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George Veletsianos, PhD

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Radical Flexibility and Relationality as Responses to Education in Times of Crisis

I am excited to share a new paper with you. I’m excited because it draws together themes from work Shandell Houlden and I have been doing over the last year and which now seems increasingly important. I’m also excited because the paper is part of a special issue of Postdigital Science and Education, which the Editor reports including “more than 50 articles, authored by nearly 200 people from more than 30 countries and all continents.” I’ve been reading many of these – they are currently posted here as Online First but should appear in an issue soon.

I thought I’d share a couple of snippets here, but I’d love to hear your feedback on this work. The paper is available as Open Access here: Radical Flexibility and Relationality as Responses to Education in Times of Crisis.

Our abstract summarizes the main ideas well:

As educational institutions negotiate numerous challenges resulting from the current pandemic, many are beginning to wonder what the future of education may look like. We contribute to this conversation by arguing for flexible education and considering how it can support better—more equitable, just, accessible, empowering, imaginative—educational futures. At a time of historical disorder and uncertainty, we argue that what we need is a sort of radical flexibility as a way to create life-sustaining education, not just for some, but for all, and not just for now, but far into the future. We argue that such an approach is relational, and centers justice and trust. Furthermore, we note that radical flexibility is systemic and hopeful, and requires wide-ranging changes in practices in addition to the application of new technologies.

We end the paper with this:

Solnit (2020) urges us to remember that ‘[o]rdinary life before the pandemic was already a catastrophe of desperation and exclusion for too many human beings, an environmental and climate catastrophe, an obscenity of inequality’, and this was in many ways as true in the halls of education as anywhere else. But she further reminds us that hope ‘offers us clarity that, amid the uncertainty ahead, there will be conflicts worth joining and the possibility of winning some of them’. If, out of this struggle, we ground our hope in attention to the relational nature of the many worlds in which we all live together, then perhaps we can achieve the radical flexibility truly liberatory education deserves.

 

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

 

How should we respond to the life-altering crises that education is facing?

Below is the the pre-published version of a short reflection I wrote for Distance Education, published here for posterity. The paper is 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

Abstract

Prior literature suggests that to address the problems facing education, researchers and practitioners of online and flexible learning should avoid placing too much emphasis on the potential of technology and consult the history and literature of the field. In this reflective article, I argue that in addition to these activities, we should expand our efforts to broaden the reach and impact of our field and engage in speculative work that asks: What should the future of digital, online, and flexible education look like?

Introduction

“In this increasingly unstable world, crises potentially impact our education systems. This will be true whether the crisis is caused by the circulation of a new pathogen, or something else entirely: hurricanes, flooding or wildfire, now more common due to climate change. We have before us a stark reminder that we should approach the promises of technological solutions with caution. Flexible and resilient educational systems require more than tools. They demand collaboration, care, preparation, expertise, resources and learning lessons from the past. (Houlden & Veletsianos, 2020)”

We wrote the sentences above in March 2020, 2 weeks before educational institutions in North America transitioned to remote education in an attempt to influence practitioners’ and researchers’ responses to the life-altering crises that education is facing. We were hoping to convince readers that even though technology may enable institutions of education to engage in some semblance of educational continuity, technology will not fix the crises facing our educational systems. Such reasoning flows from a long line of scholarship that details the problems of technological determinism and solutionism in our field (e.g., Bayne, 2015; Oliver, 2011; Tennyson 1994), urges researchers and practitioners to avoid placing too much emphasis on the potential of technology (e.g., Selwyn, 2011), and encourages us to heed the lessons embedded in the history of the field (e.g., Watters, 2014; Weller, 2020). Similar arguments are included in this issue of Distance Education as well. Baggaley, for instance, argues that “the surest way to make online learning effective is to consult the decades of practical experience in the distance education literature.” But what may be some additional responses to such life-altering crises as COVID-19 and climate change?

One possible response may include efforts to broaden the reach and impact of the distance and flexible education literature, as well as literature present in related fields, such as instructional design and technology, learning analytics, and the learning sciences. Such efforts may address limitations that restrict the literature’s helpfulness, applicability, and accessibility. For instance, the literature suffers from a problem of access. Much of our literature, like the literature of other fields, is written for researchers rather than practitioners, and much of it is locked behind paywalls (like this reflection). One set of responses, therefore, may be to refine and rethink the ways our own scholarship is accessed. For instance, at an individual level, we might strive to make our own articles available in open ways, expand our public outreach, engage in more practice-oriented scholarship, write for broader audiences, and address inequities in knowledge production, dissemination, and consumption (cf Czerniewicz, 2013; Scharber et al., 2019). At a systemic level, we may question practices like top-tier publishing, rankings, impact factors, and the various practices that sustain and encourage these, such as institutional policies on promotion and advancement and grant-funding decisions.

