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George Veletsianos, PhD

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Digital Transformation of Higher Education online research symposium

I’m excited to join this event with colleagues from around the world on November 25th 2020, 10:00 –17:00 (UK BST), and I thought I’d share it here to invite others to join.

That Higher Education is in a period of transformation is a moot point. The COVID:19 pandemic has resulted in a period of rapid digital transformation for universities all around the globe. However, this rapid change has created positive and negative effects on student learning and experience, and some changes will be short-lived and others long-lasting.

The purpose of this symposium is 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. The symposium will cover topics relating to online education, open education, blended and hybrid learning, learning data and its impacts, digital skills and lifelong learning.

The symposium will hear from global experts in digital education about their experiences of digital transformation in higher education and related sectors, and gather their views about the most appropriate courses of action to create sustainable, accessible, inclusive, quality higher education to support lifelong learning for all.

To register for this free, online, event please visit:



Simone Buitendijk, Vice-Chancellor, University of Leeds

Laura Czerniewicz, Director: Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT), University of Cape Town

Josie Fraser, Head of Digital Policy, Heritage Fund UK

Michael Gallagher, Lecturer in Digital Education, Centre for Research in Digital Education, University of Edinburgh

Vitomir Kovanovic, UniSA Education Futures, Australia

Allison Littlejohn, Director of University College London’s knowledge lab, University College London

Neil Morris, Dean of Digital Education, University of Leeds

George Veletsianos, Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning & Technology, Royal Roads University, Canada

For the full programme, please click this link.

Introductory and community-building discussions in online courses

The beginning of the (unique) Fall semester brought with it a a flurry of creative posts from many on how to build community online and how to engage students in unique online activities and discussions. A few from the good people behind Equity Unbound are gathered here.

One of my favorite activities comes from a chapter called “Getting to Know You: The First Week of Class and Beyond” written by Dunlap and Lowenthal in 2011. The activity is called Superhero Powers, and my adaptation of it invites students to engage with the following prompt:

Tell us a little bit about yourself by creating a drawing of yourself to share with the rest of the class. Your drawing should portray you as a superhero and include your superhero name. You can use pen, pencils, crayons and paper to do this and upload a photograph of your drawing, or you can use any other kind of illustration or graphics application. My superhero persona is posted below as well! [Note: Drawing isn’t a skill I have mastered, so I find that including my own image helps students understand that what we’re aiming for here isn’t drawing skills!]

I also like the ones below. I can’t remember what prompted the creation of this one, but I model responses by including my own artifacts. This one works well for the course that I teach on the “histories, debates, myths, and futures of learning technology.” Unlike the activity above, this includes an option between artifacts.

The aim of this activity is to introduce us to one another in an interesting way. Many of you know each other, but we have people from multiple groups in this course, so the goal here is not only to introduce us to each other, but also to provide some new information about ourselves to people who already know us. I thought we should tackle this task by taking a walk down memory lane. That sort of trip aligns with the spirit of the course as well, which is to investigate histories and foundations. To introduce ourselves to one another, I would like to ask you to (a) locate a music video posted on video-sharing platform like YouTube that reminds you of your childhood or teenage years, or (b) post a photo of you as a young child . You can do both if you like, but one or the other is also fine. In addition to posting one or both of these artifacts, I’d like you to share a little bit about yourself. What do you do? Why are you taking this course? But, also, please do tell us what sort of memories the video or photo bring back. Aim for 5-7 sentences of text about yourself. Please don’t just post a link/photo with no explanation. To show you an example of this task, I have completed this activity myself and posted it as a response to the discussion thread. A word of caution: A lot of music videos contain language and imagery which may be offensive to various groups of people. Please review the lyrics and watch the whole video before you post it to ensure that it is appropriate.

CFP: Attending to Issues of Social Justice through Learning Design

The call for proposals below comes at an opportune time following the Scholar Strike action that occurred on September 8 and 9 both in the US and in Canada.

Journal of Applied Instructional Design Special Issue 2020 
“Attending to Issues of Social Justice through Learning Design” 

We specifically seek contributions from K-12, higher education, and other organizational or workplace contexts (e.g., non-profit organizations, government, corporate) that focus on how learning design can serve as a tool for pushing back against and/or changing systems that often promote or perpetuate injustice and inequality. Such work will likely deviate from more traditional instructional design and performance improvement approaches or improve upon them in some way to address topics that include but are not limited to:

  • Culturally-situated and cross-cultural approaches to instructional design and research
  • Improving performance in the context of workplace inequity
  • Participatory models of learning (e.g., Youth-led Participatory Action Research)
  • Long-term projects that address disparity issues regarding access to technologies and resources (e.g., digital and pedagogical divide)
  • Applications of critical theory in learning design
  • Ethical and responsible (i.e., humanizing) concerns regarding the collection, analysis, and presentation of data and findings

Deadline October 16, 2020. Complete details can be found here:

The 7 elements of a good online course

In June, I wrote the article below for The Conversation. Today I start teaching my Fall 2020 (online) course on the foundations, histories, myths, and futures surrounding learning technologies, and I thought it was a good time to republish this piece here under its original Creative Commons license as a reminder for myself and others. The original article is here.

