A place to log ideas and thoughts

George Veletsianos, PhD

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New paper: Flexible learning, completion, time, and gender

Online learning is often framed in terms of flexibility, notably flexibility to participate in education from “anyplace” at “anytime.” Flexible designs are powerful – they allow enable access and enhance participation. But, such flexibility may not be afforded to everyone equally. Put differently, flexibility as a design feature or value may make courses more flexible, may accommodate schedules, but not everyone is able to equally take advantage of such flexibility. In other words: Some people are able to exercise more flexibility in their life than others, for a variety of factors, such as financial means, family support, etc etc. We have questioned the degree to which flexibility is equitable here and here, where we have argued that we need to stop assuming that flexible learning benefits everyone equally.

In a new paper, we provide some empirical support for these arguments. Here’s the abstract:

Flexible learning removes barriers relating to time, place, and pace. While time management skills have been identified as necessary for learners to take advantage of flexible learning, relatively little is known about the temporal dimensions of flexible learning and how gender might relate to temporal flexibility and its perceived benefits. To address this gap, we analyzed data from 380,000 students participating in two massive open online courses to create a model that predicts course completion likelihood from learner time management behaviors and gender. Results supported most a priori assumptions. Successful course completers logged in frequently, devoted longer amounts of time to each session, moved quickly through course materials, and completed coursework early. However, consistent study was associated with lower course completion likelihood, and women benefited more from reduced consistency. These findings suggest that temporal flexibility may especially benefit women.

Veletsianos, G., Kimmons, R. Larsen, R., & Rogers, J. (in press). Flexibility, Time, Gender, and Online Learning Completion. Distance Education. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2020.1869523 or author’s copy.

One year on; Homegrown expertise, expectations, and inequities

In March 2020, just a few days before higher education institutions and k-12 in North America shuttered down, my colleagues Shandell Houlden and I published a short op-ed. There’s one point in that op-ed continues to continues require our attention. There’s a second point that did not make it into the published version for a number of reasons, but also requires our attention. March 2020 would have been a great time to address these two issues. February 2021 is still a good time, so I am posting them here


The need for skill and preparedness should serve as a reminder that institutions need to cultivate their in-house pedagogical and online learning expertise. The process of unbundling and outsourcing that many institutions have engaged in with respect to online learning in recent years–while enabling them to benefit from the expertise of others–leaves institutions vulnerable to third parties. When Phipps writes that a vendor “offered their platform for free to students in China for three weeks” we should heed Ayebi-Arthur’s recommendation, who in writing about educational technology responses to the 2011 earthquake in New Zealand, notes that such free gifts “set in motion long-term expectations that need to be managed.”

[Main points: Cultivate online learning expertise; short-term responses vs. long-term efforts/expectations/processes; be suspicious of “free” offers, as edtech has a history of bait-and-switch offers]

Notably, these lessons will apply beyond higher education. Many K-12 schools faced closures in 2009 in response to the H1N1pandemic, and this is newly becoming a possibility outside of China. The challenges faced here will also be somewhat different, as caregivers negotiate work and children, a struggle which many people are ill-prepared for.

[Main points: Inequities; some people have the resources, knowledge, skills, social-economic-cultural capital, and power to cope and manage and thrive while some do not; e.g., new NBER research [pdf] showing how women academics, especially mothers of young children have been disproportionately impacted] 


We ended with this: “In this increasingly unstable world, crises potentially impact our education systems as much as anything else in their way. This will be true whether the crisis is caused by the circulation of a new pathogen, or something else entirely: war, flooding, or wildfire, as are more common due to climate change. What we have before us is a stark reminder that we should approach the promises of technological solutionism with caution. Flexible and resilient educational systems require more than tools. They demand collaboration, preparation, expertise, resources, and use of lessons learned in the past.”

New paper: The nature and effects of the harassment that scholars receive

My colleagues and I have a new paper available that examines various issues around scholars’ harassment. This one is led by soon-to-be-Dr. Chandell Gosse, and it is the third in a series of papers examining the topic. The first two are here. This work is based on a SSHRC Insight Development grant examining the harassment that faculty receive, which led to a current SSHRC Insight grant that my co-PI (Dr. Jaigris Hodson) and I are using to expanding our harassment-related research.