A second possible response may involve reflecting on our own scholarship and the scholarship we support, reward, and encourage. Reeves and Lin (2020) argue that to make a real difference in the lives of learners we should be studying and solving problems, rather than studying tools and technologies. In effect, these authors urge us to ask whether our particular work, the work of our students, and the work of our colleagues contributes to better educational futures. My intent here is not to draw demarcation lines between appropriate and inappropriate scholarship. Instead, if higher education is facing the very real possibility that the post-pandemic era may be radically different than our earlier “normal” (Cox et al., 2020), this may be a good time to ask: What should the future of digital, online, and flexible education look like?

This is not a call for more hopeful writing of the possibilities of online education or educational technology. Instead, it is a call for more critical and speculative writing and practice. Such critical efforts are gaining broader visibility and interest and can be found in recent work in both this journal (e.g., Valcarlos et al., 2020) and elsewhere (e.g., Lambert, 2018). To imagine possible educational futures, some researchers are turning to speculative methods as “research approaches that explore and create possible futures under conditions of complexity and uncertainty” (Ross, 2018, p. 197). Envisioning such futures does not solely mean employing fiction in our writing. Rather, speculative methods “inform us about what matters now in the field, what issues and problems we have inherited, and what debates define what can or cannot be currently thought about or imagined” (Ross, 2017, p. 220). Considering that the current state of education, at all levels, is situated within a context of ever-evolving social, cultural, political, and technological shifts, we face an urgent need to engage with uncertainty on multiple levels.

The use of speculative methods, therefore, may enable us to offer guidance when making current decisions related to the future of higher education, and to explore what may or may not be possible in different contexts. In a special issue of Learning, Media and Technology (Selwyn et al., 2019) for example, colleagues examined near-future educational scenarios and critically contemplated the use of technology in education. To use an example of present activities to speculate about desirable and undesirable educational futures, consider the now-broader use of proctoring tools, which were largely adopted to maintain the continuity of such familiar practices as invigilated exams. Now consider a future in which proctoring tools are as pervasive as the use of learning management systems or even email. Are proctoring tools consistent with desirable future educational systems? Asking this question forces us to deal with the ethics of our work. What if, in the process of asking this question, we realize that adopting proctoring software may not only become a barrier to alternative assessments but may also foster a culture of surveillance and mistrust (e.g., Fawns & Ross, 2020; Swauger, 2020)?

Conclusion

Clearly, technology alone will be unable to provide a solution to such a complicated problem as responding to the complex challenges that educational systems worldwide are facing. The two possible responses I offer—broadening the reach and impact of our scholarship and engaging in more imaginative, speculative, and critical work—are not panaceas either. Unlike technological solutionism though, these actions respond to calls by Facer and Sanford (2010), Ross (2017), Staley (2019), and Alexander (2020) to develop scenarios for the future of higher education as a way to address current challenges and work toward desirable outcomes. I imagine such futures to be inclusive, equitable, and just; to serve all of our learners; to prioritize collaboration over competition; to be flexible to learners’ needs; to exhibit care and trust for our students; and to be free of systems of oppression and injustice that operate within our own institutions.

References

Alexander, B. (2020). Academia next: The futures of higher education . Johns Hopkins University Press. 

Bayne, S. (2015). What’s the matter with ‘technology-enhanced learning’? Learning, Media and Technology , 40(1), 5–20. 

Cox, R. , Slick, J. , & Dixon, T. (2020). Surviving, thriving, or radical revisioning: Scenarios and considerations for pandemic recovery and response planning . Royal Roads University. 

Czerniewicz, L. (2013, April 29). Inequitable power dynamics of global knowledge production and exchange must be confronted head on. Impact of Social Science. https://press.rebus.community/openatthemargins/chapter/repost-inequitable-power-knowledge/  

Facer, K. , & Sandford, R. (2010). The next 25 years? Future scenarios and future directions for education and technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning , 26(1), 74–93. 