The 7 elements of a good online course

It’s likely that most universities will be conducting classes online in the fall. That doesn’t mean learning will suffer. (Shutterstock)

With very few exceptions, online teaching and learning will be the primary mode of education for the majority of higher education students in many jurisdictions this fall as concerns about COVID-19 extend into the new school year.

As an education researcher who has been studying online education and a professor who has been teaching in both face-to-face and online environments for more than a decade, I am often asked whether online learning at universities and colleges can ever be as effective as face-to-face learning.

To be clear: this isn’t a new question or a new debate. I’ve been asked this question in various forms since the mid-2000s and researchers have been exploring this topic since at least the 1950s.

The answer isn’t as unequivocal as some would like it to be. Individual cherry-picked studies can support any result. But systematic analyses of the evidence generally show there are no significant differences in students’ academic outcomes between online and face-to-face education.

Researchers also find that some students perform worse online than others — and that some of those differences can be explained by socioeconomic inequities.

Advice for students and parents

The problems with media comparison studies — that is, those that compare outcomes between one medium, such as face-to-face, to another medium, such as online — are such that many researchers advocate against them. How can students who enrol in online courses in the fall know they are receiving a good educational experience? What are some of the qualities of a good online course?

Good online courses can be more personal and rewarding for students than the traditional learning in large lecture halls. (Shutterstock)

Here’s some advice for students (and their parents) about what to look for as learning remains online.

  1. A good online course is informed by issues of equity and justice. It takes into account social, political and cultural issues — including students’ backgrounds and socioeconomic circumstances — to craft a learning experience that is just. This may take many forms. In practice, it may mean a diverse and intersectional reading list. It means audiovisual materials that don’t stereotype, shame or degrade people. It may mean that open educational resources are prioritized over expensive textbooks.
  2. A good online course is interactive. Courses are much more than placeholders for students to access information. A good online course provides information such as readings or lecture videos, but also involves interactions between professor and students and between students and students. Interactions between professor and students may involve students receiving personalized feedback, support and guidance. Interactions among students may include such things as debating various issues or collaborating with peers to solve a problem. A good online course often becomes a social learning environment and provides opportunities for the development of a vibrant learning community.
  3. A good online course is engaging and challenging. It invites students to participate, motivates them to contribute and captures their interest and attention. It capitalizes on the joy of learning and challenges students to enhance their skills, abilities and knowledge. A good online course is cognitively challenging.
  4. A good online course involves practice. Good courses involve students in “doing” — not just watching and reading — “doing again” and in applying what they learned. In a creative writing class, students may write a short story, receive feedback, revise it and then write a different story. In a computer programming class, they may write a block of code, test it and then use it in a larger program that they wrote. In an econometrics class, they might examine relationships between different variables, explain the meaning of their findings and then be asked to apply those methods in novel situations.
  5. A good online course is effective. Such a course identifies the skills, abilities and knowledge that students will gain by the end of it, provides activities developed to acquire them and assesses whether students were successful.
  6. A good online course includes an instructor who is visible and active, and who exhibits care, empathy and trust for students. This individual understands that their students may have a life beyond their course. Not only do many students take other courses, but they may be primary caretakers, have a job or be struggling to make ends meet. Good online courses often include instructors who are approachable and responsive, and who work with students to address problems and concerns as they arise.
  7. A good online course promotes student agency. It gives students autonomy to enable opportunities for relevant and meaningful learning. Such a course redistributes power – to the extent that is possible – in the classroom. Again, this may take many forms in the online classroom. In the culinary arts, it may mean making baking choices relevant to students’ professional aspirations. In an accounting course, students could analyze the financial statements of a company they’re interested in rather than one selected by the instructor. Such flexibility not only accommodates students’ backgrounds and interests, it provides space for students to make the course their own. In some cases it might even mean that you – the student – co-designs the course with your instructor. This is the kind of flexibility higher education systems need.

These qualities aren’t qualities of good online courses. They are qualities of good courses, period.

Physical proximity isn’t a precondition for good education. Comparing one form of education to another distracts us from the fact that all forms of education can — and should — be made better.

Open Science and Open COVID pledge for education

What does a better – more equitable, more hospitable, more flexible, more creative, less oppressive, more impactful – post-pandemic education system look like? What does teaching and learning look like in such an environment? What does scholarship look like? Speculative futures work in education aims to imagine answers to such questions, but, what are some steps individuals and institutions are taking now toward imagined futures?

