A place to log ideas and thoughts

George Veletsianos, PhD

Category: my research Page 2 of 15

Invisible learning, untrackable learning, and hidden learning environments

One of the chapters in my forthcoming book on online learners’ experiences is called The Learner Who “Listened.” It shares the story of an individual who participated in a course in a sort of solitary way, participating in the course without posting on any of the discussion boards, without being visible to the mechanisms developed to encourage participation. Let me paraphrase. She participated – by reading, thinking, watching – but this kind of participation is not typically deemed participatory. The pejorative label typically used to describe this kind of participation is “lurking.”

And even though some learning analytics companies and researchers want you to believe that “we can see everything the students do,” we can’t. In past work (pre-print here), we showed that learners engage with courses in ways that are invisible to instructors and researchers. Even if we could “see everything the students do,” that idea, and the practices that emanate from it, are dangerous and insidious.

I was reminded of this chapter this morning, while reading Clint’s post on untrackable learning in connection to conversations at ALT-C around “invisible learning environments” (Donna’s post here, Anne-Marie’s post here). There are activities that students engage in that should remain invisible – invisible to the instructor, invisible to the platforms that track them, invisible to the institution.

In education, what can be made more flexible?

Even though flexibility and flexible learning most usually focus on enabling learners some degree of control and freedom over the location, time, and pace of their online studies (hence the terms “anytime anyplace” learning), flexibility may be applied to a wide range of pedagogical and institutional practices. Here’s some examples:

  • Flexible assessments (e.g., providing learners with “a menu” of assessment options to select from. Dr. Joan Hughes for instance allows students to complete a proportion of pre-determined set of badges in her course. This could also apply to assignment deliverables, wherein some students, for example, may produce essays while others may create videos)
  • Flexible admissions (e.g., providing multiple admission paths. For instance, at Royal Roads University students who do not hold an undergraduate degree may apply for admission under a flexible path that asks them to demonstrate how prior coursework and experience has prepared them for graduate study)
  • Flexible “attendance” (e.g., providing learners to attend class based on their emerging needs. Dr. Valerie Irvine for instance calls this multi-access learning; a situation where a face-to-face classroom is set up in a way that allows learners to choose whether they can attend in f2f or online mode, and to make that decision as needs arise/change).
  • Flexible pacing, not only with respect to activities pertaining to a course, but also with respect to program pacing (e.g., start-end dates).
  • Flexible exit pathways. While flexible admissions refers to an entry pathway, exit pathways refer to how learners choose to finalize their program (e.g., thesis vs. coursework vs. work-integrated learning project options).
  • Flexible coursework options. This is the option where students have some control about the courses they enroll in. Imagining this on a continuum, on the one end students have no option of electives and at the other end students create their own unique interdisciplinary degrees. Typically, students have electives that they select, though that option could be made more flexible through, for example, allowing learners to choose electives from institutions/organizations other than their own.
  • Flexible course duration and flexible course credits. At the typical institution, courses last for X weeks and are worth Y credits (e.g., semester-long and 3-credits, or some variation of the 3-credit system including 1-credit, 6-credits and so on). Flexibility could be applied to this form of structure as well, with course duration and credit dependent on learning needs vis-a-vis a predetermined calendar/schedule. One could imagine for example a 2-credit course, or a 1.5-credit course within a university that typically offers 3-credit courses.

While there’s benefits to flexibility, such as empowering learners through greater agency, I am not arguing for flexibility to embedded in all of these forms. There’s philosophical questions to explore. And practical concerns that need to be overcome: Student information systems for example, might prevent the creation of fractional-credit courses, as I’m certain many of of you know.

What are some other ways that institutions, courses, learning design practices, and education more broadly can be made more flexible?


Women scholars’ experiences with online harassment and abuse

For the last year or so, my colleagues and I have been working on a SSHRC-funded project examining the experiences of harassment that women academics face online. “We” refers to my colleagues Jaigris Hodson, and our two amazing research assistants Chandell Gosse and Shandell Houlden. We’re now at a point where we will start sharing artifacts from this work more and more broadly, including a wesbsite, scenario-based simulations, webinars, and, in due course, cc-licensed pedagogical materials to lead workshops on understanding and responding to online harassment.

Our first two papers sought to understand the experience of online harassment: what does it do? how do women cope with it? what supports do they use to respond to it?

These two papers are available below.

Veletsianos, G., Houlden, S., Hodson, J., Gosse, C. (2018). Women Scholars’ Experiences with Online Harassment and Abuse: Self-protection, Resistance, Acceptance, and Self-Blame. New Media & Society, 20(12), 4689-4708. [PDF Preprint]

Abstract: Although scholars increasingly use online platforms for public, digital, and networked scholarship, the research examining their experiences of harassment and abuse online is scant. In this study, we interviewed 14 women scholars who experienced online harassment in order to understand how they coped with this phenomenon. We found that scholars engaged in reactive, anticipatory, preventive, and proactive coping strategies. In particular, scholars engaged in strategies aimed at self-protection and resistance, while often responding to harassment by acceptance and self-blame. These findings have important implications for practice and research, including practical recommendations for personal, institutional, and platform responses to harassment, as well as scholarly recommendations for future research into scholars’ experiences of harassment.

