A place to log ideas and thoughts

George Veletsianos, PhD

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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. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2020.1833920

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. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-020-00196-3

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

Veletsianos, G. (2020). How should we respond to the life-altering crises that education is facing? Distance Education, 41(4), 1-3. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2020.1825066

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?

Video, tapes, histories of educational technology, and growing up in Cyprus

One of the courses I teach examines the foundations and histories of the field. Writings about the histories of educational/instructional technology/design predominantly identify and examine particular technologies that were in vogue at particular periods of time.  For instance, Martin Weller discusses the use of streaming video in his 25 years of edtech series. One might do the same with radio, overhead projectors, mySpace, and so on. Here, I want to share with you a personal story, a story about a particular VHS cassette.

VHS tape – By Evan-Amos – Own work, Public Domain

My Twitter bio identifies my location as Canada and Cyprus. Cyprus is where I grew up, and where I tell people I am from when they ask me the seemingly innocuous but loaded question “Where are you from?,” as if people can be from just one place. Growing up in a divided country like Cyprus, I was constantly reminded of conflict, war, occupation, fleeing, and loss. I grew up with textbooks emblazoned with the slogan Δέν Ξεχνώ, a nod to a national policy aiming to convince GreekCypriot children to “never forget” the occupied areas of Cyprus. It wasn’t just the not-so-hidden national curriculum. I know of many people who were and are refugees and people who were directly or indirectly impacted. Friends. Friends’ parents. Uncles and aunts. My parents. My maternal grandparents.

In the 1980’s my grandparents were given a tape. Someone – an acquaintance of an acquaintance of a family member – visited the occupied areas and drove for hours, recording what they could from their car. I don’t remember the details. I do remember that the video was grainy and mostly uninteresting to a pre-teen. But, it brought us together to discuss issues more important than the roads, farmlands, and abandoned villages depicted in the tape: war, coup d’état, peace, borders, the “other.”

My aunt and uncle owned a video store in the 80’s. I spent many days in the summers there and watched my fair share of tapes. But that tape, that grainy tape, is forged in my memory. The impact of video on education reveals a worthwhile pedagogical story because it often culminates in how video replaces other media and rarely causes pedagogical change. Particular artifacts though, in particular situations, at particular times, with particular participants, do. That may not be the norm in formal educational environments, but I can at least point to one instance where a tape had impact.

Do you have any similar stories?

An important lesson from an external evaluation

Two colleagues and I just finished an external evaluation of a universityʼs online MA in education and MEd programs. The programs are stellar, the students are engaged, and the faculty are thoughtful. Their graduation rates are above 90% and their students do important work, evidenced in part by the number of theses that are subsequently published and the number of projects that seek to make meaningful contributions to practice. The programs do many things right.

You have to look inside to get a clear view of what is happening
The photo is of Georgetown University, and has no relationship to the program evaluated


Their outcomes contradict the opinion that online learning is solitary and lacks inclusion. Rather – and despite the fact that these programs are thriving – they face institutional obstacles that prevent them from doing better, that preclude them from further expanding equity and quality. We have a few recommendations for improvement, including suggestions for course design, evaluation, assessment, and enrolment, and Iʼm looking forward to following their work in the future. Being able to examine degree programs in depth and interview faculty, staff, administrators, and students is a worthwhile experience in its own right.

This program is a single case, and by no means an accurate reflection of online programs in general. However, the more I do these evaluations the more I see online learning curtailed not just by forces external to the institution, but also by recurring internal barriers that staff, faculty, and administrators can address.

Digital Learning Environments, Networks, Communities. Your thoughts on a new course?

At the School of Education and Technology at Royal Roads University, we are very excited to be redesigning our MA in Learning and Technology. We will share more about the program in the near future, but for now we’d love any input that you may have on one of the courses my colleague Elizabeth Childs and I are designing. The course is called Digital Learning, Environments, Networks, and Communities. The link sends you to a Google Doc that hosts a very rough first draft of the course. We would love to hear your thoughts, critiques, ideas, gaps, etc on the Google Doc. Are we missing important details/readings? Are there additional activities that we should consider? What questions do you have? How can this course be better?

Some background information on the program follows.

Context: This is the first course in a two year MA degree in Learning and Technology (33 credits). The degree is offered in two modes: fully online and blended. The online group of students and the blended group of students come together in the third course. Thereafter, they continue together and complete the rest of the degree fully online.

Program Goal:

The program is founded upon principles of networked learning, open pedagogy, personalization, relevance, and digital mindsets. Students collaborate and contribute meaningfully to digital learning networks and communities in the field. Graduates will be able to create and evaluate digital learning environments. Students will apply theoretical and practical knowledge to critically analyze learning innovations and assess their impact on organizations and society.

Program Description:

The program responds to the demand for qualified professionals in the field of technology-mediated learning and education. It addresses the need for individuals who have the knowledge, skills and ability to assume the leadership roles that are required to plan, design, develop, implement and evaluate contemporary learning initiatives. Following several foundational courses, students transition into the inquiry-focused portion of the program. Next, they create digital learning resources based on personalized learning plans and facilitate a student-designed and student-led seminar experience that requires them to draw upon the networks and community(ies) they have been contributing to and cultivating over the duration of the program.  