Open Science has been described as a key to responding to COVD-19. Whether in vaccine search or medical equipment design, open science is critical. It also has a critical role in education – in teaching, learning, and scholarship.

I encourage you to explore the following initiative:

“The Association for Learning Technology (ALT) is proud to support the launch of the Open Covid Pledge for Education, covering all forms of research, data and know-how that can support the COVID-19 response in education around the world. The creation of the Open Covid Pledge has been co-ordinated by Helen Beetham, Researcher and Consultant, and ALT Member.”

You could start small (e.g., by depositing a pre-print of a paper in a repository or publishing your next paper in an open access journal). For example, I learned about OSF in June. OSF is an open source project management tool supporting researchers throughout their entire project lifecycle. I’ve seen some use it as a place to host pre-prints, data, and insrtruments. To explore its use, I deposited the survey instrument and outputs from the Canadian Pulse survey to a project there: https://osf.io/dt3h7/

Emerging COVID-19 scholarship related to teaching, learning, and technology

COVID-19 coverage in the education trade publications (e.g., Chronicle, Inside Higher Ed, University Affairs) is a daily occurrence. We are now starting to see scholarly publications appearing, and I thought I’d try to capture some of them here.

35 papers from a special issue from JTATE on Preservice and Inservice Professional Development During the COVID-19 Pandemic: https://www.learntechlib.org/primary/j/JTATE/v/28/n/2/

Reich, J., Buttimer, C. J., Fang, A., Hillaire, G., Hirsch, K., Larke, L. R., … & Slama, R. (2020). Remote learning guidance from state education agencies during the covid-19 pandemic: A first look. Preprint https://edarxiv.org/437e2/

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. http://dx.doi.org/10.24059/olj.v24i2.2285

Holzweiss, P., Walker, D., Chisum, R., & Sosebee, T. (2020). Crisis Planning for Online Students: Lessons Learned from a Major Disruption. Online Learning, 24(2). doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.24059/olj.v24i2.2135

(a large collaboration covering 31 countries) Bozkurt, A., Jung, I., Xiao, J., Vladimirschi, V., Schuwer, R., Egorov, G., Lambert, S. R., Al-Freih, M., Pete, J., Olcott, Jr., D. Rodes, V., Aranciaga, I., Bali, M., Alvarez, Jr., A. V., Roberts, J., Pazurek, A., Raffaghelli, J. E., Panagiotou, N., de Coëtlogon, P., Shahadu, S., Brown, M., Asino, T. I. Tumwesige, J., Ramírez Reyes, T., Barrios Ipenza, E., Ossiannilsson, E., Bond, M., Belhamel, K., Irvine, V., Sharma, R. C., Adam, T., Janssen, B., Sklyarova, T., Olcott, N. Ambrosino, A., Lazou, C., Mocquet, B., Mano, M., & Paskevicius, M. (2020). A global outlook to the interruption of education due to COVID-19 pandemic: Navigating in a time of uncertainty and crisis. Asian Journal of Distance Education, 15(1), 1-126. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3778083

(a massive ebook) Ferdig, R.E., Baumgartner, E., Hartshorne, R., Kaplan-Rakowski, R. & Mouza, C. (2020). Teaching, Technology, and Teacher Education during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Stories from the Field. Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). Retrieved June 18, 2020 from https://www.learntechlib.org/p/216903/.

Numerous articles as part of this CFP at Post-digital science and education.

I expect that many more will be forthcoming. JRTE had a call for a special issue on “Engaging Learners in Emergency Transition to Online Learning during COVID-19” that closed on June 1. ETR&D also just closed a special issue on “Shifting to digital: Informing the rapid development, deployment, and future of teaching and learning.” Patrick Lowenthal has captured some recent (still open) calls for proposals for similar work here, here, and here. And finally, there’s this call by EMI on “education in times of crises” in the context of K-12.

What’s the future like? Speculative Methods in Networked Learning workshop

Jen Ross and I are leading a workshop on speculative methods as part of the 2020 Networked Learning (online) conference. It takes place on May 19 at 8am Pacific (4pm UK) and it’s free to attend. Our session will be held in this Adobe connect room: https://c.deic.dk/aristotle/

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, United States. Unsplash.

The workshop will last 55 minutes. Our schedule is as follows:

Workshop Description

The goal of this workshop is to introduce participants to speculative methods and explore their application to the field as a way of imagining potential futures and scenarios for learning, design, and technology. We define speculative methods as “research approaches that explore and create possible futures under conditions of complexity and uncertainty” (Ross, 2018). We aim to facilitate a broader conversation regarding the future of technology and networks in education through the exploration of the use of speculative methods as research methodologies.

