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George Veletsianos, PhD

Category: scholarship Page 1 of 20

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. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2020.1833920

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

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.  http://dx.doi.org/10.24059/olj.v24i2.2285

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

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?

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

 

CFP: Attending to Issues of Social Justice through Learning Design

The call for proposals below comes at an opportune time following the Scholar Strike action that occurred on September 8 and 9 both in the US and in Canada.

Journal of Applied Instructional Design Special Issue 2020 
“Attending to Issues of Social Justice through Learning Design” 


We specifically seek contributions from K-12, higher education, and other organizational or workplace contexts (e.g., non-profit organizations, government, corporate) that focus on how learning design can serve as a tool for pushing back against and/or changing systems that often promote or perpetuate injustice and inequality. Such work will likely deviate from more traditional instructional design and performance improvement approaches or improve upon them in some way to address topics that include but are not limited to:

  • Culturally-situated and cross-cultural approaches to instructional design and research
  • Improving performance in the context of workplace inequity
  • Participatory models of learning (e.g., Youth-led Participatory Action Research)
  • Long-term projects that address disparity issues regarding access to technologies and resources (e.g., digital and pedagogical divide)
  • Applications of critical theory in learning design
  • Ethical and responsible (i.e., humanizing) concerns regarding the collection, analysis, and presentation of data and findings

Deadline October 16, 2020. Complete details can be found here:
https://aect.org/news_manager.php?page=21693

The 7 elements of a good online course

In June, I wrote the article below for The Conversation. Today I start teaching my Fall 2020 (online) course on the foundations, histories, myths, and futures surrounding learning technologies, and I thought it was a good time to republish this piece here under its original Creative Commons license as a reminder for myself and others. The original article is here.

The 7 elements of a good online course

It’s likely that most universities will be conducting classes online in the fall. That doesn’t mean learning will suffer. (Shutterstock)

With very few exceptions, online teaching and learning will be the primary mode of education for the majority of higher education students in many jurisdictions this fall as concerns about COVID-19 extend into the new school year.

As an education researcher who has been studying online education and a professor who has been teaching in both face-to-face and online environments for more than a decade, I am often asked whether online learning at universities and colleges can ever be as effective as face-to-face learning.

To be clear: this isn’t a new question or a new debate. I’ve been asked this question in various forms since the mid-2000s and researchers have been exploring this topic since at least the 1950s.

The answer isn’t as unequivocal as some would like it to be. Individual cherry-picked studies can support any result. But systematic analyses of the evidence generally show there are no significant differences in students’ academic outcomes between online and face-to-face education.

Researchers also find that some students perform worse online than others — and that some of those differences can be explained by socioeconomic inequities.

Advice for students and parents

The problems with media comparison studies — that is, those that compare outcomes between one medium, such as face-to-face, to another medium, such as online — are such that many researchers advocate against them. How can students who enrol in online courses in the fall know they are receiving a good educational experience? What are some of the qualities of a good online course?

Good online courses can be more personal and rewarding for students than the traditional learning in large lecture halls. (Shutterstock)

Here’s some advice for students (and their parents) about what to look for as learning remains online.

  1. A good online course is informed by issues of equity and justice. It takes into account social, political and cultural issues — including students’ backgrounds and socioeconomic circumstances — to craft a learning experience that is just. This may take many forms. In practice, it may mean a diverse and intersectional reading list. It means audiovisual materials that don’t stereotype, shame or degrade people. It may mean that open educational resources are prioritized over expensive textbooks.
  2. A good online course is interactive. Courses are much more than placeholders for students to access information. A good online course provides information such as readings or lecture videos, but also involves interactions between professor and students and between students and students. Interactions between professor and students may involve students receiving personalized feedback, support and guidance. Interactions among students may include such things as debating various issues or collaborating with peers to solve a problem. A good online course often becomes a social learning environment and provides opportunities for the development of a vibrant learning community.
  3. A good online course is engaging and challenging. It invites students to participate, motivates them to contribute and captures their interest and attention. It capitalizes on the joy of learning and challenges students to enhance their skills, abilities and knowledge. A good online course is cognitively challenging.
  4. A good online course involves practice. Good courses involve students in “doing” — not just watching and reading — “doing again” and in applying what they learned. In a creative writing class, students may write a short story, receive feedback, revise it and then write a different story. In a computer programming class, they may write a block of code, test it and then use it in a larger program that they wrote. In an econometrics class, they might examine relationships between different variables, explain the meaning of their findings and then be asked to apply those methods in novel situations.
  5. A good online course is effective. Such a course identifies the skills, abilities and knowledge that students will gain by the end of it, provides activities developed to acquire them and assesses whether students were successful.
  6. A good online course includes an instructor who is visible and active, and who exhibits care, empathy and trust for students. This individual understands that their students may have a life beyond their course. Not only do many students take other courses, but they may be primary caretakers, have a job or be struggling to make ends meet. Good online courses often include instructors who are approachable and responsive, and who work with students to address problems and concerns as they arise.
  7. A good online course promotes student agency. It gives students autonomy to enable opportunities for relevant and meaningful learning. Such a course redistributes power – to the extent that is possible – in the classroom. Again, this may take many forms in the online classroom. In the culinary arts, it may mean making baking choices relevant to students’ professional aspirations. In an accounting course, students could analyze the financial statements of a company they’re interested in rather than one selected by the instructor. Such flexibility not only accommodates students’ backgrounds and interests, it provides space for students to make the course their own. In some cases it might even mean that you – the student – co-designs the course with your instructor. This is the kind of flexibility higher education systems need.