Hodson, J., Gosse, C., Veletsianos, G., Houlden, S. (2018). I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends: The Ecological Model and Support for Women Scholars Experiencing Online Harassment. First Monday, 23(8). doi: https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v23i8.9136

Abstract: This article contributes to understanding the phenomenon of online abuse and harassment toward women scholars. We draw on data collected from 14 interviews with women scholars from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, and report on the types of supports they sought during and after their experience with online abuse and harassment. We found that women scholars rely on three levels of support: the first level includes personal and social support (such as encouragement from friends and family and outsourcing comment reading to others); the second includes organizational (such as university or institutional policy), technological (such as reporting tools on Twitter or Facebook), and sectoral (such as law enforcement) support; and, the third includes larger cultural and social attitudes and discourses (such as attitudes around gendered harassment and perceptions of the online/offline divide). While participants relied on social and personal support most frequently, they commonly reported relying on multiple supports across all three levels. We use an ecological model as our framework to demonstrate how different types of support are interconnected, and recommend that support for targets of online abuse must integrate aspects of all three levels.

The seduction of the digital

Josh Kim wrote a very kind post today over at Inside Higher Ed, highlighting what he sees as three indictments of the role of technology in higher education. There’s good food for thought there, and I’d like to focus on Josh’s third indictment which states that digital technologies distract.

The crux of the matter (for me) is here: “Nor are students the only people on campuses likely to use technologies in a way that inhibits, rather than promotes, learning.”

This point gets lost in the broader conversation around technology distracting from learning. The broader conversation focuses on learners being distracted by… all sorts of things… laptops, social media algorithmically perfected to demand never-ending attention, and so on.

Yet, we talk little about the seductive appeal of technology that positions it as an easy solution to all sort of problems. That seductive property is what is distracting faculty, administrators, instructional designers, and other higher education professionals, not the technology itself, not technology as an object. Problem-solving – dare I say innovation – can exist without the latest gizmo or platform, and I’ve said that so many times, and heard it so many times, that I feel like we should be past this point. We *need* to be past this point. But, in a practice characterized by historical amnesia as Martin Weller aptly reminds us, we need reminders.

Four years ago I gave a talk at the University of Edinburgh. It was a wonderful event, with many amazing people, but I’ll always remember one comment that Jen Ross made. I’m paraphrasing, but she essentially said: We can be frustrated that we have to remind people of the history of the field, of the role that technology plays in education, of its potential and shortcomings. Or, we can be excited that more and more people are joining the field, and more and more people need to learn that “technology” isn’t the one and easy solution.

She was, and is, right. The needle is slow to move, but, at this moment, I choose to be excited.

 

Comment sentiment expressed in YouTube TED talk comments

The top definition of YouTube comments in the urban dictionary is the following: “the only place where a polite discussion about kittens can lead to a flame war about government conspiracies.”

Inquisitive readers might ask: Is that flame war the same for all videos? Or is it more likely for some videos than others?

Our latest paper (and when I write our, I am referring to Royce k=Kimmons, Tonia Dousay, Patrick Lowenthal, and Ross Larsen) explores whether the sentiment expressed toward scholars who go online varies according to variables of interest. Put differently, scholars are encouraged to be present online, to establish a digital identity, and expand their reach and impact. But, what is the public’s reaction? Does the public react more positively/negatively to some people? There’s many ways to go about exploring this question. We sought to answer this question by examining YouTube comments, but one could investigate tweets, blog comments, self-reported data, and so on. Below is our abstract, summarizing our findings, and link to our paper. Note the impact of gender, animations, and moderation on expressed sentiment:

 

Veletsianos, G., Kimmons, R., Larsen, R., Dousay, T., & Lowenthal, P. (2018). Public Comment Sentiment on Educational Videos: Understanding the Effects of Presenter Gender, Video Format, Threading, and Moderation on YouTube TED Talk Comments. PLOS ONE 13(6): e0197331. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0197331

 

Scholars, educators, and students are increasingly encouraged to participate in online spaces. While the current literature highlights the potential positive outcomes of such participation, little research exists on the sentiment that these individuals may face online and on the factors that may lead some people to face different types of sentiment than others. To investigate these issues, we examined the strength of positive and negative sentiment expressed in response to TEDx and TED-Ed talks posted on YouTube (n = 655), the effect of several variables on comment and reply sentiment (n = 774,939), and the projected effects that sentiment-based moderation would have had on posted content. We found that most comments and replies were neutral in nature and some topics were more likely than others to elicit positive or negative sentiment. Videos of male presenters showed greater neutrality, while videos of female presenters saw significantly greater positive and negative polarity in replies. Animations neutralized both the negativity and positivity of replies at a very high rate. Gender and video format influenced the sentiment of replies and not just the initial comments that were directed toward the video. Finally, we found that using sentiment as a way to moderate offensive content would have a significant effect on non-offensive content. These findings have far-reaching implications for social media platforms and for those who encourage or prepare students and scholars to participate online.