Fawns, T. , & Ross, J. (2020, June 3). Spotlight on alternative assessment methods: Alternatives to exams. Teaching Matters . https://www.teaching-matters-blog.ed.ac.uk/spotlight-on-alternative-assessment-methods-alternatives-to-exams/  

Houlden, S. , & Veletsianos, G. (2020, March 13). COVID-19 pushes universities to switch to online classes—but are they ready? The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/covid-19-pushes-universities-to-switch-to-online-classes-but-are-they-ready-132728  

Lambert, S. R. (2018). Changing our (dis)course: A distinctive social justice aligned definition of open education. Journal of Learning for Development , 5(3), 225–244. https://jl4d.org/index.php/ejl4d/article/view/290/334  

Oliver, M. (2011). Technological determinism in educational technology research: some alternative ways of thinking about the relationship between learning and technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning , 27(5), 373–384.

Reeves, T. C. , & Lin, L. (2020). The research we have is not the research we need. Educational Technology Research and Development , 68(4), 1991–2001.

Ross, J. (2017). Speculative method in digital education research. Learning, Media and Technology , 42(2), 214–229.

Ross, J. , (2018). Speculative method as an approach to researching emerging educational issues and technologies. In L. Hamilton & J. Ravenscroft (Eds,), Building research design in education (pp. 197–212). Bloomsbury. 

Scharber, C. , Pazurek, A. , & Ouyang, F. (2019). Illuminating the (in)visibility of female scholars: A gendered analysis of publishing rates within educational technology journals from 2004 to 2015. Gender and Education , 31(1), 33–61.

Selwyn, N. (2011). In praise of pessimism—the need for negativity in educational technology. British Journal of Educational Technology , 42(5), 713–718.

Selwyn, N. , Hillman, T. , Eynon, R. , Ferreira, G. , Knox, J. , Macgilchrist, F. , & Sancho-Gil, J. M. (Eds.). (2019). Education and technology into the 2020s: Speculative futures [Special issue]. Learning, Media and Technology , 45(1). 

Staley, D. J. (2019). Alternative universities: Speculative design for innovation in higher education . Johns Hopkins University Press.  

Swauger, S. (2020). Our bodies encoded: Algorithmic test proctoring in higher education. In J. Stommel, C. Friend, & S. M. Morris (Eds.), Critical digital pedagogy: A collection. Pressbooks. https://cdpcollection.pressbooks.com/chapter/our-bodies-encoded-algorithmic-test-proctoring-in-higher-education/  

Tennyson, R. D. (1994). The big wrench vs. integrated approaches: The great media debate. Educational Technology Research and Development , 42(3), 15–28.

Valcarlos, M. M. , Wolgemuth, J. R. , Haraf, S. , & Fisk, N. (2020). Anti-oppressive pedagogies in online learning: A critical review. Distance Education , 41(3), 345–360. 

Watters, A. (2014). The monsters of education technology. Tech Gypsies Publishing. http://monsters.hackeducation.com   

Weller, M. (2020). 25 years of ed tech . Athabasca University Press.

Open Science and Open COVID pledge for education

What does a better – more equitable, more hospitable, more flexible, more creative, less oppressive, more impactful – post-pandemic education system look like? What does teaching and learning look like in such an environment? What does scholarship look like? Speculative futures work in education aims to imagine answers to such questions, but, what are some steps individuals and institutions are taking now toward imagined futures?

Open Science has been described as a key to responding to COVD-19. Whether in vaccine search or medical equipment design, open science is critical. It also has a critical role in education – in teaching, learning, and scholarship.

I encourage you to explore the following initiative:

“The Association for Learning Technology (ALT) is proud to support the launch of the Open Covid Pledge for Education, covering all forms of research, data and know-how that can support the COVID-19 response in education around the world. The creation of the Open Covid Pledge has been co-ordinated by Helen Beetham, Researcher and Consultant, and ALT Member.”

You could start small (e.g., by depositing a pre-print of a paper in a repository or publishing your next paper in an open access journal). For example, I learned about OSF in June. OSF is an open source project management tool supporting researchers throughout their entire project lifecycle. I’ve seen some use it as a place to host pre-prints, data, and insrtruments. To explore its use, I deposited the survey instrument and outputs from the Canadian Pulse survey to a project there: https://osf.io/dt3h7/

Zed Creds at Royal Roads

There’s a lot of work happening in the province of BC around OER and Zed Creds/Degrees, much of it facilitated by government funding, the expert guidance of BCCampus, and early adopters such as Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

With my colleagues Elizabeth Childs and Jo Axe, we’ve been slowly transitioning our MA and Graduate Diploma in Learning and Technology into Zed Creds. A press release yesterday announced that we completed the process.

For our students, this means no textbooks to purchase and greater transparency on the full cost of their program.

For our faculty, this means more freedoms to work with OER than with copyrighted materials to achieve desired outcomes.

