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

Tag: online learning

The Beautiful, Messy, Inspiring, and Harrowing World of Online Learning

Posted on May 1st, by George Veletsianos in my research, NPS, online learning, open, scholarship. 20 comments

BCNET is a not-for-profit, shared information technology services organization focusing on British Columbia’s higher education system. The organization aims to to explore and evaluate shared IT solutions and hosts an annual conference. I  delivered one of the keynote talks for this year’s conference, and shared examples and stories of online learning initiatives. I framed these examples in terms of research on online learning and the context of the historic realities of educational technology practice. These stories illustrate the multiple realities that exist in online education and highlight how emerging technologies and open practices have (a) broadened access to education, (b) reinforced privilege, and (c) re-imagined the ways that academics enact and share scholarship.  I am including my slides below.

The Beautiful, Messy, Inspiring, and Harrowing World of Online Learning from George Veletsianos


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. 22 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.

HarvardX and MITx open course reports

Posted on January 22nd, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, moocs, online learning, open. 8 comments

HarvardX and MITx released a number of reports describing their open courses. The overarching paper describing these initiatives, entitled HarvardX and MITx: The first year of open online courses is really helpful in gaining a holistic understanding of HarvardX and MITx learned about their initiatives.

My (preliminary) thoughts:

  • It’s exciting to see more data
  • It’s exciting to see education researchers involved in the analysis of the data
  • The researchers should be congratulated for making these reports available in an expeditious manner via SSRN
  • We need more interpretive/qualitative research to understand participants’ and practitioners’ experiences on the ground
  • I am wondering whether the community would benefit from access to the data that HarvardX and MITx have, as other individuals/groups could run additional analyses. Granted, I imagine this might require quite a lot of effort, not least in the development of procedures for data sharing.

The course reports appear below, and these are quite helpful in helping the community understand the particulars of each course:

Udacity, MOOCs, hammers, and the problems of education

Posted on November 18th, by George Veletsianos in online learning, scholarship. 33 comments

Last week’s big news was that Udacity intends to switch its focus from higher education to corporate training. A number of colleagues have provided thoughtful responses to these news, including Michael Caulfield, Audrey Watters, Rolin Moe, George Siemens, and Bonnie Stewart.

Here’s my take on this development: Maslow once said: “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” It seems that Udacity has discovered a solution and after realizing that it’s not a solution for the perils facing higher education, that solution is taken elsewhere. Reflecting on the xMOOC phenomenon it appears that this is a consistent approach. If MOOCs don’t work for X, they must work for Y, and if they don’t work for Y, they must work for Z.

I have drummed this tambourine in the past. This is educational technology history repeating itself. During the mid-90’s the instructional media/design field was engaging in The Great Media debate. In short, on the one side of the debate were individuals who argued that media do not influence learning outcomes. On the other side of the debate were individuals who noted that media provide affordances for learning. In the midst of the debate Tennyson (1994) noted the following:

I refer to this transition from scientist to advocate as the big-wrench approach to complex problem solution: The advocate, with the big wrench in hand, sets out to solve, suddenly, a relatively restricted number of problems. That is, all of the formerly many diverse problems, now seem to be soluble with the new big wrench (or panacea).

If educational technology companies (and Centers for Teaching and Learning) are eager to improve education, rather than searching for problems to apply their solutions, they should focus on identifying problems and designing solutions to those problems. Higher education may lack a lot of things, but what it does not lack are problems in need of solutions. Talk to any faculty member and ask: What problem are you facing in your teaching? Observe classrooms and see what things appear commonplace but hinder practice. For example, one of the projects that I had the good fortune to work on emanated from the observation that instructors asked students to borrow video cameras, record assignments, and return tapes to the instructor to watch and return feedback. This process usually took 6 weeks. We automated a lot of this process by developing an online assessment environment through which students recorded their assignments on webcam, instructors were notified of the availability of the video, and were then quickly able to student feedback. By eliminating the need for video cameras and tapes, and introducing an environment that addressed needs and problems, we were able to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the process and drastically reduce the amount of time by which students received their feedback.


Tennyson, R. D. (1994). The big wrench vs. integrated approaches: The great media debate. Educational Technology Research & Development, 42(3), 15–28.

November 13 CIDER Presentation: What Do Academics and Educators Do on Social Media and Networks?

Posted on November 11th, by George Veletsianos in my research, open, scholarship. 35 comments

November 16, 2013 update: This presentation was recorded and archived.

Title: What Do Academics and Educators Do on Social Media and Networks, and What Do Their Experiences Tell Us About Identity and the Web?
Facilitator:   George Veletsianos
Institution:   Royal Roads University
Date and time:   Nov 13, 2013 10:00am PST (click here to convert to local time)
Where: Adobe Connect:

I am giving an open presentation to the Canadian Institute of Distance Education Research. Don’t hesitate to join us if you have time and are interested on the topic! In this talk I will draw on empirical studies conducted by a number of researchers (including work by myself and Royce Kimmons) to examine academics’ and educators’ participation in networked spaces. These studies point to three significant findings: (a) increasingly open practices that question the traditions of academia, (b) personal-professional tensions in academic work, and (c) a framework of identity that contrasts sharply with our existing understanding of online identity.



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!


Startups should talk with researchers & educators

Posted on August 19th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, my research, online learning. 16 comments

If you believe that educational technology startups can learn a thing or two from educators and education researchers in their quest to improve education, then we’d love your vote for our 2014 SXSWedu proposal.

Tanya Joosten, Amy Collier, Audrey Watters and I have proposed a panel during which we will discuss how educators/researchers can help startups improve their education technology offerings, and answer questions pertaining to education research, how people learn, and classroom practice. If we want meaningful and transformational change in how we do education, it is imperative for
entrepreneurs and educators/researchers to converse. We’ve called for this over and over. And it’s not just us four that have noticed a disconnect between what educational technologies companies do and what we know about education and learning:

In discussing the flipped classroom model Schneider, Blikstein, and Pea note that “by failing to pay attention to the research, we were applying what is possibly a good idea in the wrong way. That’s why research in education is crucially important to improve our schools. Intuitions are good, but science is better.”

Neil Selwyn notes “The current understanding of schools in the digital age [is] hampered by a curious amnesia, forgetfulness or even willful ignorance of past phases of technology development and implementation…”

Rolin Moe argues, “In education, innovators and disruptors consistently reinvent the wheel, hyping revolutionary ideas that are often unaware of existing research, replications of prior models, or proud of their ignorance of history of the field’s theory and pedagogy.”

In short, our panel will provide answers to the following questions:

1. How can educational technology startups use knowledge generated through education research to improve their products and services?
2. How can educational technology startups partner with educators, researchers, and educational institutions to improve their
3. Why have education technology innovations failed in the past, and what can startups learn from those experiences, so as to avoid making the same mistakes?

If you feel that we have something meaningful to add to the conversation about how technology, pedagogy, and emerging ideas can improve education, then we’d love your vote.