What audiences do academics imagine finding online?

When online, people draw on the limited cues they have available to create for themselves an imagined audience. This audiences shapes our social media practices and the expression of our identity. While institutions encourage scholars to go online, and many scholars perceive value in online networks themselves, limited research has explored the ways that scholars conceptualize online audiences.

Audiences by NordForsk/Stefan Tell

 

In a recent paper, we were interested to understand how scholars conceptualize their audiences when participating on social media, and does that conceptualization impacts their self-expression online. Below is a short summary of the results. The full study is here: Veletsianos, G., & Shaw, A. (2018). Scholars in an Increasingly Open and Digital World: Imagined Audiences and their Impact on Scholars’ Online Participation. Learning, Media, & Technology, 43(1), 17-30.

We used a qualitative approach to this study, interviewing 16 individuals who represented a range of academic disciplines and roles. Data were generated from two sources: semi-structured interviews with each participant, and examination of the social media spaces they used (e.g. blogs, Facebook, Twitter).

Participants identified four specific groups as composing their social media audiences: (1) academics, (2) family and friends, (3) groups related to one’s profession, and (4) individuals who shared commonalities with them. Interviewees felt fairly confident that they had a good understanding of the people and groups that made up their audiences on social media, but distinguished their audiences as known and unknown. The known audience included those groups and individuals known to interviewees personally. The unknown audience consisted of members whom participants felt they understood much about but did not know personally. Interviewees reported using their understanding of their audience to guide their decisions around what, how or where to share information on social media. All participants reported filtering their social media posts. This action was primarily motivated by participants’ concerns about how postings would reflect on themselves or others.

The audiences imagined by the scholars we interviewed appear to be well defined rather than the nebulous constructions often described in previous studies. While scholars indicated that some audiences were unknown, none noted that their audience was unfamiliar. This study also shows that a misalignment exists between the audiences that scholars imagine encountering online and the audiences that higher education institutions imagine their faculty encountering online. The former appear to imagine finding community and peers and the latter imagine scholars finding research consumers (e.g., journalists).

Recent SSHRC awards

SSHRC recently announced the awards of the latest round of the Insight and Insight Development grants, and we can now announce that we were awarded two grants for our research. Both grants are collaborations. The first with Dr. Royce Kimmons and the second with Dr. Jaigris Hodson. I’m a true believer in people’s ability to collaborate to go farther together. More than 93% of the funding will go to student research assistants. Here’s the work that these two awards will support:

 

SSHRC Insight grant #435-2017-160. PI: Veletsianos; Collaborator: Kimmons, R. Faculty members’ online participation and expression of self over time.

Summary: Researchers’ understanding of longitudinal aspects of digital technology use in education is limited. While many researchers, policymakers, and businesspeople are hopeful about the potential positive impacts that academics’ use of digital technology may generate, the empirical evidence describing the nature of academics’ online participation over time is scant and is largely predicated on small-scale studies. We will address this problem by studying whether, how, and why academics’ online participation and presentation of the self change over time. We will use a mixed methods approach combining descriptive/inferential analyses with basic qualitative studies using data collected from interviews and data mining of social media sites.

 

SSHRC Insight Development grant #430-2017-00104. PI: Veletsianos; Co-PI: Hodson, J. Female academics’ experiences of harassment on social media.

Summary: Prior research shows that some female academics, especially those who are in the public eye and use technology to promote their work, are at great risk of harassment. To gain a greater understanding of this issue, this mixed methods investigation seeks to investigate women scholars’ experiences of online harassment.  The proposed research will use data arising from interviews, social media posts, and surveys to gain a deep and multidimensional understanding of harassment aimed at academics.

Institutional Use of Twitter – national analyses

We recently wrote two papers that examined institutional uses of Twitter in Canada and the United States. As part of that work, we identified similar analyses taking place in other countries. These are listed below:

CountryCitation
AustraliaPalmer, S. (2013). Characterisation of the use of Twitter by Australian Universities. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 35, 333–344.
CanadaVeletsianos, G., Kimmons, R., Shaw, A., Pasquini, L. & Woodward, Ss. (2017). Selective Openness, Branding, Broadcasting, and Promoting: Twitter Use in Canada’s Public Universities. Educational Media International, 54(1), 1-19.
TurkeyYolcu, O. (2013). Twitter usage of universities in Turkey. Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 12, 360–371.
UKJordan, K. (2017). Examining the UK higher education sector through the network of institutional accounts on Twitter. First Monday, 22(5). doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v22i5.7133
USAKimmons, R., Veletsianos, G., & Woodward, S. (2016). Institutional Uses of Twitter in Higher Education. Innovative Higher Education, 42(2), 97-111.

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