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

Tag: emerging technologies

Education Scholars’ Evolving Uses of Twitter as a Conference Backchannel and Social Commentary Platform

Posted on April 25th, by George Veletsianos in my research, networked scholars, NPS, open, papers, scholarship. No Comments

The scholarly community faces a lack of large-scale research examining how students and professors use social media in authentic contexts and how such use changes over time. Continuing our investigation into how professors and students use social media, Royce Kimmons and I just published a paper in which we used data mining methods to better understand academic Twitter use during, around, and between the 2014 and 2015 American Educational Research Association annual conferences both as a conference backchannel and as a general means of participating online. The first paper we published using similar methods, data, and comparing students and professors’ social media use is here. All of our research on networked scholarship and students’ and faculty members’ use of social media is gathered here.

Descriptive and inferential analysis is used to explore Twitter use for 1,421 academics and the more than 360,000 tweets they posted. Results demonstrate the complicated participation patterns of how Twitter is used “on the ground.” In particular, we show that:

  • tweets during conferences differed significantly from tweets outside conferences
  • students and professors used the conference backchannel somewhat equally, but students used some hashtags more frequently, while professors used other hashtags more frequently
  • academics comprised the minority of participants in these backchannels, but participated at a much higher rate than their non-academic counterparts
  • the number of participants in the backchannel increased between 2014 and 2015, but only a small number of authors were present during both years, and the number of tweets declined from year to year.
  • various hashtags were used throughout the time period during which this study occurred, and some were ongoing (ie, those which tended to be stable across weeks) while others were event-based (ie, those which spiked in a particular week)
  • professors used event-based hashtags more often than students and students used ongoing hashtags more often than professors
  • ongoing hashtags tended to exhibit positive sentiment, while event-based hashtags tended to exhibit more ambiguous or conflicting sentiments

These findings suggest that professors and students exhibit similarities and differences in how they use Twitter and backchannels and indicate the need for further research to better understand the ways that social technologies and online networks are integrated in scholars’ lives.

Here’s the full citation and paper:

Kimmons, R. & Veletsianos, G. (2016). Education Scholars’ Evolving Uses of Twitter as a Conference Backchannel and Social Commentary Platform. British Journal of Educational Technology, 47(3), 445—464.

Analysis of the data-driven MOOC literature published in 2013-2015

Posted on March 21st, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, learner experience, moocs, my research, online learning, open, papers. 2 comments

A number of literature reviews have been published on MOOCs. None has focused exclusively on the empirical literature. In a recent paper, we analyzed the empirical literature published on MOOCs in 2013-2015 to make greater sense of who studies what and how.  We found that:

  • more than 80% of this literature is published by individuals whose home institutions are in North America and Europe,
  • a select few papers are widely cited while nearly half of the papers are cited zero times,
  • researchers have favored a quantitative if not positivist approach to the conduct of MOOC research,
  • researchers have preferred the collection of data via surveys and automated methods
  • some interpretive research was conducted on MOOCs in this time period, but it was often basic and it was the minority of studies that were informed by methods traditionally associated with qualitative research (e.g., interviews, observations, and focus groups)
  • there is limited research reported on instructor-related topics, and
  • even though researchers have attempted to identify and classify learners into various groupings, very little research examines the experiences of learner subpopulations (e.g., those who succeed vs those who don’t; men vs women).

We believe that the implications arising from this study are important for research on educational technology in general and not jut MOOC research. For instance, given the interest on big data and automated collection/analysis of the data trails that learners leave behind on digital learning environments, a broader methodological toolkit is imperative in the study of emerging digital learning environments.

Here’s a copy of the paper:

Veletsianos, G. & Shepherdson, P. (2016). A Systematic Analysis And Synthesis of the Empirical MOOC Literature Published in 2013-2015The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 17(2).


Emerging Practices in Open Online Learning Environments

Posted on February 23rd, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, moocs, my research, NPS, online learning, open, scholarship. 34 comments

I joined Audrey Watters, Philipp Schmidt, Stephen Downes, and Jeremy Friedberg in Toronto last week, to give a talk at Digital Learning Reimagined, an event hosted and organized by Ryerson University’s Chang School. I presented some of our latest research, and tried to highlight research findings and big ideas in 15 minutes. Below are my slides and a draft of my talk.

Welcome everyone! It’s a pleasure and an honor to be here. Even though I’m the person giving this talk, I’d like to acknowledge my collaborators. A lot of the work that I am going to present is collaborative and it  wouldn’t have been possible without such amazing colleagues. These are: Royce Kimmons from the University of Idaho, Amy Collier and Emily Schneider from Stanford University, and Peter Shepherdson from the University of Zurich. The Canada Research Chairs program, the National Science Foundation and Royal Roads University have funded this work.