You can access the paper from the link below. If you don’t have library access, here is the author’s copy of the submitted paper.

Gosse, C., Veletsianos, G., Hodson, J., Houlden, S., Dousay, T., Lowenthal, P., Hall, N.C. (in press). The Hidden Costs of Connectivity: Nature and Effects of Scholars’ Online Harassment. Learning, Media, & Technology, xx-xx. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2021.1878218


A growing body of research reveals that some scholars face online harassment and that such harassment leads to a wide variety of adverse impacts. Drawing on data collected from an online survey of 182 scholars, we report on the factors and triggers involved in scholars’ experiences of online harassment; the environments where said experiences take place, and; the consequences it has for personal and professional relationships. We find that online harassment is heavily entwined with the work, identity, and in some cases, the requirements of being a scholar. The online harassment scholars experience is often compounded by other factors, such as gender and physical appearance. We build on prior research in this area to further argue that universities ought to widen their scope of what constitutes workplace harassment and workplace safety to include online spaces.


There’s much in this paper that we think is valuable, but I thought the chart below is worthwhile to share. The figure shows a list of triggers that respondents said contributed to them receiving online harassment. Some of the conversation around the use of social media in education and social media for scholarship centers around the idea that being on social media may invite harassment. Such victim-blaming is not only unhelpful and demeaning, but it also misses the point that. Teaching activities can prompt harassment (e.g., via the sharing of recorded lectures in unfriendly groups), a paper that one writes, or a media appearance. 





New paper: Institutional Perspectives on Faculty Development for Digital Education in Canada

We recently published a new paper examining Canadian institutions’ approaches to faculty development for online and blended learning. We analyzed open-ended comments from the Canadian Digital Learning Research Association’s annual survey of Canadian post-secondary institutions (2017-2019). We find that

  • digital education orientation or on-boarding processes for faculty vary widely
  • institutions employ an extensive array of professional development practices for digital education
  • institutions report culture change, work security, and unclear expectations as challenges in providing digital education training and support
  • institutions articulate aspirations and hopes around professional development investments in order to build digital education capacity.

We argue that

  • While diverse approaches for faculty orientation, on-boarding, and ongoing professional development for digital education demonstrate a wide
  • range of innovative opportunities, at some institutions PD for digital education is inconsistent, which can leave faculty less prepared for teaching in digital spaces.
  • Various cultural changes are needed to ensure digital education meets everyone’s expectations
    There exist various emergent needs for faculty PD

Tony Bates posted a response; as did Stephen Downes. The paper is open access: VanLeeuwen, C.A., Veletsianos, G., Belikov, O. Johnson, N. (2020).  Institutional perspectives on faculty development for digital education in Canada. The Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 46(2), 1-20. https://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/view/27944


Books I’m currently reading

Following up on the list of graphic novels I am planning on reading in 2021, I thought I would post what I’m currently reading. There’s no graphic novels in this post. The last graphic novel I read was Not Funny Ha-Ha by Leah Hayes. In no particular order, I’m at various stages of reading (which shouldn’t be taken to mean “endorsing”) the following:

  • The Manifesto for Teaching Online, by Siân Bayne, Peter Evans, Rory Ewins, Jeremy Knox, James Lamb, Hamish Macleod, Clara O’Shea, Jen Ross, Philippa Sheail and Christine Sinclair
  • Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education, by Justin Reich
  • Alternative Universities: Speculative Design for Innovation in Higher Education, by David J. Staley (rereading)
  • Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events, Robert J. Shiller
  • Your Day, Your Way: The Fact and Fiction Behind Your Daily Decisions, by Tim Caulfield
  • Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody, by Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay
  • Living a Feminist Life, by Sara Ahmed (re-reading)

2021 reading list of graphic novels


Photo by Miika Laaksonen

I’ve been reading more and more graphic novels over the years, and as 2020 finally winds down, I thought I would post which ones I am tentatively planning on reading in 2021. Some of these come from Graphic Mundi, which is a new collection by Penn State University Press publishing “both fiction and nonfiction narratives on subjects such as health and human rights, politics, the environment, science, and technology.” I might not read all of these, and I’ll probably read more, but I like looking forward to the new year rather than looking back to what I read in 2020.

