George Veletsianos, PhD

A place to log ideas and thoughts

George Veletsianos, PhD

New paper: Flexible learning, completion, time, and gender

Online learning is often framed in terms of flexibility, notably flexibility to participate in education from “anyplace” at “anytime.” Flexible designs are powerful – they allow enable access and enhance participation. But, such flexibility may not be afforded to everyone equally. Put differently, flexibility as a design feature or value may make courses more flexible, may accommodate schedules, but not everyone is able to equally take advantage of such flexibility. In other words: Some people are able to exercise more flexibility in their life than others, for a variety of factors, such as financial means, family support, etc etc. We have questioned the degree to which flexibility is equitable here and here, where we have argued that we need to stop assuming that flexible learning benefits everyone equally.

In a new paper, we provide some empirical support for these arguments. Here’s the abstract:

Flexible learning removes barriers relating to time, place, and pace. While time management skills have been identified as necessary for learners to take advantage of flexible learning, relatively little is known about the temporal dimensions of flexible learning and how gender might relate to temporal flexibility and its perceived benefits. To address this gap, we analyzed data from 380,000 students participating in two massive open online courses to create a model that predicts course completion likelihood from learner time management behaviors and gender. Results supported most a priori assumptions. Successful course completers logged in frequently, devoted longer amounts of time to each session, moved quickly through course materials, and completed coursework early. However, consistent study was associated with lower course completion likelihood, and women benefited more from reduced consistency. These findings suggest that temporal flexibility may especially benefit women.

Veletsianos, G., Kimmons, R. Larsen, R., & Rogers, J. (in press). Flexibility, Time, Gender, and Online Learning Completion. Distance Education. or author’s copy.

One year on; Homegrown expertise, expectations, and inequities

In March 2020, just a few days before higher education institutions and k-12 in North America shuttered down, my colleagues Shandell Houlden and I published a short op-ed. There’s one point in that op-ed continues to continues require our attention. There’s a second point that did not make it into the published version for a number of reasons, but also requires our attention. March 2020 would have been a great time to address these two issues. February 2021 is still a good time, so I am posting them here


The need for skill and preparedness should serve as a reminder that institutions need to cultivate their in-house pedagogical and online learning expertise. The process of unbundling and outsourcing that many institutions have engaged in with respect to online learning in recent years–while enabling them to benefit from the expertise of others–leaves institutions vulnerable to third parties. When Phipps writes that a vendor “offered their platform for free to students in China for three weeks” we should heed Ayebi-Arthur’s recommendation, who in writing about educational technology responses to the 2011 earthquake in New Zealand, notes that such free gifts “set in motion long-term expectations that need to be managed.”

[Main points: Cultivate online learning expertise; short-term responses vs. long-term efforts/expectations/processes; be suspicious of “free” offers, as edtech has a history of bait-and-switch offers]

Notably, these lessons will apply beyond higher education. Many K-12 schools faced closures in 2009 in response to the H1N1pandemic, and this is newly becoming a possibility outside of China. The challenges faced here will also be somewhat different, as caregivers negotiate work and children, a struggle which many people are ill-prepared for.

[Main points: Inequities; some people have the resources, knowledge, skills, social-economic-cultural capital, and power to cope and manage and thrive while some do not; e.g., new NBER research [pdf] showing how women academics, especially mothers of young children have been disproportionately impacted] 


We ended with this: “In this increasingly unstable world, crises potentially impact our education systems as much as anything else in their way. This will be true whether the crisis is caused by the circulation of a new pathogen, or something else entirely: war, flooding, or wildfire, as are more common due to climate change. What we have before us is a stark reminder that we should approach the promises of technological solutionism with caution. Flexible and resilient educational systems require more than tools. They demand collaboration, preparation, expertise, resources, and use of lessons learned in the past.”

New paper: The nature and effects of the harassment that scholars receive

My colleagues and I have a new paper available that examines various issues around scholars’ harassment. This one is led by soon-to-be-Dr. Chandell Gosse, and it is the third in a series of papers examining the topic. The first two are here. This work is based on a SSHRC Insight Development grant examining the harassment that faculty receive, which led to a current SSHRC Insight grant that my co-PI (Dr. Jaigris Hodson) and I are using to expanding our harassment-related research.