Future educational systems: A student activity

I’m in the process of creating an activity for a new course, and I thought that this particular activity might be valuable to others. Here’s what it currently looks like:

Task: Examine institutional aspirations for 2025 and beyond

Process: In your assigned teams, read one strategic vision document and you create a 4 minute audio summary to share with the rest of the class. You may use any tool that you feel comfortable with to create this audio summary, but if you are need an easy solution you can try Vocaroo or SoundCloud.

Individually, read the assigned document. Consider the following questions: What are the main themes in the document? What are the institutions’ main goals or aspirations for the future? How is technology described as enabling the institution to achieve these goals? Is technology used in interesting and creative ways? Which of the challenges that we identified as facing contemporary universities is the document aiming to address?

Next, discuss your findings with your team and collaborate to craft an audio summary of your assigned document.

Your audio can take many forms. It can be a summary spoken by one person. Or, a conversation between two or more people. Fel free to be more creative than these two examples. You could for instance imagine that you are in a leadership position at the assigned institution and you are delivering a 4-minute speech to the university community summarizing the institution’s aspirations for 2025.

Strategic document assignments are as follows:

Team 1 Team choice or UBC. (2014). Flexible learning: Charting a strategic vision for UBC (Vancouver campus). Office of the Provost.
Team 2 Team choice or University of Saskatchewan. (n.d.). Vision 2025: From spirit to action. 
Team 3 MIT. (2013). Institute-wide taskforce on the future of MIT education: Preliminary report. 
Team 4 Standford. (n.d.). Learning and living at Stanford 2025.
Team 5 Royal Roads University (2016). RRU Learning and Teaching Model.
Team 6 Team choice or University of The Fraser Valley (2016). UFV 2025: A vision for our future.


“How do I get involved, even briefly, with the MOOC?”

Jeffrey Keefer says: “I wish I could follow more of #scholar14 but where does the time go?! Wondering how to get involved even briefly. Perhaps this is a start.”

I started responding to Jeffrey on Twitter, and realized that 140 characters ensured that my response would be cryptic at best. So, in relatively longer form:

  • An early decision decision taken was that #scholar14 was going to be modular. There are 4 weeks in the course. Each week is a standalone module. A participant can do week 1 to explore some of the main ideas around scholarly practices on the Web. Week 2 focuses on the challenges and tensions that might arise when doing so. Week 3 is somewhat of a case study looking at issues of community, caring, and vulnerability when academics are online. Week 4 is an activity that can be applied to any of the weeks (i.e. one can do the activity for week 1 if they only completed week 1 or for all weeks if they followed along for all weeks). I made this design decision for a number of reasons, but one of the main ones was to help people jump into a week without feeling that they needed to go through past weeks. I am assuming a certain level of familiarity with the material here, but i tried to limit the extent of prerequisite knowledge required to participate in each week.
  • Mini activities. Al lot of the activities developed are small and relatively independent. One can choose to do multiple throughout the week or just 1. For instance, week 2 includes 5 discussion threads on relevant topics. I could just pick 1 of those, or 3 if I have the time. Here’s an example of a discussion thread/activity: “Giant publisher (Elsevier) sends takedown notices to academic social networking site (Academia.edu): Publisher demands that social networking site remove research papers from its servers. Here’s a notice sent to an academic. Elsevier wrote an note explaining their perspective. Share your thoughts/reflections on the case with the rest of us on the discussion thread dedicated to each case. Feel free to join discussion threads, ask questions, and help your colleagues gain a greater understanding of the topic.”
  • Live events. These serve as opportunities for gaining a more intimate overview of the ideas in the course, based on conversations with guest experts. They are recorded and archived.
  • Multiple pathways. The #dalmooc folks are doing a dual-layer MOOC on a much larger and experimental scale, and are learning quite a lot from it. In my case, content, updates, and interactions pertaining to#scholar14 exist outside of the platform as well, and I think that provides opportunities to join the space that makes the most sense to an individual. I believe that we need more (and better) scaffolds to support this. For instance, Jeffrey is reaching out on Twitter, and he might be doing so because that’s proven to be a supportive place in the past vis-a-vis a new environment created just for the purpose of a course, like the canvas platform for example. Others connected their blog to a space developed to aggregate content… multiple options are available, in the hopes that these provide flexibility and options.


What do you think?

  • What are some other ways that individuals could join an open course when time permits?
  • How can we design more flexibility into a course without losing its essence?

Networked Scholars syndication hub: Live

STS-131 Discovery Launch

The Networked Scholars course starts in two weeks, on October 20th, with 2 options for participation.

1. Through the Canvas Network.

2. Through personal blogs and twitter accounts, syndicated, via the…. drumroll…. Networked Scholars Syndication hub. With special thanks to Alan Levine who has been helping a number of people implement this design, all readings and activities will be publicly-available, and this site syndicates blog/twitter feeds used as discussion/reflection spaces. The official Twitter hashtag for the course is #scholar14. If you are interested in this option, feel free to head over to the syndication hub, and connect your blog to the site!

Image: STS-131 Discovery Launch

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