Below is the list of books. I generated this list by placing a hold on each book at my local library. Most of these books are not yet available, and some already have plenty of holds ahead of me, which means that I won’t be getting them early. And that becomes part of the fun of this reading plan: I don’t know what I’m getting when until I receive the email that a book (or multiple books!) are ready for pickup.

1984 : The Graphic NovelOrwell, George.
7 Good Reasons Not to Grow UpGownley, Jimmy.
Algériennes : the forgotten women of the Algerian RevolutionMeralli, Swann,
And Now I Spill the Family Secrets : An Illustrated MemoirKimball, Margaret.
Barely Functional Adult : It'll All Make Sense EventuallyNg, Meichi.
Be More Chill : The Graphic NovelVizzini, Ned.
Billie Holiday : The Graphic NovelGilbert, Ebony.
BillionairesCunningham, Darryl.
Cocaine CoastCarretero, Nacho.
COVID Chronicles : A Comics AnthologyBoileau, Kendra.
Crude : A MemoirFajardo, Pablo.
Desperate PleasuresHarkness, M. S.
Drawing Lines : An Anthology of Women CartoonistsOates, Joyce Carol.
FatHofer, Regina.
Flash Forward : An Illustrated Guide to Possible (and Not So Possible) TomorrowsEveleth, Rose.
For Justice : The Serge & Beate Klarsfeld StoryBresson, Pascal.
Freiheit! : The White Rose Graphic NovelCiponte, Andrea Grosso.
GirlsplaningKlengel, Katja.
Heaven No HellDeForge, Michael.
I Never Promised You a Rose GardenMurphy, Mannie.
I NinaChmielewski, Daniel.
I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944Tarshis, Lauren.
I'm a Wild Seed : A Graphic Memoir on Queerness and Decolonizing the WorldCruz, Sharon Lee De La.
In Love & Pajamas : A Collection of Comics about Being Yourself TogetherChetwynd, Catana.
Infinitum : An Afrofuturist TaleFielder, Tim.
Join the FutureKaplan, Zack.
Kimiko Does Cancer : A Graphic MemoirTobimatsu, Kimiko.
MaidsSkelly, Katie.
Martian Ghost CentaurHeagerty, Mat.
Measuring UpLaMotte, Lily.
Menopause : a comic treatmentCzerwiec, MK (MaryKay),
MudfishPiskor, Ed.
My Body in PiecesHebert, Marie-Noelle.
My Life in Transition : A Super Late Bloomer CollectionKaye, Julia.
Oak Flat : a fight for sacred land in the American WestRedniss, Lauren,
Okay, Universe : Chronicles of a Woman in PoliticsPlante, Valerie.
Onion SkinCamacho, Edgar.
OrwellChristin, Pierre & Sebastian Verdier.
Our Work Is Everywhere : An Illustrated Oral History of Queer and Trans ResistanceRose, Syan.
ParenthesisDurand, Elodie.
Paul at HomeRabagliati, Michel.
Run Home If You Don't Want to Be Killed : The Detroit Uprising of 1943Williams, Rachel.
Save It for Later : Promises, Parenthood, and the Urgency of ProtestPowell, Nate.
Seen : Rachel CarsonWillis, Birdie.
Slaughterhouse-five : or the children's crusade : a duty-dance with deathNorth, Ryan, 1980-
SylvieKantorovitz, Sylvie.
The Black Panther Party : A Graphic Novel HistoryWalker, David F.
The Butcher of ParisPhillips, Stephanie.
The City of BelgiumEvens, Brecht.
The Great Gatsby : A Graphic Novel AdaptationFitzgerald, F. Scott.
The Incredible Nellie Bly : Journalist, Investigator, Feminist, and PhilanthropistCimino, Luciana.
The Minamata Story : An EcoTragedyWilson, Sean Michael.
The ThudRoss, Mikael.
To Know You're AliveMcFadzean, Dakota.
Tokyo Love Story : A Manga Memoir of One Woman's Personal Journey in the World's Most Exciting CityFujita, Julie Blanchin.
Travesia : A Migrant Girl's Cross-Border JourneyGerster, Michelle.
Vulnerability Is My Superpower : An Underpants and Overbites collectionDavis, Jackie.
We Hereby Refuse : Japanese American Acts of Resistance During World War IIAbe, Frank.
We Should Meet in Air : A Graphic Memoir on Reading Sylvia PlathEisenberg, Lisa Rosalie.
Whistle : A New Gotham City HeroLockhart, E.

