Category: learner experience Page 1 of 5

Issues that hybrid, online, and blended modes of teaching and learning introduce to collective agreements and bargaining

A few weeks ago, I was invited to offer input to a committee at a Canadian university examining issues that hybrid, online, and blended modes of teaching and learning introduce to collective agreements and bargaining. I appreciated that the committee identified experts to speak with in order to gain an evidence-informed understanding of the issues they were facing rather than allow their deliberations be guided by assumptions and beliefs (which, to be honest, many of the conversations around modality default to!).

I thought the questions I was asked were relevant to many, and so I am sharing them below. The gist of my responses follows each question.

  • What is your sense of the future of online, hybrid, and blended course delivery in Canadian universities?
    • Necessary, valuable, and growing. Ignore them at your own peril.
  • How do you see the work, the workload, the rights, and the responsibilities of faculty changing within this shifting terrain?
    • Rising workloads at first, but shifting over time (similar to how workload is higher when assigned a new course; opportunity to learn & explore relationship between online/hybrid and pedagogy, which may transfer to other settings). Responsibilities around quality similar, if not higher (which is unfortunate given that conversations around quality are different in relation to in-person courses). Rights: an opportunity for expanding the conversation to encompass in-person practices: reflect on ownership and where the real value of faculty lies – it’s not content.
  • What would you suggest are the biggest advantages to these delivery modes, and what would you flag as the biggest challenges that institutions face in moving towards these modes?
    • advantages: rethinking pedagogy, flexibility, supporting justice and EDI, reaching and supporting different kinds of learners; challenges: institutional infrastructure to support online/hybrid learning quality at the same level as supporting in-person.
  • What kinds of supports—technological, training, in-class, infrastructural, workload-based, or other – do you see as necessary for faculty to successfully deliver course through online modes?
    • This is the right question to ask. It’s not just about individual skills, competencies, and perceptions – it’s about how the institutions will support these learning modalities at the system level. In addition to the ones mentioned in the question, my answer highlighted that online/hybrid learning is a team sport and noted the need for instructional design support.  
  • As part of our own deliberations, we are concerned with the process through which mode of delivery for particular courses is determined. Do you have any advice on how this best happens? Are there any lessons from experiences at other universities about this?
    • This is a difficult one, especially at a time of many circulating viruses. I emphasized the need for flexibility and a decision-making process that is based on mutual trust and cooperation, and that is informed by student input. Ideally one where decisions aren’t top-down and aren’t solely guided by individual preferences. Also: the proportion of courses that are online need not be uniform across departments.

A Synthesis of Research on Mental Health and Remote Learning: How Pandemic Grief Haunts Claims of Causality

Stephanie Moore, Michael Barbour and I have published a paper synthesizing the results of all the research we could find relating to remote/online learning and mental health. Full paper and abstract below:

Moore, S., Veletsianos, G., & Barbour, M. (2022). A synthesis of research on mental health and remote learning: How pandemic grief haunts claims of causality. The Open/Technology in Education, Society, and Scholarship Association Journal, 2(1), 1-19.


While there has been a lot of debate over the impact of online and remote learning on mental health and well-being, there has been no systematic syntheses or reviews of the research on this particular issue. In this paper, we review the research on the relationship between mental health/well-being and online or remote learning. Our review shows that little scholarship existed prior to 2020 with most studies conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic. We report four findings: (1) pandemic effects are not well-controlled in most studies; (2) studies present a very mixed picture, with variability around how mental health and well- being are measured and how/whether any causal inferences are made in relation to online and remote learning, (3) there are some indications that certain populations of students may struggle more in an online context, and (4) research that does not assume a direct relationship between mental health and online provides the best insight into both confounding factors and possible strategies to address mental health concerns. Our review shows that 75.5% of published research on this topic either commits the correlation does not equal causation error or asserts a causal relationship even when it fails to establish correlations. Based on this study, we suggest that researchers, policymakers, practitioners, and administrators exercise extreme caution around making generalizable assertions with respect to the impacts of online/remote learning and mental health. We encourage further research to better understand effects on specific learner sub- populations and on course—and institution—level strategies to support mental health.

Keywords: mental health, online learning, remote education, anxiety, stress, well-being, wellness

Digital education in times of climate crisis: beyond content

In an earlier post, I suggested that one way our field could respond to the climate crisis is by helping people understand that climate change will impact them. Stephen Downes takes that to mean “looking at the content of what we are teaching.” That’s true, but that’s not quite what I had in mind. Yes, we should be consistent in updating our curricula to address topics of significance. That includes climate change in relation to digital learning. It also may include data ownership, indigeneity, inclusion, and so on. But, what I was hinting at when I mentioned our field’s involvement in the interdisciplinary kind of work that is needed to address climate change were design, development, and evaluation work that we (and our students) could be undertaking. Such work can be expansive. Two examples are the following

  • partnering with various initiatives to support education-related outcomes. For example, Not Too Late is a project led by Rebecca Solnit and Thelma Young Lutunatabua which involves outreach and community-building, and which may benefit from learning design expertise that relates to building, fostering, and sustaining online communities.
  • partnering with others in the design, development, and evaluation of climate-related education efforts. For example, learning designers and researchers are well suited to lead the kind of action listed in Royal Road University’s 202-2027 Climate Action plan (pdf): “Develop a suite of accessible (low cost/no cost; multiple offering) courses (credit and non-credit) and educational outreach initiatives that raise awareness, increase understanding, encourage involvement, and build support for innovative climate actions within and outside the [university] community. Included in this roster are courses related to a range of climate action competencies including climate science, climate justice, social science and landbased approaches to climate adaptation and climate resilience, biodiversity and Indigenous rights.”