You can access the paper from the link below. If you don’t have library access, here is the author’s copy of the submitted paper.

Gosse, C., Veletsianos, G., Hodson, J., Houlden, S., Dousay, T., Lowenthal, P., Hall, N.C. (in press). The Hidden Costs of Connectivity: Nature and Effects of Scholars’ Online Harassment. Learning, Media, & Technology, xx-xx.


A growing body of research reveals that some scholars face online harassment and that such harassment leads to a wide variety of adverse impacts. Drawing on data collected from an online survey of 182 scholars, we report on the factors and triggers involved in scholars’ experiences of online harassment; the environments where said experiences take place, and; the consequences it has for personal and professional relationships. We find that online harassment is heavily entwined with the work, identity, and in some cases, the requirements of being a scholar. The online harassment scholars experience is often compounded by other factors, such as gender and physical appearance. We build on prior research in this area to further argue that universities ought to widen their scope of what constitutes workplace harassment and workplace safety to include online spaces.


There’s much in this paper that we think is valuable, but I thought the chart below is worthwhile to share. The figure shows a list of triggers that respondents said contributed to them receiving online harassment. Some of the conversation around the use of social media in education and social media for scholarship centers around the idea that being on social media may invite harassment. Such victim-blaming is not only unhelpful and demeaning, but it also misses the point that. Teaching activities can prompt harassment (e.g., via the sharing of recorded lectures in unfriendly groups), a paper that one writes, or a media appearance. 





CICan perspectives live show: hacking education in a digital world

Recently, I was a guest on a live show hosted by Colleges and Institutes Canada. This episode focused on “hacking education in a digital world.” It focused on the question: How can colleges and institutes transform learning options to provide better access to postsecondary education for all Canadians in the context of a pandemic, and how can the success of the transformation be measured? The show is archived here, and past and current episodes are available on the CICan website.

My comments focused on a few major areas

  • that the impact of the pandemic on higher education institutions, students, and faculty in Canada has been uneven
  • that what we know from online learning research has much to offer to guide remote and emergency teaching and learning
  • that flexibility and flexible learning is important
  • that collaboration amidst the pandemic has served the higher education sector well, and we should do what we can to continue engaging in sharing and collaborations
  • that our post-pandemic future can be better (read more equitable, accessible, sensitive to student and societal needs, etc) than the pre-pandemic past

Talk: Radical Flexibility as a Potential Solution to the Challenges Facing Higher Education

Photo by Adam Valstar

I gave a keynote recently for the Centre for Research in Digital Education, University of Leeds, as part of their online symposium on Digital Transformation of Higher Education. The purpose of this symposium was to explore this transformation “from the perspective of existing and on-going research in digital education, to help the higher education sector to set a direction of travel which creates positive effects on access to higher education and enhanced student learning, through long-lasting changes.” My talk focused on Radical Flexibility as a Potential Solution to the Challenges Facing Higher Education, aiming to critique normative forms of flexibility that assume that everyone benefits from it in similar ways, and propose more broad forms of flexibility that account for diverse peoples’ unique and day-to-day realities. A recording is available here – and there recordings of all the other excellent talks are archived on this page. I drew on the following work for this talk:

Veletsianos, G., Kimmons, R. Larsen, R., & Rogers, J. (in press). Flexibility, Time, Gender, and Online Learning Completion. Distance Education.

Houlden, S., & Veletsianos, G. (in press). The Problem with Flexible Learning: Neoliberalism, Freedom, and Learner Subjectivities. Learning, Media, & Technology.

Veletsianos, G., & Houlden, S. (2020). Radical Flexibility and Relationality as Responses to Education in Times of Crisis. Postdigital Science and Education, 2(3), 849-862.

Johnson, N., Veletsianos, G., Seaman, J. (2020). U.S. Faculty and Administrators’ Experiences and Approaches in the Early Weeks of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Online Learning Journal, 24(2), 6-21.

Veletsianos, G. (2020). How should we respond to the life-altering crises that education is facing? Distance Education, 41(4), 1-3.

Houlden, S., & Veletsianos, G. (2019). A Posthumanist Critique of Flexible Online Learning and its “Anytime Anyplace” Claims. British Journal of Educational Technology, 50(3), 1005-1018.