I want to start my talk by telling a story.

This castle that you see here is one of the most recognizable parts of Royal Roads University (RRU). But, don’t let the castle fool you. RRU was created in 1985. It’s purpose was to serve the needs of a changing society by serving working professionals through graduate digital education and multidisciplinary degrees. It has grown since 1985. It has matured, developed a social learning model that is now infused in all courses, developed new areas of focus, forged global partnerships, and continues to explore how to improve what it does through pedagogical and technological approaches.

Why am I sharing this short story about RRU?

Because this story, minus the specific details, is a common story. It’s also a Ryerson story, a story that is played out at the University of Southern New Hampshire, a story that Open Universities around that world have gone through. It is a story that repeats itself over and over for years and years.

What is the essence of the story?

It is often assumed that universities have been static, unchanging since the dawn of time. The short story I shared illustrates that universities are, and have always been, part of the society that houses them, and as societies change, universities change to reflect those societies. The economic, sociocultural, and technological pressures that universities are facing are sizable, and for better or for worse, usually for both, there’s a continuous re-imagination of education throughout time. Throughout time. Universities have always been changing.

As universities are changing and exploring different ways to offer education, faculty, researchers, and administrators engage in a number of practices that I like to describe as emerging. Emerging practices & emerging technologies are those that are not necessarily new, not yet fully researched, but appear promising.

Online learning and openness are example of emerging practices.

Online learning has a long history. But it also has a new history, with the development of multimedia platforms, media that can be embedded across platforms, syndication technologies that enable learners to use their own platforms for learning and so on. So, even though some of the problems that online learners are facing in contenmporary situations are not new (eg dropout), learners abilities’ to congregate in online communities is expanded through newer technologies and that poses different sorts of challenges and opportunities.

Another emerging practice is openness. Openness refers to liberal policies for the use, re-use, adaptation, and redistribution of content. Openness is also a value: It refers to adopting an ethos of transparency with regards to access to information. And this ethos ranges from academics publishing their work in open formats, to teaching open courses, to creating open textbooks. And it doesn’t stop at individual academics or institutions. In 2014 the Premiers of Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan signed a Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate creation, sharing, and use of Open Educational Resources. In the same year, SSHRC, NSERC, and CIHR have drafted a tri-agency open access policy to improve access to and dissemination of research results (NSERC, 2014);

There is a growing interest in and exploration of online learning and openness, practices which are still emerging. Next, I will share four recent results from our research into these practices that I believe are interesting to consider because they reveal the tensions that exist when dealing with emerging topics.

First, research into online learning is becoming more interdisciplinary

Interdisciplinary research into online learning means that individuals from a diverse range of disciplines, not just education, are interested in making sense of online learning. It is hoped that more research into online learning and more research from multidisciplinary groups will help us learn more about online learning and about learning in general.

We have evidence to show that research into online learning is becoming more interdisciplinary. I won’t bore you with the statistics, but we measure diversity in published research using a nifty measure and found that the period 2013-2014 can be described as more interdisciplinary than the period 2008-2012.

This is a positive trend, but before I explain its significance, let me explain to you how I view technology.

My perspective on online learning centers around the idea that technology is socially shaped . That means that technology always embeds its developers’ worldviews, beliefs, and assumptions into its design and the activities it supports and encourages.

What does this mean for interdisciplinarity? This means that we have both an opportunity and a challenge.

Our opportunity: to use our respective expertise to improve education.

Our challenge: to actually do interdisciplinary thinking and to go into the study and design of future educational systems with an open mind and the realization that our own personal experiences of education may not be generalizable. A lot of educational technology is produced by people of privilege and to develop educational technology that matters and makes societal difference, we need diversity in thinking and experience.

Our second finding refers to the increasing desire to collect, mine, and analyze data trails to make inferences about human behavior and learning. This practice is often referred to as learning analytics and educational data mining. This practice is a reflection of a larger societal trend toward big data analytics. The idea is that by looking at what people do online one can understand how to improve education.

A couple of things that researchers discovered for example are:

-Students generally stop watching online videos after 4-5 minutes. This then encourages the creation of 4-5 minute lecture videos
-Students fall in discrete categories when they are in MOOCs. For example students who are just sampling content, students who are disengaged,  or they are on track for completing. Once you identify categories you can identify and support learner needs

Data trails. Nearly everything that learners do online is tracked. Can we understand learners and improve learning by analyzing their data trails?