Recent years have seen increased interest in and discussion of education futures. Some of the emergent discussions include conversations around how technologies manifest themselves in our daily lives and educational experiences (Aagaard, 2018), and what may be appropriate pedagogies to equip learners for the future economy (Facer & Sandford, 2010). As Ross (2017) argues, envisioning futures also “inform[s] us about what matters now in the field, what issues and problems we have inherited and what debates define what can or cannot be currently thought about or imagined” (p. 220).

Considering that the current state of education, at all levels, is situated within a context of ever-evolving social, cultural, political, and technological shifts, there is a need for networked learning scholars and practitioners to explore various ways that they can imagine and design future potentials and realities. The use of speculative methods enables researchers to ascertain and discern between probable, possible, and preferable trajectories (Bell, 2017) to offer evidence-based guidance when making current decisions related to networked learning, and to explore what may or may not be possible in their own contexts. They also give us tools for taking critical perspectives on the nature of the future itself, and how we think about and work towards particular education futures (Facer 2016). In prior iterations of this workshop (Veletsianos, Belikov, & Johnson, 2019), participants appreciated being able to think creatively about the future and identify micro, meso, and macro obstacles to reaching them.

Intended Audience

Individuals interested in critically exploring and designing education futures. These include students and academics (who may be interested in applying this method to their scholarship), and practitioners such as learning designers or administrators (who may be interested in using this method in institutional change-making efforts). This workshop is appropriate for anyone with an interest in designing and developing learning environments, creating new learning experiences, exploring the opportunities and challenges created by new or current technologies, leading conversations at their institutions around potential futures for their programs and departments, and exploring a variety of other potential futures for their work and scholarship.

What kinds of education models are available to Canadian Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)? 3/4

This is the third of four posts in a series that argues that the binary between in-person and online is problematic. See the first and second. In this post, I share some thoughts on some broader teaching and learning models that Canadian institutions (and others of course) are considering for Fall 2020.

In answering the question “what does teaching and learning look like in the Fall in the context of COVID-19?” I am interested in three models that exist between fully in-person and fully online. Though I’m focusing on Canadian institutions, some of this may apply to other contexts.

To make my assumptions explicit, I am assuming that some amount of physical distancing will be necessary in the Summer and Fall. I am also assuming that Canadian institutions will rely on guidance from Health experts, and as such will be guided by both federal and provincial recommendations. I’m also drawing from the findings of this paper, investigating the enrolment networks at Cornell, which suggest that eliminating large courses (or offering them online) may not be a viable long-term solution. Based on these assumptions, below are some options.

  • Offer all courses online, with the exception of “special circumstance” courses. These may be courses that involve student learning activities that require them to be on-campus (e.g., certain lab courses that cannot be replicated in online settings; certain courses that require in-person activities for professional reasons). The implication here is that there will be less students on campus and that campus will therefore be able to accommodate physical distancing guidelines.
  • Use a multi-access course design. A simple version of a multi-access course is one that allows students to participate in a course either in-person or online. For instance, a course may be taught and streamed live, and all participants may engage in both synchronous and asynchronous activities with each other. This design was originally created to enable students to have choice between in-person and online participation based on emerging needs or preferences over the duration of the semester. In today’s context, some students may not have the ability to choose between in-person and online (e.g., the physical classroom can only accommodate X students, but X+Y sign up for it; some students may face travel restrictions).
  • Use a blended cohort-residency model with X start dates. Let’s assume X=3. The first cohort (1/3 of the campus) travels to campus and begins their in-person courses. Four weeks later they leave campus and transition to online courses. The second cohort then travels to campus, and so on. This divides the student population in 3 and uses the in-person gathering to foster a sense of community among students. This is the model that most Royal Roads University programs have followed for many years.

There are challenges with these three models. All of them introduce organizational, technological, social, and pedagogical complications. The models are also silent about staff and faculty: when students are on-campus, they not only interact with peers in common courses, but they also interact with others in cafeterias, gyms, dorms, pubs, and participate in the community in the same ways that we all do. There’s also questions of equity, sustainability, and resilience here.

It is important to note that these options are not exclusionary. In other words, institutions could pursue more than one option. They do not necessarily need to adopt a single modality for the Fall – and importantly, they do not need to choose a singly modality ONLY for the Fall with the hope to return back to how things were. Returning to a question I asked in my first post: Is in-person education the best we can do for everyone? In other words, it is possible for an institution to offer its Fall (and its future) programming in a variety of ways, in the same way that many institutions offered some courses/programs in face-to-face ways and others in online formats.

In your opinion, are these three options more or less feasible in your context when compared to (well-designed) online learning? Why or Why not?

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