Talk: Striving for Balance in Online Learning

Photo by Dalton Touchberry

Recently Middlebury’s Office of Digital Learning and Inquiry, hosted me for an online faculty workshop on the topic of Striving for Balance in Online Learning as part of their ongoing Teaching Online and Hybrid Conversation Series. For many faculty, the experience of remote teaching this fall has raised questions around how to create a balanced course workload for themselves and for their students. Students, like faculty, are struggling with the challenges presented by learning in a new way (and during a pandemic), having to navigate new course structures, systems, and expectations. During this session, I offered strategies for faculty seeking new ideas for how to create balanced course workloads that consider the student experience. We started by discussing what it may mean to view our own courses or degree programs from a lens of “balance.” I argued that balance isn’t about doing less, though this process may invariably result in less of something, which *can* be a good thing. Instead, balance is about intentionality and reflection on how course design choices impact students. Next, we discussed balance

  • in using technology (e.g., low-tech, new-to-students and new-to-faculty technology)
  • in assessments (e.g., grading, ungrading)
  • in discussion board activities, writing, and commenting
  • in student reading, listening (e.g., podcasts), and watching (e.g., documentaries)
  • in individual vs. group/collaborative work
  • in synchronous and asynchronous sessions
  • in reading lists (e.g., required vs. recommended/suggested)
  • in timing (e.g., coordination with courses other than one’s own; multiple end-of-semester deadlines)

Great questions raised were the following:

  • What does balance look like for faculty; what does it look like for students; and is there any tension there?
  • What are some of the ways you heard from students about how faculty have created balance in the courses they have taken? Tips/tricks/suggestions. How is it operationalized?
  • We sometimes hear from faculty concerns about finding balance by scaling back what they normally do in a face-to-face class. What advice would you give to those faculty in light of both what you’ve heard from students, and given the current context of a global pandemic?
  • Many faculty will return to teaching primarily face-to-face as soon as possible, perhaps as early as spring or next fall. What lessons, based on your study and what we’re hearing from students now, might faculty consider carrying forward independent of future teaching modalities?

New paper: Institutional Perspectives on Faculty Development for Digital Education in Canada

We recently published a new paper examining Canadian institutions’ approaches to faculty development for online and blended learning. We analyzed open-ended comments from the Canadian Digital Learning Research Association’s annual survey of Canadian post-secondary institutions (2017-2019). We find that

  • digital education orientation or on-boarding processes for faculty vary widely
  • institutions employ an extensive array of professional development practices for digital education
  • institutions report culture change, work security, and unclear expectations as challenges in providing digital education training and support
  • institutions articulate aspirations and hopes around professional development investments in order to build digital education capacity.

We argue that

  • While diverse approaches for faculty orientation, on-boarding, and ongoing professional development for digital education demonstrate a wide
  • range of innovative opportunities, at some institutions PD for digital education is inconsistent, which can leave faculty less prepared for teaching in digital spaces.
  • Various cultural changes are needed to ensure digital education meets everyone’s expectations
    There exist various emergent needs for faculty PD

Tony Bates posted a response; as did Stephen Downes. The paper is open access: VanLeeuwen, C.A., Veletsianos, G., Belikov, O. Johnson, N. (2020).  Institutional perspectives on faculty development for digital education in Canada. The Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 46(2), 1-20.


Books I’m currently reading

Following up on the list of graphic novels I am planning on reading in 2021, I thought I would post what I’m currently reading. There’s no graphic novels in this post. The last graphic novel I read was Not Funny Ha-Ha by Leah Hayes. In no particular order, I’m at various stages of reading (which shouldn’t be taken to mean “endorsing”) the following:

  • The Manifesto for Teaching Online, by Siân Bayne, Peter Evans, Rory Ewins, Jeremy Knox, James Lamb, Hamish Macleod, Clara O’Shea, Jen Ross, Philippa Sheail and Christine Sinclair
  • Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education, by Justin Reich
  • Alternative Universities: Speculative Design for Innovation in Higher Education, by David J. Staley (rereading)
  • Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events, Robert J. Shiller
  • Your Day, Your Way: The Fact and Fiction Behind Your Daily Decisions, by Tim Caulfield
  • Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody, by Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay
  • Living a Feminist Life, by Sara Ahmed (re-reading)

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