While these approaches can help us explain what people do, they often don’t tell us why they do they things they do nor how they actually experience online education.

My colleagues and I are interviewing MOOC students to learn about their experiences in MOOCs.

I am now going to tell you about our third result. We find that learners schedule their learning, use of resources, and participation to fit their daily life. This is in stark contrast to the idea of undergraduate education situated at a university and happening at particular time periods.

One retired individual in Panama that we interviewed works on his class early in the morning every day. Why does he do that? He does that because at that time his daughter is asleep. She is homeschooled and once she wakes up she needs access to the 1 computer that they have in the household to do her own schoolwork. In this case a lack of resources necessitates this scheduling.

One individual that we interviewed moved from the UK to the USA to be with her partner. She is currently waiting for her work permit, driver’s license, and so on, and she was enrolled in multiple MOOCs at the same time. She would work on her courses on Monday because she just “wanted them out of the way,” and so she would work on these courses straight throughout the day.

The fourth and final finding that I have for you today, is that MOOC platforms to date have not offered learners the ability to keep notes, so that particular activity, by virtue of being unsupported by the platform goes undetected when researchers only look at data trails.

Unsurprisingly, learners keep notes. A number of students that we talked to described that they keep notes on paper, frequently keeping a notebook for particular courses and returning to them during exams or during times that they needed them. Learners of course also keep notes in digital format. Usually in word documents, but again documents are dedicated to particular courses, but sometimes they are dedicated to particular topics across courses.

To give you an example, of how we believe this activity could be supported in the future and how we believe innovations  can contribute to learning, we recommend designers support this practice by pedagogical innovations such as scaffolding notetaking, but also by technological innovations, by developing online systems for notetaking. What is important here is that such systems should support learning by being interoperable, by allow learners full and unrestricted access to their notes, supporting them to be able to import & export their notes between platforms. Such a design is in line with emerging ideas in the field which call for learners to own their data.

To summarize:

1. Online learning is becoming more interdisciplinary, but we need to work together and address our assumptions
2. There is excitement about learning analytics, but we also need to understand why people do the things that they do
3. For example, we see that online education needs to accommodate lives as opposed to the other way round
4. And we see that by interviewing people we can get a better sense of the things that they do that don’t get captured by the digital trails they leave behind.

Thank you for being a great audience. I am really excited to hear the speakers that follow me, as I am sure you are!


A visualization of my talk, created by Giulia Forsythe

CFP special issue: What is it like to learn and participate in MOOCs?

Posted on November 24th, by George Veletsianos in cfp, moocs, online learning, open, scholarship. 48 comments

Update #1: This special issue will include an “experiences from the trenches” section for individual learners to tell their own stories about their experiences with MOOCs. You can find the requirements for those papers here.

What is it like to learn and participate in MOOCs?

Special Issue – Call for papers 

Educational Media International

Scholarly Peer-Reviewed Journal published by Taylor & Francis



While during 2011-2012 the mass media were largely exuberant about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), claiming that these courses will revolutionize and democratize access to education, in 2013-2014 anti-MOOC sentiment rose amidst concerns pertaining to completion rates, sustainable business models, and pedagogical effectiveness. Heated debates on the status quo and future of higher education have ensued since then, and even though there is “no shortage of prophecies about [MOOC’s] potential impact” (Breslow et al., 2013, pp. 23), the academic community has yet to develop an in-depth understanding of learner experiences in MOOCs. The aim of the special issue is to add to our understanding of learner experiences in MOOCs by providing answers to the question: What is it like to learn and participate in MOOCs?

Learner experiences arise from the ways learners interact with and respond to content, activities, instructional methods, instructors, and the context within which learning and instruction happen (Parrish, 2005). At a time when researchers and online learning providers are embracing the use of learning analytics and big data to examine learner behaviors, activities, and actions, very few researchers have sought to gain a deep, qualitative, and multidimensional understanding of learner experiences with open forms of learning. A nuanced appreciation of how users experience open learning, including the successes and obstacles they face, will assist learning designers, researchers, and providers in making greater sense of the open course phenomenon as well as enable them to improve open online learning.

This CFP arises has its foundations on a 2013 call in which Veletsianos argued that “we only have small pieces of an incomplete mosaic of students’ learning experiences with open online learning” (Veletsianos, 2013). While there’s been an expansive amount of research on MOOCs, the existing literature predominantly focuses on learner behaviors and practices, while investigations of learners’ lived experiences are largely absent (Adams et al., 2014). The availability of large-scale data sets also appears to have shaped the research questions that are being asked about MOOCs, and, while significant insights are developed via that research route, the field will benefit tremendously by gaining a better understanding and appreciation of learners’ experiences.

