Category: online learning Page 2 of 16

Critical Digital Pedagogy in Higher Education & collaborating with Suzan and Chris

Critical Digital Pedagogy in Higher Education will be published in January 2023. Suzan Köseoğlu, Chris Rowell, and I started working on this open access book <checks notes> around October 2019. It’s an edited volume that includes research and scholarship from many wonderful colleagues from around the world who have stuck with us and entrusted us with the process of trying to publish a book during a pandemic. I’ll be posting about each chapter in January, but here I wanted to share a note of appreciation for my co-editors.

It takes some perseverance to publish a book. But it takes a special of dedication and patience to edit and publish a book consisting of thirteen chapters written by more than 20 colleagues, while in a pandemic, while navigating life, while switching institutions, like both Cover for the book critical digital pedagogy in higher educationSuzan and Chris did.

Suzan is sharp, thoughtful, supportive, and approaches this work with the critical mindset it deserves. She read through every single manuscript (and countless submissions that did not end up being included in the final version of the book) with an eye to detail and in consideration of the broader work that is being done in the area.

Chris is equally sharp and reliable. He approaches this work with a keen understanding of practice, and that lens adds volumes to this work. He is equally dedicated to critical pedagogy, as well as to mobilizing knowledge in diverse ways (including through a podcast he’s been experimenting with for the book).

While working with them I appreciated their kindness and dedication. I knew I could rely on them, and I know that this work is better because of them.

Editing a book is a lot of hard work, and I don’t know of any academics who do it for the money, because frankly, there’s very little of it in scholarly publishing. Perhaps you might consider inviting Suzan or Chris to speak at your next event?

(OA version) We need to get online learning right before the next crisis hits

The Globe and Mail published an op-ed I wrote. As a condition of being featured in the publication, the paper has first publication rights for the first 48 hours. Since it’s been more than 48 hours, and for posterity, I’m making a copy available below.

We need to get online learning right before the next crisis hits

George Veletsianos is a professor of education and Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology at Royal Roads University.

Classrooms this month feel more like the days before the COVID-19 pandemic. As schools and universities across Canada ditch mass testing, universal masking, screening forms and vaccination campaigns, they’re also ditching online learning. They’re abandoning it even though there are circumstances in which it can be even better than in-person learning.

The prevailing idea that online learning was a temporary and inadequate facade of the real thing to help us get through the COVID-19 pandemic jeopardizes this powerful approach to education. As a researcher who has been studying online learning for nearly two decades, and as an educator with more than 10 years of online teaching experience, I also find it alarming and short-sighted, but ultimately unsurprising.

It is alarming because our schools and universities are going to face new crises for which they will need online learning. Chief among them is the climate emergency.

When my home province of British Columbia was battered by atmospheric rivers last winter, schools closed owing to floods, mudslides and highway damage. Switching to online forms of education ensured continuity. Scientists warn that extreme weather events like this one are becoming more frequent and more violent. Natural disasters are the same way. Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand also required, and benefited from, emergency responses to education continuity.

It is short-sighted because many of our fellow citizens are unable to access in-person education.

Who are they? People with disabilities. People who live in remote and rural communities. Military personnel. Professionals who work full-time. Students who work while completing their studies. People who care for their children or families full-time. In-person learning limits their access to education, raises barriers to their aspirations, and excludes them. Online learning can be designed in flexible ways to cater to their diverse needs and responsibilities.

Over the years, my colleagues and I interviewed hundreds of online learners. One that stands out for me is a mid-thirties mother who was taking online coursework while caring for an infant. She was studying to improve her child’s life and was exceptional in her tenacity. But online learning was a good fit for her regular life, not an emergency measure.

The rejection of online education is unsurprising because ever since its development, it has been considered the poor cousin of in-person education.

The body of evidence that is available generally shows that under the right circumstances online learning works, and can be as good as, if not better than, in-person education. Still, the belief that it is inferior persists. To be certain, the evidence isn’t absolute: online learning doesn’t work for everyone all the time. It is not as appropriate for young children as it is for adults and a recent study showed that when some students enroll in some in-person courses they are more likely to earn a degree than those who enroll exclusively in online courses. More importantly, whether online learning is successful or not primarily depends on its design.

Designers and researchers working with the Academic Learning Transformation Lab at Virginia Commonwealth University know a great deal about online learning design. When the 2015 UCI Road World Championship bicycle race descended in Richmond, Va., rather than deal with the disruptions caused by crowds, congestion and road closures, the university cancelled classes for its Monroe Park campus. Under the leadership of the lab, faculty took advantage of the opportunity to create 26 online courses that inspired students to explore a slew of topics related to cycling. The race became a setting for the students to collect and analyze data that related to physics, entrepreneurship, health, event planning and so on.

