance, question whether peer review is in fact a subtle cousin of censorship that relies heavily upon linguistic negotiation or grammatical “courtship rituals” to determine value, instead of scientific validity or value to the field, while Boshier (2009) argues that the current, widespread acceptance of peer review as a valid litmus test for scholarly value is a “faith-” rather than “science-based” approach to scholarship, citing studies in which peer review was found to fail in identifying shoddy work and to succeed in censoring originality… The challenge for scholarly practice is to devise review frameworks that are not just better than the status quo, but systems that take into consideration the cultural norms of scholarly activity, for if they don’t, they might be doomed from their inception. A recent experiment with public peer review online at Nature, for example, revealed that scholars exhibited minimal interest in online commenting and informal discussions with findings suggesting that scholars “are too busy, and lack sufficient career incentive, to venture onto a venue such as Nature’s website and post public, critical assessments of their peers’ work” (Nature, 2006, { 9). Shakespeare Quarterly, a peer-reviewed scholarly journal founded in 1950 conducted a similar experiment in 2010 (Rowe, 2010). While the trial elicited more interest than the one in Nature with more than 40 individuals contributing who, along with the authors, posted more than 300 comments, the experiment further illuminated the fact that tenure considerations impact scholarly contributions. Cohen (2010) reported that “the first question that Alan Galey, a junior faculty member at the University of Toronto, asked when deciding to participate in The Shakespeare Quarterly’s experiment was whether his essay would ultimately count toward tenure”. Considering the reevaluation of such an entrenched and centripetal structure of scholarly practice as peer review, along with calls for recognizing the value of diverse scholarly activities (Pellino et al., 1984), such as faculty engagement in K–12 education (Foster et al., 2010), we find that the internal values of the scholarly community are shifting in a direction that may be completely incompatible with some of the seemingly non-negotiable elements of 20th century scholarship.”

MOOCs, automation, artificial intelligence seminar

I will be visiting my colleagues at the University of Edinburgh in mid-June to give a seminar on MOOCs, automation, artificial intelligence and pedagogical agents. This is a free event organized by the Moray House School of Education at the U of Edinburgh and supported by the Digital Cultures and Education research group and DigitalHSS. Please feel free to join us face-to-face or online (Date: 18 June 2014; Time: 1-3pm) by registering here.

This seminar will bring together some of my current and past research. A lot of my work in the past examined learners’ experiences with conversational and (semi)intelligent agents. In that research, we discovered that the experience of interacting with intelligent technologies was engrossing (pdf). Yet, learners often verbally abused the pedagogical agents (pdf). We also discovered that appearance (pdf) may be a significant mediating factor in learning. Importanly, this research indicated that “learners both humanized the agents and expected them to abide by social norms, but also identified the agents as programmed tools, resisting and rejecting their lifelike behaviors.”

A lot of my current work examines experiences with open online courses and online social networks, but what exactly does pedagogical agents and MOOCs have to do with each other? Ideas associated with Artificial Intelligence are present in both the emergence of xMOOCs (EdX, Udacity, and Coursera emanated from AI labs) and certain practices associated with them – e.g., see Balfour (2013) on automated essay scoring. Audrey Watters highlighted these issues in the past. While I haven’t yet seen discussions on the integration of lifelike characters and pedagogical agents in MOOCs, the use of lifelike robots for education and the role of the faculty member in MOOCs are areas of  debate and investigation in both the popular press and the scholarly literature.  The quest to automate instruction has a long history, and lives within the sociocultural context of particular time periods. For example, the Second World War found US soldiers and cilvilians unprepared for the war effort, and audiovisual devices were extensively used to efficiently train individuals at a massive scale. Nowadays, similar efforts at achieving scale and efficiencies reflect problems, issues, and cultural beliefs of our time.

I’m working on my presentation, but if you have any questions or thoughts to share, I’d love to hear them!


Networked Scholars open course

Posted on June 3rd, by George Veletsianos in courses, Royal Roads University, scholarship. 28 comments

NetworkedImage courtesy of NetWork

In the Fall, I will be teaching an open course entitled Networked Scholars. We are having our first design meeting this week, and in preparation for that, I have written up a course description (see below). The course is my response to the fact that Research Methods courses in the social sciences rarely examine scholarly practices in the digital age. Digital, networked, and open scholarship are topics that students and academics discover and examine on their own. These topics are too important to ignore. I believe that we should be teaching them in research methods courses. I am creating this course to help introduce individuals to these topics and to create an open online resource to help those who want to integrate these topics into their research methods courses. If you are interested in integrating aspects of this course with your (on campus or online) research methods course, I’d love to talk to you!

Course Description

In this course, we will examine the tools and practices associated with networked, open, and digital scholarship. In particular we will investigate the emergent practice of scholars’ use of social media and online social networks for sharing, critiquing, improving, furthering, and reflecting upon their scholarship. Recent reports indicate that social media are at an early stage of adoption in academia, even though mindful participation in digital spaces is a significant skill for today’s academic and knowledge worker.

Participants will study scholarly presence online. They will examine how particular tools and practices may enhance the impact and reach of scholarship, and will explore the challenges and tensions associated with emerging forms of scholarship. By gaining an understanding of modern forms of scholarship, participants will be better equipped to use digital technologies and networked practices in their own work.

This course will be of immediate relevance to doctoral students, academics, and knowledge workers. Faculty members who teach research methods courses and faculty development professionals may also find this course valuable.

August 20, 2014 update

The course will run on the Canvas network (and concurrently on social media via the #scholar14 hashtag). The course registration page is live.

June 4, 2014 update

Course hashtag: #scholar14

If you’d like to be informed about the start of course or if you’d like to give feedback on the content and design of the course, please fill in the short survey below (also found here).