To address these issues and to support the development of the field, we invite authors to submit manuscripts investigating the learner experience in massive open online courses.  Manuscripts can be of three types:

  • Empirical. Such manuscripts should follow rigor guidelines appropriate for the research methods used.
  • Systematic reviews of the literature and literature meta-syntheses.
  • Theoretical manuscripts, contributing to the development of theory pertaining to learner experiences in open courses.

We are interested in hosting a forum for leading edge contributions to the nascent field that help us make sense of learner experiences, and allow practitioners and researchers to benefit from these contributions. Towards this aim, recommended topics of interest for this special issue include, but are not limited to, the following research questions:

  • What is it like to learn in massive open online courses?
  • What are learners’ experiences in open courses?
  • Why are learners participating in open courses in the ways that they do?
  • What are learner-learner and learner-instructor interactions like?
  • How do learners respond to various instructional design decisions and instructor roles?
  • How do learners perceive their relationships with each other, content, instructors, institutions, and MOOC providers?

Submission Process

Interested authors should submit 500-word abstracts and 200-word bios by December 19 at Submissions should include short descriptions of the following:

  • Identified gap/problem addressed
  • Methods or modes of inquiry
  • Data sources
  • (in-progress or final) results

Invitations to submit full papers will be send on or before January 9, 2014. Manuscripts should be formatted using APA style and should be 6,000 words, including references. The process to be followed thereafter is as follows:

  • March 1, 2015: Full-length papers due via email at
  • May 1, 2015:  Notification of acceptance/rejections
  • June 30, 2015: Final papers with revisions due
  • 2015: Special issue is published

Special Issue Editors

Dr. George Veletsianos
Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology
Associate Professor
Royal Roads University, Victoria, BC, Canada.

Dr. Vrasidas Charalambos
Executive Director, CARDET (
Associate Professor of Learning Innovations & Associate Dean for e-learning, University of Nicosia, Cyprus.


Adams, C., Yin, Y., Vargas Madriz, L.F., & Mullen, S. (2014). A phenomenology of learning large: The tutorial sphere of xMOOC video lectures. Distance Education, 35, 202-216.

Breslow, L., Pritchard, D. E., DeBoer, J., Stump, G. S., Ho, A. D., & Seaton, D. T. (2013). Studying learning in the worldwide classroom: Research into edX’s first MOOC. Research & Practice in Assessment, 8, 13-25.

Parrish, P. (2005). Embracing the aesthetics of instructional design. Educational Technology, 45(2), 16-25.

Veletsianos, G. (2013). Learner Experiences with MOOCs and Open Online Learning. Madison, WI: Hybrid Pedagogy Publications. Retrieved from



Open, Social, Networked scholarship panel at social media and society conference

Posted on September 23rd, by George Veletsianos in networktest, NPS, open, scholarship. 10 comments



I am organizing a panel for the Social Media & Society conference entitled Networked Participatory Scholarship: Empirical perspectives on scholars use of social media. If you are attending the conference and are interested in the changing nature of scholarship, we’d love to see you there!  Below is a short description of the panel

Panel Members:

George Veletsianos, Associate Professor, Canada Research Chair, Royal Roads University, @veletsianos

Anatoliy Gruzd, Associate Professor, Ryerson University, @gruzd

Royce Kimmons, Director of the Doceo Center for Innovation + Learning, Assistant Professor, University of Idaho, @roycekimmons

Christine Greenhow, Assistant Professor, Michigan State University, @chrisgreenhow

Bonnie Stewart, Doctoral Candidate, University of Prince Edward Island, @bonstewart

 Panel Objectives:

The overarching objective of this panel is to examine the concept of Networked Participatory Scholarship, which refers to academics’ use of digital and social technologies to “share, reflect upon, critique, improve, validate, and further their scholarship” (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012). The five researchers participating in the panel are making significant contributions to our enhanced understanding of how and why academics are engaging in digital, social, networked, and social scholarship via the use of social media. Panelists will  make 7 minute presentations which will be followed by an interactive conversation. Each panelist’s contribution is summarized below.  

Scholars from disparate fields have discussed social media use in scholarship. However, such discussions are often disconnected. Kimmons will disambiguate several terms describing emergent scholarship, including open, social, digital, and networked participatory scholarship and identify bridges between disciplines.