Design makes or breaks online learning, which is the exact reason why much of the online learning that happened during the pandemic – what researchers have dubbed emergency remote learning – was indeed awful. It was designed and delivered by professionals who were never trained for it, who never signed up for it and who were doing it while dealing with grief, loss, anxiety and the broader repercussions of the pandemic. What students need more than access to education is access to well-planned and purposefully designed education.

If one thing is certain right now it is that our world is filled with crises and uncertainty. In times like this, foresight and proactiveness are key. Ditching online learning is myopic. We will need it. It’s not a question of if – it’s a matter of when.

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

The business case for edtech startups engaging education research

If you’ve been following my work for a while, you may have noticed that I’ve been advocating for edtech companies to collaborate with education researchers for a long while now. At the 2014 SXSW EDU  conference for example, my colleagues and I organized a panel titled Startups Should Talk with Researchers and Educators to highlight mutually beneficial relationships. Much has changed since then, but I often come across startups that can’t seem to grasp that the histories of online, distance, and digital learning can be informative and beneficial.

There are lots of reasons for this – and to be sure universities and researchers aren’t blameless, as a variety of factors limit the reach and impact of our scholarship.

Many have made the pedagogical case for education startups to  use the research available. In this post I want to make the business case for edtech startups to engage education research. Because it’s a win-win. And it’s simple.

By consulting with academics and/or learning designers, reading the research literature, exploring various pedagogical and learning design models, and understanding the relationships between teaching/learning and technology, you (i.e. startups) can save money and time.

How can you save money and time?

By identifying potential pain points and what education research has to say about your value proposition early on, you’d be able to develop minimum viable products that are at the very least  reflective of what we know about teaching and learning.

I’ve seen many startups fail because they took too long to understand the space. And too many startups accidentally stumbling upon what is common knowledge in education research after they’ve burned through initial investment rounds.

You (i.e. startups) do not need to start at 0 to get to 10. You can start at 3, 5, 7 even by engaging education research.

To make this example concrete, below is an excerpt of an email from an edtech startup that I received yesterday. This is a startup that’s been around for 2+ years and raised 2 rounds of funding.

Something unexpected keeps happening in our post-course surveys.

As you might guess, we regularly hear about the quality of [our company’s] instructors and the knowledge they pass on.

But we didn’t expect to hear so often of the value of the other course participants, of taking courses live, alongside other ambitious, generous professionals.

Turns out—it’s the other students in each cohort that make it special.

The power of peer learning and community isn’t a secret. Really, it’s common knowledge. All that post-course surveys do here is confirm what those of us who have been studying distance and online learning for decades already know. Only when startups fail to engage with the rich and long history of this field do they call the realization that motivated and knowledgeable peers working in community foster powerful learning experiences an unexpected discovery.

What if this realization came 18 months ago?

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.

Recent talks on returning back to “normal”

Institutions, institutional leaders, faculty, and students face very many challenges in “returning back to normal.”

In our ongoing research – which we are furiously trying to make available as soon as possible – students and faculty in particular tell us that they hope institutions “carry forward” what was learned during the pandemic, while they hope to avoid a return back to “normal.” There’s an important distinction here. Hopes for a “return to normalcy,” aren’t hopes for a return to the pre-pandemic status quo. They want better futures, different futures, futures that are more accommodating, supportive, equitable, and stable, and see this as an appropriate and opportune time for making long-awaited changes.

I gave two talks recently focused on these ideas. Below is the abstract from my keynote at Simon Fraser University’s Symposium on Teaching and Learning. My keynote for the Faculty Summer Institute at Texas State focused on this topic as well, but from the perspective of student voice and resilience, drawing on earlier research.

Online and blended learning in post-pandemic settings
Much of the conversation in higher education at this particular point in time focuses on “building back better.” To engage in such rebuilding means to recognize that various pre-pandemic teaching, learning, and institutional practices were problematic. “Building back better” invites us to ask: What do future online and blended learning environments look like, who do they serve, what are they for, and how do we justly make them available to everyone? How do we make our learning environments more equitable, flexible, accessible, enriching, sustainable, decolonial, and responsive? As we are invited to return back to campus, what aspects of pre-pandemic teaching and learning should we strive to avoid returning back to? In this talk, I draw from a series pan-Canadian studies conducted over the last year with students, faculty, staff, and administrators, and share findings that inform our collective efforts for creating effective, but also engaging and equitable, learning environments.

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