SXSWedu 2014 events

Posted on February 28th, by George Veletsianos in sharing. 12 comments

I’ll be at SXSWedu 2014, and I’m hoping that the event has matured a bit since last year’s “learning outcomes come second” suggestion. Austin is probably the best US city to host this event as the city itself is undergoing massive change.

I’ll be on two panels this year, and I’m really excited to participate in both. The first panel is one organized with my colleagues Tanya Joosten, Amy Collier, and Audrey Watters:

Startups Should Talk with Researchers and Educators
George Veletsianos (Royal Roads University)
Amy Collier (Stanford University)
Audrey Watters (Hack Education)
Tanya Joosten (University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee)

Educational technology startups seem to ignore the knowledge that educators and researchers have amassed that can help startups succeed. Last year’s SXSWedu event felt more like a vendor gathering than a space for “meaningful conversation.” If we want to change how we do education, these groups must converse. In this panel, we will discuss how educators/researchers can help startups improve products and answer questions pertaining to education research, how people learn, and classroom practice.

The second panel is a meetup organized by Coursetalk:

Karen Francis, Chairman and CEO of AcademixDirect, parent company to CourseTalk
Dr. Anant Agarwal, President, edX
Jason Palmer, Deputy Director, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Dr. George Veletsianos, Canada Research Chair/Associate Professor, Royal Roads University
Stephanie Banchero, National Education Writer, The Wall Street Journal
Jane Swift, CEO, Middlebury Interactive Languages
Education, Training, and Professional Development technology innovations have disrupted the way we learn across the globe. Some are calling online education and MOOCs the pathway to solve the skills and knowledge gaps of today’s global workforce. Others are predicting these technology innovations are the road map to an influx of loss of jobs as more things become automated. Many are collaborating and developing models to improve student outcomes and to connect students with the resources needed to grow and succeed in a global and competitive job market.

On Noam Chomsky and technology’s neutrality

Posted on January 23rd, by George Veletsianos in E-learning, emerging technologies, my research, online learning, scholarship. 21 comments

In a recent interview, Noam Chomsky commented on the relationship between technology and education and one of his thoughts was the following:

As far as technology itself and education is concerned, technology is basically neutral. It’s like a hammer. The hammer doesn’t care whether you use it to build a house or whether on torture, using it to crush somebody’s skull, the hammer can do either.

Hammer – CC Photo by Birmingham Museum and Arts Gallery

I admire Noam Chomsky and his brilliance. I agree with this perspective, but this perspective does not paint the whole picture of what happens when we use technology in education. I’d like to unpack this just a little bit because there is a more accurate picture of technology use in education available to us. The broader picture I describe below helps us understand how technologies are used, why they succeed/fail, and how we can design better learning environments. From my observations of technology use in education, my research, my colleagues’ research, and my reading of the field’s research, here’s what I understand:

  • Technologies can be as neutral as described above. For example, Twitter can be used as a broadcasting medium, a conversational medium, or even a 1-1 support tool. YouTube can replace the VCR used in class. Or, it can bring together people from different locations to discuss topics of common interest. In this sense, technologies are neutral in that they can serve various needs and can be used in different ways.
  • Technologies themselves are rarely neutral. How can that be, you ask, when the bullet point above stated the opposite? Technology is not created in a vacuum. When technology is created, it is built with the developers’ worldviews, values, beliefs, and assumptions embedded into the technology and revealed through the activities supported and encouraged when individuals use the technology. For example, social networking sites (SNS) structure relationships in specific ways (e.g., followers, friends) and perceive privacy in different ways. Technologies hold particular views of the world, and in this way, they are not neutral. This is true for technologies that we repurpose for educational means (e.g., Twitter, YouTube, Ning, Elgg, Facebook, Flickr, and so on) as well as for technologies created specifically for educational purposes. For example, Learning Management Systems (LMS) espouse certain beliefs about the educational process and their default settings and suggestions may shape how they are used. Whn introduced in educational settings, said technologies tend to introduce tensions and conundrums (e.g., The way the LMS or SNS structured instructor-learner relationships vs. the way faculty envisioned instructor-learner relationships may be in conflict, leading to low uptake, rejection of the tool, etc).
  • Technologies can be put to different uses, but not all uses are productive or effective. A hammer doesn’t care whether you use it to “build a house… or crush somebody’s skull,” but it will do a poor job if you try to use it in lieu of a screwdriver. The problem arises when entrepreneurs, designers, instructors, etc treating the hammer as a tool that can help them address all needs. A recent example of this is Udacity treating its product as a solution in search of a problem.

The ways that technology is used on the ground are complex and negotiated. In preparing instructors to use technology in education and designers to envision ways that technology can support/enhance education, we need to expose them to skills and mindsets that allow them to use tools in creative and inspirational ways. We also need to help them understand the assumptions and beliefs that technologies espouse and remain cognizant of the pressures and tensions that these may introduce.


* References pertaining to technology being not-neutral:

Whitworth, A., & Benson, A. (2010). Learning, Design, and Emergence: Two case studies of Moodle in distance education. In G. Veletsianos (Ed.), Emerging Technologies in Distance Education (pp. 195-213). Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University Press.

Hall, R. (2011). Revealing the transformatory moment of learning technology: the place of critical social theory. Research in Learning Technology, 19(3), 273-284.

Lane, L. (2009). Insidious pedagogy: How course management systems impact teaching. First Monday, 14(10).

Crook, C. (2012). The “ digital native ” in context: tensions associated with importing Web 2.0 practices into the school setting. Oxford Review of Education, 38(1), 63-80.