On experiencing being a student

Today I was putting the final touches on a paper focusing on the professional development opportunities that Canadian institutions of higher education provide to faculty members, and was reminded of the central argument in my recent book: “people involved in online education…need to better understand the needs and experiences of our students… We need to understand students as people, as individuals who have agency, desires, mishaps, dreams, life-changing accidents; as individuals who face the daily minutiae of life; and as people who may even have instructive and insightful ideas about the future of education. The purpose of this book, therefore, is to examine online learning through the lens of student experience and help us narrow our distance from the online students we serve.”

There’s much to say about reading/hearing/watching about other people’s experiences of being a student. It can be powerful. But actually experiencing being a student – not “back when I was a student,” but in the present – can be instrumental in recognizing, truly recognizing, what it is like to face the decisions that faculty and institutions make for you. Decisions such as whether your course is synchronous or not; whether you need to buy expensive textbooks or not; whether you need to engage in collaborative learning activities; and so on. I was also reminded of this today because I read Martin Weller’s post where he writes the following: “there would be a lot to be gained in experiencing the online provision from a student’s perspective. I genuinely think that intrusive exam proctoring for instance would be less readily adopted if staff had to experience it.”

Inside Higher Ed’s 2019 Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology notes that faculty who had various experiences with online courses reported encouraging outcomes: more than 60% of faculty who converted a face-to-face course to an online or hybrid course reported that their online courses included “decreased lecture time and increased use of active learning techniques;” more than 75% of those who have taught online courses reported that the experience “helped them develop pedagogical skills and practices that have improved their teaching…[including in helping them think] more critically about ways to engage students with content.”

This is not to say that experiencing something will necessarily enable one to experience it from the subject position of others. To put it in terms of an example: Sure, I can take a test using proctoring software, but my education doesn’t depend on it, my degree and perceived future aren’t dependent on how I do on an exam.

What’s the takeaway here? Perhaps it boils down to something simple, something about experiencing it yourself before expecting others to do so. Or perhaps something about the authenticity of professional development, and striving to make those experiences as authentic as can be. Or, perhaps, this is a critique of the endless array of educational technology products whose developers never quite experience the tech not just as a student, but as a student who is facing different realities that them. It’s probably all of this, and then some.

Open educational resources: expanding equity or reflecting and furthering inequities?

Educational Technology Research and Development (ETR&D) is in the process of finalizing its publication of the special issue Shifting to digital: Informing the rapid development, deployment, and future of teaching and learning. The issue only includes brief multiple-perspective responses (~1000 words) on the implications of recent ETR&D publications in addressing current challenges related to an increased focus on digital learning.

One of the papers that the journal invited responses to was Hilton (2016), a paper in which the author synthesized the existing literature to examine outcomes and perceptions associated with instances in which OER replaced commercial textbooks. Hilton also published an updated review in 2020.

I wrote a response to this paper from a social justice perspective, and it is now available online. In Open educational resources: expanding equity or reflecting and furthering inequities? I argue that open educational resources (OER), such as open textbooks, are an appropriate and worthwhile response to consider as colleges and universities shift to digital modes of teaching and learning. However, without scrutiny, such efforts may reflect or reinforce structural inequities. Thus, OER can be a mixed blessing, expanding inclusion and equity in some areas, but furthering inequities in others. One interesting part of this paper is its engagement with the politics of citation literature in the context of OER.

Other responses to Hilton in this special issue include those from Hodges, Wiley, Kılıçkaya & Kic-Drgas, Lee & Lee, and Tang.

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