These qualities aren’t qualities of good online courses. They are qualities of good courses, period.

Physical proximity isn’t a precondition for good education. Comparing one form of education to another distracts us from the fact that all forms of education can — and should — be made better.

What’s the future like? Speculative Methods in Networked Learning workshop

Jen Ross and I are leading a workshop on speculative methods as part of the 2020 Networked Learning (online) conference. It takes place on May 19 at 8am Pacific (4pm UK) and it’s free to attend. Our session will be held in this Adobe connect room: https://c.deic.dk/aristotle/

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, United States. Unsplash.

The workshop will last 55 minutes. Our schedule is as follows:

Workshop Description

The goal of this workshop is to introduce participants to speculative methods and explore their application to the field as a way of imagining potential futures and scenarios for learning, design, and technology. We define speculative methods as “research approaches that explore and create possible futures under conditions of complexity and uncertainty” (Ross, 2018). We aim to facilitate a broader conversation regarding the future of technology and networks in education through the exploration of the use of speculative methods as research methodologies.

Recent years have seen increased interest in and discussion of education futures. Some of the emergent discussions include conversations around how technologies manifest themselves in our daily lives and educational experiences (Aagaard, 2018), and what may be appropriate pedagogies to equip learners for the future economy (Facer & Sandford, 2010). As Ross (2017) argues, envisioning futures also “inform[s] 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” (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, there is a need for networked learning scholars and practitioners to explore various ways that they can imagine and design future potentials and realities. The use of speculative methods enables researchers to ascertain and discern between probable, possible, and preferable trajectories (Bell, 2017) to offer evidence-based guidance when making current decisions related to networked learning, and to explore what may or may not be possible in their own contexts. They also give us tools for taking critical perspectives on the nature of the future itself, and how we think about and work towards particular education futures (Facer 2016). In prior iterations of this workshop (Veletsianos, Belikov, & Johnson, 2019), participants appreciated being able to think creatively about the future and identify micro, meso, and macro obstacles to reaching them.

Intended Audience

Individuals interested in critically exploring and designing education futures. These include students and academics (who may be interested in applying this method to their scholarship), and practitioners such as learning designers or administrators (who may be interested in using this method in institutional change-making efforts). This workshop is appropriate for anyone with an interest in designing and developing learning environments, creating new learning experiences, exploring the opportunities and challenges created by new or current technologies, leading conversations at their institutions around potential futures for their programs and departments, and exploring a variety of other potential futures for their work and scholarship.

New book: Learning Online and The Student Experience (now available for free)

Short version: My new book Learning Online: The Student Experience has been published ahead of schedule by Johns Hopkins University Press. The Press has made the book available online for free as part of its efforts to support COVID-19 responses. Download it here or support the press by purchasing a copy here. Disclaimer: I receive a % of the sales in royalties, but I’ll be donating them to a non-profit in my community.

Long version:The book was scheduled to be published in April/May. In the meantime, COVID-19 happened, and in early March I reached out to Johns Hopkins University Press to ask whether they would be willing to make it – or at least a portion of it – available online for free. My reasoning was that it could be of immediate benefit to faculty, administrators, and higher education leaders aiming to transition their courses from in-person to alternative formats. The press expedited the final steps of the process and I just learned that it is now available for free here. I hope you find it useful, both in these turbulent times that we find ourselves in and in future online learning efforts!

Johns Hopkins University Press must have been thinking about this much earlier than I was, as they have made thousands of their books and papers available for free in the meantime. You can support the press by purchasing a copy of my book here or by purchasing a copy of any of the books that they publish. As standard book authoring goes, I receive a percentage of book sales in royalties. I will be donating those to a non-profit in my community.

I hope people read and enjoy the book, and I will gladly talk to anyone about it. Whether you’re teaching a class on the topic or are a higher education leader trying to make decisions about online learning at your institution, I’m happy to talk with you.

The premise of my upcoming book

I just finished reviewing the initial copy edit of of the book that I’ve been working on since before I want to admit, and I feel that it is time to let it go. There will always be the tendency to rewrite, restate, polish, add another idea, expand on an element that seems just a tad off. But, I’m ready to let it free. It’s time. And with that, here’s its premise:

In multiple conversations at multiple institutions over the years, I have heard educated, passionate, and good-willed people talk with excitement about the number of students participating in online and distance courses. More than a million students in Canada. More than 100,000 in the early massive open online courses (MOOCs), more than 20,000 in recent ones. More than 200 enrolled in a for-credit foundations course at a local university. Nearly two million online learners at one of the world’s well-known open and mega university. While such figures are impressive, an enthusiastic and all-consuming focus on the numbers can lead us to lose sight of Irma, Magda, Hassan, James, and Asma, or of the reasons that Anna failed to complete her degree, or Nick and Cassandra who were compelled to enroll in higher education while raising a family. Nor is it just our fascination with scale and numbers that leads us astray. A variety of common discourses, practices, and pressures operate in similar ways to alienate us from students and their realities—such as the adoption of business-like language to refer to students as “prospects” or financial constraints that move us to prioritize goals like “competitiveness” and “growth” over more community-oriented or people-centered goals.

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