Indeed, amongst the many things that education technology and instructional/learning design programs train our students to do is design, develop, and evaluate of learning experiences that address complex issues in partnership with interdisciplinary teams.

New paper: A synthesis of surveys examining the impacts of COVID-19 and emergency remote learning on students in Canada

Around the first year of the pandemic, we gathered all the student surveys we could find that examined emergency remote learning in Canada and its impacts on students. We made this work available immediately as a pre-print because we knew it would take a while to actually be published, and in many talks and conversations since then. The paper is now available in the Journal of Computing in Higher Education. The abstract and citation are below.

During the COVID-19 pandemic numerous institutions around the world have surveyed students to gain an understanding of their experiences. While these surveys are valuable at a local institutional level, it is unclear as to which findings from individual
surveys reflect the broader higher education environment, and which patterns may be consistent across student surveys. It is worthwhile to synthesize survey findings in order to explore patterns and potentially new understandings that may arise
from such analysis. In this paper, we reviewed and synthesized 21 surveys examining the impacts of COVID-19 and emergency remote learning on approximately 155,000 student respondents in Canada. Findings reveal that the impacts of COVID-
19 and emergency remote learning on students centered around (1) educational experiences, (2) mental health and wellbeing, (3) financial concerns, (4) impact on future plans, and (5) recommendations for future practice.

Houlden, S., & Veletsianos, G. (in press). A synthesis of surveys examining the impacts of COVID-19 and emergency remote learning on students in Canada. Journal of Computing in Higher Education. Preprint (pdf) or

New paper: Focusing on the ecological aspects of online and distance learning

As part of a special issue on Systemic Implications for Online Education, colleagues and I wrote a commentary highlighting the ways in which online teaching and learning are more than individual and social practices. They’re situated in environments with particular people, in particular contexts, with particular technologies, within particular institutions. To make this more concrete, we described a near-future speculative scenario of a student’s experience, as a way to help individuals – both at our institution and elsewhere – consider technology use in higher education beyond the pedagogical level.  You can download a preprint (pdf) or the final version (which isn’t that different than the preprint) from

Person in environment: Focusing on the ecological aspects of online and distance learning

Online and distance learning is a practice situated in environments—places, spaces, and times, with particular people, in particular contexts, with particular technologies, within particular institutions. In other words, the practice of online and distance learning is not wholly individual: it is situated within broader environments. In this reflective article, we argue that to understand learning in online contexts, it is important for researchers to understand the broader environments in which learners are located. We illustrate this argument by presenting a narrative of a fictitious learner pursuing a degree in decentralized finance.

Veletsianos, G., Childs, E., Cox, R., Cordua-von Specht , I., Grundy, S., Hughes, J., Karleen, D., & Wilson, A. (2022). Person in environment: Ecological aspects of online and distance learning. Distance Education, 43(2), 318-324.

Surveys of Canadian students during the pandemic?

We are working on a project that is informed by surveys of Canadian post-secondary students during the pandemic. We have identified a number of surveys/reports and are making them available in this spreadsheet.

I’m certain we’re missing a few. Have you seen any other surveys or reports informed by student responses that we may be able to look at? Please leave us a comment below, and we’ll add new items to the spreadsheet.

Face-to-face learning is inferior to online learning. Maybe. Sometimes. In some cases. If you ignore the nuance. 2/4

This is the second of four posts in a series that explores comparisons between in-person and online education. The first post noted how the binary we use when we discuss the two modalities is problematic. In this post, I examine the following question: What do we mean when we say that student experiences/learning are better in in-person contexts than online contexts? What criteria do we use to determine whether one kind of learning experience is better than another?

Researchers in the field of instructional design and technology typically use three criteria to evaluate learning. Was the experience effective? Was it engaging? Was it efficient? Dr. Dave Merrill summarizes this as “e to the third power”, or e3: effectiveness, efficiency, engagement (pdf).

Dr. Merrill misses a 4th and important e: equity. Unfortunately, this is an area that the field hasn’t paid as much attention to as it needs to, though (thankfully) there’s more and more of this work in the field recently, and it is gaining some momentum. To bluntly put the importance of equity in context one can ask: What is the value of a learning experience that is effective or efficient but positions some people in stereotypical roles, or presents them in dehumanizing ways, or completely ignores their lived experience? What is the value of an engaging learning experience that is at the same time sexist or racist?

To recap. Criteria to evaluate learning experiences: effectiveness, engagement, equity, and efficiency. [As an aside, educational technology companies typically sell their products on efficiency claims. And when they make effectiveness claims, if you’re in a decision-maker, I recommend asking for the third-party research supporting those claims.]

Let’s take a step back. I asked: What do people mean mean when we say that student experiences/learning are better in in-person contexts than online contexts? I asked this question in response to Hannah’s original question (see post #1) around the presumed inferiority of online learning compared to face-to-face learning. Let’s apply these same criteria to face-to-face contexts. That way, we can begin to illuminate the assumption that face-to-face is the best that we can do. Because this debate shouldn’t be about whether one modality is better than the other. It should be about how we can do the best we can do for all learners, staff, and faculty. That might lead us to ask the following questions:

  • Is face-to-face education equitable?
  • Who has access to it and who doesn’t?
  • Who does it privilege?

We know that online learning faces equity and access issues – of course it does – but let’s ask those same questions of in-person education.

That is where today’s post was going to end. But, it can’t. Because the President of Brown University wrote an op-ed in the NY Times arguing that college campuses must reopen in the Fall. Much was written about it already, such as this thread by Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom. My post can’t end here because in the context that we find ourselves in today, we now also need to ask: Who does face-to-face education put at risk? Which populations are more at risk than others? The questions about equity need to be asked not just about online learning, but also about face-to-face education and institutional plans for the Fall.

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