Gruzd will discuss results from a recently-completed SSHRC award that examined if, how, and why Canadian scholars and their international counterparts are using social media in their research.

Greenhow will discuss social scholarship and trends and challenges experienced by educational researchers in the United States based on a recent survey and interviews with PhD students, and early- and mid-career scholars.

Stewart will discuss the different ways and purposes scholars engage in networked participatory scholarship, based on a recent ethnographic study. She will examine changing identity roles for academics and scholars.


Veletsianos will discuss a framework he developed summarizing empirical research in the field. In this framework scholars’ social media participation is seen to exist in networks of (a) knowledge creation and dissemination, (b) tension, (c) care and vulnerability, (d) fragmentation, and (e) transparency.

Teacher professionalization in the age of social networking sites

Posted on July 28th, by George Veletsianos in my research, NPS, open, papers, sharing, work. 15 comments

Tensions. The more we study social media and online networks, the more evidence we find that these spaces are replete with tensions.


Tensions. Image by floridjohn

In our latest published study (citation below) with my colleague Royce Kimmons, we found that expectations of professionalization in online social networks cut deeply into pre-service teachers self-concept. We found that participants generally had difficulty articulating what professionalism in online social networks actually looks like and what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate action online. As participants were exposed to a better understanding of what professionalism means online, participants recognized that they were not completely aware that their behavior might be watched and scrutinized by others, and this realization surprised them. Many pre-service teachers were also surprised at the severity of professional requirements and how the public might scrutinize seemingly innocuous behaviors on social media.

Numerous participants explained that as teachers they will need to be careful to not offend any community members, and the topics of politics and religion featured significantly in these conversations.

Though participants seemed to feel that a plurality of political opinion was a good thing and that they should have a right to political opinions, they nonetheless seemed to feel that teachers should take care in voicing those opinions.

Religion, on the other hand, seemed to be a different issue altogether, as participants seemed to feel that it was appropriate for them to express religious beliefs online even if others might happen to take offense or to disagree with them.

It’s important here to pause and consider the following: Participants’ preference of religion over politics likely reflects sociocultural values of the geographic region where the study took place (i.e. at a University in the South), and may not be generalizable.

These findings suggest that teacher education students might be willing to adjust the way that they participate in some ways to fit in with professional expectations (e.g., political opinions), but that there are some cases where what they feel might be expected of them cuts so acutely into their self-concept that they are afraid of losing their sense of identity (e.g., religious beliefs).

The implications of this study are the following:

First, teachers must consider how participating in SNS or altering their participation in them (e.g., content, connections, etc.) may impact their identity and sense of who they are.

Second, if teachers do not clearly understand how moral turpitude is defined in a given community, then how can they be sure that their behavior (online or offline) is beyond reproach?

The dilemma facing teachers in SNS is the following: As teachers present themselves in SNS in a way that is reflective of their complex and ever-developing identities, they may find it difficult to maintain meaningful social connections in online spaces as they pass through new phases of life and are simultaneously judged in an historical manner.

Kimmons, R., & Veletsianos, G. (2015). Teacher Professionalization in the Age of Social Networking Sites: Identifying Major Tensions and Dilemmas. Learning, Media, and Technology, 40(4), 480-501.

Assumptions underpinning open scholarship

Posted on July 18th, by George Veletsianos in open, papers, scholarship. 7 comments

Fecher and Friesike reviewed the literature relevant to open science and found that “open science is an umbrella term that encompasses a multitude of different assumptions about the future of knowledge creation and dissemination; an umbrella term however that comprises five more or less distinct schools of thought with different assumptions about what exact aspect of research should be ‘open’ and ‘open’ to whom.”

One of these schools of thought is the “public school” whose advocates appear to believe that “the social web and Web 2.0 technologies allow and urge scientists on the one hand to open up their research processes and on the other hand to prepare research products for interested non-experts.” 

There’s a number of interesting results here, lending  support to, and further defining, the following assumptions and themes of open scholarship we identified in Veletsianos & Kimmons (2012):

  • Open scholarship has a strong ideological basis rooted in an ethical pursuit for democratization, fundamental human rights, equality, and justice
  • Open scholarship emphasizes the importance of digital participation for enhanced scholarly outcomes
  • Open scholarship is treated as an emergent scholarly phenomenon that is co-evolutionary with technological advancements in the larger culture
  • Open scholarship is seen as a practical and effective means for achieving scholarly aims that are socially valuable


Veletsianos, G. & Kimmons, R. (2012). Assumptions and Challenges of Open Scholarship. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning,13(4), 166-189. 

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!