Category: courses Page 1 of 5

Are cohort-based course platforms “universities of the future?”

The edtech industry includes numerous learning providers and platforms providing tools, technologies, and resources for course creators to create and sell online courses. These platforms are interesting for very many reasons. What roles do they play in the learning and development ecosystem? How do they measure effectiveness and learning outcomes? What kinds of pedagogical and instructional design practices do they support and advocate for? What education-related claims do they make?

two people working on five laptops. They sit at a table littered with other devices, like phones, headset, and ipads. Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

In a paper we published a few months ago, we examined one such platform because it describes itself as building ‘the university of the future’ and has recently received significant attention and funding. This makes it a compelling case study to better understand the potential roles and risks associated with education platforms operating outside of and alongside more traditional higher education institutions.

We highlight specific concerns about cohort-based platforms. These include lack of transparency, risk of surveillance, lack of adequate financial support for learners, and over-reliance on social media networks as signifiers of educator/instructor qualification (this last one is a big one). Suggested benefits include adaptability, suitability to changing skills needs, and responsiveness to changing environmental scenarios.

The published version of the paper is here, but here’s a pre-print pdf: Veletsianos, G., & Houlden, S. (in press). On the “university of the future”: A critical analysis of cohort-based course platform Maven. Learning, Media, & Technology. 


A pan-Canadian certification program for higher education instructors?

Tony Bates wrote his five wishes for online learning in 2023, along with reasons why he’s somewhat pessimistic about them being fulfilled. I wanted to spend a few minutes here discussing alternatives to Tony’s second wish: “A national certification program for higher education instructors.” If this wish has a “5% odds of happening” (and I agree with Tony here), what kinds of alternatives might have greater chances of success?

Provincial responsibility for higher education means that (at present) this is the kind of wish that is dead in the water. Some alternatives that might go towards addressing the problems of teaching competence might be the following:

  • Provincial certification programs for higher education instructors. The BC government has developed a digital learning strategy, which includes a variety of steps, resources, actions, recommendations, and tools to support and expand the effective and equitable use of digital learning in the province. With a strategy in place, developing a provincial certification program makes good sense. Some of the challenges that Tony identifies a federal program facing will still be present in the provincial context (e.g., research-teaching hierarchies, cost, academic freedom issues), but the odds of this are greater than 5%. My guesstimate? 10%. Still poor. And smaller-scale. On the other hand, a provincial program, say in BC, might become a proof of concept for other provinces, especially, if it is openly licensed, is cross-disciplinary, and is flexible enough in its design and assessment.
  • Institutional and cross-institutional certification programs, such as BCIT’s Polytechnic Academy proposal, which I understand to be similar to the work that Centers of Teaching and Learning at multiple institutions do, such as, for example, the Facilitating Learning Online (FLO) offerings, that are offered by a number of institutions/organizations in the province. There’s a slew of benefits that can come from  multi-institutional collaboration on such efforts, like Tony describes. I’m more optimistic on this, especially because there was quite a lot of collaboration during the COVID-19 pandemic that might provide the impetus and support for this, and also because I see collaborative-minded institutions coming together for other initiatives (like the new campus that four island institutions are opening in the Westshore).
  • Institutional certification programs for future faculty. This is close to my heart. Preparing current doctoral students for online/hybrid teaching – and preparing them for teaching in general – is necessary (which, I might add, also prepares them with skills that are relevant outside of the academy, like leading teams in collaborative groupwork). There’s other challenges here to be sure (such as academic departments agreeing that this is topic that is significant enough to warrant a course/certificate/microcredential/something), but this might be an area where the office/school/college of graduate studies plays a pivotal role. Another challenge: this kind of initiative addresses the current problem, but in the future, while remaining unresponsive to the status quo. It’s not a solution, but it’s part of a package for a solution.

If you would like to add more to this, the comments are open!

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?

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.  

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