For the field of educational technology, this means that we now have an example of an MA degree that is completely textbook-free and mostly OER-based. Zed Degrees aren’t just for other disciplines and aren’t just for diplomas/certificates.

So you want to publish your #edtech or digital learning book in an open access format?

Every now and then someone asks me whether I know of any non-commercial publishers that don’t charge thousands of dollars in OA fees to publish open access books in the field. In this post, I’ll share two such efforts that I support:

  1. A new venue for your open access book publishing in our area is EdTechBooks.org Not only is this project ingenious, I believe it will quickly scale and grow into something extraordinary. I have a long personal and professional connection to the people running this project, so take that prediction with a grain of salt. If you’re interested in publishing with them, contact them at admin@edtechbooks.org
  2. Athabasca University Press publishes the award-winning Issues in Distance Education book series. Partly because AU Press is one of the few university presses that publish books in open access formats in our field and partly because I’d like to help expand the conversations that we are having in our field I recently agreed to co-edit this series with Dr. Terry Anderson. If you’re interested in publishing with AU Press feel free to contact me. As far as my personal interests go, I am keen to support and see more books from:
  • Under-represented authors, such as women and people of color, whose perspectives and research on topics pertaining to digital education challenge the dominant ways of thinking.
  • Authors who are interrogating various aspects of the history of the field.
  • Authors who are conducting rich ethnographic work (e.g., What’s life like as an instructional designer? What’s it like at an online program management company?)
  • Authors who are conducting critical investigations of various aspects of the field, such as for example, interrogating discourses pertaining to online learning, or interrogating issues relating to power and privilege.
  • Authors whose work provides practical recommendations for addressing the significant challenges and tensions that our community is facing.


Are there any other non-commercial open access publishers in the area that you would recommend?

A list of Z-degrees and Zed Creds

On Twitter last week I asked whether anyone had created a list of available a Zed Creds and Z-Degrees. As a way of definition BCcampus writes: “a Zed Cred/Z-Degree is a set of courses in a specific program area that allows a student to earn a credential, such as an associate degree or certificate program, with zero textbook costs by way of using open educational resources and/or free library materials.”

It’s easy to find lists of colleges and universities working on these, but much harder to find specifics (e.g., what are the main credentials? what are the main disciplines? and so on). Through Rajiv Jhangiani, I learned that Richard Sebastian had created one such list of Z-degree, Zed Cred, and OER Degree programs. If you cite this list, please use the following attribution: Created by Richard Sebastian, Achieving the Dream.

So, there’s a list and we can all help improve it.

But, we had an interesting conversation on Twitter that I am going to rehash here, partly because it relates to the list, partly because my Twitter posts are automatically deleted and that conversation will eventually consist of fragments. David Wiley asked: “Are you looking for programs that use OER (even if there is some cost to students) or programs that are completely free to students (even if there is some All Rights Reserved content used)?”

This question relates to ongoing effort in the field to disambiguate terms and intentions. Both Z -degrees and OER degrees may be one and the same and may cost zero to students. But, they may also cost zero to students and consist of entirely different (non-OER) materials. A Z-degree for instance may consist of copyrighted library resources that require no additional costs to students to access (e.g., a seminal piece of work that faculty deem necessary to include). Library resources aren’t “free,” of course as students pay for them through tuition and fees. But beyond cost, the core argument here is that the permissions that OER enable are expected to lead to more effective and worthwhile teaching and learning experiences.

And here’s the final caveat: Imagine a typical course that uses a commercial textbook. Now consider that course being redesigned such that it exclusively uses library resources. Imagine an instructional designer and a librarian working with a faculty member (or two) to identify resources, define learning objectives, create activities, and align assessments. The permissions that the library materials allow won’t match the ones that OER allow, but the benefits of OER use reported in the literature don’t always just come from OER – they also come through the redesign process. This is not a dispute with OER. Rather, it’s an argument for instructional design. Or, learning design, or learning engineering. Alas, disambiguating these terms is probably best left for a different post altogether.


Searchable directories relevant to educational technology

Contact North | Contact Nord keeps a number of non-exhaustive searchable directories relevant to educational technology leaders, practitioners, and researchers that are really useful, especially because they can be downloaded in csv format. Below are links to the ones I could find on their website:

Open Access Educational Technology books

I want to tell you about a new site that Royce Kimmons is launching: http://edtechbooks.org

This aims to become go-to location for open texts related to educational technology, instructional design, learning design and technology, and related fields. If you’d like to add a book to this collection, bring it to the attention of Royce!

 

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